Little by little life in the Bronx is taking on a bit of the old normal while implementing some new normal. I am so excited to have our kids back in the house 4 days a week. After several years of having the same group return we have some new faces joining us and they have been such a joy to get to know. In addition to our programs being back in full swing, (with appropriate COVID precautions in place) we have been able to start up our Thursday Nights Together (TNT) meals and Bible studies. This year, rather than having kids, GSALT, and adult classes our group is meeting together for family meal and Bible study. It has been such a fun experience. Everyone from kids to adults have taken turns leading the different elements involved such as games, memory verse activities, and Bible study. This last week we had our competition night and let me tell you... we were all competing! Everyone was working hard to make sure verses were memorized and talking through the stories we had learned. Thank you for praying for our group as we continue to gather and grow!
We Can Trust His Heart
From Dr. Denison's The Daily Article.
"Obeying God's will when we don't understand his word is a common theme of Scripture. Noah built an ark to protect from a flood such as the world had never seen; Moses stood before a Red Sea that only God could part; Joshua and the people stepped into a flooded Jordan river that the Lord then stopped; the disciples who left their nets to follow Jesus had no idea they would become the spiritual forebears of billions of saved souls.
Each testifies today: when we do not see God's hand, we can trust his heart."
I read this article just minutes after sitting with a 2nd-grade boy who started his day out with his arms crossed and angry eyebrows. He had just written a negative comment about his twin sister's mom on their Google Classroom wall. Let that sink in. His twin sister's mom. Needless to say, she ratted him out. When I sat with him I asked if he was writing respectful things. He didn't answer. I asked him if he knew what the word respectful meant... and he said no. This was a great opportunity to talk about what it meant to be respectful and God's expectation of us to honor our parents. He finally shared that he was angry with his mother and the reason why. We talked about options he had moving forward.
One of his options was to ask his mom if they could talk about what happened that morning and ask if she would reconsider the decision she had made. I explained that she might say yes and he might end up with a result he is happy with. Then I added that she might say no to revisiting the conversation or even let him say his piece and still let her decision stand. I shared with my little friend that sometimes parents have more information than we do and even though it doesn't make sense to us... we can trust that they love us and want what is best for us.
Matthew Chapter 7 verses 7-12 help us to see how our parent's love and care is just a glimpse of the love the Father has for us. "When we do not see God's hand, we can trust his heart."
Ask, Seek, Knock7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (NIV)
Pond of Honey
Quotes heard from Ronny in the past half hour
"Ms. JoAnn, did you know today is Taco Tuesday?"
"Chicken wing, Chicken wing..."
"Ms. JoAnn, would't it be fun to have a pond of honey? I would lick and lick!"
"Ms. JoAnn, why when you drink something cold you feel like you are in a sea of cold?" as he shivers and sips on an iced drink!
"Ms. JoAnn, look, me and you did a sentence!"
"Ms. JoAnn, take a video of me reading to send to my mom!"
Just six months ago, that last request would have been hard for Ronny. He struggled greatly with reading. Phonics were not fun. Math was his strength. He loved working with numbers, but throw in reading and his heart would sink. He has joined a group of students that attend our study hall for their daily online learning. Ronny's teachers have commented on the difference they have seen in Ronny's attentiveness and engagement in class since moving to a more structured environment. It has been a joy to listen as our students participate in their individual classes. This season has allowed me to wear my teacher hat a little more than I have in the past few years. It's made my heart happy! Keep Ronny in prayers as he continues to build his reading skills! Also, pray for his mom as she is due with her third little anytime this week!
Circle of care
These are my girls. My heart burst with joy that they are in homes with people and family that love them so greatly. Foster care is amazing, wonderful, and hard. Saying good-bye is even harder. I am so incredibly blessed to be able to remain in contact with all of my girls. Their families have been so kind to me from the moment I met them and continue to allow and encourage video chats for my Georgia girls and play days with my Bronx girls.
With both sets of girls, the prayer was that they would be able to return to the exact homes they are in now. While I am not able to share details regarding the reasoning for their placement in foster care, I am able to share that the families that are caring for them now are stable and loving. Even with that knowledge, saying good-bye to that season of life is hard. I have so many beautiful memories with these babies in my home and a ton of pictures to remind me of them! I wish I could share them here, but I have to be creative and selective in the the pictures I post per the restrictions involved in foster care. Given that there are so many pictures I cannot share, let me see what kind of picture I can paint using words.
YE.C. She is fierce. This girl is graceful.
Filled with trivia
Queen of random facts
Isn't afraid to ask hard questions
YO.C She is an entertainer. This girl is fabulous.
Loves to make things pretty
Is the first to offer to help
Makes everything into a fun game
Has an incredible imagination
Asks a million questions
Avoids bedtime like the plague
Sings like an angel
Shares my dislike of ketchup
S.C. She is all heart. This girl is all sweetness.
Laughs with her eyes
Blows kisses non-stop
Loves dressing up fancy
C.M. She is gentle. This girl is compassionate.
Mama bear to her sisters
A true friend
E.M. She is free-spirited. This girl is adventurous.
Born to sing and dance
Eager to help
Sticks up for her sisters
M.M. She is Loyal. This girl knows what she wants.
Don't get in her way
She is fiercely protective
Loves her chicken nuggets
Proud of mastering buttons
Cannot wait to be in school
Has the cutest pigtails
I do not know what the Lord has planned for me next. I am open to His guidance and pray for wisdom. For today, I am thankful to continue to be a part of my girls' circle of care. I will cover them with prayer, continue phone calls and play dates, and support their families. Please pray for me as I continue to love on my girls and miss them greatly. I am so grateful for everyone who rallied around me and were a part of my girls' circle of care while they were in my home. We were blessed with encouraging notes, gift cards, fun deliveries from amazon, snacks, and financial support. I encourage you to find a family you can show some love to. It made such an impact on me and my girls!
A whole new level of tired
“Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’” – Mary Ann Radmacher
"There is no tired like beginning of the year, teacher tired" and "there is no tired like end of the year, teacher tired" were two things I found myself saying every year for 7 years and boy did I mean it. I thought there is no way I could every be more exhausted than I am right now. The amount of work teachers are expected to complete in what seems like no time at all is overwhelming. Not to mention the emotional and mental strain that comes with saying hello to a whole new group of students and goodbye to babies that have become your own. That was the most tired I could ever be. BOY WAS I WRONG.
You guys. I am so happy. My heart is bursting with gratitude. I am so thankful that the Lord has allowed me to become a foster mom and have these beautiful girls with me... but I AM TIRED.
Like teaching, foster care is not always forever. I was blessed with the most amazing girls to be my very first babies. Three sisters, ages 3, 6, and 10 came into my home and into my heart in January. My last post was right before they arrived... and I haven't stopped long enough to post again. That is the kind of tired I'm talking about. I was so happy to connect with my girls' grandparents and aunt who love them dearly and were able to come visit several times while they were with me. When the City went on pause and schools were closed the girls were given permission to go on an extended visit with their family (out of state) until everything was up and running again. My very busy and full home was suddenly very quiet. It was just my kittens Kit, Luna and myself. That lasted about a 2 weeks. A family that I met through Graffiti 2 and I remained connected to despite the fact that their students were no longer in program reached out to me. Their foster mom is a nurse and was contacted by the agency with concern regarding the girls' possible exposure to coronavirus. As a precautionary measure, they wanted to remove the girls from her home until the pandemic was over. She had listed me as a back up months before and asked if I would take the girls in. I loved these girls from day one so of course, I did not hesitate to say yes. Once again, my home had 3 little girls running around in it, ages 3, 6, and 7. I am not usually free to post pictures.. however Coronavirus has brought face masks into our lives which makes pictures a little easier to share.
Back to my realization of just how wrong I was. You see.. these little ones depend on a grown up for everything. EVERYTHING. I truly feel like all I do is cook, serve, wash dishes, clean up and start all over again. However, I know that is not correct because somewhere in there I also have to work and help them with their school work while also tending to my three year old's constant question of "what about me?" Most nights I go to bed with dishes still in the sink and class assignments that were not completed. I just keep telling myself that I did all I could and will pick it back up tomorrow! I have admired my mom as long as I can remember. While I am sure that I still do not know half of the sacrifices she made for me... I am starting to get a clearer picture.
This is a whole new level of tired... but even more that that it is a whole new level of happy. I remember playing in my garage with my cousins and we all had our baby dolls. As long as I can remember, my baby dolls were always adopted. I knew that was what I wanted to do. Praise the Lord for his provision. He has brought so many friends and family along on this journey. People who will run to the pharmacy when I can't go or send unexpected gifts to cover a special meal being ordered in are just the beginning. There were so many who jumped into action when I welcomed my first babies into my home and sent clothes and gift cards to provide school supplies, clothes and blankets not to mention groceries! You guys, I am deeply grateful for how the Lord has used so many of you to show me his love.
Thank you for praying for all of my girls. While there was not an overlap in their stay here, they did get to spend time together on the weekends. We often went to the park and church together. Please pray for all 6 of them. While they are so deeply loved by many, there is hurt there that only the Lord can heal. If you would like more info on how to pray specifically for each of them, please feel free to reach out and I would love to share more with you.
The past 48 hours have been a whirlwind! Over Christmas break I received an email letting me know my home was officially "open" and they would be contacting me about placing children with me as soon as I returned from Texas. Thursday night I received a call asking if I would be willing to have 3 sisters, ages 3, 6, and 10, placed in my home. I am so very thankful for Kerri Johnson's support as I rapidly thought through what 3 girls, 24/7 would be like! After accepting the placement my brain kicked into overdrive as I started making lists of what I needed to do to get ready. Again, Kerri came to the rescue. She came over Friday night and helped me rearrange furniture, clean up, and even ordered dinner for us! Today is the big day. The agency called and let me know they would be bringing the girls over soon after 3:00PM. It is 4:56Pm and time has been moving in slow motion. I know case managers have so much on their plates and understand how easy it would be to get behind schedule, so I will patiently wait. Please join me in praying for the three girls as they transition to my home and for their three brothers as they are moved to their home. In addition, please pray for their father. I do not have details as to what the situation is and will not be able to share when I am filled in, but I know that as the body of Christ we can come together to pray for an individual even if we don't have the details. More details to come!
Visitors in NYC
I had two beautiful visitors in the last two months! They have both brought so much joy to my days! I've made my way off of my block multiple times. This is big as I can go a weeks at a time without leaving my neighborhood. I've enjoyed playing tourist! I've enjoyed having a little bit of home come to NYC! Not only did these girls come and hang out with me, but they totally blessed my Graffiti 2 kiddos! They jumped right in and helped with homework, led in music, and tackled tutoring!! I am so grateful for the chance to share first hand what a day in the life of Graffiti 2 Community Ministries looks like. Most of all... I am grateful for all the laughing!! It is rare to catch a moment of uncontrollable laughter on video... but here is a beauty! Enjoy Vickey vs. Hudson River Winds.
But did you cry?
I look forward to Sunday afternoons because I know I get to spend time with 3 very special little girls. They are in foster care and their foster mom works evenings so it helps her out to have the girls come spend the afternoon with me and then join me for church in the evening. Usually, the girls go home after church. However, this past Sunday their mom was a little later getting home so the came back to my apartment after church and I shared a song our after school students would be singing next Sunday with them. They loved it and said they wanted to sing as well. The song is beautiful and slow and based on Isaiah 9:6:
"For a child is born to us, A son is given to us; And the government Is upon His shoulder; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace."
They recognized the verse from Andrew'w preaching and were so excited. As we discussed how this verse was in the Bible before Jesus was born and how Jesus came to be a sacrifice for our sins Christina, a second grader, asked me if Jesus died. I clarified what it meant to be a sacrifice and why a sacrifice was needed to cover our sins and she had this look of concern on her face and asked me, "did you cry?" I smiled at her and explained that it happened a long time ago and we can celebrate that He is risen and with the Father. This didn't seem to satisfy her. She went on to ask again, "but did you cry? " and I could see this look of loss on her sweet little face. Of course I've had moments where I stop and realize the sacrifice that was made for me, yet around Christmas I tend to focus on celebrating Jesus' birth. It was in this moment with Christina looking at the images of an innocent and beautiful baby in a manger that would one day give his life for me that I was so deeply convicted. Yes, I will forever celebrate the birth of our King. However, it cannot be separate from the reason he came. I am a child of God and I praise King Jesus for that!
The holiday season is kicked off by a yearly trip to Graffiti in Manhattan to serve at their Thanksgiving dinner. Graffiti Serving And Leading Teenagers (G.S.A.L.T.) start asking and looking forward to this mission activity in early November! Our group hops on a subway to take the 40 minute ride eager to see the city transformed into a winter wonderland. While this year was not nearly as cold as years past, the fun Christmas lights and decorations did not disappoint! To add to the excitement, Acteen girls from Kentucky gave an offering to support G.S.A.L.T. Acteens as they served! After a wonderful and tiring evening of helping serve a traditional Thanksgiving dinner and cleaning up our group was treated to a delicious dinner at Shake Shack! It is an honor to work with each of these girls. They are so incredibly special. Please join me in praying for their spiritual growth. If you would like to know how to pray specifically for one of our girls, please click the button below to email me and I will gladly share!
Giving up is not an option
This school year has brought in a new crop of kiddos and this one right here is something else! T lives just down the block and was a regular face around summer camp but had not been a part of Graffiti 2 After School. This year, he started dropping by and telling us that he was going to be with us in after school. Every. Single. Day. He took home multiple applications and kept coming around telling our staff that he was going to be with us this year. Program started and I didn't have an application from T. He continued to stop in and ask if he could stay and then it happened. T ran home and convinced his brother to come in to sign him up! This boy was OVER THE MOON and so was I! Fast forward to a month in and T is the first student in the door every day. I will often wait in front of the building and see him literally running down the block to get to Graffiti 2.
Thursday nights G2 has a community meal we call TNT (Thursday Nights Together) and even though elementary students are dismissed at 5:00, he walks right back in at 6:30 for dinner. T can always be counted on to volunteer to pray for our dinner and always has the sweetest words to offer up to the Lord. The evening ends with Bible study and while we don't have a specific class for kids during this time- T sticks around and actively participates in our Bible study. He is so cute, once a month we split up into men and women's group and he is so proud to be a part of the "man's" group!
T loves attention. He loves to hear he is doing a good job. He loves to hear that someone is proud of him. He does not give up. He lets me know daily that he is making a shot for me and it usually takes multiple tries before he sinks one in, yet he never gives up! When he finally makes it.. he is not surprised! It's great! I am so thankful to be a part of the circle the Lord has put in his life to pour into him and point him to the Father. Join me in praying for him!
T's sweet prayer!
I'm JoAnn. I am a God worshipping, Jesus following, child teaching, puppy petting, daughter of the King of Kings, who is grateful for daily grace and forgiveness!