Every day advocate.

Make them understand why immigrants and refugees should be here, not shame for wanting to send them away.
Be an advocate. Share their stories. Share why they are special. Not what America can do for them, but what they can do for this country.

The majority of my adult life has included teaching English and learning about other countries, cultures, and languages.  It is very important to me to show the value, education, and hilarity that my students and friends bring into my life. Below are glimpses of my world as I strive to be an every day advocate.

January 31, 2018
It was a culture war zone in class this morning… Opinions on weight fluctuation; why I haven’t had children yet; how dare I take my husband’s last name and drop my father’s name; and let’s not even get started on Trump’s State of the Union address.

Granted, it’s impressive how all of this can be communicated with little English. It also means way less self-control in their expression. I’m exhausted.

February 6, 2018
This morning a younger Iraqi student got upset that an older Somali student calls me Ashley instead of teacher. The explanation…

“Before, you teacher… baby teacher. 8 years before. You my daughter, you baby teacher. Now big, no small.”

She was one of my first students in Adult Ed ESL when I was 21, so I was a baby teacher. But peer pressure got to her because by the end of class she was calling me Teacher.

February 19, 2018
My classroom interactions this morning…

1.) A Vietnamese nun is praying for me to have a baby.
2.) A Burundi student is adamant that she is 26 years old when her birth date is January 1990… There was no changing her mind.
3.) A Somali student thought she was 23 and was slightly devastated to find out that she is really 27.

Age is a hard concept when your worldview of date and time are so different. And the baby comments/questions are almost daily.

March 8, 2018
That’s my program!

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March 14, 2018
Over the years I’ve tried to consciously remove the following phrase from my vocabulary, “This student knows nothing. No English at all.”

Every student knows something. And if you can’t figure out how to awaken that something enough to grow and develop it into more language, then you’re not working hard enough as an English teacher.

#mamabearESLteacher #strengthsbasedpractice #stopinsultingmypeople

March 22, 2018
This is Roda. She is from DRC and has been in my English class since July. Learning to read is not an easy task, and she has been quite frustrated. A few months ago she grabbed another student’s certificate and pretended that I had presented it to her. She bowed and yelled, “Thank you, thank you!”

Today, she received her own certificate that she can keep and take home. There was dancing, hugging, hollering, spinning, and praising the Lord. These are some of the moments I live for.

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March 26, 2018
I received 5 onions as a gift today.

 April 26, 2018
Fighter planes for Derby have been flying around school this morning. I lost control of class for a minute as students acted out bombs dropping. One in particular just said, “Syria” as he pointed to them. Such a different world we live in.

May 1, 2018
This week my schedule is full of exit interviews for our Family Education grant. When asking participants how the program has helped their family…

-“My daughter was doing bad at school because I don’t know how to help her. Now her teacher calls to tell me she is in the top of her class.”

-“My customers notice that my English is better.”

-“My 3-year old knows her letters, colors, animals. She sings. She can write her name!” (from a parent who’s never been to school)

-“We love learning. Me and my children are sad if we miss Family Education.”

These comments are from parents who start their day at 3:20am and go home at 9:00pm, who are single mothers, who did not go to/finish school. THIS is why we do it. It’s a gift to work with these strong individuals who have re-built their lives in this country.

‍‍May 30, 2018
Teaching lower level ESL sometimes hinders my vocab. I’m always trying to simplify my language. So now in regular conversation, I have to google definitions… ominous, gregarious, etc.

August 15, 2018
Today was the first day of school for Jefferson County. As I watched adorably dressed children run to their bus stop, I couldn’t help but think of all my adult students who never had the chance to regularly attend school as a child.

These same students arrive to school now sometimes an hour and a half early to ensure they have a seat for ESL Registration. They are very upset when we are full and ask them to come back. They just want to study.

Adult Education matters.

August 17, 2018
As I was scrolling through my contact list last night, I got very confused. I was so tired that I forgot where J falls in alphabetical order… and I am a self-proclaimed Queen of the Alphabet!  TGIF.

August 20, 2018
A student walked up and smacked my stomach this morning and said, “Where’s your baby?”  I told her I’m too busy now.  She said, “Every day too busy. One day you die and no babies! No good teacher, no good!”

September 3, 2018
Much of my work these days is organizing the masses and tracking data, and I’m quite proud to work at this gigantic site.

In less than 2 months, we have enrolled 506 adult ESL students at Americana World Community Center. 235 of them will likely start classes tomorrow.

September 22, 2018
Presenting at conferences is already fun, but this time I get to do it with one of my favorite colleagues.

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 October 27, 2018
Trying to get excited about literacy level ESL with original ideas and materials at KYTESOL.

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November 27, 2018
We were killin it in class today. There were so many aha moments that the students were literally bouncing in their seat with excitement.  The best part of the morning was when my most insecure student went into the hallway and came back to hand me her phone.

“Hello?”
“Hello. My wife called and wants me to tell you that she understands almost everything today and she feels very good and happy.”
“I’m so happy! That’s wonderful. But I’m still teaching right now so I’m going to hang up.”

#brilliantstudents #thisiswhyliteracyrocks #ibouncedinexcitementwiththem

November 28, 2018
The energy continues this morning, except none of my language groups are getting along.

Somali: “Hey! You talk too much.”
Arabic: “Teacher!” (While pointing to the Somali students in a tattle tale like fashion)
Me: “Well, you do talk too much too loud. Speak more English.”

*Everyone sits there grumpily.*

December 10, 2018
“Teacher, you no eat camel? Why??! Milk-y good. Meat good. What happened?”

“I’m not sure. I guess because we don’t have many camels in America.”

“Oh, Africa camels too much.”

December 13, 2018
What else are you supposed to do when addressing roughly 90 ESL students who speak multiple languages? Balance yourself on a chair and pleasantly holler.

How many questions do you know from our mingling activity?

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December 21, 2018
My Winter Break officially began at 5:00 pm. I left to pick up my sister and came right back to Americana Community Center for the Winter Festival. It was SO good to catch up with families I haven’t seen in a while. I love this place and I love these people.

 

The Roller Coaster of Mental Health

Next month will be one year since I “graduated” from psychotherapy.  I received Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy to treat PTSD for six months.  The simple summary of EMDR is to focus on isolated moments of trauma while laterally exercising both sides of your brain to desensitize and reprocess that memory so that you essentially don’t relive it again and again with the same physical, mental and emotional reactions as when the event occurred.  I would come home from sessions absolutely drained and couldn’t handle much more mental stimulation for the rest of the evening.  We were essentially retraining my brain to stop being in fight or flight mode 24/7.  At that time, I could hardly function.  If the house creaked while watching television in the evening, I turned everything off and asked Seth to check the entire house.  I couldn’t sit in an empty room alone at home or at work.  If someone knocked on our door, I would panic and hide.  My heart physically ached and my lung capacity seemed to shrink from the anxiety settling in my chest.  Everything felt like a threat, and I never felt prepared enough.  Slowly but surely, EMDR was taking the edge off of my anxiety.  I could remember both burglaries without reliving every detail; I even got to the point where I felt like I was watching them on television rather than experiencing them firsthand.  My anxious reactions became less and less severe.  Independently, my therapist and I agreed on my last session that I was ready to progress to other forms of self-help.

Our deal was that I would learn to fight and only call for another therapy appointment if I had any setbacks.  I had done some research about Krav Maga at Core Combat Sports and had finally settled on a free trial class.  It was intimidating walking into a martial arts gym solo and fresh out of PTSD therapy.  My first experience happened to be a ground class, so we learned defense if someone mounts you on the ground.  The final minutes of class are timed spars where you fight for top position with your partner.  I lost every single round, and I signed up anyway.  For the first time in 9 months, I felt a fight awaken; I didn’t have the skill, technique, or fundamentals to go with it, but I knew I could learn.  Plus it was such an adrenaline rush that I physically shook for about 45 minutes after I left.

The owner of Core regularly says, “Action is stronger than reaction.”  I chose Krav Maga because I don’t care about sport.  I need to feel safe and prepared to take action.  I want to learn how to fight dirty, with technique, and how to defend myself.  I love this gym because they train us in a combination of combatives from boxing, wrestling, Jiu jitsu, Muay Thai and more in addition to defense on the ground, against weapons, etc.  My entire body ached for at least the first three months because it’s physically demanding unlike other physical activity.  I regularly come home with bruises, scratches, scars, broken blood vessels, and sore ribs that are likely out of alignment.  But hey, no pain no gain right? I’m physically stronger and my mental health has improved tremendously.  I feel more prepared to take care of myself.  I realize that if I’m ever attacked, it will definitely be an uphill battle but I also know I will put up a hell of a fight.  I am thankful for the creepy drills in class of closing my eyes and waiting to be attacked so I can fight them off.  I am happy to take the punches of larger men in class (with pads) to feel the impact of their natural strength.  I am particularly thankful to have been pushed up against a wall in a choke by a man who vaguely resembled the man who chased my out of my home… and that I did not panic.  I just fought back.  I cannot express my gratitude for all I have learned and will continue to learn from my trainers at Core Combat Sports.

I try to go to Krav at least three times a week, but I have to fight against my own brain every day.  My most recent victory is that I’ve woken up by myself nearly every morning for the last week and a half.  Since March 2017, Seth has moved to the couch most mornings while I shower and prepare for the day. (Yes, I know I have the best husband on the planet.) I have a difficult time being the first to leave our bedroom in the early morning hours, particularly in the dark.  I’m terrified to find the house ransacked, the windows opened, and the doors unlocked; that is an image I will never forget.  Lately, I’ve been trying to let him rest better, so my strategy is to wake up and lay in bed for 10-15 minutes and listen.  Once I’m convinced that the quietness of the house is safe, I walk into the hallway and clear every bedroom.  I turn on every light in the house.  And depending on my anxiety, I sometimes walk around in my fight stance when I turn corners.  I lock myself in the bathroom to shower, and listen for 2-3 minutes before I leave the bathroom to make sure there’s still not anyone in the house.  It sounds absurd as I write it out, but it’s a really big victory for me.  I’m fighting against every detailed memory of the first burglary in my head and though I start each morning with anxiety, it’s getting better.

I still have a ways to go in other areas of getting my life back.  One day I’ll be able to sleep with our bedroom door open.  It’s difficult to do when the only reason we were safe in the first burglary is because we were locked in our room sleeping.  One day I’ll be able to recognize loud sounds for what they clearly are- a car door slamming, the trash can blowing over, fireworks; not every sound is someone forcing their way in.  One day I’ll be able to stay home alone.  I occasionally will enter the house alone if Seth is 5-10 minutes away, but it is rare.  We live in a fort, but if someone wants to get in, they are going to force their way in.  One day I’ll stop being so angry.  I’m thankful to no longer be in constant fear, but anger is a difficult stage to move out of.  I’m mad as hell that my safety was compromised and I can’t get over it.  I’m angry that I don’t believe in the good of people anymore.  I hate that I’m scared of a particular people group; I know not everyone who looks the same makes the same choices.  For heavens sake I work with immigrants and refugees every day; I know that generalizations are crap.  Overall, I’m mostly mad that it happened at all and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.

I am doing some things about it now to rebuild though.  Krav helps me fight back physically and mentally.  I am pushing myself mentally to fight back against the parts of my brain that are still holding on to trauma.  But I realized while listening to the radio one morning, that I need to put most of efforts into fighting back spiritually.  Two songs absolutely wrecked me on the way to work one morning.

Give me strength to raise my voice, let me testify
Oh, hear my prayer tonight, ’cause this is do or die
The time has come to make a choice

And I choose joy.                                                                                   (joy. by for King & Country)

 

If we’re gonna fly, we fly like eagles
Arms out wide
If we’re gonna fear, we fear no evil
We will rise
By your power, we will go
By your spirit, we are bold
If we’re gonna stand, we stand as giants
If we’re gonna walk, we walk as lions                                                                 (Lions by Skillet)

My joy and confidence have always come from the Lord for my entire life.  I’ve never gone through such difficult times as I have in the last year and a half and it’s challenged me.  In my soul, I have never forgotten the truth.  But on a daily basis, it is very hard to remember.  If you want to help a sister out, please leave a verse or song lyric that declares the truth about God’s goodness, sovereignty, healing, purpose, and forgiveness.  My goal is to make a set of 365 note cards to have one each day to pray and meditate on.  We are so complex as human beings, and I learn more and more every day about the importance of taking care of my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health because it is a roller coaster.

Burglary #2- The Day We Ran For Our Lives

“He won’t come back,” they said. “You have nothing to worry about.”

Everyone who heard about our first home invasion assured me that it was a one and done situation; that burglars rarely hit the same house twice.  But I wasn’t convinced.  I refused to go into the house and stay alone.  Even when we would enter together, I asked Seth to clear the entire house including closets, showers, and under every bed.  Paranoia and fear consumed me.  I couldn’t get past the thoughts that we were targeted, that we were still being watched.

Two weeks had passed, and my mom offered to meet me at my house one afternoon so I could come home and make dinner before returning to work that evening.  Dad dropped off Mom and Molly, our 12-year old wiener dog around 2:00pm.  Before he left, he grabbed our baseball bat and cleared the house to make sure we were safe.  Mom, Molly, and I sat down in the living room to hang out for a bit when all of a sudden there was a friendly knock at the door. “Knock, knock, knock knock knock… Knock—knock.”  We looked at each other confused because Dad had literally just left minutes ago.  There was another knock, and then the door knob started to rattle.  There wasn’t a peephole, and we were both too spooked to look out the front windows right next to the door.

I had an awful feeling in the pit of my stomach. We stood up and started pacing.  Mom was holding Molly, who hadn’t even barked because she’s so hard of hearing.  Something was wrong; we could both feel it.  I texted Seth and said, “Someone is at the door.  We don’t know who it is, but something doesn’t feel right.”  Mom called Dad and asked him to turn around and come back.  There was an eerie anticipation in the house. All of a sudden my mom frantically whispered, “I think someone is kicking in the back door.” Within seconds, we heard glass shatter, and someone was forcing their way in.  “He broke the window! He’s coming in!”

For a brief second, both of my legs went numb.  How is this even happening right now? How much time do we have? We don’t have a legitimate weapon.  What do we do?  I snapped back into reality and grabbed my keys which were still laying out on the couch from where we’d just gotten home.  Our front door deadbolt had to be unlocked with a key, and I had to will power my hand to stop shaking enough to unlock the door.  I flung the front door open and ran down the stairs.  My car was parked on the street right in front of the house.  As I ran, I got my car key ready for the manual locks.  As soon as I jumped in my car, I flung the passenger door open as my Mom was running out of the house with her bags and Molly, still talking to my dad on the phone.  As soon as she had both feet in the car, I took off down the street with the car door still open.

Before we reached the end of the street, I stopped.  Where were we supposed to go now? I made a U-turn and parked on the opposite site of the street several houses down from mine.  I called 911 at 2:03pm.  I felt much more level-headed in this moment compared to when I called them for the first burglary.  I emphasized that the intruder was still in the house and pleaded with them to send someone now.  “I didn’t close the front door!” Mom screamed.  Sure enough, the front door was wide open from when we ran.  It didn’t feel safe to be on our street anymore.  I drove past the house, and we couldn’t see anything going on inside.  I parked around the corner facing away from the house but still within sight.  The engine was still running, and I was still in drive.

We sat there watching the house and waiting for police to arrive.  Suddenly I saw a man run out of my front door and stop on the porch.  He seemed disoriented and confused, scanning his immediate surroundings.  He was African American between 20-25 years old and around 5’6 or 5’7.  He was wearing a black hoodie, gray sweatpants, and a black toboggan.  It felt like he made eye contact with me from my car, and I hit the gas pedal like our lives depended on it.  In my rearview mirror, I could see him running down the street in the direction where we were first parked.  At some point in the middle of this, my dad had returned.  He was parked behind our house watching the back door where he came in.  Dad saw a second African American man around 6’0, 200 lbs and 30-years old; he was wearing all black—hoody, sweatpants, and toboggan.

Once we felt hidden several blocks away, I called 911 again to give an update and beg once again for police to come now.  I called Seth while he was at work, “They came back and broke in the back window.  Mom and I had to run.  Now we’re hiding down the street in my car until the police come.  Please come home.  And I really can’t live here anymore.”  I didn’t know what else to do while we waited, so I called the detective who was working on our first burglary to give him the update.  I was word vomiting in his ear when my mom yelled out, “I’m not wearing any shoes.”  We left in such a panic, neither of us realized she had been running in her socks.

The police finally arrived to our hidden location around 2:37, and we received a call at 2:41 that the house was cleared. It took the police 35-40 minutes to get there. Obviously, the men were gone.  I was asked to go inside and check what was missing.  I refused to go anywhere until an officer went in before me.  The first floor looked untouched other than the multiple furniture barricades being knocked down.  The back door was open, and the glass from the back window was shattered.  When I got to our bedroom upstairs, everything had been ransacked.  Drawers were open and rummaged through; the closets were open and our belongings were thrown all over the floor.  I threw my phone on the bed and yelled, “I’m so #%$@ tired of this!”  I turned around to see three police officers and both of my parents just staring at me in silence.  I was angry, overwhelmed, and still had way too much adrenaline pumping through my veins.  Thankfully I heard Seth come in the house so we were able to talk through this new report together.  This time the burglars mostly targeted our bedroom, the only place they didn’t invade during the first burglary.  They only stole Seth’s new phone and new checkbook, but they still ransacked the rest of the rooms upstairs.

The remainder of that day was a whirlwind.  I vaguely remember aggressively telling the police officers to never tell burglary victims that intruders don’t come back… because they do.  The CSI department came to the house and dusted for fingerprints but were unsuccessful.  My dear coworker Mary Ann Riehl brought us boxes so we could pack up all of our belongings.  She also surprised us with some snacks.  Several generous church folks and friends came with their trucks and helped us pack up our entire life.  Other wonderful friends met us at my parents’ house to help us unload there and then follow my dad to a storage unit for the larger furniture.  Shout out to Matt Garner, Jon Caranna, Kevin Barnette, Tony Sanford, Alex Pierce, Tyler Tempel, Dale and Rhonda Jones, Chelsea and the Windhorst cavalry, and Warren Newberry.  We were moved in with my parents by 7:00 or 7:30pm that evening, and we couldn’t have done it without these generous friends.

I didn’t sleep that night.  Every time I closed my eyes I relived every detail from start to finish.  Mom and I ended up texting some that night because she couldn’t sleep either.  We ran for our lives that day.  And we survived, but we are changed.

Burglary #1- Waking Up to Find My Home Was Invaded

Preface: My world was turned upside down last year when my home was burglarized.  I don’t mind talking about it, except that most people just don’t get it.  Or they make ignorant comments like, “Oh, so I should come to your house in the middle of the night huh?” Do not joke about coming into my home uninvited because I assure you I am ready now, and it will not end well for whoever is coming through the glass.  So in an attempt to be understood, here’s what happened.
I woke up around 6:30am.  Since I had just moved in four days before, we were still living between two bedrooms.  We slept in the bedroom upstairs to the right, but all our clothes and belongings were upstairs to the left.  I walked past the stairs and the bathroom, and as I turned on the light to the storage bedroom, I was instantly confused to see most of our dresser drawers were open.  Some clothes were rummaged through, but it wasn’t a total mess.  I chose to ignore my first instinct and assumed that Seth was a slob.  He had come to bed around 4:00am, waiting for his energy drink to wear off.  We had changed the furniture and layout of the house so much in the few days I had lived there, that I thought he must’ve been exhausted and confused about where his clothes were.  So, I gathered what I needed for a shower, closed the dresser drawers, and took a quick shower.

I got dressed and went downstairs to start boiling some eggs for breakfast.  I turned right into the first-floor hallway and noticed that downstairs was mostly dark except for the stove top light in the kitchen and a small table lamp in the living room.  I entered the kitchen to find the pantry door, the refrigerator, and several kitchen cabinets were wide open.  I think I may have even laughed out loud at this point thinking that Seth left the entire house a mess when he came to sleep just a few hours before.  I closed everything, started boiling some eggs, and began to go back upstairs to finish getting ready for work.  When I turned in the hallway to go towards the stairs, I noticed that the back door was unlocked.

I froze.  I adjusted my body in the hallway, so my back was up against the wall and I faced the dark bathroom in front of me and both sides of the hallway leading to the back yard and the front door.  Someone had been in our house.  Someone may still be in our house.  As I glanced toward the front door, I realized my purse was missing from the couch.  When I looked towards the back door, one of my teaching bags from the living room was turned upside down in the floor.  When I looked straight ahead into the pitch-black bathroom, I was paralyzed with fear that the intruder was hiding inside.  I’m not sure how long I stood in the hallway trying to analyze what had happened and what was going to happen.  It felt like an eternity before I could make myself move.  I wanted to scream and wake Seth up, but I was afraid that if someone was still in the house, it would expose me even more.  I took a deep breath and ran up the stairs as fast as I could, pulling myself up with the handrail.

I jumped in the bed, making sure I was still facing the door in case someone was following behind me.  I shook Seth awake and tried to calmly say, “Honey, did you go in the backyard for any reason before you came to bed?”  He groggily said no.  “I think someone has been in the house.  The back door is unlocked and lots of things were messed up, but I just thought it was you.” Seth jumped up within seconds and asked if I had cleared the house.  “Of course not! I ran up here to wake you as soon as I fully realized what happened.”  We started rummaging around the room for something we could use as a weapon.  Seth grabbed an empty B.B. pistol, and I think I grabbed some scissors.  Room by room, we went together with him leading the way and checking every nook and cranny of the second floor; we were clear.  As we moved down the stairs, we resembled police officers on television.  We were pressed up against the wall and quickly peeking around the corner to try and stay hidden.

Seth turned left toward the back door to clear the back bedroom.  He turned on the light and yelled, “He came in through this room.  The window is wide open, but I think he’s gone.” We quickly moved through the rest of the first floor- the bathroom, the kitchen, the living room, and all the closets; and we were still clear.  I think I subconsciously wanted to be away from any doors or windows because we ended up in the kitchen again trying to figure out what to do next.  I called 911, but it was a very difficult conversation.  I hadn’t gathered my thoughts; saying out loud that someone broke into our home while we were asleep caused me to freak out even more.  I hardly knew the new address since I had just moved in.  And we had no idea what had been taken.  The 911 operator told us to gather our thoughts and a list of what we were missing and that an officer was on the way.

We did another run through of the house and discovered that my purse and my laptop from the living room, Seth’s phone from the storage bedroom, Seth’s checkbook and an unopened bag of Cheetos from the kitchen were missing.  Unfortunately, my purse included my keys, my spare car key, my wallet, my social security card (because I planned to change my name that very day), and my USB drive that had my entire work life and book proposal on it.  Seth decided to charge his phone in the storage bedroom because, “who needs an alarm clock when you have a wife now.”  It took us a few days to realize the checkbook was missing when Seth realized his bank account was overdrawn.  And I can only assume that the intruder was high and needed the Cheetos for a snack.

The next few hours included us calling into work, breaking the news to my parents, changing all the locks, calling various banks to cancel my accounts, and setting up identity theft alerts, etc.  My car keys were stolen, so we couldn’t use my car.  It had to be towed and re-keyed for a pretty penny that day.  Seth had his car keys but no car because it was in the shop for maintenance.  My parents, as always, came to the rescue.  They brought both of their cars so we wouldn’t be stranded at the house.  Mom also brought an old iPhone for Seth to use since his was taken.  Dad checked out the safety of the rest of the house.  The intruder came in through an unlocked window in the first-floor bedroom.  Literally the same day that Seth and I got married, his last roommate moved out of that particular bedroom.  What moron doesn’t lock their windows in the Highlands is beyond me.  But then we discovered that nearly every window in the entire house was unlocked.  Men are just incredibly different than women.  So note to anyone who moves into a new home- don’t assume that the windows are locked.

Regardless of the difficulties of that day and the days that followed, Seth and I were safe.  I can’t remember if our bedroom door was locked that night, and it is difficult to stop the mental what-if game, but we were unharmed.  The responding police officer also found my USB drive in the backyard.  It was cracked from being stepped on, but I was able to recover all my work.  These positive thoughts were fleeting though, and soon paranoia crept in.  I felt like our house was watched and targeted.  Two young strong guys moved out the same week a young woman moved in; the timing seemed crazy.  I had business cards with my blog information in my purse when it was stolen.  I was scared that the intruder would try to learn more about me, so I completely deleted my blog.  Seth built a furniture blockade in front of the window in that back bedroom and in front of the back door.  We pushed the sofa in front of the front door before we went to sleep every night.  We put shot glasses in the windows, so we could hear it break if someone managed to get in.  I asked Seth to clear every inch of the house each time we came home and every morning when we woke up.  I even convinced my parents to change the locks at their house because my stolen ID had their address, and my key to their home was taken too.  I cried multiple times a day in fear that he would come back.  I laid awake many nights listening for him to come back.  Everyone I spoke to assured me that burglars never come back.

Until two weeks later on a Wednesday afternoon, they (notice the plural), came back.

Our Mushy Gushy Love Bubble

My heart has been ready to be a wife since I was 16 years old.  It ached to be known and to know another in a faithful, lifelong commitment.  A couple relationships came and went, with a bit of heartache along the way.  I entered adult life watching most friends my age get married, start careers, buy homes, have kids.  Until finally at the age of 28, it was my turn.

I met Seth in March 2011 when we both signed up for a Spring Break mission trip to Dearborn, Michigan with Campbellsville University.  Because it was a small campus, I knew he was a crazy outgoing guy who played Ultimate Frisbee every Sunday, but we’d never officially met.  Our road trip was about six and a half hours and by the time we arrived to Dearborn, it felt like I had known Seth for years.

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We stayed friends after this trip and even after graduation.  Our friendship was very much on again off again depending on the phase of life, but when we would reconnect, we could pick back up right where we left off.  He attended my international student parties.  I was with him the day he discovered his love for rock climbing.  He was a huge support for me by phone and text when I moved to Houston.  He was my plus-one any time I asked.  There were some feelings mixed in, but we, well really, I never gave them a chance.  There was even a year or so that I stopped speaking to Seth altogether because he told me he wanted to have ten children one day and I couldn’t handle that.  Thankfully that hiatus also passed, and thankfully, he was just joking.  At that time, I didn’t want to take the risk.  I was in independent woman, “I only need a man for health insurance” kind of mode.

In early September, Seth was my plus-one to a wedding I was in.  I walked him out of the reception and as we were saying goodbye, with colorful outdoor lanterns hanging overhead and music playing in the background, he asked, “This is so romantic.  Are you really going to let this moment pass?”  I giggled like a little girl, and I let the moment pass.  I didn’t fully accept that I had feelings for Seth until he travelled to Ultimate Frisbee nationals with a girl on his team, and I was terrified they were going to fall in love on that trip.  I remember typing out message after message asking him to just come home and ask me out.  I don’t think he believed me when I told him that I wanted to be more than friends because I had been so wishy washy in the past.  It still took us some time before we chose to be together.  I didn’t want to lose him if things didn’t work out.  My college roommate talked some sense into me one night and said, “It doesn’t really matter if you’re risking a great friendship.  Because if it doesn’t work out, you all won’t stay good friends after you marry someone else.  And if it does work out, you’ll marry your best friend.”

And so I did. We started officially dating October 29, 2016.  We were engaged January 12, 2017.  And we secretly got married on February 25, 2017.  A week after we started dating, Seth attended a Somali Peace Feast with me.  We had homecooked Somali food and had some real conversations with some new Muslim friends about how we can bridge the gap between beliefs, cultures, and more to bring peace to our community.  That night we both knew that our forever had begun, and that it would likely move at a quick pace.  Thankfully, my family saw it too.  Soon after we started dating, my mom said that my Grammy asked if my sister and I would be having a double wedding the next summer.  But that was too far away.  With my sister living in Ecuador, I knew that I couldn’t have a wedding without her.  I also knew that I didn’t want to wait.  We had waited for each other long enough.

On February 25, 2017, I moved all my belongings into “Squirrel House,” the man cave home that Seth lived in.  We went to my college roommate’s daughter’s birthday party.  Then I left early to get my hair done, change into my wedding dress, and we got married.  Since my dad is a pastor, he married us at my lifelong church with only our parents and two good friends to video and take pictures.  We also facetimed my sister in from Ecuador, so she didn’t miss it.  I had decorated the second-floor foyer with paper lanterns and a simple backdrop.  There was an aisle runner from the elevator to the altar.  I made my own bouquet and bought a $200 dress.  I got ready on the first floor, and when it was time, I rode the elevator up by myself.  My dad met me as the doors opened and walked me down the aisle as the Bridal Chorus played on my i-Phone.  We were both so excited and giggly the entire time; I don’t think I’ve ever been that happy.  I forgot to prepare the traditional wedding exit song, so we hummed it as we walked down the aisle as husband and wife.  It was simple and perfect.  I can’t imagine doing it any other way.

Now, there were many people who were unhappy that we didn’t share our wedding experience.  But we made up for it through four wedding showers and two wedding receptions.  Both receptions were so uniquely memorable.  For our church reception, we asked married guests to send in their own wedding photo with some marriage advice.  These were posted all around the room for everyone to view.  We also asked that it be potluck style and that took me back to my more traditional Baptist roots with food and friends from my whole life.  Our other reception was close to the wedding ceremony I had dreamed of.  Teaching ESL and introducing my students and friends to Americana culture has been most of my adult life, so I knew I wanted them to be involved on my special day.  We held a mock wedding for my ESL students.  We re-enacted what a traditional American wedding looks like including bridesmaids and groomsmen, flower girls and a ring bearer, cutting the cake, etc.  To jazz things up more internationally, our guests were asked to bring food from their country to share and to wear their native dress.  There was also an option to get henna.  My favorite part of the evening was when one of my Sudanese students told Seth that if he doesn’t take care of me, she would beat him with an okra stick.  She was so serious, and then followed it up with, “Thank you for inviting me.  Have a good night!”

As of today, we have been married for 1 year and 5 months, and there’s not been a dull second.  In that time we have lived in three homes, travelled to three states and through the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador, survived surgery and therapy, and had multiple job transitions.  On a more regular basis, we wrestle in our homemade dojo; we watch all kinds of alien weirdness on Marvel television and movies; we are regulars at the Mexican restaurant near our house; we now have a rock wall on our back deck.  My life is so fun and full with Seth.  I couldn’t ask for a better partner in life.  He’s the most real, down to earth, honest person I know.  He is selfless and positive and always builds me up.  No one will ever know the extent of which he takes care of me.  Seth deserves the best of everything in this life.  I adore my husband, and I want to live in this mushy gushy love bubble for the rest of our lives.

The Woman I’ve Become

For the first time in my life at the age of 29, I’m not sure who I am anymore. But this woman that I see, I’m not very fond of her.  There have been more changes, obstacles, and general life happenings in the last year and a half than I feel strong enough to handle.

*October 2016- After 4 years of teaching part-time, I was hired as a full-time Adult Education ESL Instructor.

  *October 2016- After some encouragement from my coworkers, I decided to write an ESL curriculum book about how and what to teach to First Time Adult Literacy Students.  It is a very niche market, and my proposal was rejected by 4 publishers.

  *October 2016- I finally started dating one of my best guy friends from college, Seth.

  *December 2016- My lifelong church home was vandalized and burglarized two nights in a row. It ended in the death of a young life of one of the intruders.

  *January 2017- A few weeks later, the same church home was knocked down as part of the first phase for a new, larger facility.

  *February 2017- Seth and I secretly got married, and I moved into his man cave home.

  *March 2017- Four nights after getting married, we woke up to a burglarized home.  And despite EVERYONE telling me that it wouldn’t happen, the men came back 2 weeks later and chased me and my mom out of the house.

  *March 2017- We moved in with my parents for roughly three months.

  *March-April 2017- In the meantime, we had 2 wedding receptions including a mock American wedding for my ESL students, and 4 wedding showers.

  *April 2017- We bought a house and moved again.

  *May 2017- At work I was tasked with executing a hefty grant for our Family Education program for the upcoming school year.

  *June 2017- My parents moved out of my childhood home.

  *June-December 2017- I attended psychotherapy for PTSD because of the burglaries.

  *September 2017- I was hired as a Program Specialist in my workplace.

  *December 2017- I started Krav Maga (Israeli Combat) classes.

  *March 2018- I found out that due to budget cuts, my job will be cut after June 30.

  *May 2018- I completed my first full year teaching ESL, coordinating the ESL program at our largest site, while successfully executing the grant. 

Now here I am.  Some days my head is still spinning because I haven’t had time to process much of this.  Everything has changed- my identity, my roles, my physical location, the chemicals in my brain, my work, my outlook on life.  I struggle to like the woman I’ve become because I don’t want to be who I see every day. I am tired. I feel broken. I am negative. I don’t trust people.  Some days I don’t even like people.  I am afraid… a lot.  I am not adaptable. I am a ball of anxiety.  I cry way too much.

I don’t say all this asking for affirmations; I simply need an outlet. I need to be real. For those interested enough to read, I want to be understood.  Seth is always telling me that I have to cling to truth before I start in one of my downward emotional spirals.  I’m thankful that even on the hardest day, I still know in my soul that I was created by the God who faithfully loves me and can redeem the difficult things that have happened.  I’ve been given the best husband and life partner anyone could ask for, who never gives up on me and constantly encourages me.  My parents and my sister are crazy amazing and have never left me alone.  And I still have a deep desire to change the world.

Someday soon, I hope to see a different person.  A woman who is strong, confident, and joyful. A woman who loves others again with full compassion and understanding. A woman at peace and who has self-control over her thoughts.  A woman who can be a sounding board to others who are going through something similar.  Here’s to the journey of processing the former dull seconds and embracing the new ones that come along the way.