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

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Lessons from the Tightrope

"Do not think you can be brave with your life and your work and never disappoint anyone. It doesn't work that way." -Oprah

Life is a balancing act, isn't it? All the things. Home and work and family and community. I'm getting better (or working harder at trying to get better) at keeping all the balls in the air while balancing myself, perched somewhere between who I was and who I am. A mom and a big sister. A boss and a best friend. A foreigner at home. Trying to navigate the junk, while maintaining some semblance of sanity. Allowing myself to feel joy when things aren't perfect (or even ok). Maybe you know I don't always manage chaos or conflict well. Adventure and excitement are fine, but when everyone or everything isn't "ok" I tend to struggle. I prefer to live in LaLaLand and I prefer to put things in little boxes, tied up with bows. But because that isn't real life, I tend to make sweeping generalizations that help my mind to process and be "ok". (ENFP forever.) This morning when I logged into blogger I found that I had a few different posts drafted, so I combined them. Here are some of the little (random) boxes I've been packing...

I read somewhere that if you spend a day in another country, you could write a book. If you spend a week there, you could write an article. If you spend a lifetime (or maybe a good handful of years), you're lucky to write a sentence. And I couldn't agree more. When I first visited Rwanda I saw so much. And I thought I understood so much. I wrote (too) many posts about that here. As the years go by, the less I have to say about anything concrete; the more I see and experience, the less I understand. Right when I think I've figured out, just a tiny piece, life takes a hard right and I'm, again, surprised. I love Rwanda most days. And I wouldn't be honest if I didn't tell you that I hate it sometimes, too. I don't know if you're supposed to say you hate your host country, but what happens when that country becomes your home? And the hosts become your family? I have never ever called myself a missionary, but I've struggled at finding my footing in "who" I am here and what my role is. Lately, I've started to settle into the truth that I am me and I live here. I am a mom, a neighbor, a friend, a boss.... And I'm happy with that.

Recently, I was helping one of my boys process through some junk. I was explaining that I think I came to Rwanda because I wanted to make difference. I wanted to "speak up for those who can't speak for themselves".... The truth is, these boys (and anyone else I've had the opportunity to love here) have a voice and, as far as I can tell, they don't need anyone to speak for them. What I'm learning is that they do need someone to speak into them; reminding them who they are, why they're here, what they're capable of.... This sweet boy doesn't know that we've been processing. What he knows is that he's not alone; he belongs here, with us. He has a soft place to land and someone who believes the very best in him. Turikumwe. (We are together.) I think the same thing is true for the No.41 staff. They don't need anything from me. Not any more than one friend needs another. I support them, they support me even more. This Rwanda life is so far from what I thought it would be. God knew I would never be able to make a difference here, but I would fall in love with Rwandans and they would make a difference in me. By offering by myself to them, I would earn a front row seat to watch them make the difference. And I'm happy with that.

This morning I shared a very difficult, very exciting post on the No.41 blog, that I hope you'll read. While I don't think I would ever call myself a follower, I would definitely call myself a very reluctant leader. I've never really been one to play to win. And maybe that, in itself, is a victory; letting it be ok to ride it out, to learn as we go, and to need each other along the way. I don't have all the answers. (Even typing that is laughable, because it's painfully true). I'm not particularly driven or competitive. I hope we all win. I like to love and be loved. I like to have a good time and I like those I love to have a good time, too. (And that can be as shallow or as deep as the situation calls for.) I think what I am is more stubborn. And maybe determined. Tell me that I can't do it and I'll call you when I do. I think that's why I'm still here. Or back. Or maybe what this little reboot (like, all of 2017) has been about. Our No.41 team is more a team than we have ever been. Our partnerships are stronger for it and so are we. I used to carry around the burden of being the answer, or at least the drop-off, for problems and now I find myself biting my angry tongue at not even being necessary in the process of finding solutions. So, to add to the long list of oxymorons that has been my life in Rwanda, that loss (of control) is a win. 

Anyway, we're probably not ever going to arrive at that elusive finish line. So maybe the trick is just to feel it all, the good and the hard. To be brave, knowing that sometimes you'll win and sometimes you'll learn. You'll make it to the next pit stop, with a few new lessons under your belt, a bit more prepared as you move on to the next hard thing. And when you fall, because you will, promise yourself to brush off the dust and celebrate the chance to try again. That's what I'm telling myself. And I'm happy with that.


Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Story of Us +1

What's that thing about (wo)man making plans and God laughing? I guess he's getting a real chuckle going at this point....

It wasn't even a month ago that I wrote the The Story of Us. I told you that Chazzo completed our family and I said that because that's what I always say. What I didn't say is that for a while, like a maybe year, I have been getting little nudges about a baby girl. I'm not talking about life altering information here, just like what ifs. And I could have been making it up. I've watched lots of my friends have and raise babies and I'm no spring chicken, so maybe my body was telling me it was time to get going or miss the boat. Maybe it was all this testosterone I'm surround by on a daily basis and me needing some pink in my life. Maybe it was just God. I'm not sure. But a few months ago, these little nudges started to get a bit stronger and I decided to test the waters.

I have a friend in Rwanda who runs a pretty incredible orphan prevention ministry. They work with the local government in our area to support mothers and families in the most vulnerable of circumstances and lock arms with them to care for their most vulnerable family members, babies. "If a mother passes away or is unable to care for an infant, the cost of formula often far outweighs an average weekly income. Through sponsors Hope for Tomorrow provides bottles, health insurance, weekly formula, powdered milk, porridge, fresh fruits, infant cereal, and sugar." And they don't just meet nutritional needs, they have built a community addressing emotional, social, medical, and spiritual needs of the families as well. Mothers learn life skills and go to literacy classes and are empowered to support themselves and each other in the future. It's a beautiful thing to watch and it's, oh, so needed. Often the needs of the community are beyond the capacity of the rapidly growing ministry. If you follow along with us on Facebook or Instagram, you know that last fall our family fostered 9mo old twins, Denny and Denyse, through Hope for Tomorrow. Anyway, I mentioned to this friend that if she happened to get a call about a newborn baby girl, with no family, needing a home, we would be interested in fostering. "It's a definite possibility", she said. And we waited. And prayed.

A bit of background, we wanted her to be a girl because, even though the boys are grown, we have a very set, and sensitive, family dynamic. (Hint: our "baby" was not thrilled to be giving up his seat.) Also, as future husbands and fathers, I really wanted the boys to love a girl. We wanted a newborn because we have been reading (well, I have been reading and sharing) so much about how formative those first few months are for development and adoption was also, obviously, in the back of my mind, but Rwanda has been closed for international adoptions since 2010. However, if you know me, you know I tend to be a bit stubborn in my faith and I'm not scared to take a leap...

The first call we got turned out to be a boy and, to honor the family we already had, I felt like I should say no. (I didn't actually have you say the word "no", it was more implied once 'she' was a 'he'.)  It messed me up. So, when we got the next call about a 6mo old girl, I talked to the boys about it and we all agreed there was no way we could say no. And we said yes, but as it turned out, she wasn't meant for us either. Little did we know our girl was going to make her presence known in just a few days.

It was shortly before 5am on a Sunday and I was dead to the world. My phone was ringing and I was dreaming about being late to class. (??) It was JD. I answered, wondering what he could possibly be calling about at this time. He said, "Tara, there is a baby at your gate." I shot out of bed. Surely, this was a dream....

She was only 5 days old and we named her Ishimwe Myla Jean. The boys chose her Kinyarwanda name which means to praise or give glory. Myla means merciful and Jean (after my mom) means gift of God. And we do praise Him for the sweet, merciful gift of her. She didn't officially come home for 5 more days. We met at the local government office and I signed paperwork as her foster parent, promising to "care for all needs, financial and otherwise, for the life of the child".  It was a terribly awkward feeling sitting in the room, holding my girl, surrounded by 6-8 government officials and JD, speaking on our behalf. I was trying hard to translate all the Kinyarwanda as they discussed a plethora of things, including my family, my business, and our future. The honor is not lost on me that this room full of Rwandans would entrust me with her precious life. And precious doesn't even scratch the surface; she truly is a dream and we are all over the moon.

From here, we're not entirely sure what the future holds. What we know now is that we are all healthy and happy and together. Myla isn't just lucky to have us, we prayed hard for her and the day she showed up was the "luckiest" day of our lives. I can say the same thing for each one of the boys and I know they would say the same thing, collectively, about our family. One of the topics the officials discussed in the room that day was if I was willing to adopt her. I thought I was going to pee myself (because YES and as far as I knew that wasn't possible) and JD very calmly said, "We can be discussing that." What we didn't know at the time is that, last month, for the first time in 7 years, Rwanda very quietly reopened international adoption. And so, again, we wait. And pray.

To be honest, it feels a bit sticky to talk about this.... This perfectly imperfect family we have built is not, in any way, legally binding; yet it is, in every way, forever. Myla isn't adopted, but maybe one day she will be. The boys are past the age of being adopted so they won't ever have that chance. Both of those things are hard and sad and not as they should be, but my kids are my kids and no label they could be given would change anything for any of us. (Except for their ability to come to the States!) What I'm trying to say is, the details around adoption are a million times touchy. Each story is unique; most are painful and all are personal. I've said before that I feel very protective of the boys, of their hearts, and of their stories. I care deeply about the way they are portrayed or perceived. Honestly, a lot of times I care about it more than they do, but one day I think it will matter to them. None of us, including Myla, ended up together because things went the way they should have. We are all part of a beautifully redeemed Plan B. The boys are able to speak for themselves, or to tell me what I'm allowed to speak about them. Myla isn't and I won't do that for her. I'm happy to share about our family, through my own experiences, but I don't plan to share her specific and private details on this blog or anywhere else.

We appreciate your love and support so much!! We love sharing about our lives and love showing off what we believe God has done for us. The boys feel special knowing that you know their names, and care about them, and are cheering them on. They love reading your comments and seeing your 'likes' and 'loves' come in. They grew up differently than Myla will. They had so many people looking after them and their lives were constantly on display, whether they liked it or not. (And they mostly liked it, they didn't know any different.) Myla will know only us. Her family. She didn't get to chose this, but I will do my very best to make sure that she knows that she does get to chose who she is in this world; she isn't defined by her circumstances and she doesn't owe her life or any parts of her story to anyone for any reason.

And the world spins madly on. Myla is a rockstar baby; eating, sleeping, and pooping like a champ! Our sweet friend, with Hope for Tomorrow, has been so kind to help us get situated a bit. We bought formula and diapers and are borrowing clothes and blankets, and a little Moses basket for her to sleep in. For the last couple of months, I've been ordering a few things here and there to Grandma's house in Oklahoma, anticipating a baby girl's arrival at some point.

Unfortunately, long before we knew anything about Miss Myla and her grand entrance, I had a 3 week trip planned to States. I leave next week. My bestie is getting married and I get the immense honor of standing next to her! I wouldn't miss it for the world, but I sure will miss my crew and time with my baby girl. The good news is, I'll get to stock up on all the things she needs and Grandma gets to come back to Rwanda with me and meet her! While I'm gone, Myla will be staying at our house, in her routine, with one of the No.41 girls; she'll be getting an early start 'going to work' at No.41 every day. (As you can see, Frank is also on the job!) The boys will be wrapping up their final exams for the year and it'll be a party when we're all back together. Several people have asked about a registry for Myla and we did create one at Target. It's linked here, if you're so inclined. Again, we love you and we are so grateful for your love and support. Thank you for sharing in our journey. xo

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Story of Us

Hi. Lately I've had a handful of people ask to hear the story of how our little family came to be.

L to R: Terry, Richard, Angel, Chazzo, Tara, Innocent, Moses

So, ok. I hope you have 7 hours, because maybe I'm about to tell you more than you ever wanted to know.

If you've heard me talking in the last 2(ish) years, you know that talking about our family is one of my most favorite things and I think it's so sweet that people would ask to know more. Loving this crazy crew is, easily, the hardest, best thing I have ever done. These jokers rocked my whole world. And then they became it. However, I've never really told the story of how God rounded up the most unlikely cast of misfits, each sinking in our own ways, and He threw together a set of circumstances that made it seem easy-- coming together. So that's what we did.

Hear this: it wasn't easy.

The truth is, we didn't set out to become a family. Not like this. I don't know that any of us were expecting it and that's what makes it so much sweeter. And tougher. To me, looking back, it was like we woke up one day and we were together. Suddenly. Finally. Always. And forever.

It feels a bit sticky to share our story. I feel very protective of....them. Of us. And what we've been through. We all fought to be here and while I've been fairly open about my own struggles that got me to this place, I took some time to talk to each one of them about their sides of how and why we became a family and what they wanted me to share. I guess I should have known, but I was a bit surprised at how stark and matter of fact their answers were. It's all appears to be very surface level to them; what you see is what you get, and what happened is what happened. However, and I suppose this doesn't come as a surprise to you, I tend to be pretty emotionally driven and pretty much live life with my heart smeared all over my sleeve. And the other one, too. And my pants. And my face. And my hat, if I happen to be wearing one.... Maybe that's why this whole thing works for us. Anytime I get too high or too low, they bring me right back to now. Because, for them, that's all there is. There are lots of (hard) parts in this journey where I've said that I, literally, just "Care-Bear Stare" the boys. Because that's what they need. I stand there, even when it hurts, and try to shoot hearts and rainbows and all the love life has allowed me to collect in their direction. But, I digress...

From my perspective, my family in Rwanda has always been fluid. I assume it's common knowledge around here that I moved here for Innocent and that's where it all began. He lived at Noel and so did I. (So did all the other boys, but we'll get there in a minute.) When I moved out of the orphanage to start No.41, I moved into a house just a few doors down. The house had 5 bedrooms, which felt crazy for just one person, but the comfort level that I felt was necessary for myself (things like indoor plumbing and some semblance of a kitchen) was only possible in larger homes. So, I prayed that God would fill the house. I walked circles around the perimeter praying. I knelt in each room for the person(s) who would sleep there. I bought furniture not knowing whose clothes would fill the drawers or love would fill the walls, but I trusted God to make that happen. And He did, multiple times over. I never spent a single night in that house, in all 5 years, alone. If my calculations are correct, more than 20 people have called that house home for, at least, 2 months. Some much longer. Some shorter, too. The biggest part of that number were girls and all somehow in relation to No.41. People came and went as situations evolved or as they moved on to other things.

Inn and I. My first week at Noel

Moses and Richard

Chazzo (third from left), Richard and Moses (back to back), Innocent (far right)

Moses (shirtless), Innocent (in blue)
My one constant was Inn. Though he was in and out, especially during the season when I was taking more frequent and longer trips to the States, bouncing between boarding school and time with his bio-family, he always came home. March of 2015 was a particularly rough visit for he and I; we didn't get much time together, as he was in school, but I knew that he was struggling. At the same time, Richard, who I knew as one of Inn's best friends from Noel, was also struggling. Richard and I have always had a close relationship and if there is anyone I remember spending as much time with as Innocent, it was always Richard. (Sidenote: Earlier that year, Noel had, officially, closed it's doors. All 630 kids had all been reunified with families, which I had very strong feelings about at the time and still do to this day.) During this trip I found out that Richard had been kicked out of school. He had also recently been reunified with his family, but was living nearby with a good friend of ours. Because he was nothing but available, he and I spent a good amount of time together and one of those times included a trip to see Inn for visiting day at school.

Inn and Richard. My first Christmas at Noel

Ange, Tara, Innocent. Visiting Day at Sonrise

The school was just over an hour from where we lived and as we were walking to lunch after our visit, we ran into Moses on the road. I recognized Mo from Noel, but I didn't really know him. Richard asked him to come to lunch with us and I took the opportunity to find out how things were going for him since he had been reunified. As I expected, he wasn't exactly thriving. Moses is the youngest of 5 children and, unlike most of the kids from Noel, both of their parents had passed away. The siblings are all very close, in age and relationship, but each of them were working or studying, trying to make their own way and, as the baby, also kicked out of school, there wasn't much time or resources left for Moses. Mo is an incredibly hard worker and was working whatever small jobs he could find just to try and stay fed. He asked if I could give him a job at No.41 and, at the time, I told him no. I was leaving in just a few days to head back to the States, but I told him if he would come to my house in July, when I returned, I would see what we might be able to work out.

Mo and me
True to his word, July came and so did Mo. It was a Saturday and I asked him to come back on Monday. I wanted him to be able to meet with JD (our Program Director at No.41) so that we could work out a plan together. The following day Richard (recently kicked out of another school, if I'm remembering correctly, and now living at home with his bio-family) and I went to a big football match. It's an annual match, the Noel team against a local school; but this match was particularly packed out because it was like a reunion for the Noel kids, most of whom hadn't seen each other since the closing. It was fun for me, too, seeing so many familiar faces. One of those faces was Terry. We weren't super close at Noel, but he was always friends with friends of mine and I knew he was a good kid. Shy, smart, kind, athletic-- he was captain of the football team. But that day he looked terrible. I asked around a bit and was told 'his life is hard'. I knew that he had recently been kicked out of school and he was also reunified with his bio-family, but when that didn't work out he went out on his own with some friends. They made poor decisions and worked very hard labor jobs, earning very little money to get by. He didn't talk to me that day and I was too disappointed to talk to him, but on Monday he showed up at my house. At the same time as Moses. He wanted a job.

Terry and I at our birthday party. It was his first party. He turned 21.
Before Moses was set to arrive, I had prepped JD on what I was thinking. We didn't have funds to hire Mo, but I felt like we could offer him training at No.41 and a place to live as "payment". (Background: By this time, our landlord had built a second house on his property and we were renting that house, too, for No.41. The girls worked in the living/dining room, they used two bedrooms for storage and office space, and the other two bedrooms had beds, just in case. Living in the main house was Ange, Angel, Innocent, home on holiday, and recently Richard who had been sleeping over.) Mo and Terry got to the house before JD. I told Terry he could stay and talk with JD and then we would decide if we could offer him the same deal as Mo. For whatever reason, for me, a 2-for-1 deal felt somehow easier. When JD arrived he had tears in his eyes as he greeted Terry and told me how they had known each other. Prior to working at No.41, JD was a teacher and Terry was his student, his top student. JD was so sad to hear how Terry's life had taken a turn for the worse and he said, "We have to help these boys." They were given a stern talking to about the rules, what to expect, and what was expected of them. We all agreed and both boys left with a plan to come back that weekend with their things. JD and I lingered long after they left, still trying to work out if we had made the right decision and how all of it was going to go down. I was leaving again in just a few weeks and he would be the one running the show. Over lunch, I asked JD if he would ever consider living in our house to keep an eye on the boys. (More background: At the time, JD didn't have a car and was renting a house nearby to be closer to his job during the week and he would go home to his family on the weekends. This isn't entirely uncommon, especially when good jobs are so few and far between.) Without hesitation, he said yes. He said yes because he said, if there was any way he could help these boys and he didn't do that, he didn't know how he could live with himself. He said yes because he's one of the greatest men I have ever known. He moved in that weekend.

No.41 football match
So, if you're counting, that's four: Inn, Richard (who never left, but eventually did start school), Moses and Terry. We called Inn and Richard the little boys and Mo and Terry the big boys. Though they were all big. And somehow all little.

I left in Rwanda August and came back in November to all four boys, JD, Angel who was finishing up university, and Ange who was engaged and on her way out. I arrived just in time for Thanksgiving. And Chazzo. Chazzo is Richard's older brother by three years. I didn't know him at all from our time at Noel, but in the time since I had somehow gotten an impression in my head about him and it wasn't a good one. I'm not sure why. When Richard told me that Chazzo had gotten an internship at the tea factory across the street from our house and needed somewhere to stay, I wasn't that excited about it. We were all still trying to get our footing in this unique scenario, and when I say that, I mean that we were still working out kinks. Big, huge, hairy kinks. It made me nervous to bring in another boy when we were already in over our heads, but it was only for 6 weeks and I told Richard, "I'm only doing this for you."

Chazzo and Richard

Now is maybe a good time to say that even though our house has been a revolving door of sorts, there isn't a single person that has come through that hasn't been prayed through. There have been many over the years who have come to the house asking for jobs or help or a living situation that I haven't said yes to. Not in a mean way, but in the way that, one, I'm not collecting people and two, I'm not saving people. But three, I hope to always be open and willing for whatever (or whoever) God sets in front of me. I'd like to model that willingness to be open and available for the boys to see. And maybe that's why we have so many dogs....


I fell hard and fast for Chazzo and even still it's hard for me to put him in words. He is the epitome of laid back. His style is loud and quirky, while he, himself, is quiet and cool. He walks to his own beat and dances almost nonstop. His smile lights up the room and his laugh is second to none. If I had a nickel for every time one us said, "For Chazzo, no problem." I would be a very rich lady. Chazzo is no problem and he has no problems. He is stubborn in his English, the way I am with my Kinyarwanda; whether it's the brain's refusal or the lack of confidence to just spit out, I don't know, but we somehow manage just fine. Chazzo's internship came and went, but thankfully he stayed. He made us complete. Even if we didn't know it yet.

Chazzo and Price, me and Wizzy
Chazzo and Mo's first birthday party and a new phone
After Chazzo came Christmas and alllll of our birthdays. I think it was somehow during the mess that we became a family. Oh, we were crazy; me, as in out of mind, them, as in they had never experienced anything like this. To me, we were as unconventional as families come. To them, it was the most traditional roles they had ever known. It was around this time that I started trying to plant ideas in their minds about going back to school. Innocent and Richard were hanging on by a thread. They had both been asked not to return to their schools the following year. (Also, in case you're counting, that's three schools Richard had been kicked out of, one for each term, that year.) Moses and Terry hadn't been in school in two years and Chazzo "dropped out" of school to go into vo-tech for a year.

L to R: Mo, Terry, JD, Richard, Tara, Inn, Chazzo
Richard, Chazzo, Terry, Angel, Mo on Christmas morning

I hoped everyone would go back to school. They hoped I would shut up. Yet, when I asked each of the boys when they knew we were a family, Moses, Terry, and Chazzo all said "when you asked us to study." This came as a total surprise to me. Looking back, those couple of months were some of the hardest (early) times for me as a 'mom', but I suppose I could do well to remember that under all that hard-- the begging, the arguments, the flat-out refusals; something in them sensed my love for them and my belief in who they were and who they could be. Something in them wanted to believe that, too. We were a family. Everyone did eventually start school. Four out five had to start again in primary school and you might of thought I sent them straight to hell. They made sure I knew what hell felt like, too. But, by the grace of God, they finished. They all took and passed the National Exam and headed into secondary school. Around that same time, JD was buying a car and moved back in with his family full time. And I came back to Rwanda full time, as well. For most of us, this last year has been all about consistency and stability. It's meant everything and the changes in us, individually and together, are undeniable.

Innocent, Chazzo, Terry
It's hard to know where to wrap this all up, because in so many ways it feels like we're just getting started. These days, Ange is married and living in Kigali with her husband and Baby Tara. Angel graduated university and got a job working as the accounts manager at a local cafe. Richard is currently living with JD and his family and is still working hard (sometimes) at getting his act together. So we're down to 5 of us in the house, four dogs, and seven chickens, and that feels really manageable. If you've been keeping up with the blog lately, you know that, even though we're still working out some rough patches (and probably always will be), we moved into a new house better suited for our needs as a family. We are settling in. We're learning how to love and support each other well. We're starting to put down some roots (that we'll tell you about soon). And it feels good. Two years together is nothing. Especially when most of us have spent 10 times that apart. But God's hand is so heavy on this little rag-tag group and it feels like we've made some great strides. I can't speak for the boys, and I wouldn't, but for my part, I've said it before, and I'll say it forever: loving them saved me. I can't imagine not being here and I can't imagine my life not loving them.

Thank you so much for you kind words of encouragement and support for our family. None of this would be be possible without y'all, my sweet friends, who allow us to stumble through this and prayerfully and financially keep us alive. Our fam is looking to increase our monthly support by $200. If you feel lead to give, there is a link to donate on the left hand side of the page. Thanks again for following along and cheering us on. You've made the boys feel like superstars! xo

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