Showing posts with label great books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label great books. Show all posts

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Musoma Miracles

I may not be living in the Land of Tanz these days, but many of my heart’s prayers (and so many dear friends) are still very much there. In Tanzania, a good bit of our lives were focused on survival, on the work that we were doing at the office, or on the support work we’d gone there to do (eg. teaching missionary kids). But in-between and in the midst of these things, we became the lucky recipients of great Tanzanian friendships with neighbors, coworkers, and employees at our houses and in our communities. Many families and individuals have done this well, much better than this introverted, lacking-Swahili-skills girl ever did. One teammate in particular shared an amazing story recently that I wanted to pass along.

On January 25, she posted:

"We're so excited! This past Tuesday our outdoor worker (the one who keeps our yard from looking like a jungle and also takes care of our dogs) announced, "My wife and I have been talking about you and we have decided that wherever you worship, we want to worship from now on!" We were stunned because Karume is Muslim but he was very serious about what he said and today he and his wife and new little baby joined us for Karume's very first Christian church service! Please be praying for him as he learns more about the Savior!"

In a place where everyone is "born" Christian or Muslim - and these are more often than not mixed together with traditional beliefs or visits to the witch doctor - any change is a huge deal... and this announcement shows 1. Just how much God is working through my friends to shine His light in very real ways, and 2. Just how much God works in hearts in ways we wouldn't necessarily expect.

Then today, I read:

"Some of you might remember my excitement over Karume, our outside worker who made the decision to start worshiping with our family each Sunday. Since that time he and his family have experienced a miracle. After searching and praying for his missing son (missing for over 2 weeks) the boy was found this past Friday!! Ends up he was abducted and taken to a town quite a distance from his village but somehow managed to escape, PRAISE GOD. Karume can't stop talking about the way God protected his son and everyone in church got to hear all about it this morning. Eleven-year-old Wambura is in the center of this picture - pray for him as he is still really shaken up by this whole thing."

This last post really got to me - not only because Karume was someone I saw around Musomaland on a semi-regular basis, and because I know that abductions do happen - but also because I recently finished reading The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency: Tears of the Giraffe and had read about something similar happening in Botswana... but in a fictional tale. This, on the other hand, is very real. I'm smiling from ear to ear, though nothing like Wambura's parents - and I am just so thankful for this happy ending - and beginning - for this very special family!!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Sequel

You know that magical moment, when you finish the last page of an incredible, epic story that made you laugh, cry, connect with incredible character-friends and wish and hope and pray for them (wait, am I the only one that ends up doing that?), and you sigh, wishing you could start the whole thing over again from the beginning? Except, you know without a doubt that a second reading, while good, would never be the same. Ever. You have already been changed. You know too much, the surprise will cease to catch your heart, and the story will be too easy to read from an outsiders’ view instead of being wrapped up in the midst of the moment.

And then there is the sequel. You know it’s coming, or is already out, yearning to be read… and you desperately hope for the best. And yet, I’m not a big fan of sequels. They always leave me… disappointed. The original story that I loved so much, the character’s ambitions and ideas, are all changed and different and they just.aren’t.the same as before. And it makes me sad.
This is pretty much where I am right now in life. I had a hunch when I left Tanzania, and realized more and more over the subsequent months, that not just a chapter, but a whole novel of my life was finished. I had turned the last page, said some final (and some not-so-final) goodbyes, and it broke my heart to let go of a story that had brought tears, laughter, runs in the rain with friends to in hot season, teachable moments with incredible children from who I see pictures of regularly on Facebook and just want to reach out to and give hugs and be a part of their lives again. Families that adopted me when I most needed a home and traditions created that will never resonate quite the same way again.

I realized recently that I would be more than willing to hop on a plane and go back to Musomaland again where they STILL NEED ANOTHER TEACHER. This is the reason I struggled so much with leaving this place that had become home in the first place – I knew there were elements of this life that I would carry with me and be changed by and forever recall and wish for again. The team I served with, the real, really-shared-on-all-levels prayer and Bible Study times, the kids and the laughter and the transitions and the understanding and deep bonds that form in hard places… these can’t just be recreated and reread and experienced in the same ways again. And while I’d love to pick up the story from those days in college when I yearned for Africa and had but am glad I did… I’m not there. I’ve learned, I’ve grown, I’ve been changed from the inside out over five or eight or ten incredible years. I know too much, and I know for a fact that I’m supposed to be in the States.

And so I hold memories and people in my heart and wonder hard about the sequel. One which can’t be a disappointment, because the writer of this story is way too Great for that. And I look forward to the next story, where I’ll go, what characters I’ll meet and cry and laugh with and pray for (legitimately, this time) and experience grace with all along the way.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

It's NOT that time again, but...

(from Christianity Today)
I recently heard about Joni Eareckson Tada for the first time when her picture made it on a magazine at our one-and-only local wazungu-type cafĂ©. True, I’m probably the only person in the greater Christian community that hasn’t heard of her, but I’ll attribute that to my not growing up reading biographies as a kid. For some reason, I was way more interested in epic stories of kids in far-off lands!

Back to the point. I heard a brief synopsis of Joni’s story – how she was paralyzed from the neck down in a diving accident, and how she has been used in powerful ways over the years by God. With her name in hand, I set off to find her biography on Kindle… and sat down to read in-between letting bread dough rise for dinner.

And then, I kept reading. And reading. Through the second-try of rising bread dough (the first one was disgusting, thanks to a bad batch of flour!), and more reading in bed that night. Yes, it was really good – but in some ways, I kept reading because I wanted to get past the uncomfortable, difficult bits of what happened and on to what God is doing now. While Joni’s experiences were nothing like mine, her story all-too-clearly whispered back memories of a story of my own.

A story of facing death, wondering if I would wake up unable to use part or all of my body for awhile or forever. A story of a teenager who lived life through movement and saw the possibility of this all being taken away. A fear of what we can’t control, a reminder that life is short, that what we have we take for granted, and that God is in control even when it seems all is wrong.

As I read, I could clearly imagine the feeling of lying in bed staring at a ceiling, unable to move a muscle. The possibility was once all too real. It’s not out of the scope of my imagination to know the dread of hoping and praying and having no idea what the outcome might be. And yes, for some reason my ending was not in a Stryker bed and wheelchair, but in a recovery room playing with the oxygen monitor on my finger, years more of dance and competitions and eventually living on another continent teaching kids.

It’s funny, how these feelings sometimes creep in unexpectedly, sliding under the door unannounced but all too real. I used to worry about “what might happen if” and dreaded checkups. These days, my biggest thought concerning this time of my life is the reminder to save up funds towards my next MRI. While once fears were real, now I consider my check-ups a great (though loud) nap time and am not surprised when I get a clean (though expensive) bill of health at the end. But then there are moments like reading Joni’s book, moments that bring me back to that time and make me realize just how very different the result could have been.

And while I try not to wonder “why” anymore, “Why did my story turn out so differently from so many others…?,” I do count my life and breath and being and ability to move and love on kids and teach with song and dance a privilege, just a little bit more, when I’m reminded of the gifts I’ve been given, while fully knowing God would have provided exactly what I needed even if the results had been different.

In any case, whether you’ve heard of Joni (or not), I definitely recommend her first book. The story of her healing and understanding of God is incredible. However, just a word of caution to anyone with a history of head trauma or brain/spinal issues… if that describes you, I’d recommend possibly skipping the biography and reading her more recent writings instead!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Gooney Bird Greene

If you know anything about me, have been in my classroom, or have ever helped me move apartments, you might have realized that I enjoy reading. More specifically, I'm passionate about great children's literature. Some might say I went into teaching to give purpose to my collection of kids' books... but I assure you, that's mostly not true. Some people have to watch how much they spend on shoes? I have to be careful when I'm in the kids' section of Barnes and Nobles. (ahh, bookstores... dreaming once again...)

But seriously. A great kid's book - chapter or picture, it doesn't matter - has an ability to capture a topic, portray emotion, pull a kid into something in, and allows them to easily understand and take part in something bigger and deeper than themselves. It can change how a student thinks or help them get perspective on something that's happening to or around them. It does in a few words and pictures, simply, what many authors for adults try to do in hundreds of wordy pages. And the end result touches adults just as much as it touches kids.

It's a difficult art, and I admire it greatly.

So when I come across a great book, especially one for kids that doesn't portray bratty kids as the heroes, I tend to want to share it.

On our read-aloud list for Sonlight, the curriculum I'm using with the 5 year old missionary kids this year, was the title Gooney Bird Greene. I was a bit worried - we had tried reading a couple of other recommendations earlier in the year and they had gone right over the kids' heads. So I did what every elementary teacher does. I grabbed the book and brought it home to read as my nighttime reading before bed.

And, unexpectedly, I kept reading more. And more. Good thing it's a short book or it might've been a late night. If you've ever been in a classroom, you'll connect with this book. If you have kids, or have ever been around a group of them, you'll get it. And especially if you've ever taught lower-elementary? You'll feel right at home in this classroom the minute you open the book. Here's a glimpse at Mrs. Pidgeon's second grade class:

“Our class has been learning about what makes good stories, haven’t we?” Mrs. Pidgeon said. Everyone nodded. All but Malcolm, who was under his desk cutting something with scissors.
“There are many stories that don’t need a book,” Mrs. Pidgeon said pleasantly, “aren’t there, class? If your grandma tells you a story about when she was a little girl, she doesn’t have that story in a book, does she?” 
The class stared at her. All but Malcolm, who was still under his desk, and Felicia Ann, who always looked at the floor, never raised her hand, and never spoke. 
Beanie said, “My grandma lives in Boston!” 
Keiko said, “My grandma lives in Honolulu!” 
Ben said loudly, “My grandma lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania!” 
Tricia shouted, “My grandma is very rich!” 
“Class!” said Mrs. Pidgeon. “Shhh!” Then, in a quieter voice, she explained, “Another time, we will talk about our families. But right now – ”  She stopped talking and looked at Barry Tuckerman. Barry was up on his knees in his seat, and his hand was waving in the air as hard as he could make it wave. 
“Barry?” Mrs. Pidgeon said. “Do you have something that you simply have to say? Something that cannot possibly wait?” 
Barry nodded yes. His hand waved. 
“And what is so important?” 
Barry stood up beside his desk. Barry Tuckerman liked to make very important speeches, and they always required that he stand. 
“My grandma,” Barry Tuckerman said, “went to jail once. She was twenty years old and she went to jail for civil disobedience.” Then Barry sat down. 
“Thank you, Barry. Now look at what I’m writing on the board. Who can read this word?” 
Everyone, all but Malcolm and Felicia Ann, watched as she wrote the long word…"
p. 4-5 Gooney Bird Greene, by Lois Lowry

I love that the two-time Newberry Award winner Lois Lowry decided to write a book about a girl who loves to tell "absolutely true" stories. It's brilliant. My kids are cracking up the whole way through, and yet are still learning basic elements of creating a story. But more than that, they're connecting with the characters themselves. Just like Gooney Bird's classmates, they're anxious to discover what crazy outfit Gooney Bird has on, love it when the days of school in the book coincide with the day of school in real life, and are excited to guess which story she's going to tell next.

Perhaps even better? It's a book that teachers (and parents!) will enjoy themselves. :) Even after reading it aloud a few years in a row.

Side note: Just found out there's a series! Now if only there was a Barnes and Noble in Musomaland... ;)

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday

I hesitate to say "Happy Good Friday" today because, in one sense, it doesn't express the awesome gravity of the occasion.  We say Merry Christmas - and we are merry because of the celebration of a Savior's miraculous, humble birth into our cruel, screwed-up world.  That somehow seems to fit.  But happy?

And then I remember this.

Yep.  It's a good, happy day.

I read a bit of the Jesus Storybook Bible to my students in class yesterday.  If you're a kid, or if you have kids, or if you've ever been a kid, you should own a copy of this book.
Yep, it's that good.

Here's a bit of what I read to my students yesterday.  I can't think of a better way to express the overwhelming amazingness of what this day represents in a language that speaks to kids and kids-at-heart alike.
"God was going to pour into Jesus' heart all the sadness and brokenness in people's hearts.  He was going to pour into Jesus' body all the sickness in people's bodies.  God was going to have to blame his son for everything that had gone wrong... Jesus was going to take on the punishment for all the wrong things anybody had ever done, or would ever do... It would crush Jesus."  

"The full force of the storm of God's fierce anger at sin was coming down.  On his own Son.  Instead of his people.  It was the only way God could destroy sin, and not destroy his children whose hearts were filled with sin."

Happy Good Friday!

*All quotes and illustrations are from The Jesus Storybook Bible,
written by Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrated by Jago

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mr. Falker Fashion

16 May 2011

Many of you know my passion for kids books.  I really don't see how you can go wrong with them.  They appeal to all the senses, apply to life, and are written simply with great value! (At least the good ones are...)  I've been adding to my "classroom collection" since I started college, with many thanks to garage sales, Goodwills, and other fabulous finds for $.50 or less!  I've collected quite a number.  Of boxes.  Which was great for NC.  But when it came to deciding which very few favorites my weight allowance would allow me to bring to the Land of Tanz... it was a sad day indeed. :(

My kids always laugh when I start reading a book.  It seems like more times than not, I introduce the current selection as "this is one of my favorites."  Or at least, "this person is one of my favorite authors."  It's almost become a joke.  Miss Lucas has a hundred favorite books! (Maybe I should start making a list)... But then again, I'm only reading the best ones aloud... so maybe what they're saying is true.

Recently, we started an author study of Patricia Polacco.  Yep, she's another "one of my favorites."  But, you have to understand.  She writes and illustrates beautiful picture books that deal with big issues... things that are insightful and deep... books that are just as great for adults as they are for kids.  All from her own experiences or those of her family.  Want to look at life in concentration camps?  Or the emotional difficulties of dyslexia?  Supporting friends through trials like childhood cancer?  Traditions handed down throughout the years?  Yeah.  She's got you covered.  All at a level accessible to kids.  What was the quote I once heard in Writing Children's Lit?  Something like: The hardest books to write are those made for children - because you have to take all of life, the whole story, everything, and put it in just a few words and ways that the smallest child can understand.

Back to Polacco.  We read through the book above and came across the following word picture from the story:

"Then, when Trisha started fifth grade, the school was all abuzz.  There was a new teacher.  He was tall and elegant.  Everybody loved his striped coat and slick gray pants – he wore the neatest clothes." 

In an effort to get my kids connected with the story, I had them draw their own image of Mr. Falker before seeing Polacco's illustration in the book.  I learned that grade 3 fashion, or elegance and "neat clothes" in their eyes, have a whole different meaning than what I might have imagined!  Here are a few of the examples...

the short pants and hat look... with tassel on top!
mohawk... and goatee perhaps?  only COOL guys teach math!
gotta have the glasses...
it's always revealing to see what kids pick up from class!  Evidently, we read a lot of books... do a TON of math... and our clock only has seven hours on it!

is this a hippie Santa Clause?  You've got to love the flower coming out of his head!
and my personal favorite... pants with rockets attached...  and hair that's ready to take off!
I'm thinking that next time I need fashion advice... including "neat teacher clothes" ... I just might head elsewhere to find it!  But regardless, I'm always thankful for the never-ending creativity with which my kids keep me laughing... :)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Looking on the Bright Side

24 January 2010

I rather enjoy reading older “classic” literature, and lately I’ve been on a kick. I’m loving the fact that with my new kindle (thanks, mom and dad!) I can download most of these books to read for free! (I never would have considered such a gadget in the States – I like sharing real books too much! – but the perks of not having to carry heavy novels across the world and adding weight to my already over-stuffed baggage just seemed too great to resist!)

Anyway, I recently read the story of Pollyanna. I know the term is overused and generally doesn't have a positive connotation, but the “Glad Game” seemed like something fun to try in my classroom when everyone gets down (or when the power is off and it seems like the day is never going to end…) One of our class rules is to be positive (along with being respectful, being responsible, and being prepared…), so it seemed a good fit.

Today, I tried it. We thought of how, despite hearing the secondary assembly loud and clear – and hearing air horns blasting and shouting from the nearby gym, we were thankful that…

  1. The secondary students were having fun learning about Jesus.
  2. It’s ok for people to dance and sing and enjoy spending time with our Creator – and that we don’t have to be super-serious about God all the time.
  3. We have the Bible in a language we can understand, and this can touch the student’s hearts.
Then we shut the doors and windows and turned on the air conditioning so we could focus on learning math. (Shh… don’t tell the principal – we were on generator power!)

As I sit here at my desk completely soaked through with sweat from the hot weather and lack of air con, and as I consider how yesterday, it was -7 degrees Fahrenheit at my parents’ house in MI… I decided to think up some reasons why I’m thankful it’s hot right now. (Turns out that the secondary students quieted down after a while, which is great… except then I didn’t have an excuse for the air con. Back to the “mbezi beach breeze” for cooling our classroom down!)

Here are my thoughts:

  1. No having to shovel snow
  2. We don’t have to lug around big heavy coats, hats, mittens…
  3. No clunky snow boots! (and no getting the bottoms of your pants wet!)
  4. Student-made snowflakes make me extra happy – I’m not sick of them!
  5. No need for hot water – you want it as cold as possible for showers.
  6. No slippery roads – which is good, because traffic is insane enough in Dar without more chaos ensuing!
  7. You get to use your mosquito zapper ALL YEAR LONG! (Unlike my poor dad, who has to wait to use his Christmas present till mosquitoes come out again…)
  8. No fear of freezing when the power goes out.
  9. Clothes take up a lot less room in the closet when they are all thin and light and cottony – and they weigh a lot less to carry in luggage!
  10. No seasonal depression disorders from not enough sun – we get FULL sun nearly every day of the year!

Happy Looking on the Bright Side Monday!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Jina Longu Ni Crysti (My name is Christy)

2 October 2010

Names in foreign countries always present an interesting problem.  They were made for one culture, one country, one language… and many don’t transfer well from one place to another.  Take David, for instance.  In German, it’s Daudi.  Which is fine.  Except when I’m talking to parents about their kid and realize that we’re both using different names for one person… and I wonder if I’ve been calling him the wrong name all along!

"Crystal" presents another interesting conundrum.  Most people here in Swahili-Land have never heard the word crystal before, even meaning a rock of great value.  So hearing this for the first time, they jump to the most obvious conclusion – Christo.  Yes, this does mean Christ, or Jesus, in Swahili.  So I introduce myself as Crystal, and they nod and laugh and acknowledge that they understand by pointing upward and saying, “ah, Christo!  Yesu! (Jesus).”  Hmm… not quite what I was going for.

Some people, like my roommate Marie, have had just as bad of luck.  Her name here is either pronounced Mary (as in the mother of Jesus), or Maria.  For a culture that loves to put the “ee” sound at the end of every word, it’s kind of funny that they can’t grasp this one.  But we once had a doctor give us our rabies vaccine here in Dar who laughed and laughed… his name was Joseph, and Marie’s name was Mary… Mary and Joseph!  Hahahaha! :(

In the end, I’ve come to the conclusion that I should change my name, at least a little, to make it more accessible for the average Tanzanian.  Makes sense, right?  If they’re going to get it wrong anyway, I may as well help them by giving them something they can say.  After some consideration, I tried dropping the “l” at the end… leaving me with “Crysta.”  Sometimes this works, but more often than not, they just look at me with a blank and confused expression and say “samahani?”  (excuse me?). 

So I decided another tactic was necessary.  Since Swahili-speakers love to put “ee” (spelled i) at the end of EVERYTHING – no joke – I decided the closest thing to Crystal was going to be Crysti.  Or Christi.  Or Christy.  It doesn’t matter how you spell it, as long as the person I’m talking to can say it! 

It was soon after this decision that I discovered another person with the same name… curiously, a character in a book.  Her name was Christy, and she, too, went away from home to a very different place to be a missions teacher.  And though she had little idea of what she would find when she arrived, she fell in love with the people and place.  I felt the name just might suit me.

I’m still not used to introducing myself as Christy, and I’m not sure it will ever really stick.  I certainly don’t turn around if someone calls me by that name!  On the other hand, I think the legacy of the character whose name I adopted gives me something to connect to here as a single missions teacher in a very different place from “home.”

Jina loko ni nani?  (What is YOUR name?)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Margin (Come to find out, it's not just for newsletters!)

16 Feb 2010

Nearly every time I create a newsletter for all of you, my “checker” sends it back with the phrase, “you need more margin (aka ‘white-space’) in your newsletter.” I dread this. I know it’s coming, because I extended my text and pictures further off the page than last time I submitted a newsletter format. And I've come to expect it. Ultimately, I just have too much good stuff to share with you and I try to fit it all onto one page! I can't imagine doing without any of it. But in the end, I have to admit that most of you would probably lay down my first draft newsletters without reading them, simply because you’d be too overwhelmed to know where to start.

It seems the same is true with life.
I’ve been reading a book called “Margin,” by Richard A. Swenson, for a few weeks now (thanks, Mom, for sending it!). As my kids in grade 3 got sick one after another, and as I realized the need to slow down (and make sure I didn’t become one of them), I used this book to convince myself it was ok to take time for myself. (Sad, I know… but true). Anyway, it’s been a good way of gaining perspective… and a good reminder for the good of saying “no.” And through it all, (though I’m now getting a lovely cold – hopefully not flu!), I’m realizing that slowing down also affords a unique opportunity to “lay down” - the stresses, burdens, worries, “failures,” and fears we pick up throughout the day - at the feet of Jesus.
Here are a couple of great quotes:

“We do not rest because our work is done; we rest because God commanded it and created us to have a need for it.” – Gordon McDonald

"Contentment is not only a good idea, it is our duty. If God recommends something, we ought to do it. If God requires something, we must do it. As J. I. Packer has emphasized, contentment is both commended (“Godliness with contentment is great gain” – 1 Tim 6:6) and commanded (“Be content with what you have” – Heb 13:5)… Godliness is an attitude whereby we what we want is to please God. Contentment, explains J.I. Packer, “is essentially a matter of accepting from God’s hand what He sends because we know that He is good and therefore it is good.” Contentment is the freedom that comes when prosperity or poverty do not matter; to accept what we have and “to want but little,” as Thoreau advised. The more we choose contentment, the more God sets us free. The more He sets us free, the more we choose contentment." – Margin, by Richard A. Swenson, M.D.