Thursday, November 04, 2010

Rock Star

I had the day off from my regular duties today. 7 hours of professional development isn't much of a break, but I did sleep in for an extra hour, and I didn't have to deal with my students' problems from dawn til dusk, which is an important mental break.

Having a substitute in my room is stressful. Will my kids live up to my expectations without me there? Or will they disappoint me with their disobedience? I'm always hopeful, but most of my children don't define "character" as what you do when nobody is looking at you.

So on my lunch break I decided to visit my school, which is only a 3-4 minute drive from the training center. I popped my head in unexpectedly on my 7th grade class...and everything was running perfectly. Everyone was where they should be. The substitute still had her sanity. All was in order. I rejoiced!

Then my students realized that I was in the room. Chaos ensued. It seemed as if I had been gone for weeks they way they mobbed me, droppin' high fives, fist pounds and chest bumps like we had just won the World Series.

And several hours later, I realize that being treated like a rock star validates us. It validates our work. It validates our relationships. It validates our existence, our purpose.

I pity people who seek out that validation, because that is not a good way to live. But when validation comes, I will enjoy it, not as validation for who I am, but for what I am doing in the Kingdom.

Rock on!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Names Have Been Changed to Protect Identities

I have many, many good stories that arise from my daily work.

I teach 6th, 7th & 8th grade children how to improve their reading skills, and the teaching part is interesting enough; the lives and actions of my students push it to a whole other level.

It feels weird to even type this sentence, but my life is more interesting and unpredictable now than it ever was when I lived in Togo. In my previous life, the unpredictability of life was predictable. I expected to see naked woman walking around in public blowing a goat horn and dancing to Michael Jackson while balancing a chair on her head. In my public school life, I truly never know what I'm going to get.

There are laws that protect the identities of children, laws that I am grateful for as a professional educator, so I can't post names or pictures of students.

But I can share funny stories. Life lessons. Teachable moments. Ghetto pranks. Breakthroughs. Connections. Impacted lives. Changed lives. Saved lives. My daily work.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Red Meat & Pop

I'm into marking transitions in meaningful and interesting ways. I recently switched jobs and continents, and I can't imagine a bigger transition than that. In order to mark that transition, I decided to not eat red meat or drink pop for one full year.

It's kind of a strange thing to do, I know. It's not like I consume mass quantities of either item, and neither red meat nor pop have been something that I crave on a daily basis. They are luxury items, however, and giving them up is somewhat significant.

I've instructed April not to adjust her menu in any way. Go ahead and make tacos; I'll just put beans on mine. Feel free to grill some burgers; I'll eat some leftovers. Pop is easy enough to avoid; water is always a better option, anyways. And I'm not giving up beer :)

This year without started on August 1st, 2010, which roughly coincided with the beginning of school. Every time I pass on an opportunity to eat a steak or gulp down some Cherry Coke, I'm reminded that God has done something good, that my family has been provided for.

I'm kinda looking forward to August 1st, 2011. If you're not doing anything that day, please join me for a thick, juicy steak (maybe a 6 nations?), a bottomless glass of pop, and an extra large helping of Praise and Thanksgiving!

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Urban Riding

I recently explored downtown Memphis with my camera and my bike. I love to ride trails, the deeper the forest the better, but urban riding has it's own set of merits. Try it if you get the chance!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Monday, July 26, 2010

Intro to Parenting

Most days I think I'll be learning about parenting until the day I die and it still won't be enough time! I don't know it all, incredibly far from it, but I have learned a few things in the last 5 years or so.
Tonight I fully realized that putting kids to bed should ideally be a slow, winding process. Bed time processes that start suddenly and end after 10-15 minutes virtually guarantee that my boys will be up and out of bed within 5 minutes of my (or April's) departure from their room. Bed time goes best when we go slow, taking time to unwind from the day.
It's great for my boys, but it also does April and I good to end a crazy day of parenting two energetic, growing little boys in a slow, deliberate way. Quick bedtimes rob our family of intimate times that can't be replaced. Go slow, parents.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Where This Blog is Headed

We don't live in Africa anymore. The last 9 months have been quite a ride, and today we find ourselves living in Memphis, Tennessee. I'm not going to get into the details of why we left Africa, at least not right now. It would make sense to change the title of this blog from "The Emerson's Journeys in Africa" to something more appropriate to our current place in life...but I'm not going to do that. This blog is going to stay exactly how it is; the only thing that will change will be the content I post.

In the past, this blog was mainly to inform supporters about what was happening in our work in Togo. Well, we no longer have supporters and we no longer work in Togo. Instead, I'm now going to use this blog to sound off about anything and everything that my mind ponders on a daily basis. Some of it will still be about Africa, but much of it will not. I might do flashbacks, or flashforwards, or even alternative realities (LOST, anyone?). Who knows. I may be compassionate, I may be controversial. Regardless of the content, I hope to provoke myself and others to deeper thought about what ills this world and how to heal it...or maybe just laugh together about something stupid. We are still healing from some wounds, and laughter is often the best medicine :)


Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Great Gift

A couple of months ago, I was out in the village of Lassa Tchou spending time with some of the Christians there. We somehow started talking about composting, which is a subject that I find myself very interested in these days. I asked them if they ever collected animal poop to combine with other organic materials to be used as fertilizer, and I was met with a combination of laughter and blank stares. We talked about it for a few more minutes, then moved on to other things, a conversation like many others I've had before.

What this conversation led to, however, warmed my heart. The mother of one of the Lassa Tchou church's leaders is a faithful and beautiful Christian woman. She is quite old, and also one of the sweetest people I have ever known. Her smile can light up an entire village :) Many people who have visited Togo have fond memories of Jean Marie's mother. She was listening in on the conversation about animal poop and composting that day, but at the time did not have anything to say.

Instead, she went out into the fields and starting picking up poop.

I returned to Lassa Tchou one month later, on Christmas day, and this sweet sister had a huge bag full of animal poop to give to me as a present! It blew me away. I showed her how thankful I was in a culturally appropriate way, but all I really wanted to do was pick her up off of the ground and give her a huge hug!

Sometimes it seems like the people I work with don't listen when I speak. Sometimes I get the feeling that much of the teaching I do goes in one ear and out the other, and that I'm not having an impact…

And then someone gives me a big bag of poop :)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Redefining a "Succesful" Meeting

Today we loaded up the truck and took the whole family out to the village of N'Djei for a morning meeting. Being able to spend time in the villages as a complete family is just one of the many blessings that comes with having children who are not yet school aged :) The people love to see our children, and we love to share our whole life with our brothers and sisters, which includes our rambunctious little boys.

We rolled up at 9:30 or so, and there was only one man sitting near the meeting place, reading his Bible. Over the next hour or so, the boys chased chickens and goats while April and I talked with the people that slowly trickled in. Only 5 more people came, and one of them left when he saw his friend on a motorcycle and asked him for a ride into town. Priorities, people.

We decided to go ahead and teach at the urging of the 5 people who showed up, and we had a really good meeting. Thought provoking questions were asked and responded to, laughter filled the meeting place several times, and everyone left having learned something (us included) and having been encouraged. This meeting had only 5 people attend it (these meetings usually have 20 or more), but it was a successful meeting.

Last week I went to another village, Lassa Tchou, to teach. The Christians did not show up for the meeting at all, and I was very disappointed at first. Then a young man who is a faithful church member showed up and told me that all of the Christians were at the home of a young boy who had died that morning, comforting the family and praying with them. Needless to say, my heart was full of pride, and even though the meeting didn't even happen, it was a successful meeting.

Our lives here in Togo have led us to redefine many things in our lives, and success is one of them. In a country where things often don't go the way they should, I believe that we can find success in things that an outsider might consider a failure. May God be glorified through all of our successes, through all of our failings, and through everything we put our hands to.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Tragedy for Togo

Today, Les Eperviers du Togo (The Togo Sparrow Hawks) were supposed to be playing the Ghana Black Stars in Group B of the African Cup of Nations, the continent wide soccer tournament that is second in importance only to the FIFA World Cup. Instead, the Togolese national team is back in Togo, healing from a tragic event in which three people were killed after Angolan rebel forces opened machine gun fire on their team buses.

As I was on my way to work today, I noticed that one of the homes of a very important person in this particular village had it's flag at half staff. I was caught off guard by how touched I was by this gesture. Emotions welled up inside of me, and I wept.

As I reflected on the whole situation this afternoon, I realized that there was only one other time in my life when I had shed tears for a country. It was a little after 9am on September 11th, 2001. One plane had already hit the World Trade Center, and I watched live as the second plane smashed into the south tower. Immediately, I fell on my knees and pleaded with God to have mercy on our country. I never could have imagined the horror that I felt in that moment.

Today, my 2nd country is dealing with similar emotions amidst tragedy. America will always be my first country; you can see in the picture below that my purse has an American flag on top and a Togolese flag down below. However, over the last 7 years, Togo has taken a huge chunk of my heart. When the Togolese people are full of joy, our family is full of joy. When the Togolese people celebrate, our family celebrates. When the Togolese people mourn, we mourn right along with them and do whatever we can to share their burden. This was very poignant to me as I watched a family mourn the death of a young child this afternoon while I was out in the village. And so tonight my head is slightly bowed. My demeanor is a little subdued, and I am sad. My 2nd country has been robbed of 3 young lives. It's no September 11th, I know, but in a country where very few things go right, the things that go horribly wrong are magnified. They have also been robbed of the joy of competing in the African Cup of Nations. We have presidential elections coming up at the end of February, and the whole country is already slightly on edge.

Please pray for Togo. It is in need of the strength that comes with the prayers of the saints. So often the Togolese are forgotten or left behind, and all of us here are in need of the hope found only in God.