Thursday, March 29, 2018

On teaching, and learning, and knowing God

Image: Roy Caldwell
Here's the thing. I've always been a smarty-pants. School was pretty easy for me, but more importantly, I always loved it. Learning gives me a rush that a roller coaster never will. My favorite thing about college, other than the friendship of Kristy, was actually the classes. Speaking of college, my boyfriend at the time, in the process of dumping me, accused me of knowing God in my head but not my heart. I was pretty mad about that. But, it also caused me to wonder: is that true? There's this old book, Eighteen inches to Heaven that puts forward this idea that believing in God in your head isn't enough. Is that true? What does that mean?
Truly, I've always been pretty heady. My thoughts don't ever stop. My emotions are often slow to catch up. I even DECIDED to fall in love with Ben because I KNEW in my head it would be the biggest mistake of my life not to. My brain leads and the rest of me follows. Does that mean I don't love God for real?
Due to that unfortunate accusation and some other Christian thoughts on the topic in the years since, I've often stopped to check in with myself on this whole head-knowledge thing. But, here's the thing.
God has been faithful to answer my insecurities. I John 3 says "for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart and he knows everything." My maker knows my frame and he deigns to reveal himself to me in a personal way through thinking, information, and curiosity. He draws near to me in a classroom.
A new friend and co-worker recently introduced me to this podcast, RadioLab.  It's a thrilling (for me) mix of humor, curiosity, and scholarship. They ask ridiculous questions (Do plants have brains? Which animal sees the best rainbow?) and then dig into answers. And every episode leaves me smiling -- and worshiping. And so eager to rush back to my classroom and usher my students into this crazy-cool way of knowing God - through learning. The podcast is certainly not "Christian," but it is God-revealing because of its dogged pursuit of truth in random places.
My fifth graders are reading The Phantom Tollbooth right now, which is the best book. It's a classic, so maybe you've read it. It's a sort of secular/academic/juvenile Pilgrim's Progress. The character, Milo, tries to reach Infinity, which of course he can't because..... .... .... .... ....
And, so, as a class, we stopped to contemplate Infinity's impossibility. Is there anything more worship-inducing than the Big Truths that are impossible to truly understand?

So, my favorite podcast was nearing the end of its investigation into the rainbows-as-seen-by-mantis-shrimp, and one of the guys (who I like to consider my new friends) mentions this concept of "uumwelt," which means that we are each limited by our own experience of the world - essentially the opposite of inifinity. So, we can't actually know what the mantis shrimp sees, and we can't actually understand God's infinite-ness (that's my own application, not my friend's). But, then, the other host, says, "But, we can try. It's certainly fun to try."

And, that's it. My faith when it is most piqued, most alive. God is outside my uunwelt, and I can't understand him the way I want to. But, it's certainly fun to try.

And, you know what? This morning, after reading about Milo's fruitless quest for Infinity, I introduced my students to mantis shrimp, and uumwelt, and the excitement of Seeking Truth, and God was right here in this classroom.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Culture Squish

Yes, it’s been over a year since I’ve written. Lots of good reasons for that. But today’s a family favorite - the Parade of Nations at KICS.
What beauty is found in watching hundreds of people, mostly children, proudly showing off the traditions of their homes. At a school like KICS, the display is particularly dazzling. I’m writing this while my fifth graders take a test, and I see one Korean hanbok, six Rwandan  mishinana on both boys and girls, one Malawian dress, lots of football jerseys that represent different countries, and my friend Muthoni who helps me every day is wearing a beautiful Kenyan dress. My Canadians are sporting maple leaf tattoos and my Ghanaian will get dressed later.
Pictures will come later, but the beauty isn’t in the fabric or the texture or the color. The beauty of today is the Image of God on display as He intended it. God chose from the beginning that we should not make images of him, because He gave us His image in billions of different ways when he gave us each other.
Yes, the best way I can know God is through his Holy Word and indwelling Holy Spirit. But, I’m missing a chance to know Him if I look past, over, or down on any of the images that He  made of Himself.
If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past eighteen years of my life, it’s that this process of knowing God better through loving those different from me produces beautiful results, but is uncomfortable.
We’ve all heard the term culture shock, and that’s still something I experience yearly in my visits to the States and try to choose yogurt at the grocery store.
But today, as I was watching my students sing and dance to their favorite band Run51 performing God’s Great Dance Floor, I realized that the shock is temporary; it’s the squish that stays with you forever.
As people, I believe we only have natural space for one culture, or point of view. And so, I explained to my fifth graders, when I met dr. Thomas, I had to make room for his culture by squishing mine own aside. As you can imagine, this wasn’t easy for either of us, but I wasn’t the only one squishing. My in-laws also had to squish to make room for me and my ideas and ways of looking at things. My squishing naturally asked my family to squish too. Ben didn’t have to squish too much, but he did have to witness all his loved ones squishing and sometimes (me) whining about it.
But it’s in the squish that Christ is most revealed, because He not only asks it if us, but modeled it for us. Actually, that’s not true. What he modeled was “emptying himself,” which is far more than just making space for marshmallows on the sweet potatoes, or learning a few words in a new language.
And so I can’t wait to to go to the parade this afternoon and I’ll certainly shed some tears when the flags of Rwanda and India come down. Because, not only have I had the joy of squishing for them, they’ve squished so much more for me.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

We love this place - and think you might too!

As we celebrate a new year, we look ahead to a new school year - one where KICS is doing a lot of growing, and we are looking for just the right people to join us on mission here in Rwanda - teaching kids from over 20 countries! This is a really amazing place full of interesting people and a place we are thrilled to be raising our kids. I'd like to take a minute to list our upcoming job openings here. Please see our website for benefit packages and other such details.

PRIMARY (In other words, working with our kids, who, though not perfect, are adorable):

  • PreK Teacher-Leader
  • your future pre-K student
  • PreK Teacher
  • Kindergarten Teacher
  • Grade 1 Teacher
  • your future grade 1 student
  • Grade 2 Teacher
  • English Language Learner Teacher
  • Primary Art benefits include portraits of you
  • Primary Art Teacher (yes, this is where I've been filling in this year, and while I've loved it and am willing to continue, I'd love to use my time elsewhere.) 
  • Primary Foreign Language Teacher
  • English Language Learner - Special Education Teacher


  • High School Language Arts Teacher
  • High School Math Teacher
  • High School Social Studies Teacher
  • Middle School Language Arts Teacher
  • Librarian/Media specialist

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Forty Days of Prayer

As the new school year begins, it has been impressed upon several at KICS, notably Ben, that we need to engage in a season of prayer. Of course, we would always begin a new year with prayer, but it seems God is calling us to really focus and extend that this year. And we'd like to ask you to join us. Ben asked Eric Davenport, our Spiritual Life Coordinator, to put something together to help guide us through this. Technically, this started yesterday on September 1, but you can join in right now. We are praying primarily for these 4 things:

  1. for God's work in all the students, staff, families, communities, and the countries represented in our school.
  2. for God's physical and spiritual protection of all students, staff, families and community.
  3. for God's wisdom for this school year.
  4. for God's plans for KICS's future.
Eric has provided a different set of scriptures to use as we pray each day. I have listed them below and will post them on my Facebook page daily. If you are not friends with me, please "like" Kigali International Community School, as I will be posting them there also. 

Thanks for praying with us.

Tuesday, 1 September (Day 1):
Psalm 9, Isaiah 55:11, Luke 1:37

Wednesday, 2 September (Day 2):
Psalm 100, John 14:13-14, John 16:23-26

Thursday, 3 September (Day 3):
Psalm 124, I John 4:16-18

Friday, 4 September (Day 4):
Psalm 86, Proverbs 3:5-6, Philippians 4:6-7 

Saturday, 5 September (Day 5):
Psalm 46, Proverbs 2:6-11, Psalm 32:7

Sunday, 6 September (Day 6):
Exodus 15:1-3, 6-7, 11, 13; Psalm 18:30-31; Revelation 3:7b-8

Monday, 7 September (Day 7):
Psalm 5:1-8, 11-12; II Timothy 1:7; Psalm 46:10

Tuesday, 8 September (Day 8):
Psalm 81:8-13, Psalm 42

Wednesday, 9 September (Day 9):
Psalm 27, Psalm 63

Thursday, 10 September (Day 10):
Psalm 21:11-13, I John 4:4, Psalm 55:22

Friday, 11 September (Day 11):
II Thessalonians 3:1-5; Psalm 31:3-4, 8; Psalm 37:5-7, 39-40

Saturday, 12 September (Day 12):
Psalm 68:1-6, Psalm 138:7-8, Isaiah 54:7

Sunday, 13 September (Day 13):
Psalm 73:23-28, Psalm 143

Monday, 14 September (Day 14):
Isaiah 40

Tuesday, 15 September (Day 15):
Psalm 90, Isaiah 30:18, II Chronicles 6:9a

Wednesday, 16 September (Day 16):
Psalm 62:1-2; John 17:11, 14-20; Ephesians 6:10-20

Thursday, 17 September (Day 17):
Psalm 20; Proverbs 9:10-12

Friday, 18 September (Day 18):
Proverbs 4:23-27; Psalm 25

Saturday, 19 September (Day 19):
Psalm 33

Sunday, 20 September (Day 20):
Psalm 34

Monday, 21 September (Day 21):
Psalm 66

Tuesday, 22 September (Day 22):
Psalm 91

Wednesday, 23 September (Day 23):
Psalm 92

Thursday, 24 September (Day 24):
Psalm 101; Psalm 127

Friday, 25 September (Day 25):
Psalm 113:1-4, Isaiah 41:10, James 1:2-8

Saturday, 26 September (Day 26):
Psalm 108:1-5, Isaiah 58:12, I Peter 1:3-9

Sunday, 27 September (Day 27):
Psalm 95:1-7a, Romans 8:26-27, II Chronicles 7:14-15

Monday, 28 September (Day 28):
Daniel 2:19b-21; Romans 8:31-39; Romans 15:13

Tuesday, 29 September (Day 29):
James 4:7-10; I Peter 2:13-17; Jeremiah 29:5-7; Job 34:18-19, 23-24, 29-30

Wednesday, 30 September (Day 30):
I Peter 5:5-11, Colossians 3:12-17

Thursday, 1 October (Day 31):
Colossians 3:23-24, Philippians 2:1-11, Ephesians 3:20-21

Friday, 2 October (Day 32):
Psalm 19, Philippians 2:13-16a, Jeremiah 32:27

Saturday, 3 October (Day 33):
Jeremiah 32:17-19, Psalm 14

Sunday, 4 October (Day 34):
Psalm 11

Monday, 5 October (Day 35):
Psalm 15

Tuesday, 6 October (Day 36):
Proverbs 16:3, Matthew 9:36-38, II Corinthians 9:10-11, Galatians 6:9, Matthew 7:7-8, John 15:5-8

Wednesday, 7 October (Day 37):
Psalm 16:1-9

Thursday, 8 October (Day 38):
Psalm 17

Friday, 9 October (Day 39):
Psalm 18

Saturday, 10 October (Day 40):
Psalm 23

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Rwanda Moments: Eddie

Eddie is our guard/ outside worker. He is a man who has lived and worked at our home since we hired him a year ago when we moved here. He is a night-guard/handyman/gopher/playmate-for-our-kids/new-sparring-partner-for-Ben. He is one of my most favorite people in Rwanda, and today God used him to give me an illustration of the way God sometimes works.
One of the material blessings of our home is consistent hot water. Our hot water heater always seems to be working, and always seems to be “on.” (In India, we needed to flip a switch on whatever heater we wanted to use about 15 minutes before a shower)
The other day, the light on the heater was off and the water was cold. Not a life-or-death matter, but certainly one that affects the mood of the house (ok, mostly me). It seemed that the problem was in the switch that controls the heater - it can’t be flipped - it’s stuck in position, and the water heater light remains dark. Surprisingly, I happened to take a shower yesterday and it was hot, and the heater seemed to be working perfectly. By the time Ben came home for a shower, the light was off and the switch was stuck. This morning, he used the shower anyway and said the water was hot. We puzzled over what new kink Rwanda was throwing at us, and left it alone. I suggested to Ben that he ask Eddie to fix the switch, but all day I’ve been messing with it, and the switch won’t budge.
This afternoon, Eddie stopped in the house to ask me if the water was working. I said, no, the switch won’t flip. He said, try the water.... I felt like Peter being asked to fish on the other side of the boat, but I did it. And, just like Peter, I was surprised to feel hot water streaming out of the shower. Eddie didn’t fix the switch; he fixed the hot water. And, really, hot water was the problem, not a stuck switch. But, I was so fixated on that stupid stuck switch. 
I am reminded of my prayers, when I ask God to fix a problem that I see that needs addressing. Sometimes, in His goodness, He shows me that the “problem” I see isn’t the real problem, and he fixes the real issue. If I remain focused on my request, I might think He’s not answering me, but He is, with a more complete answer than I knew I needed. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015


The weekend is coming, and so Independence Day celebrations are in full effect. This date is special in both of our home countries - Independence Day in the United States is also Liberation Day in Rwanda - the day the 1994 genocide was ended. But, right? There's always a "but."

Because, in the US, among other things, churches burn. In Rwanda, people still suffer from fear and distrust and insecurity.

Independence, Liberty, Justice, the ideals that much of humanity would be willing to fight for, are not ever ultimately won with wars.

We happen to be in the US, so we will be experiencing the Fourth celebrations from this side of the planet. Yesterday, we took the kids into Philly to see the Liberty Bell - one of those touristy things that we'd never done. While we waited in the long line, we viewed displays about civil rights. You see, the Liberty Bell originally hung in the Pennsylvania Statehouse, just meters away from our country's original "White House" - and the place where many slaves were imprisoned. The exhibit reminded us that the Liberty Bell stands for both liberties won and liberties withheld. At the time the Liberty Bell was paraded around the country, expanding its notable crack, slavery was legal, women weren't allowed to vote, interracial marriage was a crime, etc. And today, two hundred years later, churches burn.

Liberty & Justice for all.

It's been an intense week on facebook since the SCOTUS ruling. I won't go into my own feelings and opinions here (although I always love an interesting in-person discussion), but I do want to explore one of the ideas I find difficult. Many of my facebook friends lament the dying of the  "values this country was built on," and suggest God's coming judgment. What has been circling my brain of late - and was brought to the surface at the Liberty Bell - is that there is a difference between ideals and values. The American ideal might be liberty and justice for all. But the values demonstrated by both history and current events include racism, sexism, and materialism. This country (and all of us on this spinning planet) certainly deserve God's judgment, but a ruling on gay marriage doesn't strike me as more worthy of judgment than much of the chapter titles of our history textbooks or the headlines of our newspapers.

Liberty & Justice for all must be granted in our hearts before it can become real in our land.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Closing Time

"Time for you to go out to the places you will be from."

photo by Louise Koonce (KICS)
Referencing a song made popular in 1998 as I think about graduation dates me as either really young or really old, depending on how old you are I guess.
But, for real. Ben just handed diplomas to 10 bright young people who for probably ten different reasons went to high school in Kigali, Rwanda. Before they left, we got to have them over for dinner and it was fun to hear their dreams for their lives. One wants to be a pilot. One a human rights lawyer.  One a golfer. I'm not sure what Phoebe actually wants to do, but I've seen enough of her work to know that she will make the world more
beautiful. Ten stories that began in all parts of the world, converged here for a breath, and are being launched out to make a difference.
These ten will grow old. They will likely get married and have jobs and bills and kids. They will probably answer this question a million times: "Where are you from?" And, only a couple of them will say, "Kigali, Rwanda." For others this was a stopping point on a journey full of stopping points. For some, like me, they could grow up somewhere practically their whole life, but make a new life somewhere else that becomes their "from."
Ben and I have long argued where we're "from." Being a New Yorker, he's reluctant to claim any other place as his - even if he's lived there FOR TWELVE YEARS with the LOVE OF HIS LIFE and brought FOUR BABIES HOME to that place. (no, I'm totally fine with it.) Having my hometown ripped away from me as an adult, and then finding community in a place for twelve years with the love of my life and my four babies made Ohio my "from."
And now, by God's grace, Rwanda is becoming my kids'  from. There's a saying in the circle of third-culture and missionary kids: "Home is where you unpack your suitcase." We are about to live that saying out in new ways in the coming weeks as we unzip bags in France, Long Island, Philly, Fairborn, and Lake George.
Between Ben's allegiance to New York and my dying dream to become the Fairborn mayor, this will not ever be our from. But it has sure become our home.
For these graduates, who aren't kids anymore, I am excited to see them go out to the places they will be from. I hope for some of them, it ends up being right here.

We got to celebrate our fourteenth anniversary of marriage the same week we celebrated our first school year at KICS. Happy anniversary to us, wherever we're from.