Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pictures Added

I didn't bring my camera to Kaitlyn's funeral, and I ended up regretting that decision.  A coworker took pictures of some of the touching things done at the funeral, and I've added them to what I wrote about that day.  You can see all of it here: Novak Funeral.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving yesterday with my family.  It was our first holiday at Mom and Dad's 'new' house, and we had a great time enjoying each other, the food, and of course a fabulous Fightin' Texas Aggie football game!  
Mom and Nanny made quite a feast!
We just missed having Laura with us, but I know she had a good time in Canada with her family.  They made their own American Thanksgiving; hopefully it's the last one they'll have away from Texas!

Isaac and I have so much to be grateful for this year, and we spent a lot of time talking about it this week.  We both love our jobs, my family is so close by and we enjoy our time with them.  Bailey lights up our lives daily, and we are so glad to have such a bundle of cuddle joy.  We're finding places to serve the Lord at church and in the community, and we're so excited about the new leadership in our church, not to mention the new friends we have in the Laufers.  We are blessed with other close friends.  Mostly, I think we're both thankful for all Christ has been teaching us this year as we are learning to be more like Him and less like the world.  Romans 12:2 has meant a lot to us lately.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Bayou Wildlife

Last Saturday I needed time in Creation to heal and wonder at God's goodness after the Novak funeral.  God had the perfect treat in store for Isaac and me; driving to the funeral, we passed Bayou Wildlife Park, which Amy pointed out and said she has lots of fun going there with her little girl.  I told Isaac about it, and it wasn't hard at all to convince him to take me on Saturday morning.

Amy told us to get there when they opened as the animals are most hungry and alert in the morning.  We paid our admission and drove on in to the park.  This is the sight we saw:
Animals from Africa, Asia, South America and North America were roaming the Texas pasture.  Yes, I squealed!  I love parks that allow animals to roam freely and keep the people in the 'cage'.  I love getting a small glimpse of Eden.  I love watching Isaac's face when the animals interact with us.

Bayou Wildlife doesn't allow cars to drive through their various pastures, except for the short road to the parking lot.  They have a picnic area and several animals that can be visited on foot, such as Red Kangaroos, Wallabies, horses, Zonkies (mix of donkey and zebra), peacocks, ankole cattle, a bactrian camel.  There are also pony rides for the little ones and a petting zoo full of goats, sheep, and huge pot bellied pigs!  When you're ready to see the rest of the park, you hop on a tram with your bucket of food and hold on to it tight!
Georgie might still be a baby camel, but he wasn't shy about letting Isaac know he was hungry!

The animals are certainly hungry in the morning, and the more social animals don't mind letting you know when they want a bite of food from the buckets!

I think elands are just gorgeous.  They are certainly my favorite of the big antelope from Africa, and of course they remind me of Zambia!
Inhale and Gulp!

How many camels can fit into a tram...?

The tram ride lasts a good 30 minutes, and we saw and touched more animals than Isaac or I could get pictures.  The zebras and wildebeests are so shy, but they are gorgeous to watch grazing in the fields.  One of the wildebeests is fond of the tram (well, mostly the loving hands that come out of the tram) because she is an orphan and was bottle fed.  Lulu is her name, and I felt beyond privileged to stroke her coat and hold a gaze with her for a bit.

After the ride, we hung out in the giraffe barn letting me get my giraffe fill.  I'm not sure when giraffes became my favorite animal, but I can't get enough of them.  Jeffrey, Bayou's male, made me laugh and laugh.
Munch, munch

Georgie was still hungry 2 hours after Isaac fed him.  Growing boy and all...
 We ended the day cuddling some horses admiring the oddity that is a Zonkey.  On our way out, we found a buck who'd just lost his horns resting (they are nocturnal, so I'm sure the noisy kids don't make the deer super happy).  I quietly, slowly approached him, and he didn't jump up and run, so I knelt down beside him.  He sniffed my hand and then scooted closer to me.  The next thing I knew, his nose was in my ear, and then in my hair, and then he was sniffing me all over my face.  I had to hold his neck to keep from falling over with giggles.  Apparently I smelled ok because he then let me stoke his ears and back for several minutes.  What a precious time with God's creation!
My new friend
I was certainly ready to start a new week after our visit.  Isaac can't wait to go again in the winter when all the little babies have been born.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Painted Potter

After the funeral on Friday, I was in desperate need to laugh, giggle, and be out of my house.  As always, God knows exactly what is needed, long before I do.  David and Suzanne had asked us weeks ago to keep the kids Friday while they went to a dinner with a church committee, and we had already scheduled to treat Princess, Little Man, and Monkey to a night at Painted Potter while Mom and Dad were gone.

Half the fun of Pained Potter is deciding what to paint.  We told the kids to keep it Christmas themed for this painting occassion, but even at that, there are so many choices, from nativities to party dishes to mugs to ornaments and more.  In the end, we ended up with a penguin, nutcracker, snowwoman, and 2 different tree ornaments.

About to begin
We spent two hours giggling and talking as we pained.  I love the way these three interact with each other.  They minister to my soul more than they ever realize.  Isaac can say something silly that erupts the whole group into a fit of laughter one minute and then they'll be discussing how they're going to help someone in need the next.  We are so, so grateful that there parents share them with us!

Thankfully we finished painting right as Painted Potter was about to close!  We had a countdown ticking, but we made it!  I have no idea what time those three actually fell asleep Friday night, but I know they had so much fun, and I went to bed with a balmed-over heart.  Praise You, Jesus!
Finished products.  Can't wait to see them fired and glazed in a week!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Novak Funeral

Yesterday we buried Kaitlyn, Christian, and Nathaniel Novak.  It's really difficult to put the day into words.  There shouldn't be coffins that small.  There shouldn't be so much grief for children in one room.  There shouldn't be a mom who was revived only to try to rescue three children she couldn't save.  There shouldn't be a little 4 year old who will mostly remember his older siblings through photos and stories.  There shouldn't be best friends left behind at such a young age.  But, this is reality because we are a fallen people in desperate need of a Savior.  It's tempting to want to scream at Adam and Eve, but I'd rather cling to the truth of the new Eden that is soon to come.

Christ has, and will continue to receive, the glory through every moment of this tragedy.  Kaitlyn was a believer, and we know the Lord takes care of little ones too young to understand the concept of salvation.  The community has stepped up to surround this family and meet their needs as they arise.  Christ was proclaimed during the service yesterday morning as all three children were eulogized and then again at the cemetery before we placed those little coffins in the ground. 

There weren't many dry eyes.  It was difficult to look at Kaitlyn.  She didn't look like herself.  I think the smoke from the fire had caused discoloration in her skin, because there was so much makeup on her that her freckles weren't visible.  I had a picture in my hand of her and what I saw on her face just didn't match.  It was chaos for my brain for several minutes as I begged God for a dose of reality.

All of Kaitlyn's teachers and many faculty members close to Kaitlyn from SCIS came to the funeral, as well as our superintendent and one of the assistant superintendents.  Teachers from previous schools that Kaitlyn, Christian, and Nathaniel were in attendance too.  Kaitlyn was in Leadership Development Corps, the middle school version of ROTC, and our fabulous LDC booster club moms purchased a beautiful wreath that was presented by our campus's sergeant in a touching tribute.  At the cemetery, the children released red balloons with notes written to the children.  Three white homing doves were released as well as a flock of homing doves.  It was a beautiful sight against the bright blue sky.  I think all three children would've been pleased, and I know God was too.

The worst part of the day was seeing one of my sweet students, Maeve, who was in LDC with Kaitlyn.  She had her face buried in her mom's shoulder, sobbing.  All I could do was hug her.  Twelve-year-olds should not be living this.

Now healing begins. It's long and painful, two steps forward and one step back, as each of us who knew one or more of these little ones begins to figure out what 'normal' now is.  We don't walk alone, and I pray that truth over the Novak family many times each day.

My precious friend Suzanne shared Isaiah 57:1-2 with me last night, and I am so grateful to God for speaking His truth through her: The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.

Out of these ashes, beauty will rise.  We will dance among the ruins. We will see Him with our own eyes.   Out of this darkness new light will shine and we'll know the joy that's coming in the morning.  Beauty will rise ~Steven Curtis Chapman

Friday, November 19, 2010

Florida Wrap Up

Our fourth day in Florida was an absolutely, blissfully perfect day!  The sun was out, the temperatures were warm, and the breeze was mild and lovely on our cheeks.  As much as all four of us love Disney, we were tired of paying Disney all of our money, so we packed up what we needed for the two hour drive back to Ft. DeSoto for a second beach day.  My mom couldn't have been happier than to have been on the beach in November. 

Isaac and I spent some more time walking the sand bar, but we had seen a place the rented kayaks, so we decided to go check them out.  Their prices were reasonable, and we found out the mangrove swamps are marked so kayakers unfamiliar with the area don't get lost.  We were hoping to see some manatees up close, and God did not disappoint.
Manatee back
Hello to you too!

I lost count, but I think we had 8 come right up to us and we were able to watch several more not too far from us.  It's against the law to 'chase' manatees, which is meant to protect them from boats with engines.  I'm not sure our kayak would've harmed them, but I know we could've scared them, so when we'd see one come up for air, we'd stop paddling and just wait.  Usually they'd come back and roll around to put on a little show for us.  Our God is so big in His creativity, and the gentleness of these massive animals shows just a taste of Him.  Beautiful.
They're HUGE!

Sweet nose!
Thursday was a dull day.  A yucky, rainy cold front hit Orlando, plunging temperatures from the mid-80s to the mid-50s.  We met up with friends from church who were also holding out hope that the shuttle would launch Friday and hung out at the mall.  It was nice to visit, but a bit melancholy after such a pleasant day at the beach less than 24 hours earlier.

On Friday, Isaac logged into to the systems at NASA and began checking the countdown clock.  It was looking great, so we all got on our launch shirts and headed down for breakfast.  The news was on while we ate, and they interrupted the current story to let us know a leak had occurred yet again, scrubbing the launch indefinitely.  Boo.  I just sat there.  I so much enjoyed this week of vacation fun with my parents and Isaac, but I was sad I had missed a whole week with my students and beyond bummed that we weren't seeing the launch.  I asked Dad if we could go ahead and fly home that day instead of waiting until Saturday, so he started calling Southwest.  We were able to get on a flight mid-afternoon out of Tampa, so we packed up and drove back to Florida's beautiful west coast one more time.  We ate at a cool beach front restaurant, but had to sit inside because it was so cold.  Still, I'm grateful for some time away from reality, and this trip truly has been so much fun.  I hope we get to take more vacations with my parents!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Magic Kingdom

While we were in Florida earlier this month waiting on the Steve and the shuttle to launch, we had lots of free time to play in Florida.  Ironically, we never made it further east than Orlando.

On Tuesday, the 2nd, day 3 of the scrub, Mom and Dad went to Universal to check out Harry Potter, and Isaac and I decided to visit Mickey again at Magic Kingdom.  I've always dreamed of being with my Prince Charming at Cinderella's Castle, and today that happened.  :)

We had to make sure we met up with Minnie and Mickey!

It is such a dream to travel to Disney during the late Fall!  The crowds are minimal, the weather is warm but not horribly hot, and the lines are easy to manage.  I'm not sure I can fuss at my students when their parents pull them in the middle of the school year for a Disney trip after this week.

I wasn't fast enough to get a picture of my score, but on the Buzz Lightyear ride, I hit some special target that gave me tens of thousands of points.  Isaac was furious!  I won something playing against the Winning King.  WHOOP!
This just makes me happy!

It took a little patience to ride the Haunted Mansion due to some technical difficulties, but we managed to walk by while it was open.  Of course Pirates is always a must, along with Mickey's Philharmagic 4D movie.  Space Mountain was visited twice, and we also rode Snow White, Small World (yes, we did it!), and Peter Pan.  Isaac enjoyed Run Away Mountain (I think it's the fastest coaster in the park...?), and if I wouldn't have fallen through the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House, I would've enjoyed it much more too.  The rain nearly ruined the Castle Show in the middle of the afternoon, but it held off for us...yay!

Possibly my favorite moment of the day was meeting Tinker Bell for the first time.  Yes, this was my 6th time to a Disney park, but even at my last visit in '07, the best glimpse one might receive of Tink was at the start of the firework show at Magic Kingdom in the evenings as she flies from the top of Cinderella's Castle.  I believe I've mentioned it in here before, but my dad and Nanny have called me Tinker Bell my whole life.  We have home video to prove it.  Gracious knows I grew in personality into the nickname, for better or worse (usually the latter).  When I saw I sign indicating that Tinker Bell and a few of her fairy friends would be meeting folks all day under the Big Fair Tent, I was thrilled!  Can't you just imagine how cute the pictures would've been if I had been able to meet her as a small girl?!  Regardless, I was just as excited at 25 as I would've been at 5, and  I'm sure poor Tinker Bell was a bit confused about my enthusiasm, but that's ok.  When she told me her name was Tinker Bell and asked for mine, I wanted so badly to tell her that mine was Tink also, but there were small children in line, and I figured they didn't want to hear the dialog for the next 10 minutes.  Tehe!

Just like at Animal Kingdom the day before, I insisted we stay for a parade.  Since the afternoon parade was rained out, we stayed for the Electrical Parade that night.  It has new music and floats since my '07 trip, so it was all exciting for me.  What is it about Disney shows and parades that make me so giddy and silly?  Sheesh.  Poor Isaac had to listen to my giggles well past the last float. 
I love this place at night.

There won't be a trip back to Florida anytime soon, but I know we'll come back someday, and the children in us both will come out to play in Walt Disney magic once more!

Disney's Animal Kingdom

**Time for a happy post!

When we left for Florida on October 30, we knew the original Discovery launch date of November 1 had been pushed to at least the 2nd, so we decided to head to Disney's Animal Kingdom on Monday morning.  I was the only one of the four of us who had ever been, and that was for just a half day, so it was a new adventure all around.
In front of the Tree of Life

I think we were all impressed with the safari ride.  No, it wasn't as cool as the real thing was in Zambia this summer, but to be anywhere with nothing but the lower half of a vehicle between an animal and me is pretty darn neat.  Mom even had us ride a second time in the afternoon, though the morning ride certainly had the best showing.  Most of the animals were out enjoying breakfast, and the baby elephant and giraffe were just dolls!
I want a hippopotamus for Christmas...

Since I adore zoos, Animal Kingdom makes me happy since all kinds of animals can be found, all with a touch a Disney magic.  We enjoyed walking the African path and watching the momma gorilla and 8 month old baby.  So precious.

The Lion King show is still one of my favorites.  I saw it three years ago with Meredith, and I still loved it!  It's a scaled down version of the Broadway production.  The costumes, acrobatic 'monkeys' and 'flying' birds are fantastic.

We made sure to meet up with Mickey and the Gang; that's just a must at any Disney park!  Of course, heaven forbid we all look at the camera at the same time, but that's ok.

Isaac rode Mount Everest 3 times, twice with Dad and once with me.  While there was no coaster I was afraid of as a kid, now I don't care for them.  However, since I survived Everest in '07, I decided to ride it again Monday just to prove to myself I wouldn't die.

What is it about Disney parades that are just so darn fun?  I LOVE them!  We had prime seats for the parade, so I was just peachy happy!

 After the parade, we watched the Nemo live action puppet show.  I was pretty darn impressed.  It told the whole Nemo story in about 20 minutes.  By the time it was over, the park was closing for the night, so we headed off to Downtown Disney for a yummy seafood feast, chocolate overdose at Ghiredelli, and a photo op with a dead man who can't tell tales.  :)  It was a long day, but oh so magical!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Number 3

Last night it was confirmed that the middle brother of my student Kaitlyn, a 5 year old, was taken off life support and and joined his older brother and sister in death yesterday afternoon. 

This morning, I woke up angry.  I'm angry that older apartments don't have to update to new fire codes.  I'm angry that three precious children died senselessly.  I'm angry that I feel helpless and can't do anything to fill the hole in this family's hearts.  I'm angry a bright, lovely girl with blooming talents in academics, leadership, and orchestra was taken before the world could see what she had to offer. I'm angry darling 11 and 12 year olds are having to experience the loss of a friend at such a young age.  I'm angry I don't know if Katelyn knew Jesus and that I don't do a good enough job of getting to know that side of my students.  I'm angry at myself for not trusting my precious Maker, who always knows what He's doing, and getting angry at the world instead instead.  It's vicious.

I hadn't cried or shown emotion over Thursday morning's events except for a brief few minutes right after we were told the news before the start of Thursday's school day.  With 5 classes to teach each day and a grade wide field trip coming up on Tuesday that I'm organizing, there wasn't time to process.  Well, this morning, I still didn't process; I reacted.  I was horrid to everybody.  I couldn't make decisions about anything and wanted to be alone one minute and with people the next.  I even tried to give away my sweet Bailey to my parents!  What a nut!  Poor Isaac and my parents didn't have a clue what was wrong.  About 4:30 I finally broke down and was able to cry...and cry and cry.  Boy, did that make a difference. 

I'm still angry.  I had to go to the bedroom and cry some more in the middle of the Aggie game (and fell asleep...but thankfully I woke up to see the last 2:30 of the game...WHOOP!).  I've loved so many little ones this year, in Zambia and in Houston, who have died, and I'm a bit overwhelmed.  However, God  is good.  My grief is not bigger than Him, and as much as I want to run from loving people and things right now, that's not how Christ has called me to live.  I long for Eden.  I long to love fearlessly.  I've often been accused of loving deeply and recklessly, and I long for the freedom to do so without fear.  I know God is faithful, and He'll hold me on the days I'm angry and on the days that are ok.

For now, I'm learning anew the joy of prayer and sweet silence with my Jesus.  Come, Lord Jesus.  Reign in our hearts and in this world.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Teaching First

My heart is broken today with my first lost of one of my students.  There was a nasty apartment fire around 4:40 this morning and Kaitlyn and the oldest of her three little brothers died as a result.  We still don't know if the middle brother is alive; he was life-flighted to the Med Center.  The little one is just fine, thank You Jesus. 

Kaitlyn was a tall, lanky girl with a great laugh and darling personality.  She had a cute little giggle and asked me awesome questions in class.  I miss her already.

We weren't telling the kids anything at school today until everything was confirmed, and it was so hard to teach and act normal when it wasn't normal at all.  It was a rough afternoon after we broke the news.  Please be praying for Kaitlyn's family and our campus in the coming weeks. 

ISS Cupola

Tuesday night Isaac was looking through Nasa Watch, which is pretty typical for him.  I was trying to finish reading the latest Beverly Lewis novel, but the scrolling screen of photos kept grabbing my attention.  When Isaac reached this photo, the book had to be ignored:
This is Tracy Dyson, who spent about 6 months on the ISS and just returned home about 4 weeks ago.  Yep, she's laying, as much as one can lay in Zero-G, on windows, watching the Earth roll past.  Holy freakin' cow!  I lost it!  Is there anything that would be this experience?  I don't know.  Yes, these things get to me because I'm a history/world cultures/geography teacher, but that aside, how amazing would it be to stretch out in your comfy clothes in space and watch all that God has made on this Earth slowly turn beneath you?  The waterworks started as Isaac showed me more pictures of the windows, called the Cupola on the ISS.
The Italians made the Cupola, and it's a grand improvement over the port hole type windows the astronauts were previously limited to using.  I now have an overwhelming desire to visit the ISS!  Don't laugh!  My job skills may not have much to offer NASA, but I'll be happy to just sit and watch for hours.  le sigh.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. ~Psalm 139:7-12

"The heavens stretch to hold You..." ~Rich Mullins

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Halloween in St. Pete!

Mom, Dad, Isaac, and I spent Halloween and the following week in Florida, attempting to see Discovery launch with our friend Steve Lindsey as commander.  We didn't see the launch; no one did, but we had a fabulous vacation.  Our first Florida stop was Ft. DeSoto Park for a beach day.  Here's how we dressed up for Halloween!  :)

Love that white, soft sand!
We explored the old fort from the Spanish-American War after we ate lunch.

Exploring on the sandbar.

A real, living sand dollar!  We found dozens!  It was so much fun watching them breathe before we put them back in the water.  We only kept the dead ones.

Do you see the dolphin fin?  We had several swim so close to us and play with their flippers and tails!

More dolphin play time!

All in all, it was an absolutely beautiful day, and my ideal way to spend Halloween.  We found so many gorgeous seashells as we searched the sandbar, not to mention a few living conchs, welchs, crabs, and hermit crabs.  The highlight was the dolphin family that decided to play with us!  Thank you Jesus for allowing me to have church singing hymns on that sandbar!
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