Tuesday, January 16, 2018

I Will Restore To You Double

Hi. I've been really mulling over my word for 2018. Praying that I would hear and be open to it. Thinking about it so much that I'm listening for it in ev.er.y.thing. The other day, I literally thought, "Guacamole....?". No.


So, for real, I was watching a youtube video a couple of weeks ago and the woman, reading from her journal said, "I wrote at the top of the page, 'I will restore to you double'." Something about it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up and over the next couple of days I couldn't get it out of my mind. I just kept hearing it, over and over, in my head. I will restore to you double.

The following morning in my quiet time I cracked open my journal for the first time in over a year and wrote: 2017 Word Ideas (and then I wonky scratched that 7 into an 8). The first word I wrote was double and next to it, the phrase I couldn't get out of my mind, I will restore to you double. I also underlined restore, because that felt like a potential option, too..... I scribbled down a few other words with little notes beside them; some personal, others business related, a couple in reference to our family, but none that I really felt were all encompassing.

And then I decided to just google 'I will restore to you double' to see if it was a thing, and what do you know....

Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double. Zechariah 9:12

Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion;
instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot;
therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion;
they shall have everlasting joy. Isaiah 61:7

Maybe you know I'm and ENFP and a 7, if enneagram is your thing; I like to look for connections and deeper meanings and find them in all the things. Also, hi. My name is Tara, Prisoner of Hope. So, this, in my little world, is God serving me up my word(s) for 2018 on a silver platter. I can pick both of these verses to pieces and know exactly why He drew me here; personal, work, family...all the things.

I've noticed on social media, especially this year, that there are definitely two camps; those who choose a word and those who don't. For me, choosing a word is less about 'name it and claim it' and more about where God is drawing my focus, for better or for worse. It's about where He is turning my heart and what He is asking me to be prayerful and mindful of. I've been on the receiving end of a word that, in hindsight, I would have preferred Door #2. This year, the jury is still out.

To be honest, double feels like it may be time to double down on what He has called me to, to some dreams that I have let lie dormant, but also to prepare to accept abundance and to pray about where I may be playing small. Through stressed out tears this week, I asked Him "Double, really?! You think that's a good idea?!" I heard it again, "I will restore to you double". And for the first time I understood the emphasis on restore, as well.

These last couple of years have seen some considerable loss. I've made mistakes and suffered the consequences. I've also learned a lot of lessons and I can sense now that it is time for restoration. Restored confidence, restored dreams, restored relationships... I could go on, but we have a whole year for that.

So, I guess that's two words for the year. And so it begins. xo

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Arise, My Daughter

Do y'all pick a word for the year? It's something I picked up a handful of years ago, praying about a word that God would in some way provide as a sort of theme for the coming year. There are years I have focused on that word more than others, but every year it's crazy to look back and see how God used it to shape the following 12 months.

In 2014 my word was seek and I taped up in several places around my tiny little apt in Nashville. I was back from Rwanda, living in a new city, and desperate for some fresh direction.

In 2015 my word was courage. I didn't post a single blog that year (this was my first blog back), but I ordered a necklace with J, 1, and 9 charms on it for the verse Joshua 1:9, Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. I also had a Giving Key with 'courage' etched on it. I wore them both every day and promptly re-gifted them as soon as the year was over. Happy to close that chapter. I thought He was preparing me to be brave for something great. I had no idea when that word came up that I was actually going to be so incredibly weak that year, that I would need courage like never before just to hang on and keep going.

In 2016, my word was chosen and it meant so much to me I got it tattooed onto my arm. God had been whispering it over me for some time, but it took a precious friend, audibly praying it into my ear as I wept, for me to internalize it. He chose me. As His daughter. For this exact life; for exactly this place, with exactly these people, doing exactly what He asked me to do. Maybe I didn't feel like I was enough, because maybe I wasn't supposed to. Despite how the previous year had thrown me around, I did hear His voice and He is directing my path. We are in this together, He and I, for the long haul. Because He chose me. And I knew he was asking me to rest in that.

In 2017, my word was rise. I never offically wrote about it, but I heard it clear as a bell. Again, another sweet friend was the catalyst. Her text said, "Hiiiiiiii. You just popped in my head and I prayed for you. I heard 'God is listening'. So there you go." The story only starts out sweet, because it made me so mad that God would tell her He was listening, but I felt like I had been BEGGING Him to speak.

There is a mountain near our house that I started climbing the year before, I would go up when I felt like I couldn't breathe. From the top were the most stunning views; I could see clear to the lake and all the way into Congo. God often spoke to me from that spot (and I often told Him I'd like to jump).

One particularly rough day, the same day I got that text, I put on my tennis shoes and hiked up that mountain to give God a piece of my mind. It had been a while since I had been up there and the eucalyptus trees someone planted had finally grown too tall and I could barely get to my prayer rock and, even when I did, I couldn't see the view. I kept walking, wondering why He would take even that away from me. My one place. It started to rain and I stopped at an old, boarded up church and pressed myself tightly under a tiny overhang. I started to cry and slumped to the ground. And then I heard Him. Arise, my daughter, it's time to move on. Your spot is gone because you don't belong here anymore. I finally understood. I had been down too long, asking Him to speak or to move. And He was just waiting for me to get up. When the rain stopped I walked back down the mountain, lighter than I had felt in months. And when I got home, I googled "arise scripture" and got Isaiah 60:
“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. 
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you. 
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

“Lift up your eyes and look about you:
All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar,
and your daughters are carried on the hip. 
Then you will look and be radiant,
your heart will throb and swell with joy;
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you,
to you the riches of the nations will come.

The message was crystal clear and I vowed to rise. It happened with the grace of a baby giraffe. There were no monumental moments of clarity, just slow and steady steps forward. Hard circumstances strengthened the bonds between the boys and I; we all settled in and really began to thrive. We rented a new house and new shops for the 41 gals and I started to dream again. We found our Myla girl. We bought land. We raised a large chunk of change and started to build our house. If you would have told that crying mess on January 8th, 2017 that this is where we would end up on December 28th, 2017, and that every single line of those verses would have meaning, I would have fallen down dead.

God has moved mightily this year and I'm so thankful that I was standing to see it. It's been a long time since I've looked forward so expectantly to a new year. I don't have my word yet, but 2018, we're coming in hot.

Saturday, December 23, 2017


Hey there. I'm feeling like we probably need to give an update on life lately, but I'm not exactly sure where to begin. I mean, there's a lot. And when I say that, I mean there's a lot flying around in my head. The house is coming along so crazy quick! Which is exactly what we need, but nutty that it's actually happening. (That's not usually, or almost ever, the case around here.) And with Myla filling up my days and nights, life seems to be happening in the longest, and shortest, 3-hr blocks. The boys are still on holiday (if I haven't said so, it's their long "summer" break and they are out for 3 months) which I love, but also.... ;) So, let's just do a quick run-down and maybe by the end I'll have some thoughts together to wrap it up.


hoping things continue to go as smoothly as they have been at the house. Yesterday, when we were there I told JD I am so pleasantly surprised, I can't even stand it. The literal only thing I think I would change, at this point, is the size. It's exactly 3000 sqft and feels enormous and, if I'm being honest, a bit embarrassing. With 6 people in the house, we'll definitely use the space, but most people around here don't have that kind of space and there are people who think we are building a church.... Meh. 

Back View: Myla's room on the far left, dining room and kitchen across the center, and Mo's room on the far right.
sleeping a bit more. Miss Myla is in her own room these days and that has been a game changer. She still usually wakes up once a night, and at 6am sharp, but I think we are both sleeping so much more soundly. Separately.

cutting corners every chance I get at the new house. Our new game has become "Which is Cheaper" and we play it 4,000 times a day. I'm going to speak fairly generally here, but most of the time, especially out where we live, Rwandans prefer to do things one way, the 'right way'. (This is how you cook dinner, this is how you build a house, this is how you draw a circle.... ) And there is no other option. For a gal like me, I thrive on options and creativity rules the day. Luckily I have one son who favors my way and he helps translate (not English, but ideas) for me. I get a least one call a day, "I think you should get here."

reading all the Christmas rom-coms Amazon recommends me.

packing soon. We have a good amount of trunks and suitcases around the house. Most are currently full of Christmas for our family and staff, but my little fingers are itching to get them empty so I can get to packing. I've moved around a lot and I, mostly, love the process. 

listening to... y'all I cannot quit Leslie Odom Jr.'s Christmas album and I'm not even sorry about it. Also TSwift, duh.

looking forward to not having to prepare the feeding program for a new year. But dying of happiness over the fact that three of our cooks are now building our house. FYI we have provided more than 70 jobs at the new house so far. 

Fabi was our head cook and now he leads the masons.
loving the holidays with my crew. These boys knew nothing about the magic of Christmas and I love giving them a bit of that. Look, I'm not that organized so traditions aren't something I'm great at, but we've made Christmas cookies, and watched Christmas movies, our halls are about as decked as they can be, and the best part of all is that they are still not sure about the whole Santa thing. "Is he real? Is she joking? But who ate the cookies?" The first year, they thought his name was Ben, so we've covered a lot of ground, but it's our 3rd year together so, by now, they pretty much know.... exceeeept.... mayyybe....??

watching quite a bit of tv, actually. Terry and I are flying through Survivor. We started around Season 15, and I think we just finished Season 29. We also watch Designated Survivor and This Is Us. The others usually won't watch with us, but a friend recently gave us a couple of seasons of Chicago Fire and Mo joins us for that, occasionally. I also just tore through, and loved, Season 2 of The Crown.

drinking cold water. Somehow this has been life changing for me. Grandma recently sent us a Tupperware pitcher that we keep full of filtered water in the fridge. I knew I missed ice, but I didn't know how really great drinking cold water would make me feel. (When you feel pretty much stripped of everything familiar, it's the weirdest things that ground you.) On a side note, Terry and Inn also drink the water which I take such pride in because Rwandans (usually) do not do cold. Anything. When the boys do things like I do, drinking cold water, eating out of bowls instead of on a plate, using all the condiments and throw blankets... things that are not typical for them, I feel like this is the equivalent of them having my eyes, or my sense of humor... I feel like this makes us, even more, each other's.

enjoying Myla having a sitter 2 days a week. Sometimes I'm here, sometimes I'm not, but being able to get things done (even if it's just a nap) is outstanding.

cooking with the boys. I'm not a great cook, I don't know that much about it, but with taco seasoning and Ranch packets, the boys think I'm some kind of genius. Plus we bake a lot, which I am a bit better at. In our first house we had a pretty ratchet outdoor kitchen, but somehow the one we have now, because it's not even supposed to be a kitchen, is worse. I cannot even imagine how sweet it will be to finally have a, mostly normal, kitchen inside the house. (PS, if you ever want to send us some taco seasoning or Ranch packets, our family has an Amazon wish list here.) :)

wearing sweats. All day, er'day. Now that we are up in the mountains-ish, it's pretty chilly. And if you're Rwandan, or American-Rwandan, temps in the 60s require some good layers.

feeling like this new season with No.41 is going to be the best. There is so much new life, literally. Our manager is currently on maternity leave with a bouncing baby boy and two of our other ladies will welcome spring chickens. A fresh year, a fresh perspective.... good things are happening.

counting hours, and ounces, and poopy diapers.... I, for real, don't know what I used to do with all my free time??

thinking we've probably got a teether on our hands...

And I think that about covers it for now. Thanks for following along with us! And for those of you who donated towards our new house after the last post, thank you!! Your actual thank you note is on the way. :)  We've still got about $10k left to raise to get this house move-in ready by March, if you're doing some end-of-year giving (or first-of-year giving), or know someone who might be, we'd be honored. There is a link to donate on the lefthand sidebar. <<<<

 Merry Christmas, from our crew to yours! xo

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Home Sweet Home

FYI: this blog has been sitting in the queue, getting a few updates, for 2ish weeks.

The other day I said something on instagram about things happening in extremes here. They do.

Well, they do if your name is Tara. If your name is Moses, Terry, Chazzo, or Innocent... apparently you don't notice quite as much. So maybe I'm dramatic, that's not the point.

Honestly, in the last 10 days: we have closed our school feeding program, welcomed a new baby to our extended family, and mourned one that never had the chance to take his first breath. One of the boys made a few poor decisions and didn't talk to me for more than a week and, if you know our family personally, it's not the one you're thinking. The 41Shop was robbed and though it could have been much worse, it was no less frustrating. That same week, the ladies landed 3 large orders that are going to have them working weekends for the next month to keep up. The boys are done with school for the year, which I love. And Miss Myla is lighting up the room with her smiles and occasional belly laughs which somehow makes up for the fact that she doesn't love (or even like) to sleep. And the best news of all, our family purchased a large plot of land and we're going to build a house!!

Since I know what you're asking in your mind, no, we weren't planning on this. Until we were. In the way that one never really thinks they will live in Africa for a year (or six), or that you would ever find ourself having an actual real life here with real children, I don't think one ever really expects to own land or find yourself designing and building a house here. I mean, I'm just guessing... None of those things were on my radar. Until they were. One thing lead to another and, as with most other things that have unfolded in my life, I find myself living mostly my exact dreams in the exact opposite way I could have ever dreamed possible.

When I moved to Rwanda and lived in the orphanage, I thought I would live there for my entire one year commitment. Nine months later, when I rented our first house to start No.41, it was so beyond anything I ever thought would have happened. For me. It felt like such a huge step, but God was paving the way for the next steps (and next years) of our journey before I even knew what to pray for. As No.41 continued to grow, our landlord just so happened to build another house in our compound and we also rented that. The extra space made it possible for our family to grow, as well. In a way that I can't see how I could have planned, our business, our house(s), and our family just kind of all grew up together.

Five years ago, I walked into a brand spanking new house with just myself, a dream, and my armoire. And two houses, 20 sewing machines, five kids, four dogs, and seven chickens later I didn't think it would be possible find another house in our area that would be able to meet our needs the way this one had come to. But God.... forced my hot-headed hand and we started to look at what was available.  ("Started to look" = "Tara finally had enough and blew up at the current landlord and then had two weeks to find a new house before the lease ended".) That was in March.

I blogged on and on about this new house and how we felt it was just sitting here waiting for us to come along and rent. I thought it was our dream house. Until it wasn't. Our current landlord (and so many others that we met) saw me and saw dollar signs. It just comes with the deal and I get it. JD, the boys, and I manage it and we try to protect ourselves the best we can and then you just have to let it roll. I have the lowest tolerance for what I deem to be 'corruption', in any of it's many forms, and can usually spot it instantly, but Jonathan woo'd me (and JD) real good. He was friendly and casual and just so happy to make us happy, and then we were right where he wanted us; with no choice but to foot the bill to get the house livable and stuck in a one year lease with a 3/4 built house that he had no plans to honor the contract and finish. And there was nothing we could do about it. We paid next to nothing for the lease, so like I said we manage ourselves the best we can, but it's still, obviously, extremely frustrating.

The good news is we learned so much during the process, including making friends and allies with the contractors who were barely being paid to work on the house. When they found out we were trying/hoping to buy this house, they advised us against it and said we could build our own to be exactly what we wanted and for less money. Never say never they said. And never is exactly what I said.

So, of course, we're building a house! And it's not because I didn't try to buy several others that we could rework to fit our needs, it's because we really can build exactly what we want (I mean, we can ask for exactly what we want and see what they decide to do *wink*) for less money than someone would be willing to sell a house to me for. And here we go!

This building is so much more than a house. It is a home. Our home. It means even more stability for the boys and Myla and it's a tangible piece of us that can be passed down to them. The boys have said, no less than 1,487 times, that this will be the best house in Rwanda. They are beyond stoked to get to live in an "American house" and I guess that could mean any number of things, but I think it's sweet, and I'm so grateful to share this special time with them. They are each going to have their own bedroom and, for boys that most often shared a twin bed with another boy for their whole life, this is a big deal. We are finally going to have a kitchen inside the house and, for me, this is a big deal. I'm dying over the views. Mo is excited about a veggie garden. Terry is excited to have some bright sunlight in his room. Inn is excited that we might get a washing machine and Chazzo.... Well, "for Chazzo, no problem."

A few of the pesky details: we're in a hurry, because... have you met me? We need to done and in by the time our lease is up at the end of March. Things are already off and running, so this is definitely doable, but we are also willing to be flexible. Not that we'll stay where we are, but that we are willing to deal with some less than ideal circumstances for a few weeks, if need be. Our sweet, sweet friend and neighbor put up with me and allll the Pinterest pins to help draw up a floor plan and 3D renderings for the house which have been approved by the local government. We were dreaming big and ended up with just over 3,000 sqft for our family of six, with six bedrooms and four bathrooms, and, once the dust settled, a total budget of $35,000, including the purchase of the land. Crazy, right?!

You would laugh (or cry) if I gave you all the details involved in the purchase of the land, but for sanity's sake, we'll just say that part is (mostly) done, and we're moving forward. The foundation is place! It's really happening! We've raised $23,000 of our total budget and are prayerfully expectant for the remaining $12,000. If you're doing some end of the year giving, our family would be beyond honored for your support in getting us up and over this final hurdle. With such a cost effecitve build, every little bit helps and goes so far. We love sharing our lives with y'all and it's not lost on us that "we" wouldn't even be possible without y'all's love and support. We are brainstorming fun ways to incorporate the name of each donor who made this build a reality and we can't wait to see it come together in our new home.

If you would like to make a tax deductible donation you can do that here. xo
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