Sunday, December 28, 2008

A quick glimpse at 2008...

How often do we count our blessings? I rarely sit still and reflect on wonderful memories, experiences, etc that God has provided me with. But tonight, I decided to take a few minutes and ponder some memories from this past year.

This list hardly scratches the surface, because I could go on and on listing good memories and highlights from 2008. But here are a few people and experiences which made this past year a wonderful one!

*Seeing the Lord change my grandma's heart when she asked Him to be her Savior. After years of prayer, my family rejoiced immensely. (January)

*Photographing my first wedding alone in January.
(Hard to believe it was only11 months ago....I was able to gain more wedding photography experience throughout the summer as I photographed a variety of weddings.)

*One of my absolute favorite memories with my close girl friends was on a beautiful spring day after Spring break. Our friend Brett, a talented photographer, took us out on a photoshoot for several hours as he captured our friendship (the laughter, the shenanigans, the bond between us...)
[see below photo]

*Dressing up in a fancy dress and going to the Jr/Sr banquet with friends
*Sitting proudly in the audience watching Chelsea graduate high school
*Sitting excitedly in Liberty's football stadium during my own college graduation, ready for what the real world has in store for me.
*Buying my 1st car!
*Having the honor of being a bridesmaid in Amy and Zach's wedding :)
*Turned 21 this summer and had a blast with some close friends who were in Lynchburg
*The summer RUF Bible studies at Marc and Amy's house
*Watching So You Think You Can Dance and HSM: Get in the Picture throughout the summer with Anna, Ryan, Chelsey, and AJ

*And of course, I am incredibly thankful for the Lord's faithfulness and grace. He tested me, particularly during the trying summer months, to see if I would rely on him during the period of uncertainty (not knowing where I'd live, what my job would be, etc). He made me wait....and wait...and wait...until the last minute and then provided me with this chance of a lifetime. It was certainly a curveball, because I was planning to soon head off to the missionfield in Africa to spend some time there. But here I am touring the U.S., caring for 13 energetic orphans from Africa and Nepal. My life changed so quickly when I received the phone call that I was hired for this job, and though there are struggles that come with being on-the-road for 10 months I wouldn't trade this experience for anything.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
It was a blast to form new friendships throughout the year (Kate, Whitney, Chelsey, Marc/Amy) as well as re-connect with old friends. I appreciate everyone who shared 2008 with me.
I anticipate 2009 will be challenging, adventerous, and memorable.
I truly hope each of you can take a minute and reflect on the joys that the past year has brought you. And let's never forget to tell our friends and family how they have made us the individuals we have become.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas in Texas!

This doesn't even begin to show all the piles of gifts for each child...

With our host family over the weekend....Sarah and Yeshoda decorated the tree

With Suresh
"Auntie, I wish I could hear from my family to find out if they're safe....or if they're sick...I just want to hear from them." I had just sat down next to Martin to watch Prince Caspian with the team last night, and he made the above comment. That's enough to break your heart. There wasn't much I could say to encourage him, but I reminded him that I'm so thankful that we're a team and that we're his family until next summer.

I'm telling you this because I want you to treasure your family this Christmas (and every day, really!) I miss my family so much it almost hurts, and I will greatly miss our family Christmas traditions. However, I keep reminding myself how blessed I am to have parents, a sister, and a brother whom I can talk with via phone several times a week. I can't imagine being in the place of our kids: having been abandoned by at least one of their parents....and then not even being able to talk to the other parent while they're here in America for a year. The kids are so much stronger than I would be, and I told Martin that last night.

So this Christmas, give your family extra hugs and tell them how much you appreciate them. And please say a prayer for the orphans around the world who do not have a family to wrap them in their arms and whisper "I love you"."

On a lighter note, we are having a very special Christmas week here in Texas. An amazing host family (from the Lonestar Cowboy church a week ago) invited us to live in their beautiful lake house for the entire week while they are gone on vacation. Can you imagine opening up your home to 19 strangers, having only met them several days earlier!? I am so grateful for their kindness....and the fact that the house is so cozy and completely decked out for Christmas (Prava and I even have a 3-foot Christmas tree in our room to enjoy!)

For the past 36 hours, I have done nothing but the following: finish Christmas shopping for the kids, wrap gifts, eat, sleep, eat, wrap gifts, wrap gifts, ice skate with the kids, and finish wrapping gifts. Prava, Taylor, and I turned a bedroom into "Santa's workshop," and we wrapped about 130 gifts at least! It's been a blast, though, and I can't wait to watch the kids open them on Christmas morning. I was determined not to wrap any presents on Christmas Eve, and sure enough we finished all the wrapping tonight. So hooray for that.

Amidst all the busyness of the holiday season, I'm trying to remind myself to treasure this time with the kids. They went ice skating for the first time today, which was certainly entertaining! And Friday will be a blast if the weather is nice---we're surprising the kids and taking them to Six Flags!!! (Thank you, Taylor, for that idea :) They've never ridden a roller coaster, so I can only imagine their enthusiasm.

Merry Christmas, everyone! Have a blessed holiday as you remember the most important birth in history.

p.s. Congrats to my friend, Lauren, who I grew up with....she is officially a mommy to precious Maksym. I haven't seen her since she got married in Aug 2007 :/ Miss you, Lauren!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Tornados, snow, and Santa--oh my!

As you can tell by the title of this blog entry, last week was anything but boring. We spent several days in Mississippi and had an enjoyable time. The only unpleasant part was taking shelter in my host family's bathroom during a tornado warning....thankfully, the house wasn't hit. However, houses a few miles a way were damaged.

The day of the tornado, it was 70 degrees outside; the weather there was bipolar, because the next day it SNOWED. I woke up, hopped out of bed, and was incredibly excited to see a snowfall. I pulled Maria and Zurufah out of bed and went outside with them. They smiled so big and hardly knew how to react to the fluffy white stuff falling from the sky. Our kids had never seen snow before in their entire life.

On Thursday evening, I went with several host families to take a few of our kids to the Bass Pro Shop (funny story: I went to TWO different Bass Pro Shops last week--one in AL and one in MS. And for a girl like me who is not into hunting/fishing, that was one time too many ;) The visit was worth it, though, because the kids got to meet Santa Claus. They got their pictures taken with him, and they spontaneously sang "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful" for Santa who thoroughly enjoyed it. I admit that I am pretending that Santa is real, and the kids are enjoying it. (I'm not exactly LYING---just fudging the truth a bit. ;) The girls' eyes got so wide when they talked to Santa and saw him pull candy from behind their ears. It was priceless. I just hope that we don't run into a Santa Claus that looks a lot different than the one we met last week--like a younger Santa, an Asian Santa, you get the picture...[I don't know how I'd explain that one! Our kids aren't dumb.]

Today I had a most enjoyable day off in Lake Conroe, Texas (near Houston). Eating lunch with the staff at Panera made me so excited, since the last time I ate at Panera was when I lived in Lynchburg this summer. The broccoli cheddar soup and frontega chicken sandwhich hit the spot! Prava, Taylor, Alan, and I saw the movie "Twilight" which was true to the book but was different than I imagined it while reading the story. Nevertheless, it was entertaining and enjoyable.

Tomorrow morning, the kids have three concerts at a church called Lonestar Cowboy Church. I am not lying; that's really the name of it. It's the most unique-looking church I have ever seen in my life. The church buildings and property look like a ranch, complete with a rodeo arena out front (the church holds rodeos/events there.)!! The sanctuary building has a rustic, cabin feel to it...and has a deer-antler chandelier decorating the lobby. I have a feeling I'll be seeing many fancy belt buckles and cowboy boots tomorrow morning! Before I close, here are a few photos for your enjoyment.

[Suresh deciding that pepperoni would taste great with his gingerbread cookie. Gag.]

[How adorable is that puppy dog? Neha, Rose, and I certainly enjoyed the puppy at this host family's home.]

[The girls had a fun time dressing up at a boutique the other week.]

[Enjoying the snow with Zurufah and Maria---it was their first time ever experiencing snow. :) ]

Friday, December 5, 2008

Happy December!

My favorite time of year is finally here....there's something magical about all the beautiful lit-up neighborhoods at night. And the smell of cinnamon candles burning in decorated homes. I'm quite lucky that I get to see an assortment of Christmas decorations in many homes this month! This past week, I went to Lowe's to get a Christmas tree for a family I was staying with. I was unusually excited about something so simple--but I loved the smell of a REAL Christmas tree (we've had a fake one in our house for years, due to allergies. Beautiful but not the same!) 

Our team has been unusually stationary the past two weeks....last week we were in Georgia for Thanksgiving, and this entire week we've been in Alabama in the same town. The pace of life hasn't been quite as crazy. 

We made some special memories with the kids over Thanksgiving: taking them to the movies to see Bolt, playing soccer with them at a nearby college field (I haven't ran that much in a looong time. Our boys are INTENSE when they play soccer!), eating yummy food, and just laughing together. 

I enjoyed this week in Dothan, AL. Taylor and Jay lived in Dothan before taking this job last summer, so we performed at their old church and at the school where Taylor was a teacher. The host families this week were all so welcoming and kind. I stayed with a family last weekend who own a lake house, so we spent several nights in a cute house overlooking the lake. I took the boys out on canoes the next day which greatly excited them. The house was crowded with company for the Alabama vs. Auburn game (which I didn't get into, but it was still fun.) 

Quick random story which hopefully makes you smile (I've told it to several people this week, and they laughed, so I hope you do too.) Taylor and I were asking the kids if they know who Santa Clause is. Ezera replied enthusiastically, "Jesus!!?" Taylor said, "No really, who is Santa Clause?" Then Ezera, thinking to himself that he'd get it right this time, said, "Satan!" 


Some of you are curious about what a typical week is like for our team. There is no such thing as a normal week, but this is the basic schedule. (There's never a dull day, let me tell ya! And I am definitely learning flexibility because of this job.) 

Friday: We usually drive most of the day to our weekend church. We go home with a host family and spent Fri evening with them.
Saturday: Either we spent the day with our host family or the church plans something for the team to do (a museum, playing at the park, etc.) 
Sunday: A tiring day! We wake up early, get to our weekend church usually around 7am for soundcheck, and then we have two or three concerts that morning. After the services, the church feeds us lunch, and then we hop on the bus for several hours. We get to another church Sunday evening, and the kids do yet another concert. Then we meet a new host family and go home with them that night.
Monday: Either we spend the day with our host family or the church plans an activity for us
Tuesday: Travel day. We drive most of the day and arrive at a new church (where we perform Wed night). We meet a new host family and go home with them.
Wednesday: We're often together as a team this day, and then the kids perform in the evening
Thursday: Often a travel day....we drive to our weekend church either on Thurs or Fri. 

And it keeps going....and going....and going :) 

Hope you all have a blessed week!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

I know it's a few days early, but I wanted to make sure I wished y'all a very happy Thanksgiving. I hope you can spend the holiday with your families and enjoy it to the fullest. We left Alabama this morning, and we arrived in Americus, Georgia. Jay's parents have opened their home to the entire team this we'll be spending Thanksgiving here in Georgia. I'm looking forward to making memories with the kids as they celebrate their first Thanksgiving! I will miss our annual Thanksgiving at our house with my cousins (and this year, my sister's boyfriend will be there which would have been a blast!), but this is an opportunity of a lifetime.

I'm sure we'll be playing lots of board games and "Spoons" (which we taught the kids how to play tonight---see pictures in the post below.) I made a quick Walmart run to buy Sorry, Chutes and Ladders, Trouble, and Old Maid. As well as a soccer ball (our kids, especially the boys, are champion soccer players : ) and a kickball. Tonight, the kids were asking, "Antie Ashley! Can you please come out and play hide and seek with us?" So we spent about an hour outside in the dark hiding and seeking in trees, behind garbage cans, and anywhere clever.

This past weekend was a blast. I stayed in a host family with four bouncy, energetic girls: Rose, Neha, Zurufah, and Maria. It definitely kept me on my toes! Our host family was incredibly sweet, and they outdid themselves in order for us to feel welcome. They took us to see Madagascar 2 which is hysterical. I just really enjoy the humor in the Madagascar movies, so I laughed pretty much the whole way through it. So did the girls--I had to cover Neha's mouth several times in order to stifle her laughter! :P I also made a quick run to the local used bookstore (always a treat!) and picked up some good reads including "The Lucky One"--Nicholas Sparks' new book, which I'm eagerly anticipating. 

I'm always amazed what a small world this is. Last night, the kids sang at a church in Alabama. I met a girl from Liberty who was home on break. We started talking and discovered we have some mutual friends, we're both passionate about Africa and spending time over there, etc. It was encouraging to meet a fellow LU student in Alabama of all places. 

Have a blessed holiday and enjoy it to the fullest. 

Some pictures....

[These look small, but you can click on them to see them full size.]

With Lincoln and Gift in a host family's home (Alabama) last night. Kenzie and Aiden were their precious kids.

Enjoying a beautiful fall day with Suresh and Martin in Mississippi. It was perfect weather for throwing the football (and I taught them how to better play frisbee.)

We're spending Thanksgiving week in Georgia. Here's Alan and Prava playing Spoons with the kids. We taught them how to play tonight, and they got really into it.

Taylor playing Spoons with the kids.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Walkin' in Memphis....

Ahhhh, a day off! And in Memphis, TN, nonetheless :) It's been quite a wonderful weekend and has gone by way too quickly. This morning, I woke up at 8:30 and drove down the street to Starbucks to buy a pumpkin spice latte for myself and a caramel machiatto for Prava. [I actually look forward to driving when I can...which is about once a month on our day off.]

After breakfast, Prava and I did a bit of shopping. The afternoon was spent at Taylor's sister's home in Memphis; they had us staff over for a delicious Thanksgiving meal. (I get two Thanksgiving dinners this year--yippee!) Creamy mashed potatoes, a boiled turkey (wonderful!!), green beans, pineapple, chocolate pie....mmmm. Taylor's sister has four adorable children who persuaded me to play several rounds of Hide and Seek. There are only so many hiding spots indoors, but the coat closet and the shower worked pretty well :P

Downtown Memphis at night is quite an experience! Prava, Alan, Kory, and I drove into the city tonight and spent a few hours on the famous Beal Street. We enjoyed dessert at the BB King Blue's Club. Despite the mob of people in the crowded place, it was really enjoyable to relax while watching a live blue's band play energetic oldie's songs. At one point in the evening, I got a phone call from Christi, and she told me I was on speaker phone with Erin, Anna, Lauren, and Dachelle who were right there. It was a blessing to hear from them, but it only made me miss them more. :/
[Alan, myself, Korey, and Prava tonight in Memphis. [Yep, my sweatshirt is a bit large for Prava, but it kept her warm!]

[The live music inside the blue's club tonight....]

[A picture of this famous theater]

In the past week, we've traveled to Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee. Tomorrow after our morning church services, we'll be headed back to Mississippi for our evening concert and then to stay for a few days.

Last weekend, when I was staying in a host family with Martin and Suresh, poor Suresh became sick with a high fever. I gave him a cold bath which helped bring his fever down, and we spent a lot of time the next day reading books and watching movies (The Lion King!) as I nursed him back to health. It feels like just yesterday that my mom was taking care of me when I was sick, so it was odd to play that role when Suresh was sick.

The kids sang at an E-Women's conference in Jackson, MS last weekend. There's nothing like 3,000 women/moms enjoying our kids sing---their enthusiasm is awesome as they all say "awwww" the whole time the kids are performing. haha. Afterwards, Taylor, Prava, and I stayed to watch Avalon which was a great time of worship.

Hope this finds everyone having a wonderful weekend!

I will leave you with a picture taken in the costume room before a performance last week...Maria put pick-up-sticks in her hair, and this was the result.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Several states later...

[Check out the photos from the past week below this post]

It's funny how I updated about a week ago, yet so much happens in a span of 7 days. In the past week or so, we've been in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and today we arrived in Jackson, Mississippi.

*A humorous recent event occured during our last stop in Texas:
It was a peaceful night in our host family...I sent 9-year-old Gift to the bathroom to take his evening shower. Little did I know what he was about to do. Shortly thereafter, I was about to tuck Gift and Lincoln in bed when my jaw dropped open as soon as I looked closely at Gift's head. "oh my gosh, Gift! Why are you missing a big chunk of your hair in the front!?? What did you DO!?!" He stood there, looking stunned (he knew he was guilty though.) I ran downstairs to the shower, flung open the door, and found a razor laying there....Gift had apparently decided he needed a haircut, so he attempted to do it himself. It looked absolutely ridiculous, and I suppressed my laughter as I scolded him. (He also had a chunk of hair missing from the back.) After tucking the boys into bed, I called Taylor, and we both laughed and agreed we never thought Gift would be the one to pull that stunt. The next day, Jay shaved Gift's head...and the other Ugandan boys wanted shaved heads too. They all look quite handsome with their new haircuts.

*A generous church invested in the lives of our kids by giving them each an awesome Bible, so we passed those out last weekend. I've been really encouraged (and convicted) to watch how eager the children are to learn more about the Bible and to read stories. Last week I read a Bible story to my boys at bedtime. One night was Daniel in the Lions' Den, the next night was David and Goliath, etc. Their English keeps improving, yet I still have to stop and paraphrase while I read. These are the times I treasure...I hope they can return to Uganda/Nepal with a deeper knowledge of God's love and the Bible in general.

*Exciting news! Our little Isaac joined God's kingdom last Sunday when Taylor lead him in a prayer of salvation. He asked if he could know God and accept Jesus into His heart. What an awesome thing!

*It amazes me how clever some of our kids are....the other night, I was with Gift and Lincoln at a host family's house, and I exclaimed "Oh my word!" about something. Without missing a beat, Gift looked at me and said, "Which word?" Our outburst of laughter only encouraged him to say, "Antie, which word?" every single time I say "oh my word." He's our quietest boy, but he is hilarious when he gets going!

*We spent the last few days in beautiful Arkansas. The fall-colored trees in the mountains of AR were breathtaking. My mom is hilarious and mailed me a package which contained some Halloween candy as well as a baby pumpkin. She's the best :)

Now we're singing at an E-Women conference in Jackson, Mississippi this weekend.

Photo update

Last week, I stayed with 5 of our boys in a host family home. They wore me out! Their energy is endless. Lincoln is missing from the photo, but here are the others: (left to right) Jimmy who's cheesing for the camera, Isaac, Ezera, and Gift.

Alan and some of the kids at a pumpkin patch/exotic animal place (more on that in a second.) The kids' smiles here are wonderful (it's hard to take a picture where everyone is smiling!), but Alan looks slightly silly (he was imitating the kangaroo's expression. ha)

Playing with a lemur in its cage! I'd love one for a pet....hmmmm....

We took the kids to a place that raises exotic animals. It was one of the most fun days thus far (in my opinion.) There was a huge variety of animals we got to see up close....notice the beautiful tiger in this picture.

Look at these cute little guys! A breed of porcupines....way too adorable. Don't they look like something out of a cartoon!?

Gift, Suresh, and Jimmy painting pumpkins!

There's never a dull moment with our team. Here's Mr. Isaac (who is 100% all boy...seriously!) with a cheek covered in gold glitter (he was decorating pumpkins.)

In love with this darling baby kangaroo...

With sweet Yeshoda and Neha

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Heading to Arkansas....

This will be a quick post, but I hope to write a longer update with photos this weekend. 

I just wanted to say that I am really looking forward to when the anticipation of Election Day is over.  Hopefully you all voted....I voted absentee which was a hassle, but I'm glad I did it. I'm not a huge fan of either men, but I think McCain/Palin is the better choice. I just want to find out who our next President is instead of hearing so many complaints about the candidates. By the way, I strongly feel that if you didn't get around to voting, then you don't have a right to complain about the man who will be our next president. 

On a random note, have you guys ever watched "Jon and Kate Plus 8" (they're from Hershey, PA...!) or "17 Kids and Counting?" They're shows on TLC which I have recently discovered, and I enjoy watching them. I have so much more respect for mothers since I started this job and taking care of the kids! :) I have no idea how the parents (on "17 Kids and Counting") have survived---there's no way I could ever have 18 children. It makes me want to faint just thinking about it :P 

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The latest from Texas....

[Just posted some photos below...]

Sometimes Texas feels like a foreign country, for some reason. The landscape is so unlike what I’m used to—but it’s usually quite gorgeous. The people are friendly, though some have been very….unique. A man passed me at church the other day and said, “Howdy.” I didn’t know people actually did that!? Also, the houses are vastly different from the East coast. I love staying in a variety of homes….I’ve learned that many Texan homes are one story (more land here, so they can build out rather than up…) Anyway, it’s been quite an experience living in TX for several weeks. We’ll be heading back to Oklahoma in several days.

I spent the past two days staying with an older couple along with two of our boys: Gift and Lincoln. It was relaxing and enjoyable, and yesterday I made a trip to a used bookstore where I hit gold: I bought 9 books for $20! Five of which are Nicholas Sparks novels….everyone has a guilty pleasure, right? : )

Random, humorous story from this morning: I was peacefully sleeping when all of a sudden I woke up, half scared to death as I heard music BLARING in my room across the intercom system. Not just any music…..that might have been bearable. But this was heinous music similar to the Gaithers. (Sorry if I just offended anyone.) And after a few minutes of music, I heard the husband’s voice come across the intercom system and say, “Wake up everyone….it’s 7 o’clock. Wake up!” I stumbled out of bed quite quickly, for fear of what may happen next if I didn’t get out of bed ;) Then we got ready quickly and headed out the door to meet the team at the church. (Tuesdays are travel days.) //End of story

This past weekend was oh-so-lovely. I had my first day off in 5 weeks—needless to say, it was much needed. Knowing I would have some time off, I had planned to find a Target and a Border’s Bookstore. Well, let’s just say when we pulled into this Texan town, I knew that wouldn’t be happening. It was a town in the middle of nowhere---they didn’t even have a Walmart or a Blockbuster. We made our own fun Friday night though: Alan, Kory, Prava, and I stayed at a hotel and we set up our projector and watched a movie.
Saturday, Taylor and Jay met up with us and we all ate breakfast at the Blue Bonnet café, which is apparently world-famous especially for their delicious pies. The café has been featured in many magazines, and famous people have come there including presidents, Willy Nelson, etc.

That night, I went to see High School Musical 3 with Taylor and Prava. I will admit that I loved it….sure, it was cheesy, but I smiled practically the whole way through as I watched the energetic dancing and enjoyed the songs. We’re taking the kids to see it in the near future, and they will LOVE it! It was fun spending some time with just the staff and getting to know them better.

Last week, I experienced downtown Ft Worth, Texas, with Gift, Lincoln, and our gracious host family. We stopped at “Central Market” which is a Texan thing---a huge, unique grocery store with a huge variety of specialty foods. I ate the best ice cream I’ve ever had (technically it was Italian gelati). The flavor was chocolate hazelnut, and it tasted JUST like Nutella. Yum!

That's the general re-cap of the last week and a half, since I last updated the blog. Thanks for stopping by. Miss you all! And I'd love to hear from you, whether that's email or phone.

Now on to some photos....

Photo post....

Here are some photos from the past week or so....

Above is the beautiful opera house in downtown Ft Worth, TX. It's rated in the top 3 opera houses in the world. 

With Gift and Lincoln, the boys I'm currently staying with in host family homes. It was a chilly morning, as you can see.

With sweet Rose! (I spontaneously dyed my hair....)

From the top of the tallest building in downtown Ft Worth, TX. 

Enjoying a day off.....Taylor, myself, Prava


Taylor had this on her blog, so she inspired me to copy/paste it onto mine. Here's our schedule for the next few months. Let me know if you'll be around and want to come see the kids sing and dance :) 

Nov. 2 Muskogee, Oklahoma
Nov. 5 Clarksville, Arkansas
Nov. 6 Jackson, Mississippi
Nov. 11 Fayette, Alabama
Nov. 14 Jackson, Tennessee 
Nov. 16 Memphis, Tennessee
Nov. 16 Falkner, Mississippi
Nov. 19 Beebe, Arkansas
Nov. 20 Hernando, Mississippi
Nov. 23 Cullman, Alabama
Nov. 23 Anniston, Alabama
Nov. 24-28 Thanksgiving in Georgia
Nov. 28-Dec. 4 Dothan, Alabama 

Dec. 7 Gulfport, Mississippi
Dec. 7 Daphne, Alabama
Dec. 10 Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Dec. 14 Montgomery, Texas
Dec. 17 Holliday, Texas
Dec. 20 Corinth, Texas
Dec. 21-26 Christmas break with the kids in Texas!
Dec. 28 Cypress, Texas
Dec. 29-Jan. 4 Christmas in Kentucky

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Dallas, TX

During my high school years I developed a love for Lonestar's songs, especially their hits such as, "Not a Day Goes By," "Front Porch Lookin' In," and "I'm Already There." Several of Lonestar's songs hold many memories for me and reminders of goodbyes...others are just fun, toe-tapping tunes.

Those songs were written by Richie McDonald, who was the lead singer for Lonestar until last fall. (He's now pursuing a solo career.)

He wrote a song for the Children of the World choir, and it's titled "Blessed Are the Hands." Our kids had the opportunity to sing it with him today at a Christian conference in Dallas, TX. (I posted a video on a separate blog post...) Afterwards, Richie sang several of his songs (like the titles I named at the beginning) which was awesome to hear. Before we left, I was able to meet him and thank him for his music. I also mentioned the "I'm Already There" photography slideshow project I did for photography class at LU.

Our kids during soundcheck: singing with Richie McDonald, former lead singer of Lonestar

Richie McDonald and me

Random, fun times in Texas

I'm enjoying Texas and wouldn't mind living here, but I don't think I could handle the heat and humidity during the summertime....the people (for the most part) have been really hospitable and kind down here.

Last week in McKinney, TX, I had the pleasure of staying in the host family with Zurufah and Maria again. I walked into the family's house and saw a homemade "Welcome" sign with our names on it! Andrea and her three kids were so much fun, and they really made us feel welcome. Her girls loved playing with Maria and Zurufah; one night we made bead necklaces. Mine turned out ugly; I'm not gonna lie. Maria made a funky one for me, and I love it and will treasure it. Andrea bought us several movies for our long bus trips, including "The Parent Trap" (with Lindsay Lohan) and"Prince of Egypt." Thanks to kind host families, our team DVD collection is growing!

Random, cute story from our Walmart trip: I bought a neon green shower sponge. Maria and Zurufah seemed excited when I chose it, for some reason. A few minutes later I understood what was going on in their minds when they said to me, "Antie! You put in your hair....You wear it tonight to the concert," as they demonstrated. I laughed so hard as I realized they thought it was a hair accessory. I explained what they're used for, and the girls said passionately, "In Uganda, people wear [them] in their hair...." Well, if I ever go to Uganda, I'll know how to fit in ;)

Wednesday night the kids sang, and it was their best concert yet.....they had so much energy and really channeled it into their singing/dancing. We were proud of them! The church members and host families were so giving and had such servant's hearts, helping us in any way possible.

Yesterday we arrived in Dallas to sing at a conference today. Taylor and Jay thought it'd be fun to take the kids roller skating last night, and it was a blast! Besides swimming, that seems to be the kids' favorite activity thus far. Today, we woke up at 5:45am to go to soundcheck at the conference center. After singing in the morning, we were able to take some time to relax at our hotel's swimming pool. Taylor, Prava, and I sat out and watched though....the water was FREEZING. But that didn't keep the kids away. When they climbed out of the pool, they were little ice cubes.

Alrighty, enough of my rambling. Time for some photos.
(Oh, and I want to wish my wonderful brother a happy 14th birthday on Sunday. 14---how did that happen!!!? It seems like just yesterday that I brought him into my third grade classroom for show and tell. <---Yeah, I really did. ;) I love you, Chandler, and wish I could be there to celebrate with you. Miss ya!

Rollerskating! Gift, Prava, Zurufah, Taylor, and Sarah

This morning, when Prava and Suresh were BOTH wearing my suit jacket simultaneously.

Suresh rockin' out in my suit jacket....he was cold. Or so he said. I think he just liked my jacket, because he was asking to wear it throughout the day.

Friday, October 17, 2008


Richie McDonald (Lonestar) wrote a song for the Children of the World Choir. Our kids got to sing it with him at a conference this weekend in Dallas, TX.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Austin, TX

With my favorite Nepali girls, Yeshoda and Neha (well, besides Prava.) New UT hat! 
Austin, TX. Doing the Longhornes symbol (for University of TX sports)

For the time being, I'm staying in the host family homes with Maria (on left) and Zurufah (on right.) They are entertaining and precious. 

University of Texas (their famous tower building.) 

"Antie Prava" with Zurufaha. Austin, TX

The beautiful capitol building in Austin, TX

Hi everyone, I hope you all are having a wonderful day. It’s a rainy, cozy day in Texas (and humid!! It definitely doesn’t feel like Ocotber. I’m still wearing shorts and flip flops.)

Last weekend was spent in San Antonio, and it was a very long two days—due to the interesting family I stayed with. I felt like I was living in a zoo; they own 13 animals, and they all live indoors. I had to sleep in a room with snakes (snakes give me the heebiejeebies whenever I look at them. Cages don’t comfort me; snakes can escape!) They had 5 snakes, 3 dogs, and 5 cats (I found out I’m more allergic to cats than I thought :/ ) Finding cat fur on my bath towel, in the bathroom, on the floor, on the couch, etc made me shiver. Does anyone else find animal hair disgusting (Amy, I think Zach would have died ;)

So after escaping that situation, I was incredibly happy when we arrived in Austin, Texas, on Sunday evening. I stayed with Zurufah and Maria in the home of a sweet older couple who outdid themselves in order to make us feel welcome.  

Yesterday they took us into downtown Austin which was a treat. We watched the Grand Canyon movie at the Imax theater—in 3D. I loved it, but poor Zurufah was gripping on to me the entire time. She didn’t enjoy the 3D effects.
Next, we saw the gorgeous capitol building and then drove around the University of Texas campus. One word to describe it: massive. Quite unlike Liberty’s was like a town within the town. 70,000 students attend the University.

I’m officially a bandwagon jumper. I now have a new, lovely burnt orange baseball hat—for the UT Longhorns (the number one college football team in the nation, after beating Oklahoma last weekend.) So I think I’ll make friends quickly with other Texans in the next few weeks ;) haha

We’re on the bus, about to arrive in McKinney, TX which is near Dallas. The kids will be singing at a conference in Dallas over the weekend, which means we’ll be at a hotel (they are incredibly excited whenever they can swim!)

Friday, October 10, 2008

"A Child's Prayer"

Our kids sing this song during their concert, and it's a great reminder of who we are helping on this journey...and my purpose for being here.
[Everytime I hear the kids sing it, I think of the little boy I sponsor in Kenya and wish I could meet him someday....]

I was alone, I was hungry
Would someone come, does anyone care?
Days would go by, no one to hold me
Longing for love, does anyone care?

Just like a dream you came to my rescue
Glad you weren't too busy to hear this child's prayer

You brought me hope
You brought me healing
You brought a smile into my life
With your loving touch,
My heart is mending
Here in your arms I'm resting tonight

Not just existing, now I'm living
My life has a purpose, my heart has a song
Days full of joy, nights warm and cozy
Nothing to fear, I'm no longer alone...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Texas, here we come

I'll be a temporary Texan for the rest of October. Right now we're on the tour bus heading to Wichita Falls, TX. [We have a handy little Sprint wireless card which allows us to get internet on this computer even when we're driving. So the kids are watching Air Bud and I'm taking a few minutes to blog.] 

In the next few weeks, we'll have concerts in SanAntonio, Dallas, Denton, Livingston, Kingsland, and other Texas cities. I've only spent two days in Texas--El Paso-- (after a youth group missions trip to Mexico) so it'll be fun to spend time in TX. 

I thought I'd post my address incase anyone wants to send mail ;) <----yeah I'll admit, that was a strong hint! 

World Help
Attn: Ashley Gillman
PO Box 501
Forest, VA 24551

For things that aren't letters, like UPS/Fed Ex, it would be sent to:

World Help
Attn: Ashley Gillman
1148 Corporate Park Drive
Forest, VA 24551

It would pretty much be amazing to hear from y'all via mail, but I know it's a hassle!

So I have a lot of time to read while we're traveling, and I want you all to recommend your favorite book titles. I'm reading "True Believer" and "Nights of Rodanthe" by Nicholas Sparks, and then I want to read "Crazy Love" by Francis Chan. But obviously I want to buy some more recommend away! 

On a random note, I think this trip is making me never be tempted again by fast food. I'm sure Taylor, Jay, Prava, Alan, and Kory would agree. I've been to MickyDee's three times in the past week. I wish I had time to run (even though I don't enjoy running). I did, however, talk to my mom on the phone yesterday while walking a neighborhood for an hour. 

Everyone's healthy, so thanks for your prayers. Keep praying that God just opens peoples' hearts during the concert so we can keep giving hope to children around the world. 
Until next time...

Friday, October 3, 2008

Photo post :)

I just wrote an update about the past week, so be sure to check that out. But here are some photos as well!

Last night's Japanese Steakhouse experience with our awesome host family. (Owen and his dad watching in awe.)
Little Owen with his new friends: Rose, Zurufaha, and Isaac.

This is Isaac, from Uganda.

That's Kendra (who I mentioned in the last post), whose family I stayed with for the past 3 days. Neha and Maria, from the choir, were also with us. And then Kendra's three kids are in the picture as well. All so sweet! 
Suresh is my cuddle buddy. He has a hilarious personality and is alwwwwwwaaayyys smiling, especially during the concerts. Here, you can see the "birthday cake" (3 months late, but that's ok ;) he made me with playdough. 
Sedalia, Missouri. There's a beautiful mural of Scott Joplin (father of Ragtime music.) 

Some of you know how much I love cats (<---completely sarcastic.) I'm also allergic to them. Anyway, I stayed at a family's house, and they owned the breed of cat which is the world's largest domestic cat. *shudder* So this picture shows Yeshoda (Nepal) and Suresh (Nepal) with Fluffy. Or whatever its name was ;)