Sunday, December 14, 2014

Where He Leads

(Photo taken by Jennifer Donovan)

Where He leads, I will follow.
How many times have we uttered those words, or words similar to that? How many times have we professed to follow Jesus? Have you ever stopped to think about what that really means?  Since my time in Suriname, that has been on my mind. What does it really mean to follow Jesus, and am I doing that?  Have I completely surrendered myself to Him? Is He truly Lord of my life? If you had asked me these questions a year ago, I would have answered yes without hesitation. 
Recently, I was put to the test.  Without a doubt, I believed God called me to Suriname. I sold/gave away most of my possessions. Gave my 3 cats away, left my adult daughter behind. No regrets because He called and I followed. Once here, I began to think about what it means to truly follow Christ. I pridefully thought that, yes, I am following Him, because after all, did I not give up everything I had?  But it is more than that. Following Him is more than just giving up your worldly possessions.  It requires giving up the right to yourself. Giving up your right to have a say in how you live your life.  Giving up your possessions is the easy part of following him. After all, even Judas Iscariot did that. When Christ called out the 12 disciples, they all left their jobs, their homes, and some their families to follow him around the countryside.  But not all gave their heart. Judas lived with Jesus for 3 years. 3 years of watching Jesus heal the sick, forgive sins, love the unlovable, casting out demons, restoring lives and giving hope. Yet, it never reached Judas' heart. He never truly followed him with his whole being.

 I am currently in my 2nd year of a 2 year contract here in Suriname.  All summer, the decision to stay a third year was constantly on my  mind. Once we all returned to IAS, it was the main topic of many conversations. "Are you staying a third year?" "I don't know, are you?"  The December deadline was looming large in front of me.  It was something I was constantly praying about.  I knew God had called me to Suriname. But I needed to know if He was still calling me to stay longer, or to move on to another country.  Then about a month ago, I was at a crossroads.  I began to really miss home. I was entertaining the thought of returning to the states. I knew getting a job would not be too difficult. It would be easy to go home. I began to long for it. As I prayed about this, I felt I was at a fork in the road. One way was leading towards "home", the other was leading to complete abandonment to Jesus. Going home would be the safe thing for me. Home is comfortable. I knew if I went home, it would not be God's best. Would I still be saved? yes. Would God still love me? Yes. But for me, I knew I would not be fully following him with my whole heart.  I knew it was not the right decision.  For me, following Jesus meant giving up EVERYTHING. Even my desire to return home.  My life is no longer my own. I am His. My identity is found in Him. I desire to love and serve Him with my whole being.  With fear, trembling, and humility, I say, "Yes, Jesus, I will follow where you lead me. I choose to give up my will for your will. I chose to love with abandon. I chose joy in the midst of pain. I chose obedience over comfort. It is you my heart longs for. It is you I live for."

The deadline to turn in my contract for a 3rd year is this week. Monday morning I will hand in my signed contract to the Academic Dean. Yes, I feel like the Lord wants me to stay here in Suriname a 3rd year. I am both excited and terrified. Excited, because I know this is where He has lead me. Terrified, because I chose to give Him complete control of my life to Him. But I know my life is in Good hands.  "Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus..."

Friday, October 10, 2014

I am long overdue on an update! Thoughts are always floating around in my brain. But finding time to actually  sit still long enough to WANT to process them into a post...well, that is where I fall short. :) I have written dozens of blog my mind.  But that doesn't benefit you, does it? ;)

Let me catch you up on what has happened since my last post in February, 2014. Finished out my first year of teaching overseas (20th year in the classroom!) in June, 2014. What a year it was! I learned so much. And was stretched so far beyond my comfort zone I could have been elastic girl. I absolutely fell in love with my students. Teaching 15, mostly ESL, children was one of the hardest and most rewarding things I have ever done, next to parenting my lovely daughter, Shelby.  So, here are some bullet points highlighting the many areas I was stretched in.

  • Learning to live in a foreign country.  Grocery shopping and cooking here took some getting use to. I am able to find most of the things I am use to cooking with. However, the question then becomes, "Do I want to pay THAT price for it?"  I will occasionally splurge and pay an astronomical price for a little bit of comfort. (Can anyone say Breyer's Oreo Cookies and Cream?)
  • Teaching a class mostly made up of ESL (English Second Language) students. It was a challenge, but one I absolutely LOVED!! I was so very grateful for all my years of ABEKA phonics training. Whether you love or loathe the ABEKA curriculum, one thing you have to give them credit for is their phonics program. It does the job well for most students.  Using my knowledge of phonics made teaching my sweet ESL babies a lot easier. 
  • Roommates. The house we live in is divided into two apartments. An upstairs apartment where 3 ladies  live, and a downstairs apartment where I live with 2 other female teachers.  Living with the same people you work with is different. Not bad. Just different. I am an introvert. Extreme introvert according to the facebook quiz. ;) Finding the balance of being sociable and hibernating in my room has been a bit difficult for me. While I enjoy the company of my roommates, I also enjoy the solitude of my room. As someone just recently said to me, "I am comfortable in my own company." That was a spot on comment.  I am quite content to be alone. BUT there are times where I do enjoy mingling with others. It is necessary to stay balanced and sane. 
  • Bathtubs. I MISS BATHTUBS! Bathtubs are a rarity here. I don't mind showers. Even in the states, I took mostly showers. But there are those times where a nice, long ,hot soak in a tub overflowing with bubbles is greatly needed.
  • God.  My relationship with my Heavenly Father has indeed changed. I have learned to depend on Him more than ever. And He has shown me things that I have never before understood. I love Him more today than I ever thought possible. I am hearing Him more than I ever thought possible.  At times, the spiritual stretching has been down right painful. A lot of tears have been shed. Tears of sorrow, tears of repentance, and tears of joy. 
After the school year ended, I stayed behind to help with the English Summer Camp. That was a difficult decision. But in the end, it boiled down to money. In order to claim the foreign income credit, I had to live in Suriname for 330 days. Which means I couldn't leave for the states until July 15. So, I may as well be productive and help out with camp. Which also helped me earn the money I need to buy my plane ticket home. :)

While home, I ate way to much American food. But I enjoyed every calorie. I was able to see my grandma, my mother and one of my brothers. I got to spend a lot of time with my church family. And of course, I got see my Shelby and meet her now husband, Ryan. Yes. You read that right. I now have a son-in-law. Sept. 10 Ryan and Shelby eloped. They are crazy in love and happy. They are living in Dothan, Alabama.

The new school year began August 18.  This year I only have 7 students. I am loving the smaller class size. They are a sweet bunch and I am loving the fact that I GET to be their teacher! They are from Brazil, China, Australia, Indonesia/America and Zimbabwe.

So, do you know what this introvert is doing this year??? Leading a Bible study. Yes, you read that right. I wrestled with the Lord on that one for a few days. But finally gave in and offered to lead one.  It has definitely been a learning experience. Our little group is great. I am enjoying their fellowship.  We have been having some great discussions.  Right now we are in Ephesians. Next, we are moving on to 1 John. I LOVE first John. Of course, I said the same thing about Ephesians. ;) I just love HIS word.

My days and evenings stay pretty busy.  There are things I am committed to on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings. The school staff also meets once a month on a Saturday to worship and pray together. I help out with an after school Bible club on Wednesday afternoons. Do some cooking for the Bible studies here and there. I don't mind the cooking. I love to cook.  I also started attending a local church here. I am enjoying His teaching. I am learning a lot.

So, that pretty much catches you up on things with me. I do have some prayer requests though.

  1. Please pray for my students. Pray that I am the teacher they need and that I effectively teach them not just academically, but also the truths of God's word. May they know His love for them and one day follow Him. 
  2. Christmas vacation is coming up. I would love to go home. But, if I want to go home this summer, I most likely can't go home Christmas too.  Tickets are just a wee bit pricey. I sometimes feel guilty praying for a Christmas trip home when there is so much suffering and tragedy in the world.
  3. I am in my second year of a two year contract. I have to let them know in December whether or not I will return for a 3rd year. Please pray that God will show me if I am suppose to stay here or move on to another country.
Enjoy these few pictures!

Several of the IAS teachers were invited to the Chinese Embassy.  These are two of my fellow teachers.

Here I am on the first day of this school year. 

These last two were taken last June.  The one below is me in front of the Suriname River. 

Thank you for reading!

May the Lord bless you, and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Introverted Perspective

Hi, My name is Tonya and I am an introvert. I never really questioned why I am what I am. I suppose I always thought that was how God made me. That would be my response if someone teased me about it. But now I am wondering, did God make me an introvert? Or did the circumstances and trials of life turn me into one?  I never questioned this before, as I was quite content with my rainbow & butterfly existence. (In the states), I would go to work, do my job to the best of my ability, talk with coworkers, students and parents. Then I would drive to my safe-haven: my home. Once home, I could shrug off the cares of the day, relax and be myself. I didn't have to worry about my facial expressions, whether or not I said the right thing, or mull over what someone else said and wonder "what exactly they meant". At home I could be quiet. At home, I didn't have to paste a smile on. At home, I didn't have to talk to anyone. I could just sit in my recliner and be me.

Growing up, I was always the quiet, shy child. I never was one for conversation. I was content to sit in the corner and listen to everyone and watch what was going on around me. I was a deep thinker. Even at the age of 6, I can remember being in deep thought about heaven, the after life, and God.  We moved around a lot. I was in at least (that I can remember) 12 different elementary schools from grades Kinder to 6. Two different middle schools and 2 different high schools.  I often heard comments that were negative and not at all encouraging.  I had some horrible relationships that just were not healthy. By the time I was 17, I tried several times to end my life.  Thanks to Jesus, things leveled out some during college. I still struggled with social situations. Found the whole college roommate thing quite difficult. In the end, I was able to room alone the last 2 1/2 years. During college, ended up in another bad relationship.  It caused me to further draw in to myself and away from others.

I say all of this NOT for any pity, but to just to bring up the question, why am I an introvert? Did God make me that way? Or did some of my life experiences make me that way? Perhaps God did have a hand in my personality, but life experiences distorted it and made it into something it was never suppose to be: a safety net.   Drawing into myself and away from others was self protection. "You won't hurt me because I am not giving you a chance."  I have spent the last 7 years fighting this. I was told on several occasions that I built up walls. And, they were right.  So, I have really worked on my social skills. I try to smile, engage in small talk and take an interest in others.

The last 2 years, my heart cry has been that others see the Love of Christ in me. I did not want my introvertness to get in the way of my Christian witness. So, there is the rub! At what point is it "my God-given personality" and not a selfish gesture meant to keep people at arms length?
I find myself in a position where I once again have roommates. I dearly love all of them. But I admit to spending a bit too much time in my room. Once I am home, my first inclination is to go to my room and decompress. The problem is, I tend to stay there. Yes, I do socialize when asked, 80% of the time. Ok, maybe 70%. ;)  I struggle to find that balance. I am just one of those people who needs a bit of alone time.  That is how I energize myself after a long, hard day of herding cats, I mean, first graders.  :-)  But at the same time, I worry that I am not loving enough or trying hard enough.  **sigh** It is a catch 22 for me.
It is a source of constant prayer for me. "Lord, help me to love others as you love me. Help me to reach out even when I'd rather stay in a book. Forgive me if I've caused anyone to stumble or feel unloved. "

This wasn't my typical blog post. Just thought I'd give you a glimpse into what goes on in my introverted head. Hahahaha. :-)  Prayers are always appreciated.  Things here are going well. Still loving my students and being here. I know this is where God wants me for this season of my life. He has been showing me so many things.  I guess that is why the introvert issue has been so heavy on my heart. I am suppose to be here to minister and to serve.  I just need to find the balance of serving, and refueling.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

January update

Well, I titled this post "January Update". Then realized today is actually February 1! How in the world is it already February? Time is passing too quickly.

Well, as most of you know, I did get to go back to the states for Christmas break. Very thankful for the Lord's provision. I had a good visit with Shelby and some great friends. It was good to be with my "church" family. I have missed them.  When I arrived at the Valdosta airport, they were all there. It was such a happy surprise.

I arrived back in Suriname January 4. The students came back on the 7th. It was so good to see them. I had missed them. Although, that first day back, I only had 8 out of the 16 that are on roll. Some took an extended vacation. :).  We quickly fell back into a routine.  I am loving these first graders.  There is never a dull moment in our class. One of my students will be leaving this week. He is returning to Italy. My heart is going to break! I love that boy. He played hangman with me one day. I could NOT guess the word. I got down to just two spaces left. He then looked at me with this sly grin and said, "Now I give you a word in English." LOL. It never occurred to me the word he gave me was Italian! ;-)

Tidbits since my last update:

  • Got a new student in January. He is from America.  
  • Driving on the left side of the road still terrifies me. I avoid driving as much as possible.
  • I am able to join my home church service on Friday nights thanks to Google hangout. IT is my life line. 
  • Finally beginning to adjust to life here. Still haven't quite found my niche, but it is definitely feeling a little more like home.  Bringing back a few homey touches from the states for my room here has helped to make it a little more comfortable. 
  • I've not been able to post a lot of pictures lately because my laptop has died. It is hard for me to upload them to facebook from my phone.  
  • I eat at McDonald's here WAY more than I ever did back in the states. Here, they serve spicy fried chicken. It is so good. I went one day last week, and they were OUT of chicken. I nearly had a melt down right in front of the worker. lol. 
  • Still having trouble shopping cheaply for groceries here. I just can't quite get the hang of it.  Maybe if I ate differently.....
  • A few weeks ago, it hailed here in Suriname. A very unusual occurrence. The locals said the last time it hailed was over 70 years ago. All the neighbors were out side in it. I couldn't understand what they were saying. But based on their voice tones, they sounded excited and awe struck. Yes, I was outside with them. :)
  • The thing I find I am missing the most: a bath tub.  Bath tubs are not common here. And there are some days that would just end much better if I were able to take a nice long, hot bubble bath.  :)
  • Went to my first foreign birthday party. It was fun! One of my Brazilian students. The invite said 5 to 7. My American mind would interpret that as "arrive at 5 and leave at 7". Nope. It meant, arrive between 5 and 7. You stay as late as you like or until the party ends...whichever comes first. ;) A lot of good food!
  • My introverted self is trying very hard to be a little more extroverted. But I must say, when faced with the choice to read or socialize....sometimes reading just has to win. You know? :)
Overall, things are going well. I am learning to completely trust in the Lord. There are times I feel very insecure and wonder what I am doing. BUT one thing I do know for sure, I am suppose to be here. I just need to remember that He will equip me and give me what I need to do what He has sent me to do.
When you pray, please remember me and my sweet students. 
Blessings to you all, sweet friends!