Monday, April 30, 2012

student spotlight

Sometimes I am so in awe of my students. They are so smart and so talented. Here's a short essay from a student that really caught my attention last week. This student is in fifth grade.

Thunder storms seem very neat to me. I don’t get scared like Winn Dixie. In fact, I like them. They smell good and water plants. Sometimes I’m asleep when they start, but when I’m deep asleep, just about nothing can wake me up. If I’m in bed but I’m still awake, I lie amazed at Alpha’s amazing awesomeness. Thunderstorms are wonderful creations. 

Thunderstorm in Chihuahua.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


I just finished reading Bloom: A Memoir by Kelle Hampton. Her blog, Enjoying the Small Things, is what led me to her book. It was truly one of the most beautifully well-written memoirs I have ever read. Some passages made me laugh, and several made me cry. While I have never met Kelle Hampton, I have been following her blog for about two years now, and it is one of the blogs I most look forward to reading. She writes with honesty and passion. What you see is what you get. And yet she challenges you with her words to not settle for the ordinary by living each day with such purpose and intention- by making a memory out of the simplest thing or by making the simplest thing extravagant.

Bloom is all about Kelle’s journey through the first year of her daughter Nella’s life. Nella’s birth was anything but ordinary, and when she arrived, Kelle knew. Her second daughter is lovely and unique; God gave her an extra chromosome, which means she has Downs Syndrome. Reading through Kelle’s journey was like sitting with a good friend at a coffee shop for hours. There are no walls, but rather transparency and the comfort of well-worn-in acceptance. One of my favorite parts of the book (I mean I loved it all, so it is hard to choose) was the fact that Kelle so candidly writes about the beautiful depth of the friendships she has in what she calls “The Net” of people surrounding her. She says:

Because we are women, and with that comes spunk and vigor and the need to be heard and validated. With that comes the beautiful storm of strong opinions and the force with which we express them. There is pain. But underneath, there is so much love. There is the need to answer a call when it comes, and that need and desire to hold each other up- it’s truly a beautiful thing.

To which I say, I couldn’t agree more. When women stop bickering and comparing themselves against one another, they can sure love each other. And they can love each other well. I can’t speak from experience here, but I know that there are many women who become so consumed with marriage, motherhood, or whatever fill in the blank, that they look around one day and have no friends. They realize their support system has dwindled, because the time it takes to cultivate those relationships was spent on whatever seemed next or urgent. Let me tell you right now that I never want to be that woman. I don’t think I ever could.

Relationships are what keep me going. I have been blessed to have so many wonderful women in my life. Older, younger, peers, what have you, God has surrounded me with some amazing women, and I’m so grateful. I do not want to lose them. I can’t stand the thought. The friends I have right now are the ones I want to raise my kids with, eat junk food and have movie marathons with, and go on vacation with- right now and in ten years. Because that’s what good friends are for- they are with you through thick and thin. Thanks for the reminder of the importance of friendship, Kelle. Here's to friends, old and new.

Image 1 source
Image 2 source

Monday, April 23, 2012


Winshape C3 Camp, summer 2008
A congratulations are in order to one of my dearest friends, Katie Underwood. She and her boo Will are gettin' hitched, and I could not be more excited. Katie and I have been friends since freshman year of college, and we have seen each other through many of life's ups and downs, from unemployment to finals to football losses and deaths of loved ones. We met in our freshman small group and formed a bond to be strengthened not only by trials and sorrows, but joys and laughter. Lots of laughter. I'm pretty sure we were hated by many in the dining halls as we made too many memories. We never did decide who was louder-me or her? (Totally her.)

Katie, I love you to the moon and back, and I am thrilled for you. You're going to be a most stunning bride, and I can't wait to share the day with you and Will.


Goofing off at the playground one night at small group- freshman year. She's gonna kill me for that picture, but it's already been on Facebook for like, 5 years.

Dressed up for a lumberjack themed Phi Slam party- sophomore year.

Football game- junior year.

Graduation day: May 8, 2010.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


A couple nights ago, I was going through some papers and found this essay that I wrote my senior year of high school. I used it and its variations for scholarship contests that I won and also was just really proud of it. I felt like it was and still is one of my best pieces of writing. I can't believe I wrote it when I was seventeen years old! As I read it, it was neat to see how some dreams within have been realized while others have yet to come to fruition. Anyways, here it is for you:

Humbling Realizations

A journey of eight days irrevocably changed my heart and my life. I fell in love in Mexico, and have since suffered an insatiable desire to return. Differences can serve as a unifying force, but can also be destructive if they are condemned. The people of Mexico are gentle and tenderhearted, not brainless and laughable. The differences I thought I had with the Mexican people are now null and void. 

Suddenly, the word poverty had a name and an empty stomach. Their dire needs encompassed and surpassed thoughts of the comfortable life waiting for me in Marietta, Georgia. Each person lived with meager provisions-food, clothing, and shelter. 

Yet there was something different about each person whom I began to love. I had pity on them for the struggle they faced every day- the struggle for a father to provide the best for his children, dying inside and yearning to give more than he ever had, yet still filled with joy when he hears their laughter. A woman, who is tormented and harassed because of her beliefs, is still able to smile. My thoughts shifted from pity to envy. 

The people of Valle de Chalco find the good in any situation and live life to the fullest capacity because they know the truth. They know that real riches bring genuine contentment and joy to life. I live to love- to bring joy into the lives of others around me while finding contentment in what I have- instead of seeking what I want. 

High school has been a turbulent ride full of raw emotions and tough lessons that I have come to accept and learn from, and I am thankful for all of my experiences. I have grown into a conscientious young woman, full of determination and tenacity. My goals and ambitions are full of hope as I continue to do my best in all that life hands me as I seek to act with integrity and compassion. 

I desire to study abroad in Spain for the spring semester of sophomore year at the University of Georgia because I am enthralled with all Spanish culture. The Spanish language is irrestible- I thoroughyl enjoy reading, writing, and speaking one of the most beautiful romance languages in the world. The Spanish people live with such intense passion and at the same time have an underlying sense of relaxation in all that they do. The idea of a siesta is an interesting concept to grasp because many Americans are so absorbed in their work; a two hour break in the middle of a busy day would be unthinkable.

The French novelist Marcel Proust said, "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes." Americans generally have an unfavorable stigma in countries abroad. Many foreigners believe that all Americans are snobby, rude, and demanding. The "typical" American expecets to be served perfectly in every situation in any place of business. Unfortunately, the rest of the world sees that everything is not easily handed over on a silver platter. Real travel is not about a destination to be reached, but a pardigm shift that will influence one's vista and challege one to see everyday life in a completely different light. 

After I graduate from the University of Georgia, I desire to travel to Mexico with hopes of residing there semi-permantly as a journeyman with the International Mission Board for two years. I left behind the people I met in Mexico physically, but they still hold a considerable piece of my heart. I admire and envy their optimistic and encouraging attitudes. In America, our society strives to live out the phrase "He who dies with the most toys wins." Americans generally desire to possess the latest and greatest. The Mexican people of the villages I visited do not posses material riches; their riches are those of love, joy, peace, and gratitude. Their spirits are calm and they live with a sense of peace because they have no worries about what is to come. They simply live in the moment because they understand that the days of life are numbered and tomorrow is never guaranteed.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wisely stated, "The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well." If everyone believes that there is still some good to be found in the hearts of every human being, more restoration will be brought to the lives of all who need a helping hand. Selfishness and egotism never benefited anyone, but humility and a self-sacrificial attitude can bring joy into the lives in one's sphere of influence. 

I desire to make my dreams a reality and travel to Spain because I want my reality to be shaken up a little- I need a culture shock once again. I would like to have a time where my American mindset is reconfigured so that I am able to come back with a new sense of who I am and a genuine sense of culture and awareness is clarified through new experiences and opportunities. Mexico still holds a piece of my heart in so many ways, and I desire to fulfill the desire to return there by sharing love with the natives and being humbled by their gentle spirits and amiable nature. Life was meant to be lived, and by traveling, I believe that life is lived more abundantly as new horizons are seen, perceptions are grasped, and philosophies are realized.

Monday, April 16, 2012

a week of firsts

-->Last week was not at all what I expected it to be. I am quite alright with that; oftentimes (okay, pretty much all the time) God’s plans for me far exceed my own elementary sketches. The past two weeks, all of Mexico has been on vacation. At least, most of Mexico. You see, the week leading up to Easter is Holy Week, and the week after Easter, most schools still have holidays without normal responsibilities. Our school had the latter week off, and we all took advantage of the free time in our own way.

This week, I did not one, not two, but three things for the first time.

1)      Camping

Yes, you read correctly. I went camping for the first time. Not for the first time in Mexico. But for the first time ever. And I loved it! The Cases, the Davis family, and I left on Monday mid-day to journey to Majalca, which is just outside of the city of Chihuahua. With the dirt roads, it makes for about an hour and half trip. Many people had been on the campgrounds before we got there, but once we arrived, it had cleared out and was quiet. We found a beautiful campsite that was secluded and spacious. The boys spent their time climbing every possible surface of the campsite, while we ladies cooked (okay, so I just chopped some stuff and let the gurus handle it all…) played cards, and read. It was a lovely couple of days away from the city.

2)      Movies

On Tuesday, when we returned from camping, the Cases, the Rizzutos, and I went to see The Hunger Games. I may or may not have been seeing it for the third time in theaters. I’ve never gone to see a movie that many times in theaters before, but let me tell you that it was worth it! My friend is borrowing the books right now, and I so badly want to reread them. However, I have decided that they will be my reward to making it to the end of the school year. Hopefully I can make it for seven more weeks, I do already know what’s going to happen…

3)      Flying

On Friday, I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to fly into a tribal location. The Cases lived and worked in Baborigame (BG) for over thirty years with the Tepehuan people. Now my friends Chris and Rachel Thomas live there, and they are working with the established church of Tepehuan believers. My friend Dave is a pilot with United Indian Missions (UIM), and he took us up in the little six-seater on Friday morning. We all had gotten up before the crack of dawn and were ready for an adventure. This trip came together in a much different way than was anticipated at first, but it was wonderful. We currently have two interns living here in Chiwas and working with the church, so they joined us, along with another guy who works in our church café.

I flew in the front passenger seat as co-pilot, and after a few quick pointers, Dave let me fly the plane for a good five minutes or so! As we soared through the air, Josh said to me, “Well, Jessica, you are now flying a plane. How does it feel? Not many people can say they’ve done that!” It was such an exhilarating feeling, and I could not believe it was happening even though I was in the midst of the experience. Needless to say, it was amazing.

3b) Baborigame

Okay, so I know I said I did three new things, but it was really four. But the fourth is related to the third, so we’ll make it a subpoint. Minor details. Anyways, the point of flying was to visit Chris and Rachel in the tribe. I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word tribe, I think thatched roofs and mud floors. The tribal location of Baborigame (commonly known as BG among those in the mission) was not as rudimentary as I expected, however. Yes, the roads were unpaved and quite bumpy. I could see that the people’s resources were lacking. But it was not what I thought it would be.

However, it was a privilege and joy to be there. To see the work that Chris and Rachel are doing and to hear stories of the people and their lives was wonderfully encouraging. The church is across the street from their house, and it was neat to see not only the physical building, but also meet some of the brothers and sisters in Christ who are part of the fellowship. One of the sisters from the church owns a restaurant, and she fed us the most delicious burritos for lunch. (More on those later.) We also drove up to where the Cases and the Arnolds (another family who used to live out there) lived and saw their homes. This year, we have sent out many sets of boxes of school supplies for a program called Operation School Pack, and we saw one of the little elementary schools in which those boxes have been distributed. The work that is happening in the tribe is tangible, and yet there is still much to be done. The people are widespread throughout the valleys and mountains of BG, and the word is just now seeing a harvest. Please pray that these people continue to grow in Christ and that they have the courage to spread the good news to their friends and family members.

Well, my friends, those are the highlights of my week in a nutshell. Here’s to the last seven weeks of school!

P.S. Keep praying for that job opportunity, please. I’ve got another interview on Wednesday evening.
P.P.S. Please pray for my heart and that I would give my kids my best in these last seven weeks and finish well.
P.P.P.S. About the burrito- not a great choice when you’ve got a bumpy ride in a teeny plane back to Chiwas. Especially not with Coke. Take my word for it.

Image source

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

i will not forget

Behold, I am a doing a new thing. Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. -Isaiah 43:19

Lately, I have been struggling. I have been struggling to believe that He will do what He has promised. I have taken my eyes off of Him and been uber-focused on the circumstances. Last week, I bought my ticket to come home in June. When I clicked "Purchase," I cried. And the next morning, I cried again. And the tears just keep coming, daily it seems. You see, the thing is, I do not quite understand why I am going back to Athens. I mean, I have some ideas about it. The Lord has placed the city on my heart and given me a burden for it. But I don't understand why He would take me here from Chihuahua.

When I committed to teach at Colegio Binimea for two years, I knew that I was making a big decision that would change my life. It was the first time in my life where I was going against my parents. I would no longer be living within a couple hour's drive from them. My best friends would be getting "real jobs" and beginning their lives with significant others. Essentially, life as I knew it in Georgia would go on as I forged new territory in Chihuahua.

The time leading up to my departure for Chihuahua was exceedingly difficult. I knew that I knew that I knew that I was supposed to leave. The Lord had confirmed that in myriad ways. But I was still afraid. What if people were right and I was crazy for leaving the comforts of home and Daddy's footing of (most of) the bills? What if I did not make any friends? What if I were achingly lonely? What if I was a horrible teacher? What if I did not have enough money to pay my bills or come home to see my family and friends?

All of these questions haunted me for days and weeks. Every day was a struggle to surrender to what I knew the Lord wanted for me. And now I find myself in the very same place, struggling to remember what God has promised. Now my fears are different. The looming questions have changed. What if I heard Him wrong? What if I'm being selfish and just thinking about me? What if a new teacher doesn't come down next year? What if I don't get this job?

Sitting here wondering, praying, and crying through all these things, the Lord reminded me of the verse above that He had used so clearly last year to begin to cultivate a new move in my heart. I had been focused on the beginning part- the new thing. But what I failed to remember is that it says He will make a way where there seems to be no way. And that is what I cannot forget. He's the only one who can make a way where there seemed to be no way.

The highest mountain in Chihuahua City, Cerro Grande.

Monday, April 9, 2012

real life

The Lord brings each of us through seasons. He calls us to various places for certain times, and He decides to do something wonderfully amazing in us through each season. As my dear friend Katie says, “The Lord doesn’t waste experiences.” Nothing is “coincidence” in God’s realm. Every. single. thing happens for a reason. He uses everything to bring glory to His name.

Today was Easter. It was a beautiful celebration of abundant, real life that is only found in Christ, the One who resurrected on this day 2,000 years ago. He came to give us life abundant, yet oftentimes we are wishing we were somewhere else doing something else with someone else. Comparison is the thief of joy, right? We often forget that He has given us today to enjoy and embrace. This season for me is a tough one. Change and I do not get along well. Everything within me is torn in two directions-I want to stay here and continue to enjoy the life that I’ve built up here- and yet I know the Lord is calling me back to Athens. I love my students, my church, my neighbors, and Mexican food (duh). But I miss my family, my independence, and my car. :)

Living the abundant life is not about having everything (you think) you want. Real, abundant life is found in an intimate relationship with the Creator of the universe. What could be better than that? So while I don’t know whether to laugh or cry these days, I can be sure of the fact that my God is on my side, and He is using everything to bring glory to His name and for my good. That’s His promise, and He will be faithful to complete it.

A special tradition at our Easter service is to let go balloons with a special life-giving message.

P.S. Y'all please pray for a possible job opportunity in Athens! I should find out if it for sure within the next couple weeks...

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday reflections

How deep the Father's love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss,

The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the Man upon a cross,

My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that left Him there

Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything

No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?

I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

We cannot allow ourselves to forget the man upon the tree. We often allow ourselves to take His sacrifice for granted. The lyrics of this song leave little to be desired. Why should we gain from His reward? His death brings life, and on this Good Friday, may we remember the beauty and power of the cross. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

on courage

The draft of this post has just been sitting for about a month or so now. So many things have been marinating in my heart and mind in this season. This I know—God is always faithful. He is always true, and the promises He has given us are always yes. Sometimes, He just takes a little (okay maybe a lot) longer than we want Him to.

I can’t remember where I first saw this picture; it was on someone else’s blog that I stalk follow. As soon as I saw it, I loved it. What truth it holds in so few words. Courage is not the absence of fear. There are many things of which we can be fearful. When we are children, we hide in fear of the boogey man and want our parents to shield us from the darkness. We scream in horror at masked men and hold on to our favorite teddy bear for comfort. As adults, we fear somewhat more substantial things. What if my dreams never come true? What if I don’t get that job? What if…? Getting lost in the land of “What if?” is not a difficult feat. Francis Chan says that our greatest fear should be of living an insignificant life. Far too often, though, we allow fears of much lesser importance to control us. Courage pushes us forward in spite of the fear that begs us to stay where it is safe. Courage demands us to be the best version of ourselves. Courage asks us to step into the dark without a bright flashlight, lantern, or sometimes even a match.

When we take those steps, we always find that God is right there waiting on us. The dark fears which we allowed to paralyze can melt away in the light of His presence. He wants us to know that He hasn’t left us. In fact, He’s been with us every step of the way, gently leading and hoping that we will take the leap of faith that terrifies us so. He is the One who was, is, and is to come. This means that He is already in the future that we’re so worried about, and He is going before us, preparing the way. So what is it that’s holding you back if you have the God of the universe on your side? Do you have the courage to be who you were created to be?

And you know I had to leave you with a song...


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