Happily Ever After?

IMG_1753This week, Nick and I celebrated five years of marriage. I have always enjoyed such milestones as an excuse to give gifts, create traditions, and go in search of the perfect greeting card. I also enjoy using life landmarks as a chance to reflect. An opportunity to take a look across where you’ve been, and see where life leaves you now. However, this year has felt strangely different and unfamiliar- our lives are filled with uncertainty, our hearts desire peculiar things, and our dreams seem foreign to that of five years ago. It leaves us asking: Is this really our happily every after??

The past year, more specifically the past seven months have without hesitation been the most stressful period of Nick and I’s marriage. Living cross-culturally, becoming foster parents, the loss of a grandmother, a father’s heart attack, contending with harsh legal systems, becoming real parents, several bouts of malaria, and now having our family pulled miles apart. Yes, it has been ugly! At times-we’ve been mad, we’ve yelled, and undoubtedly said some thing’s we regret. However, before you chalk us up as crazy or think we need help. Let us be the first ones to say the stress and pain was good and it was perfect! Being ripped down to the core God has allowed us to now experience a new level of HIS love. A love that is deep and raw; sanctioning us to trust more fervently, walk more humbly, and give grace more fully then before. We realize through all the uncertainty and all the changes one thing remains the same. God is our center. He is our core! Anything accomplished through this marriage, designed by HIM, is for HIS glory.

So, what is next? We are currently in the United States. The U.S. Embassy would not grant the children visas, so we are here alone. We have decided to push our 3-6 month home assignment back until next year and extend our 2-year term by 6 months. This will allow us to go back and stay in Nigeria until next April. Making April our new home assignment time. We will spend a few weeks now in the U.S. trying to touch base with all our supporters and bring them up to speed on the ministry happening at Egbe Hospital. We would also would like to spend time seeking wisdom, counsel, and aid on how to logically ensure our family will no longer be bound by country borders. Since our term was assumed to now have ended our support has dropped significantly. Therefore, if you are interested in being a part of our continued ministry either through prayer, legal advice, or financial support please e-mail us at katie.riddle@sim.org or nick.riddle@sim.org – we would love to talk more!

We know that it can be messy, ugly, stressful and confusing…but we know THIS is our HAPPILY EVER AFTER!IMG_1307

The Toothpaste is Finished

IMG_1859Our two year term ended two weeks ago, the court has deemed us legal parents, our bags are packed, our families await (including a brand new nephew/cousin as of yesterday!), and our precious, two year supply of Crest toothpaste finished this morning! We are ready to come home! However, the kids US Visas sit at the embassy undergoing administrative processing?!

So, we ask for prayer. For this issues to be resolved quickly, as we struggle to endure patiently! We have watched God tear down MANY legal hurdles over the past seven months, and we are trusting in Him still!

“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

280 Days of Change and Still Changing

A blog written by Blessing. She wanted to share her story!  So, here it is! Straight from her heart, even though I did want to edit out the part where she calls us annoying 😉IMG_0020

These two hundred and eighty days have been full of craziness, fun, hurt, anger, happiness, love, laughter, excitement, pure joy, and indeed change.

Where do I even start from?  From the part that I had to develop an “oyinbo’s” (white man) stomach?  No…no, that is all wrong.  Let me start from how I came to CARE Africa.  I got to know CARE Africa through Mommy Duro (my Aunt).  This led me to Nick and Katie, my loving, sweet and sometimes annoying new parents I have.

Before CARE Africa I was lost.  Both of my parents had just died, and I was still grieving. Crying myself to sleep every night.  On top of that I was living in a new town with new people.  They were family, but I didn’t know them. They didn’t really seem to care that much.  My brother and sister had also gone to live with other family members, so it was just me. It was so frustrating and painful.

IMG_0062But guess what came out of the blue???  Nick and Katie (an “oyinbo” couple) wanted me, a black girl, with all her flaws, to come live with them?  I was a stranger to them in all the ways you can think of, but just like that I was moving in with them.  That day I moved in…guess what…I had my own towel for the first time!  I remember Katie saying, “Here is your bedroom, and here you can choose your towel.”  I was like, “WOW! My own towel, isn’t that amazing?”

At first, I had to still go back to my families house on the weekends. I dreaded going there. I was really depressed and annoyed when Nick and Katie had to go back to the U.S. last year for Christmas.  Fifty- one days we were apart, I counted down every day.

When they came back then it was really a crazy, surprising change this time.  One day I came home from school, and there were my other two siblings in the house.  They were like, ” We’re coming to live with you!” I hadn’t even told Nick and Katie I longed to be with them, even if they drove me crazy.  Isn’t that amazing?  They are just awesome!

IMG_1600So, now here we are!  Our days are filled with laughter, fun, and most of all craziness because of two loving “oyinbo’s”.  It is a time of learning how to ride bicycles for the first time. Learning how to swim in the dam. Being told over and over again we can’t pile our plates high with only rice because it isn’t healthy (“oyinbo” stomach).  Times when Katie got scared when I got very sick.  Or that time when they thought Testimony was dead and kicked in our bedroom door, but she was just asleep with the door locked.

Now that I am writing this I can see more of God’s work in our lives.  Shaping, moulding, and helping all five of us confide in each other more and more.  I am just so grateful to God for connecting us to the most loving parent in the whole wide world!IMG_1186

A Grandmothers Love

Mommy Jo 1This week I had to experience being away from family during a very difficult time.  My sweet, sweet grandmother passed away more suddenly then expected.  To say its been hard is an understatement.  Below is what I wrote for her Memorial Service yesterday. She loved to read and loved to read our blog, so I thought I would share it here as well!

“Grandchildren are the crown of grandparents, and parents are the glory of their children.” Proverbs 17:6

With Mommy Jo I have lived my life never questioning this, never thinking for a moment I was anything less then a crown set high and proud atop her head. It was no secret Mommy Jo was smitten by her children, grandchildren and great- grandchildren. In her presence you always felt special, extraordinary even. Her kindness was overwhelming- an unexplainable, overflowing, bursting at the seams kind of thing. To me it seemed to surpass all earthly understanding. In return, I hope our family will follow through with the second part of Solomon’s proverb. I pray myself, as well as, all of her Mommy Jo 7children’s lives will continue radiating Mommy Jo’s glory. May her example challenge each of us to pass the crown of pure, Christ like love? It is very painful to not be physically present among you today.   However, I find peace knowing my absence in some small way displays Mommy Jo’s magnificence. How her life has propelled my life to the very place, which causes me to be missing today- what greater testimony, is that? How a love of a grandmother was so strong it only pointed me in one direction- running after Jesus Christ in a way that surpasses earthly understanding. I love you Mommy Jo, and through our tears we rejoice, knowing exactly how Jesus welcomed you home. It was that same sweet way you always welcomed us!

Love, Katie Kids Message to Mommy Jo

 

 

 

When The Roof Caves In

IMG_1225When the decision was made to dedicate our lives solely to Christ service, Nick and I began to pray a very specific prayer.  Incessantly and persistently we asked God to tear down the foundation of our “house”. Desiring a home built exclusively on God’s foundation we realized our current home, although appearing beautiful and strong, had groundwork which was very weak. To continue building on with meaningless wants and desires would eventually cause the walls to come crashing down.  We needed to rebuild!

Although it has been tough and most days we want to retract this prayer, God is without a doubt answering it. Over the past few years we have felt our house being torn down bit by bit.   We have received this refining with thanksgiving, but as many of us all know our prayers never get answered with our own methodology. This hasn’t been a step-by-step renovation where we get to place all the orders: “Okay, today God take out this wall! Now, you may remove the ceiling. Here you go this is the color I chose!” No, this is not his approach. His way is often a little messier, far different, and far better then expected.IMG_1156

Last week nature gave us a not so soft, not so gentle reminder of our renovation desire. As we sat at our kitchen table eating lunch we suddenly heard a loud cracking noise, followed by a humongous thud on our tin roof. Then, our entire ceiling began collapsing overhead. Quickly grabbing Duro (the women working in our home) we all ran out the other side. Once outside we realized a large tree had fallen on our roof over the kitchen. No wind, no rain, just a tree with old rotten roots had buckled. The tree caused damage to nearly half our roof and ceiling, however, because of the strong walls and foundation the remainder of our house was left unscathed. Most importantly our family was safe as well!

Looking back, we are able to take away many lessons from this experience. The three foundations involved- the foundation of the tree, the foundation of our physical house, and the foundation of our lives- have painted a vivid picture for all of us. The tree was big, tall, and seemed very strong. However, its roots were dry and weak, and the slightest wind caused it to fall. Our house appearing simple, but built with careful attention received some damage.  However, its foundation and walls stood strong against the tree. Then, we look at ourselves. Our lives have been tested this past week, this past month, and these past few years in ways we never intended for and never asked for. Far from our plans, and far from our desires. However, through the rubble we still smile with an ever increasing joy! Our house is now built on solid rock and even when the roof comes crashing in overhead: We will not be shaken!holding house

“They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17: 8

“Rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” Colossians 2:7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teacher Appreciation Day

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CARE Africa Team with School Staff

The CARE Africa team had the exciting, privilege of hosting our first Teacher Appreciation Day! A time designated to honoring the teachers and administrators of Living Springs Academy, the school in which all twenty-eight of our CARE kids are currently enrolled and attending.   During this time together we sought to express our gratitude, question them about their needs, and of course pamper them a bit with refreshments. Teacher Appreciation is a well-known practice in the states, but for this group of educators it felt slightly bizarre to feel so appreciated!

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Classroom

Sitting amongst the crowd as a fellow teacher, I really identified and sympathized with their struggles. Teaching, no matter your location in the world, already offers its standard level of complimentary challenges. You know things like hours of lesson planning, grading endless stacks of papers, disciplining uncompromising children, keeping parents happy, and simultaneously remaining in step with demanding educational standards.   Then, add on top of that the challenges of teaching in Nigeria and the job really loses all appeal!   Classrooms have no fans or air conditioning when temperatures are above 100 degrees, books are scarce, no paint or pictures for the walls, a chalk board as your sole visual aid, an unbearable student to teacher ratio, below standard pay, and much, much more! You don’t have to spend much time in Nigeria to recognize the short falls in education; however, all things considered they must be applauded for their tenacity.

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New Science Lab

The burden to help right the wrongs of Nigeria’s education system has been on my heart since day one of moving to this country. However, such an endeavor is colossal in size, and much bigger then myself! I believe God is beginning to answer my prayers by calling the CARE Africa team to fully come alongside Living Springs Academy. Through our partnership we can work together in providing for both their tangible and intangible needs. Subsequently, sparking a small fire that will slowly begin to spread its way across this community, this state, and maybe even this country.

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Current Playground

Below is a wish list for this school. Some big some small, but valuable in improving this schools educational standard. I feel strongly that the numerous years my family has been involved in education has partially been in preparation for a time such as this. I know the resources for many of these items are at my fingertips. Most likely over half of the people reading this blog now are educators or somehow connected to the profession. So, pray about it. How might you be able to assist today in making

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Current Computer Lab. This Computer caught on fire last week!

a small, worthwhile, and lasting difference? Maybe it is through your prayers, perhaps through your gifts, or possibly through your time here in Egbe?

Living Spring Academy Needs:

  1. A Library- book donations, funds for books to be purchased in Nigeria, shelving, and training on how to best utilize a school library.
  2. A computer Lab – computers and computer equipment (new or gently used) and training on best practices in teaching basic computer skills and programing.
  3. Manipulative and Visual Aids for classrooms
  4. Toys and learning games for Pre- Nursery Classrooms
  5. Play ground and Sport Equipment
  6. Professional Development Seminars- child psychology, teaching english, and just best practices in all curriculum areas would be appreciated.

Growing in Number, Growing in Love

IMG_0903Recently our home has undergone BIG, BIG change! We have grown from just two to a family of five! WOW, a shocking statement I know, but this is a story which began just weeks after our arrival in Egbe in 2014. One morning Duro, the lady we had just hired to work in our home, came through our front door weeping hysterically. Through tears she explained she could not work that day because her niece had just passed away. After hugs and praying together we of course sent her home, telling her to take all the time she needed.

The next week Duro returned to work. Life went back to its normal fast pace, and we soon began to not think much more about the incident. However, about a month later Duro asked to speak with us. The same niece who had passed away had three children, and their father had already passed a few years ago. They were now all living with their grandmother (Duro’s sister) and she was really struggling to make ends meet. Sick with chronic heart disease and unable to work, she was trying her best. She really desired to send the children back to school, but school fees seemed impossible. Duro asked if the kids could apply for CARE Africa (follow the link to learn more about this ministry) and my response was, “YES! These are the exact kids this ministry was designed to help!”

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Blessing with her Grandmother

Now, with the kids enrolled in CARE Africa, they were going to school. The family had also decided to split the three up amongst different relatives as to not put the entire burden on Grandma. We were also getting the wonderful privilege of getting to know these three during weekly tutoring and discipleship time. They were very smart, kind, and something about them was so endearing from the start. Nevertheless, once again all seemed well and we went back to life as normal.

However, soon we started to notice an extreme difference in the demeanor of the eldest daughter. For lack of better words she had lost her “spunk”! During weekly homecare visits, further conversation with her, wise council from her Aunt Duro, and discussion with the family we decided it was best to remove her from her current living place. Although, where would she go? The CARE Africa team began to search and pray for options. We almost felt like Mary and Joseph looking for an inn. Everywhere we knocked, “There was no room for her.”

Nick and I began to pray personally as well, praying for a way we could best help this somewhat hopeless situation. We had room in our inn right? Why couldn’t we take her? However, we stepped lightly. CARE Africa is founded on the concept of family preservation and we didn’t want to compromise the value of family. We also didn’t want our desires to be selfish, nor driven by pride to quickly save the day. We instead wanted our decision to be right and blameless. A choice that would exemplify Gods love and honor their late parents.

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Move In Day!

After consulting the family, and several other trusted friends in the Egbe community we decided to take the oldest daughter into our home last August. What an experience! She was amazed by our shower and sink, how it automatically gave you water; we were amazed by how much rice one small girl could eat! Her siblings visited once a week for dinner, and this quickly became the highlight of our week! We loved getting to know the three together watching as their faces lit up when sharing stories and pictures of their Mom and Dad. Clearly these parents were wonderful people!  Our hearts began to ask, why are these kids not together permanently? However, it was now almost December, time for us to travel back to the states for our already planned vacation. We would have to pray this one through, but I remember my stomach being in knots the night we said goodbye. I hated the feeling as they told us, “We will be marking

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Celebrating T-Money’s Birthday!

down the days Nick and Katie!”

Our time at home really allowed us to spend time talking and listening to God. Then through a series of unfortunate events and phone calls, while stateside, God began to make it very clear. These children needed to be together as siblings, and in a place they could be loved. Our house was in fact becoming the best way to preserve family.

With the family’s consent and blessing, a week after our return from the U.S. they moved in! Since, our home has never been so happy, more full of life, and our hearts have never sung with such joy! They add so much color to our home, literally and figuratively! Ibukun (Blessing), age 16, brings vivacity and sass, Iyanu (Miracle), age 10, brings cleverness and mischief, and Eri (Testimony), age 8, brings laughter and snuggles! Over the past month we have discovered a love we have never thought possible.

kidsAlthough this story began almost two years ago, it is far from over. We ask all of you to come alongside us in prayer. We don’t know what the future holds, but we lean solely on Him. We gladly lay down all our selfish desires to allow God to use us in whatever capacity it may be. With excitement we will watch how God uses their tragedy, and uses their story! These kids have been through more in the past few years then many experience in a lifetime. However, not many kids can say they have been a Blessing, a Miracle, and a Testimony to two moms and two dads!  

 

Just Call Me Peter

christmas pictureFor the month of December we were privileged with the opportunity to travel home and spend time with loved ones for the holidays.  Throughout the visit we were loved on immensely and created wonderful memories as we celebrated the season of Christ birth. However, early on in the visit I began to feel a lot like Peter atop the mountain during the transfiguration.

As our two worlds and two homes were colliding, it seemed just too perfect. We were together again with family and friends, enjoying the comforts of home, worshiping in our home church, and all the while getting to speak to others about Egbe. A ministry we love being a part, and now we are getting to tell the stories to those who make it all possible. All the elements were there and just like Peter I fell face down, crying, “Lord its just so good to be here!” Pleading, could we just capture this moment, memorialize it, and stay here forever?

hornets gameWe knew what going down that mountain had in store.  It meant more hard good-byes, more living outside our comfort zone, and more trials.  Nevertheless, when the time came to descend that mountain we were ready, we were calm, we had peace. Confidence in the man we were following and just like Peter, James, and John we felt Jesus saying, “Get up, don’t be afraid, follow me!”

Now, here we are back in Egbe. Being loved on immensely. Together with family and friends, enjoying the comforts of home, worshiping God everyday, and all the while getting to speak to other about our trip to the states. I fall facedown crying, “Lord its just so good to be here!”

And so, the story continues as we JOYFULLY follow HIM through every peak and valley. IMG_6164

Apologies from a Mediocre Missionary

Mount Baldy“We are so proud of the work you are doing!”  “You guys are amazing!”  “The people of Egbe must be so blessed by you!”  These are statements we have recieved from supporters, friends, and family; and do not get me wrong such statements are flattering and lovely to hear.  They in fact help to encourage us, sustain us, and make us feel unforgotten!  However, I think too often we fall way, way short of such praise.

Last week I sat at our CARE Africa Discipleship Group listening to the kids sing, shout, and dance proudly to song after song.  I myself sat there tired, worn out,  and struggling to even stay awake. Guilty for feeling this way and praying…”God, grant me the strength, the energy, to just get me through the next two hours.”  I wish I could tell you this is the first time I have felt this way over the past sixteen months.  We sure would love to claim ourselves to be some sort of mystical missionary super heroes who never tire and always remain happy!  However, I must ransom the fact we are far from amazing or spectacular, but instead at times weak and weary.  So, I say…

Sorry, for sometimes dreading morning devotions or church because I just want to sleep in.

Sorry, I am lost in this prayer, my mind is wondering, I don’t understand anything you are saying.

Sorry, for looking and worrying about the future instead of living for now.

Sorry, for sometimes being a pretty bad wife.

Sorry, for being short with everyone, but I am just too homesick today.

Sorry, for locking my door, closing the curtains, and pretending we are not home.

Sorry, for sometimes focusing to much on the task, and losing sight of YOU LORD.

Sorry, for getting frustrated with the culture just because it is different to me.

Sorry, for sometimes doubting your plan God and asking, “Are you still here?”

My flesh is far from perfect, but I rejoice…I am flawless through Him!  Each day, because the SON has risen, I am granted a new chance and a new opportunity to start again.  Living in hope that this day I will be a little less mediocre.