Wednesday, September 29, 2010

September's Sunshine

Did you happen to notice that this September's sunshine was just a little brighter than usual? I am about to tell you why. It's because my two new beautiful granddaughters were born this month! Since they are, by far, the best news of the month I can’t let the month end without announcing their arrival here, on my blog. The girls were both due September 18th, so we were eager to see when they would actually arrive. As it turned out, they were both in a bit of a hurry!

Hope Lillian Guthrie was born first, on September 2nd, weighing 7 lbs. 6 oz. Besides her mom and dad (Travis and Kristen), Hope joins her “big” sister, Selah, 14 months. Since she lives over 1,000 miles away, we have been dying to meet her; the next three weeks can’t go by fast enough. Romans 5:3-5, a favorite passage of her daddy's, was the inspiration for Hope’s first name.

For Hope

Hope, the meaning of your name
Is more than whimsy or a game;
more than childish fantasy
or wishing well frivolity.

Hope from God is better far
than pot of gold or falling star.
It’s an anchor -safe, secure-
a place to stand when life’s unsure.

Where God’s love and truth abound
A quiet confidence is found,
giving reason to expect
what nobody has seen, just yet.

Hope lifts eyes to Heaven above;
assures us of our Savior’s love;
keeps your feet from stumbling
when things around are crumbling.

On with life, a “hoper” goes;
Needs not cross fingers or toes;
waits with patience and with peace
as both hope and joy increase.

Hope won’t disappoint, you know;
your mom and dad have found it so.
Sweet child, your parents hoped for you.
God answered, and their dreams came true.

~Grandma Guthrie

Olive Joy Guthrie was born September 10th, weighing 10 lbs. 1 oz. She is Tyson’s and Sarah's first and highly anticipated child, arriving one month after their 9th anniversary! I was asked to write a prayer for one of the baby showers held before Olive’s birth. The theme of the shower was, “Wrapped in Love,” and this baby certainly was!

Prayer for the Talents, Abilities, and Spiritual Gifts of Sweet Baby Guthrie

Father, I thank you and praise you for your marvelous works in weaving the intricacies of my new little granddaughter inside Sarah’s womb. I can’t wait to see what talents, abilities and spiritual gifts you have chosen for her. Will she inherit her mother’s artistic flair, or her father’s songwriting talent? Or will she be endowed with abilities exclusively her own?
I only ask that each attribute be used for Your honor and glory. May we celebrate her as a unique, marvelous being. Please give each of us the grace and the wisdom to accept her just as You have designed her, and in doing so, may we light the path that leads her to You, Lord. For even more than my arms ache to hold her, I yearn for the day when she lays each attribute at Your feet, recognizing You as her Savior and King. Thank You, dear Father! Through this precious creation, Tyson and Sarah and each of us who have earnestly prayed for this child are once again in awe of Your grace, faithfulness and love toward us. Praise Your holy name! Amen
~Grandma Guthrie

Olives are symbolic of many things in the Bible: peace, prayer, promises, and anointing. Tyson and Sarah chose the name "Olive" because of the peace God gave them throughout their difficult journey to parenthood.

Welcome, precious girls! Grandma Guthrie loves you already, and I look forward to many days of dollies, tea parties, dress up...and sunshine –especially when all five girl cousins (now age two and under) get together! Noah, you have no idea what family gatherings will be like for you in the future!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Swish, Hush, Shush-a-bye

Swish, Hush, Shush-a-bye
By Sharlyn Guthrie

“Daddy, what’s that chirping sound that’s coming from the hall?”
A cricket calling for its love, my darling. That is all.
“But Daddy, what’s the loud “harrumph” from way down by the pond?”
Frogs are singing lullabies to tadpoles that have spawned.
“The mama duck is quacking. Why isn’t she asleep?”
From hungry owls and foxes her ducklings she must keep.

Swish, hush, shush-a-bye, rustle, hustle who
wings, sings, brushes by whispering, “God loves you.”

“I think I hear a siren. Don’t policemen go to bed?”
They work all through the nighttime to keep us safe, instead.
“Do other people work at night? O Daddy, tell me, please.”
Doctors, nurses, firemen are just a few of these.
“If just a few, then won’t you tell me, Daddy, are there more?”
Hush, my child, and I will tell of night workers galore:

Swish, hush, shush-a-bye, rustle, hustle who
wings, sings, brushes by whispering, “God loves you.”

Workers stocking grocery shelves and people sorting mail,
pilots, cabbies, bus drivers, and those who guard the jail,
bakers making doughnuts, birthday cakes, and treats;
semi drivers transporting groceries, milk, and meat;
people printing newspapers, others selling gas,
construction workers mending roads so travelers can pass.

Swish, hush, shush-a-bye, rustle, hustle who
wings, sings, brushes by whispering, “God loves you.”

Listen now, my precious child, before you close your eyes.
Another One is wide awake. He’s loving, strong, and wise.
Those other workers go to sleep while you are wide awake.
But He is always on the job, a guardian for your sake.
He is the great Almighty God. You are His treasure rare.
So do not worry, little one, you’re always in His care.

Swish, hush, shush-a-bye, rustle, hustle who
wings, sings, brushes by whispering, “God loves you.”

This poem won first place overall for the Faithwriter's writing challenge children's genre. I hope to have it illustrated and made into a children's book some day. Please go knock on Yvonne's Back Door and enjoy some more wonderful fiction posts.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Wormy Apple Cupcakes

by Sharlyn Guthrie

It was a foggy September morning and I hoped at least one student would recall today’s seldom-used weather word. “I noticed something different about the weather on my way to work today,” I hinted. “Jeremy, you’re raising your hand. What is the weather word I’m thinking of?”

Jeremy looked puzzled. “Mrs. Guffry, whe do you wook?”

Since he wears a tool belt, kindergartners think the custodian is the only worker at school. But by the end of that foggy September day, feeling the effects of a hard day's work, I flopped onto my bed, exhausted. “Maybe it’s time to retire,” I reasoned out loud.

Sitting up, I began brushing my hair, but the brush caught and pulled. My hair was a sticky mess! Then I remembered. After snacks, Tony had squeezed the Go-gurt tube he carried just as he passed my desk on his way to the trash can. Green slime had suddenly shot out, splattering my hair and face and dripping down my glasses. What could I do but laugh? My students had certainly thought it funny, seeing their teacher dripping with green goop. I needed a shower.

In the steamy shower more of the day’s events swirled through my mind like the morning’s fog. I winced as I washed my face.

Ow! I hadn’t realized how hard Aiden kicked my lip. Oh, he didn’t mean to, I was just helping him cross the monkey bars at recess. He was trying so hard! He will be elated when he finally does it on his own.

Will I ever get this class to line up after recess? Cole and Zach took their time getting off the climber as Cara and Maya wandered toward the swings. Meanwhile, Mark and Gretchen ran inside. Brandon cooperated nicely –a pleasant surprise, considering how he lunged at his mom later, nearly knocking her down. Oh, and, when I reminded him and his mom to be quiet in the hallway his mom quipped, “I hope you mean me, because I can control myself, but I can't control my son!” Hmm, what an enlightening comment!

Matthew, on the other hand, IS uncontrollable! He yanked poor Emily to the floor by her hair today, which landed him in the principal’s office. I hope his parents follow through on the recommendations Mr. Doyle and I drafted for them today. Matthew needs a thorough evaluation.

I also informed Mr. Doyle that six-year-old Elijah, not yet toilet trained, dirtied his pants for the third time today. We wrote a letter to Elijah’s parents, too.

My new student didn’t say one word today. Her mom can barely speak English. Maybe Habiba can’t speak English, either. Lord, show me how to make her feel loved and accepted.

Unlike Habiba, Melodee never stops talking, but she is impossible to understand. She and Jeremy will start speech therapy tomorrow. Before skipping out the door today, she proudly wiggled her loose tooth. I’ll look for a gap in her smile tomorrow, and prepare to listen even harder when she speaks.

My thoughts returned to the present as I stepped from the shower. I dried off, donned my bathrobe, and headed for the kitchen and the red paper plate on the counter holding six cupcakes, each frosted to look like an apple. Poking out of the apples were gummy worms. A note attached to the plate read:

Dear Mrs. Guthrie,
Hannah helped make these “wormy apple cupcakes” for you.
She loves school, and she loves you. We are so thankful for you!
We pray for you and the class every day. Teaching is a difficult job
and you do it so well!
Mr. and Mrs. Olson and Hannah

A tear rolled down my cheek, splashing on the signature. It was only September. Surely the class would learn to line up in another week or so. Aiden would be zipping across the monkey bars, and Habiba would be making friends. By January, Brandon and Matthew would have more good days than bad, and Blake’s and Melodee’s speech would improve. Elijah would definitely be toilet trained. By May they would all know their letters and sounds and days of the week. They would tie their own shoes and zip their own jackets. I would applaud as they sounded out their first words, and exclaim as they wrote their first wobbly sentences on lined paper.

Retire? I might be overworked, and at times under-appreciated, but I couldn’t think of a job with better benefits. “Lord, thank you for five-year-olds and wormy apple cupcakes,” I prayed. “They sure have wiggled their way into this teacher’s heart!”

Note: About nine years ago a very special family, the Olsons, came into my life. Over the next five years I had the privilege of teaching each of their three children in kindergarten. Kathleen and Jeff were wonderful parents. I always enjoyed interacting with them and I also appreciated the many ways they offered help and support at school.

A little over a year ago, Kathleen was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. She left this earth and her beautiful family here for her heavenly home on August 18th.

I offer this story as a small, albeit insufficient, tribute to Kathleen. Although names have been changed and I used a bit of writer’s license with the introduction, most of the events of this story actually occurred all in the same day! I am convinced that God knew I would need some encouragement that day, and Kathleen was the willing messenger. She will always have a very special place in my heart.

Christina is hosting Fiction Friday today. Please visit her at her blog, With Pen In Hand, and follow the links to great fiction.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Can You Spell I-M-P-O-S-S-I-B-L-E?

For my Fiction Friday friends: This isn't fiction, but since it is Friday, so I'm linking up anyway. :) Back to regular fiction next week, Lord willing!

Imagine you are entering a room approximately ten feet wide by twelve feet long. You step inside the door, slip around the corner, and side-step past dozens of hands reaching out to touch yours. Finding just enough space to turn in front of the chalkboard and face the owners of those hands, you look into a collage of little faces -67 of them, to be exact- all crowded along 6 benches nearly the same width as the room, each with a taller bench-like desktop. The children, ranging in age from six to nine, are in many cases literally sitting on top of each other. Here and there a toddler sleeps in his brother’s arms or clings to her sister’s back. Three or four animal pictures appear on a wall near the front, behind Budesta, the smiling teacher of this group. You have just entered the P-1 class at Smile Africa.

Eli the eagle puppet and I were privileged to address these children, introducing the verse, “Keep me as the apple of your eye, hide me in the shelter of Your wings.” (Psalm 17:8) Later, Norma and Andrea, teachers from our team, reached in from the doorway to assist with a craft, which simply involved using a glue stick to glue the Bible verse on an apple cutout, and the cutout onto a tongue depressor making a fan. It was extremely difficult to direct this simple craft, since the children are totally unfamiliar with using glue and we had no way of reaching most of them to help. Were they ever proud of the finished product, though! Jane and Cheryl, our nurse and nurse practitioner, who saw several of the children in the clinic that day, read the Bible verse over and over again for children determined to memorize it.

Believe it or not, Budesta teaches the second most difficult class at Smile Africa. Another teacher, Joyce, teaches 90 - 100 children ranging from 8 months through 5 years! Sure, she has an assistant most of the time, but clearly it is impossible to even meet the basic needs of so many children in that age group. The children are much more self sufficient than American children, however. They all arrive at Smile Africa on foot each morning (or on the back of a sibling), after walking up to three miles to get there. Their reward is a cup of rice porridge for breakfast and a bowl of rice for lunch, a bath twice a week, new clothing occasionally, and a lot more love than they can find anywhere else.

Smile Africa’s school may not be typical of education in Ugandan, but conditions in government schools are often not a lot better. In 1997 UPE (universal primary education) was instituted by the government. The number of students in primary schools has increased 149% since that time. Unfortunately, the schools were ill-equipped to deal with such a surge, the teachers were overwhelmed, and many of the students since that time have been passed through the primary grades despite the fact that they are unable to read. In 2009 the percentage of students that passed their P-1 exams was 6.7%, and that was a considerable improvement from the previous year!

Poverty and hunger are two factors that greatly affect school attendance and performance –even for many of the teachers. In fact, teacher absenteeism stands at 30%. For their hard work and nearly impossible tasks, teachers are paid little, and transportation is often a problem. Most can’t even afford a bicycle. Children frequently come to school hungry, unable to concentrate or reason, because of their lack of nutrition. English is the national language, but most children speak only in their tribal tongue. This makes both teaching and learning even more difficult.

Even though all children are now allowed to attend the government schools tuition free, there are many costs associated with school attendance. Parents must provide a school uniform and all books and classroom materials. Many can’t afford to feed their children, let alone provide them with such “luxuries.”

It was such a privilege to meet approximately 100 Ugandan teachers at the conference we held for them in Tororo. They were delightful, and so grateful for everything we did for them. We came to realize that they are just like teachers everywhere. They want to have the tools and materials they need in order to do a good job. They truly care about their students and want to know how to help them learn.

Planning a teacher conference was challenging, considering the limited amount of time I had spent in Ugandan schools. Additionally, the schools I had previously visited varied greatly, and none were government schools. Still, with plenty of prayer and consultation, the conference turned out well. The teachers were attentive and asked plenty of questions.

In planning the conference, we went through the Tororo District Minister of Education. She invited the teachers from both private and government schools. It was a good thing, too, because Museveni, Uganda’s president, came to Tororo the week we were there, on the same day our conference was to begin. We were told that it would be disrespectful to hold an event while the president was in the city. However, the Minister of Education disagreed. Since it was a government sanctioned event benefiting teachers, we were expected to go ahead with our plans.
In step with characteristic Ugandan formality, the conference began with speeches by Rhobina, the education minister; Tororo’s mayor; Sanjay, a Ugandan parliament member; our director, Denise Matthews; Pastor Ruth of Smile Africa; and myself.

The theme of the conference was “From Gravity to Grace,” and Aaron, our keynote speaker, addressed both subjects, gravity and grace, skillfully. Norma addressed the entire group on learning style; Wendy and Michelle on teachers as counselors. Andrea did workshops on learning disabilities and reading and writing; Norma on life skills, Wendy on math and the environment. I did a workshop on early childhood programs and environments, and another on learning through music.

At the end of each of our two days, we provided the teachers with a delicious buffet style meal. On the final day we distributed books, maps, posters, and other educational materials to a representative of each of the schools. The excitement over these items was an amazing thing to witness.

King’s Primary School is located near Bunambutye, in the Sironko District, a mountainous region. The rainy season caused many landslides and extended past its normal time this year, making our travel to the school “interesting!” To complicate things, we loaded six large bales of mosquito nets onto the roof of van already packed with passengers. As we drove through deep, muddy ruts in the road, we literally leaned the opposite direction the van was leaning in order to counter the top heaviness of the mosquito nets. The other van, lacking our added weight, got stuck periodically, and we lost our spare tire a couple of times. It sure made us appreciate the fact that their teachers had traveled to Tororo two days in a row to attend our teacher conference!

By the time we reached the school the children had stayed past noon, when the younger students normally return home. They put on a delightful program of music for us, and we visited all of the classrooms, playing the flyswatter math game and doing a craft and puppet lesson. It was with great joy that I heard some of the children read from the Bibles we gave them when we visited last year. This made the entire trip worthwhile!

Our gifts to the students this year were bananas and mosquito nets to protect them from malaria, which has been more prevalent than usual, due to the longer rainy season. It was such a blessing seeing them walk home with these life-saving nets.

Another school we visited was Royal Palace Primary and Nursery School. The children of this school also sang and danced some special songs for us. Pastor Steven and his wife, Rozelyn operate this school in their church building at Mile Eight Village.

The most extraordinary school we visited was a prison school, taught by the prisoners, themselves. (see previous post for more details on the prison) I have never seen students who took their education more seriously. Yet many of these grown women had never attended school outside of prison. Most of the students were still at Primary school level, just learning to read and write. The school is held in a solid building, nicer than most of the schools we visited, but educational materials there are almost non-existent. The women pleaded for our help in providing them with needed teachers, supplies, and work and study materials.

Finally, we visited Entebbe Early Learning Center. This is a Christian school that provides an education for many children who need protection and assistance. Nearly 100 students are boarded at this primary school. The children here presented a lengthy program for us, after which we visited their classrooms, teaching them, playing games, answering questions, and listening to more of their music and recitations. The students here were bright and engaging, and their classrooms were better equipped than the others we visited. Still, their teachers feel a need for more training and information. Unfortunately, they were unable to travel to the teacher conference we held in Tororo.

Can you spell I-M-P-O-S-S-I-B-L-E? From our perspective it would seem a relevant word to describe the obstacles faced by Ugandan teachers, parents, and students alike. Yet most Ugandans are optimistic. They believe that education is more attainable than ever, and they count on it for the future of their children and their country. The hope and enthusiasm for learning expressed by the teachers and students we met is unquenchable. It is also contagious. It has infused me with a passion for helping them achieve their goals. Just a little encouragement and a few simple materials make such a difference. As you can surely appreciate by now, one teacher in Uganda has an impact on an unusually large number of young lives. It is my desire, first and foremost, to introduce them to Jesus Christ, and then to share His love with them in practical ways that they can pass on to their students.

I am excited to see how God will lead and provide in the area of education for Heart of God East Africa. Here is a link to Heart of God International-East Africa. My recently published educational report appears in the September issue. If you feel lead to join us in providing more training and materials for Ugandan students and teachers, your contributions will be much appreciated! Please contact me for more information, or contribute directly through the HGIM website. You will be a blessing, and will also be tremendously blessed in the process.

Even though this post isn't fiction, I hope you will hop on over to Joanne's blog at An Open Book and read the stories of those who joined Fiction Friday today.