Thursday, July 19, 2012

First Day of School

The kids began their very first day of school- EVER on Wednesday.  My kids have been homeschooled since birth, so I wasn’t sure how we would do.  They were ready to be with friends and have something to do, and I was ready to be able to get stuff done without breaking up a fight or being interrupted every 15 seconds.  It was an exciting, yet anxious day for all of us.  But there were no tears- just peace.
Aren't they cute?  Andrew was already tired of the "obnoxious mom" pictures!

Before Tim and I had kids, he suggested we homeschool.  He was fed up with the public schools and didn’t think we’d have money for private school.  I told him God would have to work on my heart.  Well, God did work on my heart, and we homeschooled from preschool on.  When we were first led into missions, when schooling and education options were brought up, I remember thinking “This doesn’t apply too much to me.  I homeschool and can do that wherever I am in the world.”  After we received our assignment to PNG, I was sent the information on the school.  I began doing some research.  This school was exactly the kind of school I would have my kids in if I could design a school for them.  Tim and I prayed and decided we would enroll them when we joined the work in PNG.  This was a big decision for me.  On one hand I was so excited they would be going to school, so they’d make more friends and have some incredible experiences.  On the other hand, I was scared because they wouldn’t receive the one-on-one instruction they were used to and would bomb out.  And what if I had messed up my kids all this time by homeschooling them???? 

Have you ever sat back in amazement at how God works out all those details that you have been fretting over?  I did that yesterday.  The kids are right where they belong, at least where they belong at this time.  Ukarumpa International School (UIS) has students and teachers from all over the world.  Most children are missionary kids, while some are Papua New Guineans who live nearby.  It’s staffed with missionary teachers, who are teaching because they want to be here teaching these kids.  

When we first arrived in May, the kids were tested for grade-level.  UIS tends to be ahead of schools back in the States, so this was a bit nerve-wracking, especially when the kids had just gone through more transitions in a year than most kids.  The results weren’t that surprising.  We spoke with the principal and decided Andrew should go on to 4th grade and Bekah needed to do 2nd grade.  This is where things got a bit sticky for a homeschooler.  Most children have really strong areas and weaker areas.  Homeschooling gives you the flexibility to be doing one level math and another level language and do social studies and science across several levels.  Not so much with a classroom setting.

Andrew had been doing a lot of 4th grade level work, so he wanted to start 5th grade.  Because of his age (he was ‘supposed’ to finish 3rd grade) and other factors, we knew he needed to continue and stay on track starting 4th grade.  Again, I sit in amazement at God’s work.  I kept hearing a lot about the 4th grade teacher.  The more I heard, the more I knew it was where he needed to be for his first year in school.  She is structured and has high expectations of them.  Andrew needs the challenge and the structure.  God knows! 

Andrew’s class has 16 kids- 3 girls, 13 boys, and the majority of students are multi-lingual with another language as their mother tongue.  The diversity is amazing!  Andrew shares a desk with a Papua New Guinea boy named David.  He has already made so many friends in the class.  His biggest complaint is that he has to wear tennis shoes because shoes with backs are required.  He came home today a bit discouraged saying his teacher wants them to only use cursive.  He kept begging me to teach him cursive last year, but with all that was going on, I just focused on Language Arts and Math.  I guess we’ll be working on cursive on the side. 

The hardest decision was for Bekah.  She had just finished 2nd grade, but we needed to re-do 2nd grade.  She was not happy.  I cried with her, and we talked about it.  Her biggest concern was her friends back home in Georgia.  They would all be in 3rd grade.  It is hard for a child to understand and my heart broke right along with hers.  Bekah is a late August birthday.  In the States that means she started Kindergarten before 5 because of the September 1st cut-off date.  At UIS the age cut off is August 1st, which meant she would have started Kindergarten a year later.  Before we left for PNG, we had Bekah tested for dyslexia. You can read her story here. Her testing showed she was severly dyslexic and reading at a pre-K level.  We did some intense work and therapy before leaving.  It was amazing watching her progress and gain 2 years of progress in just a few short weeks.  She is my amazing girl!  The biggest difference between 2nd and 3rd grade was reading instruction.  In 2nd grade the kids are still learning reading strategies, but by 3rd grade they are expected to know them.  With the dyslexia, she needs that extra year of learning strategies.  Here is the awesome God working.  Her teacher struggled with learning disabilities as a child.  She understands!!!!  Want to know something else?  Her very first day, she made a new friend.  This friend also has some of the same learning struggles as Bekah!!!  How incredible is God!  I about cried when the mom called me yesterday to ask if Bekah could come over to play and then shared about her daughter.  Our God is so good!

Bekah’s class is a little bigger- 20 kids.  They have 7 girls and 13 boys.  She was so excited to find out they didn’t have homework this week, so she could go out and play!  They have at least 4 or 5 kids that will be in and out of the classroom.  They are part of the village program, which means their parents are translators, typically.  They will be gone for about 5-6 weeks at a time with mom teaching them from the school curriculum.  She is super excited about doing art and music this year- something this mama couldn’t teach! 

They have completed the first two days of term 1, and they both love it.  I’m so excited to see what God is going to do with their lives.  I know we will all face challenges this year.  We’ll attend Open House next week, and I can’t wait to see more of what they will be learning throughout the year. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The House Saga

The Beginning...
Twelve years ago we had one weekend in Atlanta to find a house.  It was quite a whirlwind tour, especially since Tim was expected to be reporting to his new office in Atlanta in just 4 weeks.  Our realtor took us all around Lawrenceville and Duluth looking at houses.  We found out about a new neighborhood under construction in Lawrenceville.  It looked like the perfect starter home community.  It was within our budget.  It was new, needing no repairs, and the values were just going to go up.  This is the house we found and fell in love with:

Of course at that time, it was just a shell of a house under construction.  We took home the information, so we could pray about the decision and talk it over.  From our home in Orlando, we signed and faxed the purchase contract on this house.  We were excited.  It was such a dream for us, especially Tara.  We were so excited to move into our new home in our new city in our new state as newlyweds.

The Next 7 Years...
We loved this house, and it served as our home for 7 years.  We brought both of our babies to this home, had many birthday parties, and plenty of memories.  The house that seemed so big became very tiny as our kids grew, so we moved into a house that we planned to stay in until our kids moved out.  (That is a whole other story…)  

The Landlord Years- The Beginning...
We felt God telling us to rent the home out, so that is what we did.  Being a landlord is hard work, but I (Tara) found the work rewarding.  We learned so much during our time as a landlord.  God gave us opportunity to minister to people we would never had met.  He continually taught us to trust on Him.  Even when times were tight and renters would leave without paying their rent, leaving damage and grossness behind, God showed Himself faithful. 

The Decision, Part 1...
About two years ago we committed to follow God as He led us to Papua New Guinea- the other side of the world.  We had to begin thinking and praying how we were to deal with both of the houses we owned- the one we lived in and this house in Lawrenceville.  We prayed and researched.  The housing market kept bottoming out- we thought it had hit bottom and then it went further down.  We were one of the many with an upside down mortgage.  At that time the concern in the government and banking industry was for those in their primary residences.  The investors had very few options, if any, for refinancing or selling.  

We had a renter who had just moved in, and it looked like a promising long-term rental with great references.  We felt this may be God’s provision for our time in PNG.  The rent was enough to cover our financial obligations.  We had replaced all the appliances within the last two years.  We left it in God’s Hands.  He gave us good friends who had agreed to manage our properties as their gift to us.  They are trustworthy and hardworking.  God provided an extra financial gift that allowed us to have money in savings for emergency repairs or vacant months.
The Drama Begins...
While we were in our training course and village time earlier this year, the renter moved out.  She left the house dirty and in horrible condition.  It took weeks and lots of hard work by our friends to get it ready to put back on the rental market.  Last week we learned the rental rates have gone down a LOT in the neighborhood.  At one time we could get close to $1100 per month, but we were now looking at $900 on the higher end of the rent.  We weren’t planning on that much of a drop.  We started praying and asking God what we could do. 

The Newest Occupants...
On Saturday our friend went to the house to get measurements for blinds.  As she walked in, she noticed the smoke alarm on the floor and a back bedroom door closed.  She had an uneasy feeling, so she walked back out and called the police.  The police came and walked through the house with her.  It appeared someone had decided to make our house their temporary home.  The fire extinguisher had been sprayed through the master bathroom.  There was a mattress in the master bedroom closet.  There was writing all over the walls, and it appeared the shower was being used.  They secured the house, again, and the utility companies were called on Monday to be shut off immediately. 

The newest residents did not appreciate all of their luxuries being turned off, especially the a/c in the extreme heat Atlanta is experiencing.  On Wednesday some of our friends were able to go for an additional assessment of the damage and take pictures. They found a lot more damage- holes in the walls, burns in the carpet, and the appliances gone.  Another police report was made and more security measures taken.  Before we thought the damages would involve some elbow grease and a small amount of repairs, but we are now talking several thousand dollars in repairs, and more time off the market.

The Decision, Part 2...
Two years ago we thought about either doing a short-sell or a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure on this house.  It was becoming pretty common for those in tough financial situations and a way to start over. God would not allow us to even begin pursuing the option. He was very clear to both of us that we were to honor the contract we signed to pay the mortgage on this house. We still have that same conviction, and it is getting harder to follow.  We do have a hope to lower our payments through a loan modification or refinance, but is this the answer?  We don’t know. We are in a tighter financial situation with the rents falling, the extra damage in the house, time off the market, and the neighborhood in decline.  We just see more money going out and none coming in to cover the cost. 

The Reality...
***Caution- honesty & rant alert.  This may not read like a missionary blog is ‘supposed’ to read.***
So, where does that leave us?  Well, it leaves us frustrated and angry and wondering what is our next step.  It leaves us feeling violated and disappointed and mad. It leaves us wishing we didn’t have to deal with this.  It leaves us with questions.  Aren’t we doing God’s will and following His call on our lives?  Why is this happening?  Why now?  Why did God allow this to happen?  Why do we have to drag our friends through this, too?  Yes, we have our times of self-pity and anger and self-righteousness.  I want to scream and holler.  “IT’S NOT FAIR!!!!!”  We don’t understand why this is happening.  We’ve faithfully paid our bills, even the HOA bill.  We left all the comforts and familiarity of our home to follow God’s calling to Papua New Guinea.  (This would be some of that self-righteousness.)  Why is it that people who aren’t responsible (by our terms, of course) get a ‘free ride’?  Why are things not turning out to be the way we think they should be?  WHY? WHY? WHY?????  By the way, have I mentioned I’m not a very patient person?  I want to take action and see results, NOW!  Why is this happening during a holiday week back in the States?  C’mon, we all know that no one actually works when the 4th of July falls during the middle of the week.  Yeah, some people may show up, but really work?  Yep, a week of action missed.  Doesn’t seem fair or right.
***Now I return you to your regularly scheduled blog.***

The Future...
We don’t understand at all, so we cling to our Father.  We cling to the promises in His Word.  We cling to the hope we have that we will see God’s Hand through all of this.  We cling to how He has provided in the past.  We cling to the prayers of our friends, family, and supporters.  Please pray with us!  Please pray God will be glorified in our decisions.  Please pray God will be very clear as to what steps we are to take next.  Please pray we will continue to focus on our work here in Papua New Guinea. 

The Prayers...
Pray these promises for us:
  • “We know that ALL things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”  Romans 8:28
  • “What then are we to say about these things?  If God is for us, who is against us?” Romans 8:31
  • “Refrain from anger and give up rage; do not be agitated- it can only bring harm. For evildoers will be destroyed, but those who put their hope in the Lord will inherit the land.” Psalm 37:8-9
  • “Wait for the Lord and keep His way, and He will exalt you to inherit the land.” Psalm 37:34
  • “Wait for the Lord; be courageous and let your heart be strong. Wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:14
  • “For the Lord loves justice and will not abandon His faithful ones. They are kept safe forever…” Psalm 37:28
  • “Many adversities come to the one who is righteous, but the Lord delivers him from them all.”  Psalm 34:19
  • “I will praise the the Lord at ALL times; His praise will always be on my lips.” Psalm 34:1
  • “Who is the person who fears the Lord? He will show him the way he should choose.” Psalm 25:12

Our Prayer for you:
“I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.  I am sure of this that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 1: 3-6