The Little Things

As I sat down to write today, I think I experienced my first writer’s block. Granted, it was from the Lord because I was repeatedly told to go and take care of some errands and come back and write. I finally decided to listen, go run those errands, and here we are.

About a half hour ago, I was able to share with my dear friend about how God simply showed up in JcPenney. We were standing in the parking lot and I was immediately urged to tell her what just happened. Let me backtrack.

I had three jobs. One job included returning a top and the other job included exchanging a top. The final job was to return a sweater to my friend. Easy enough, right? Well. Here are a few details. This JcPenney was not the original one my mom and I had gone to earlier in the week. (Therefore, I wasn’t entirely sure if the top in a different size would be there.) So, I went in hoping and praying that the top with the correct size would be there. After a few minutes of searching, I began to think that the top wouldn’t be there and I would have to drive back to the original location to do the exchange. Right then and there, I heard a sweet voice whisper, “Keep looking. I am with you.” I was a little hesitant, but I simply mustered up a “Yes, okay!” in my spirit. And, sure enough- a few minutes later, I was able to find the top, and lo and behold, it was back at its original price. AH!

Okay, so. I went downstairs to the return/exchange area and explained my situation. The top we had bought was on clearance for 7 bucks. This top that I found was definitely not on clearance and was back at $44. Help!

And without even a second thought, Linda, the cashier, allowed me to exchange the top at the same rate as what we had bought it for.

This was such a small moment, but it taught me more about the Lord and how deeply He cares for us- even in the little things. This was a blouse. He cares about that! How cool is that. Today was a simple reminder that God is in the business of loving on and taking care of His children. So, thanks God. You have given me the confidence that if you are faithful in the little things, I can more than trust You to be faithful in the bigger things.

In Christ,
Sharon

PS: A joke. The other day my dad asked me if I liked JcPenney. I said yes- not sure what he was getting at. He proceeded to say- Well. I like copper pennies because if I have a 100, I have a dollar. #dadjoke #mydadrocks #andsodoesmyHeavenlyFather

Getting Projects Funded: A Donors Choose “How-To” Guide

As of 2016, my incredible classroom donors have successfully funded six classroom projects. My first project took place in April 2014 as a second year teacher. Towards the closing of my fourth grader’s year, I wanted to end it with one of my favorites- Charlotte’s Web.

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As you can see, the breakdown of the costs are explained above. As soon as this project was funded, I was immediately inspired to push the limits of what else could be brought into the classroom.

Over the years, I’ve had whiteboards and clipboards donated to a group of 100 third grade students, a speaking podium, a storage center, a voice amplifier, speakers, and most recently, a classroom carpet. Granted, this was all done through the loving hearts of my sweet donors (to whom I am forever indebted and grateful for!) With all these projects that were funded, I thought it would be appropriate to simply give advice to a first time teacher who is getting involved with Donors Choose, or perhaps an educator who is in the middle of getting a project funded.

One of the first items that will be asked for includes a description of your children. This explanation will allow potential donors to get a glimpse into the happenings of your classroom. For this piece, provide a narrative of who your children are, whom they aspire to be, and the strengths and skills they bring to the classroom. Potential donors are looking to see the hearts of the people behind these projects. Your words are the gateway to allowing them to view your classroom even when they can’t physically be there. It’s also helpful to get a friend or colleague to look over your work and provide feedback.

After this description, you’ll be asked to provide a platform to deliver your “why.” Why do you need this project funded and what will it do for your students and their future? This is where you need to think about the long-term effect of having donors provide money towards your project. What will your materials allow you to achieve as an educator? How will this better the future of our future leaders?

As I was preparing my project for my classroom carpet, here’s what I included:

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And finally, after approval from the team at Donors Choose, you’ll be able to start advertising your classroom project through various means from emails to social media. Donors Choose also provides a template for you to create an email to send out to your potential donors. How easy is that!

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Miscellaneous Information:

-There will be days and stretches of time when corporations partner up with Donors Choose to double or match donations. Be on the lookout for tscreen-shot-2016-12-27-at-11-41-58-amhese as well. This would be a critical time to advertise your project even more.
-There is a deadline for projects to receive funding. Don’t let time run out!
-Advertise as much as you can and allow your heart to shine through.
-There are people who are out there who are willing to support your cause. Be your children’s loudest and strongest advocate.

I hope these few tips have helped you become inspired to create a project as you begin this new year, or that you would go and give to the teachers who are just a few dollars away from meeting their goal of funding a project for their students!

 

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Here’s to this moment!

The Day I Emailed Casey Neistat (and other shenanigans)

Seeing as one of my dear friends loves Casey Neistat’s work, I decided well! Why not! Why don’t I just go ahead and email him? I can beg to see if he would meet us up for lunch one day- in the event that we somehow manage to end up in New York City. Granted, the chances of all of this was happening was slim to none. At the same time, why not?!

Then, on another occasion, I got into a discussion with a few girlfriends.

Sure enough, a few minutes later, I was drafting an email to Tampax.

And a few days later, here was the response.

tampax

And that was that. Unless anyone has received chocolate in their package of feminine products- then let me know!

And last but not least- I was wanting to take a friend to a conference for free as a surprise. I asked, and lo and behold, here was the response:

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Yes & Yes!

All that to say- if you want to do something that you may feel like it may be impossible, just go for it. The worst that could happen is a no, but the best thing that could happen is a “yes!” 🙂

And Casey Neistat? Well. Let’s just say that my email may never have been read and that is a okay. 🙂 He is busy doing wonderful things!

Have you ever done something out of the ordinary for yourself or a loved one?

A Familiar Place

As I reflect on my life, I think about the moments of great joy and great sadness. With these two opposite ends of the emotional spectrum, I can always pinpoint the location of my emotions. This morning, I spent over 3 hours with one of my dear friends in a place that held grievous moments of my life, along with some of the most incredible memories of a lifetime.

This coffee shop is such a place – my place. As I finished up my conservation with my friend, I was gently reminded of how God is in the business of redemption and restoration.  I walked back to my car with a great peace in my heart because I was reminded of how this place could still be my place. Consequently, I don’t necessarily have to associate this place with those sad moments. Does the sadness eventually disappear? Maybe. I pray so. Even if it doesn’t, I can still focus on the truly joyful moments at this place, along with the new memories that are being made.

So, in place of the sad memories, I will remember that this is where I was able to plan a trip of a lifetime with a close girlfriend, laugh about memories of a past teaching year with an old co-worker, listen to my favorite Christmas songs, daydream and wonder about what’s to come, and of course- drink many and (sometimes free) cups of chai tea lattes!

What’s your familiar place?

Succumb to the Subtleties

According to a scientific source, a dream is a colorful, vibrant vapor you can store in glass containers until further use is needed. [source: The Big Friendly Giant, author: Roald Dahl]. This is what dreams look like to Dahl, but dreams look different for each of us. A dream could be a perfect spouse for a single person, a 7-11 sandwich for a hungry man, or a proper ceasefire in Aleppo for those wishing to live another day. For me, I had a dream since I was young to travel the world solo. For years I saved up money and would constantly imagine the exciting experiences that lay ahead. But what happens when that “big dream” actually manifests itself into reality? You wait for the spotlight to fall on you. You wait for an applause, and you wait for cheering, and you wait for a tree-sized chocolate bar at the end of the race. But often what you expect is not what happens, and instead, you find yourself squished in a tiny, uncomfortable airplane seat with an overly packed bag, a cup of lukewarm coffee, and the lingering smell of old socks from the row behind you. This is your dream manifested into reality, and I assure you, it can be wonderful if you allow it to be.

I have stories from my 10 months of traveling that could fill 1,000 books, but today I want to share moments that taught me an important value: how to succumb to the subtleties of life. Often, life moves so quickly that we don’t take time to appreciate the finer details. We fall victim to following celebrities and popular trends, so we forget to give value to the unnoticed, hard-working people. We already have an idea of what is “beautiful,” so we don’t make the effort to discover the true beauty in something that appears “just average.” Our ideas of success are found in money, fame, and quantity so we forget that helping just one person to have a better life is actually a victory. I hope I can encourage you today to challenge the way you see the world, because if you open your eyes, I promise you will discover beauty in places you never would have imagined.

New York City, Paris, Greece, Ireland

NYC.pngNYC: Vastly diverse people, sharing inches of space together.

My first destination was NYC. I really enjoyed Manhattan, and because I usually don’t ride the subway, my favorite pastime was indeed, riding the subway. I saw all worlds of strangers, suits sitting next to homeless, and vagabonds sitting next to housewives. I’ll never forget the talkative lady who told me she never wears pants with pockets to avoid getting pickpocketed, and how she put down the “good book” a while ago because Jacob was a stealer. Each person has a unique journey they’re on, just as you and I do. So regardless of your beliefs, never discount anyone because each person’s life story has value.

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Paris: Behind-the-scenes still next to the river Seine

My next stop was Paris where I worked as the production designer on the short film “Margot.” Experiencing the city through filmmaking was quite unique. I discovered small shops and neat locations I otherwise would have never noticed, and most Parisians I met were quite friendly and helpful. If you plan on visiting Paris and want to see the Arc de Triomphe or the Centre Pompidou, I suggest going at 4am when no tourists are there, because you’ll have the place to yourself and you’ll see the Arc in a different and more magical light.

greeceGreece: The wilderness at day

I was blessed with a chance to visit Greece with two of my closest friends. Traveling with friends can be fun, but also challenging when you get into fights (as one of our taxi drivers observed). We had great memories such as dance parties till 5am and befriending some local musicians who played music for us on the black sand beach at night. But we also had frustrations. On our first night, we got stranded with bags full of groceries, hitchhiked to the wrong location, and wandered in the wilderness for 2.5 hours to find our accommodation. But amidst this horror story, I will tell you I have never seen a sky full of stars more beautiful than that night. We also made friends with a wandering horse that kept us company, and we now have a story we can look back and laugh at, once upon a time. When faced with frustrations while traveling, try to find the silver linings in your experience that will make you appreciate life more.

irelandIreland: Parkour adventures

Traveling solo in Ireland for a month was easily was my favorite part of the trip. I was in a country where no one knew me, so I could be whoever I wanted to be. Many people are nervous about traveling solo, but it was one of my most freeing experiences. If you decide to travel solo, my advice to you is this: talk to strangers and live locally. I appreciated the tourist attractions such as the Cliffs of Moher, but the memories I treasured the most were the ordinary and simple ones. I remember eating frozen pizza and watching crappy T.V. movies with two locals I met in Dingle. In Dublin, a kind folk band opened their house to me for a couple days and we sat at their dinner table discussing photography, philosophy, and music. Another person invited me to a parkour event, so I spent the day in a warehouse watching people from all over Ireland practice parkour. You may think I’m crazy, befriending random people. And I do believe it is important to be cautious and make wise decisions while traveling, and I thank God for watching over me. But at some point, you must let go of your fear of strangers because most people in the world are not out to get you, regardless of what the media tells you. There are a handful of crooked people, but most people are like you and me – just trying to get through life one day at a time. When you let your fears and judgments fall to the side, you’ll discover a whole new potential of human interactions where honesty and kindness can freely flow.

India.pngIndia: Amongst the numbers, each child is unique

I spent most of my travel time in India. For 5.5 months, I taught at a residential school, Shanti Bhavan (SB), in the remote village of Baliganapalli. SB serves children in the Dalit (or “Untouchables” caste). During my time here, I saw with my own eyes how education is a key element in breaking the cycle of poverty. Children enter SB from incredibly challenging backgrounds. At school, they learn academics but also lessons in hygiene, morals, self-respect, and current world news. They have discussions about sexism in India, the LGBT community, and the political crises in the Middle East. And on top of this, they can express themselves as children. They play sports, sing in choir, make arts and crafts, dance, watch movies, and do slam poetry. This liberal arts approach is something so rare and precious in India. I have seen the lifestyles these children are from, and I have seen SB alumni now working at Mercedes Benz, Goldman Sacchs, and Ernst & Young. But the best moral value instilled in the children is not to earn money just for themselves and their families, but to give back to people in India who need help. This model is sustainable and is truly making a dent in the cycle of poverty.

There were many fond experiences I had at SB, but also challenging ones. Although I loved teaching, many times I felt discouraged. I had to pull myself out of bed sometimes and remind myself why I had to teach: for the children, and their futures. Volunteering for a non-profit abroad is only sometimes full of happy smiles and good feelings of servitude. Sometimes you mess up, and sometimes your students dislike you. When you see pictures of people working abroad, smiling with a group of children, remember this is only half the experience. The other half is most likely not plastered all over Facebook. Amidst the difficulties though, it was the small subtleties that pushed me through. Along with teaching literature, photography, and choir, I gave piano lessons to one of my eighth grade students Sumathi. It was the simplest things that got her excited – every time she played all the notes correctly on a scale, she would bop up and down on her seat, laughing and clapping her hand. Her joy was so pure. Sometimes we would have breaks in our lessons where she would talk about her classes and friends, and it was in those conversations that Sumathi became more real to me. Often, it is easy to group “those in need” into one category. But when you think of underprivileged children in Peru, or refugees escaping Syria, remember that each one of those people has a name, an identity, a passion, a dislike, and a favorite color. Those in need cannot simply be identified as “those in need.” They are individuals with a personality, mind, and heart of their own.

After SB, I spent a month in Mumbai volunteering at the organization Dharavi Art Room. Dharavi Art Room is led by two locals who hold art classes for children in the Dharavi slum, the largest slum in Mumbai. Working here was challenging as the kids spoke Hindi, but the beauty of drawing is that an Indian cat looks the same as an American cat. It was here that I saw the overwhelming power of art. Children showed up early to class and stayed late just to keep painting. I saw how art was giving these kids happiness and confidence amidst a troubling living environment. The Dharavi Art Room is a constant source of inspiration for me, even to this day. I wish I could share all my memories of India with you, of traveling the trains in Mumbai, breaking fast with my friend on the first day of Ramadan, meditating silently for 10 days, photographing abandoned factory sites, celebrating Holi, and so much more. But I’m running out of space to write!

I wish I could tell you that when I returned to the U.S. I was a better person with a clear path of where my life was going. But transitioning was not easy. The past 10 months were like a storybook I read overnight, and the next morning I woke up in the same bed I fell asleep in. My past was blurred, and my future was as confusing as Harry and Ron reading tea leaves in Divination. For two months, I experienced an influx of anxiety because of situations I now had to face. A part of me believed that life would be easier after returning from my travels, but indeed, this part of my travel has been the hardest yet. Adjusting to a square lifestyle has made me reach down into my memories and apply the lessons I learned abroad. I’ve now learned to enjoy every moment I have with my family (whether it is laughing or yelling) because neither them nor I will be around forever. I take long walks around the lake, because the stillness of water reminds me that peace can be found if we seek it. I accept the pain as it comes, because I can’t expect life to always treat me kindly. I wake up and thank God daily that He has given me another day to experience the wonders of life. I know now, and continue to learn, how to succumb to the beautiful subtleties that make every second of our existence worth it.

-Rachel Immaraj

Money, Money, Money!

It has been quite the semester- filled with joys, lows, teachable moments, and teaching moments. All in all, it has also been a learning season, which I hope that remains true for all the seasons of my life here on Earth.

 

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in my life Bible study class as the topic of money was being introduced. Our instructor explained that we would be diving into finances and what the Bible has to say about it. Initially, I wasn’t completely interested for the mere fact that I thought money was a small aspect of the Christian life. I mean, I wasn’t losing all my money and I thought I was being a good steward, until I took this class. Then, I recognized the posture of my heart and how God was indeed, calling me to give a lot more than I was giving.

As a student who pays tuition and as an individual living in an apartment and paying rent, money is always tight, in my limited perspective. I would skimp out on meals to simply get by and limit myself in spending money on anything, including my tithing. This was simply the beginning of my journey.

Oh, tithing. It either wells up joy or dread in the believer’s heart. And for me, dread would be very close to describe my sentiment towards it. It wasn’t for the fact that I didn’t want to, but because my security was being found in my finances, planning for the present and future were a good enough reason to hold as tightly as I could to “my” money.

However, I learned that God doesn’t need my money nor want it. Instead, He is simply looking at my obedience and how/if I trust Him with this aspect of my life as well. Through the past few months, it has been quite the learning curve, and it’s been a wonderful one. I am thankful to have my God who loves me enough to teach me what it looks like to be more like Him.

I wanted to share one simple formula to help you get started.

1. Give: Generously
2. Save/Invest: Wisely
3. Spend: Thoughtfully

As Christians, we tend to switch #3 & #1 because we’ve been taught to spend first, and give/save later. Here’s the formula broken down in numbers.

Let’s say you made $2,500 a month.

$2,500
–   250 (first fruits, your tithe)
_____
$2,250
–      35 (give as God leads – maybe for a one-time donation, etc.) – Can be more/less
_____
$2,215
–      50 (save)
_____
$2,165 (This is your budget for the month.)

Now, this is a very brief sketch of what this could possibly look like. I’m linking a few more resources that can help when it comes to tithing. At the end of the day, I’m no expert. I am simply passing along information for the person who might need it!

How to Budget
Tools & Resources

Reflection Questions:

  1. What does tithing look like for you?
  2. How is your heart’s condition when you consider tithing?