First Time for Everything: May Update

In just a few short weeks, I will be coming back to the United States. Can you believe that I’ve spent about 4 months out of the country!? Although teaching in another country has its challenges, it was worth the long wait!

Since my last update, I’ve experienced many firsts! The high light is that I led my first missions trip. Three high school students joined me during their Spring Break in visiting orphanages. We were able to visit four different institutions for children without parents. For the students, it was the first time that they told stories to children with the help of an interpreter and it was my first time back into an orphanage since my adoption from Krasnodar, Russia in 1999. The children in each facility stole my heart and God used that experience to remind me of why I am in Ukraine. I’m in Ukraine to teach the children whose parents devote their time to sharing the Gospel to the Ukrainian people. I am also in Ukraine to learn Russian so that I can someday personally interact with orphans, sharing the Gospel of Christ with them!

I traveled to Budapest, Hungary for the first time and received my visa with no issues. I was able to also travel through Paris on my way back to Kiev and climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower! After spending almost two full weeks without seeing my students, it was great to get back in the classroom! We are currently finishing up a unit on geometry in Math and learning about the Civil War in History. We are also in the process of writing our last cursive pen pal letters. To those of you involved, thank you again for such a fun experience for my students!

Outside of the classroom, I’ve joined a ministry called English For Life. It is an English club that meets once a week at one of my student’s parents’ home. During this time, I get to spend a few hours talking with Ukrainians and Russians who are about the same age as me. Recently, I began to reread a devotional book called “Not By Sight” by Jon Bloom. At one point in the book, when talking about unplanned detours, the author states: “God’s ways are not our ways. They are frequently bewildering to us, but they are always better because God is orchestrating far more than we see or know in every unexpected event or delay.” I believe that God is using what I thought was a delay in returning to Russia as a great ministry. To the people I meet at the English club, my love and desire for a country that isn’t allowing me to return is astounding and fascinating. They ask me constantly why I would ever want to leave America. This presents me with such an awesome opportunity to share how good God is and how sharing His love is worth so much more to me than living “The American Dream.” I fully believe that even if I never receive my Russian passport, the opportunity I am getting here to reach out to those my age is worth every minute.

I am so thankful for your partnership with me in encouraging long term missionaries in Ukraine by teaching their children. Yesterday, I signed a contract to return to teach at Kiev Christian Academy next school year as well. I am excited to see what God has in store for me next year!

March Update

“The seasons change and you change, but the Lord abides evermore the same, and the streams of His love are as deep, as broad, and as full as ever.” – Charles Surgeon

As I near the end of March, I can’t help but stand in awe of how God provides. A year ago, I was working on paperwork for Russia and building my “4th Grade in Russia” Pinterest board (a website that allows you to save pictures as ideas for your own use). I began reading about Russia’s history and started to get to know my roommate through Facebook. Now, I’m living in Kiev, Ukraine and teaching eight 4th grade students who have managed to steal my heart.  I moved to Kiev and started teaching at Kyiv Christian Academy within one week of hearing about the school in early January. That’s crazy even for me! I didn’t have time to read up on Ukraine’s history or get to know my roommates. I didn’t really know what I was doing but I knew that I asked God to provide a teaching position for the rest of the year, and He did.

Ukraine is a beautiful country that has similar culture as that of Russia but at the same time, is nothing like it. The people have softer expressions and take pride in being Ukrainian. The country is in the process of figuring out who they are apart from Russia. It has been interesting for me to get to know more about the history of Ukraine in recent weeks. Many of the long term missionaries here have helped me to understand the history of this country better, specifically how it affects people here in Kiev in various ways.

In the past three months, I have fallen in love with teaching all over again. My job here in Kiev is to teach the long term missionary children in the city, as well as a few students whose families are here on business. My students are eager learners, and it is a joy to work with them each day.  We have lots of fun together, and it has been rewarding to get to know many of the families of the children as well. There are many different mission organizations that are present whom have some sort of outreach here in Kiev.  Many of the parents of my students hold “English Clubs” at their homes during the week.

I live near the school with two other girls. Megan is teaching for her second year in the second grade class! She is from Florida and loves to bake! Brooke is a student teacher from Minnesota who is in the fifth grade classroom for her first placement. She will be leaving to go back to the U.S. the second week in April.  Our apartment is about a 15-minute walk from the school.  We have enjoyed exploring different parts of the city on weekends.

I have attended many churches here in Kiev and have settled at an international church called Hillsong. I attended a branch of this church in Moscow and love attending here in Kiev.  The whole service is in Russian but the church provides English translation during the sermon.  Wednesday, April 12, I will begin to attend an English small group hosted by Hillsong. I am looking forward to getting to know others in my church and building a community outside of the school as well as practice my Russian (I started Russian lessons two weeks ago).

At the end of March, I will be taking three high school students on a mission trip to Krivoy Rog, Ukraine. This city is a 6-hour train ride south of Kiev.  While we are there, we will be ministering at four different orphanages that cater to the specific needs of the children living there. Please pray that our group presents Christ’s love to those who feel forgotten.

The first week of April, I will be required to travel to Budapest, Hungry to obtain my Ukrainian long term missionary visa. Please pray that the paper work goes smoothly. Although our school has never had issues in obtaining visas for teachers, my situation is unique due to the fact that I was adopted. Despite all of these little details, God already knows what will come. Please pray that I deal with this process with grace.  I have a ticket to fly back to Michigan June 1st, and will leave to work at Lake Ann Camp on June 4th.

I am so thankful for each of you. Your support and prayers are felt daily. Although I miss my family and friends, I know that God is using me here in Ukraine.

 

#THISISFOURTHGRADE

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I. Love. Kiev. Update #1

370 days ago, I signed a contract with a school in Moscow, Russia.

136 days ago, I finally went to Russia.

106 days ago, I came back from Russia without any definite answers.

58 days ago, I was overwhelmed with frustration and anxiety over my lack of control over my Russian passport.

42 days ago, I was put into contact with 5 different international schools who needed a teacher to come ASAP to fill a position.

33 days ago, I said goodbye to the United States and flew to Kiev, Ukraine.

I have been in Kiev for 33 days! Looking back at all of those numbers, my heart and head couldn’t imagine the transitions and the waiting involved. Every minute was worth it. 

I’m a teacher! I have eight students who never seem to stop amazing me with their questions and insights. It isn’t a walk in the park but I wouldn’t have it any other way!

I live with two other girls who are awesome! It’s so fun to have their company. The school is only a 15 minute walk away from our apartment and although it can be cold, I absolutely enjoy it. My class is currently learning about fractions in math, the western expansion in history, and space in science. We just started our Bible unit on Daniel and they LOVE acting out the stories. I had a great time celebrating Valentine’s day with my favorite Valentines!!

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New Direction

“And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in me will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6)

Where do I begin? Two weeks ago, I wrote you a letter with the mindset that I would be staying in the United States. I began making plans to take the Michigan State certification exam for elementary education and looking for a long term substitute position. I had resigned myself to the fact that God hadn’t called me to go far to serve Him.

As I searched for Christian schools to teach at, I found a number of international schools who needed elementary teachers starting in January 2017. I had seen the positions before in my searches before the New Year, but had never given them much thought. After realizing that I would not be able to return to Russia this school year, God softened my heart and gave me a curiosity to explore other international schools. This led to many emails with incredibly helpful people. Within a week, I had communicated and Skyped with the directors of three schools, all of whom asked me to teach at their school.

Here is a little glimpse into the “secret life” of Jenna. I am not a great decision maker. Here is an example: during college, I played softball. Every time the team would go out for dinner after a softball game, I would ask just about everyone on my team what they were getting. I would debate on what to get, and in the end, always chose what the person in front of me ordered because I hated making the decision. If the decision that needs to be made is between two options, I can usually decide. However, if there are three or more choices, forget it. I get overwhelmed and say “sure” (meaning whoever asked the question can make the decision for me). The decision of where to teach is not something that I could ask any one person to make for me. I asked for the opinion of a few people, but in the end, I did it! I made a confident decision.

I am pleased to announce that I will be ministering at Kyiv Christian Academy in Kiev, Ukraine. I am leaving Grand Rapids, Michigan on Sunday, January 15th and returning June 1st. I will be the 4th grade teacher to seven students! “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘Plans to prosper you, not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future.'” (Jeremiah 29:11) Four weeks ago, I didn’t have much hope that I would ever get papers to go back and teach in Russia. Two weeks ago, I didn’t really know what my future looked like. Today, I can tell you confidently that God has overwhelmed me with His hope and has shown me a bright future. I don’t believe that it will be a walk in the park, but I also know that “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

 

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“Faithful Love, Not Sacrifice”

Happy New Year! It’s hard to believe that it is once again a start to a new year. I am sorry that you have not heard from me recently as I have been waiting for good news to share. The paperwork that I need from Russia which would allow me to either get a work visa or my Russian passport reissued has not come and does not show any signs of coming any time soon due to the current conflict between America and Russia. This is not the news that I dreamed of sharing at this time of year. The process for these papers began in February of 2016 and included two trips to Washington D.C., and a 30-day trip to Russia. There are currently two lawyers who are working on my behalf in Moscow and my birth city, Krasnodar. They are both optimistic, but I have realized that I cannot continue to put my life on “hold” and simply wait for news.

While I was in Russia, I was able to travel to my birth city, Krasnodar, to search for legal documents that only I could access. I was also able to spend a large amount of time teaching my students at Hinkson Christian Academy! The 4th grade class has 5 boys and 4 girls who are all incredibly smart and competitive.  Words can’t describe the feeling I experienced when finally teaching these students! There was never a dull moment as I found myself sometimes using American slang that they did not understand. This, of course, would lead to a lengthy discussion of various examples of how to use a term or phrase appropriately.  The Russian that I did learn while in Russia was taught to me by my own students, who loved informing me of the Russian word for just about anything.

Although I want more than anything to get back to my class, I have done all that I can.  I am now searching for a teaching job for this spring in the U.S.  I have applied to many schools around the Fremont, Michigan area and will continue to search.  In a few weeks, I will be taking the Michigan State Teaching Certification Test for elementary education. Please pray that I prepare well and pass the test. This will open up many more opportunities for me here in Michigan.

In closing, I wanted to share with you something that God has placed heavy on my heart. I do most of my devotions through an app called “She Reads Truth.” It is an application on my phone that allows me to pick a book of the Bible to read through with an included short Bible Study.  Out of twenty or thirty choices, I recently picked the book of Hosea to read through. As I was thinking of what to write in this letter, I began to feel anxious. I started to think that my life was boring or that I was not really serving God because I wasn’t in Russia teaching. All these thoughts were overwhelming me but at that moment, my phone reminded me that it was “Time to Read Truth!”  I wasn’t in the mood to read but opened it up and started.

The study for the day was on Hosea 6 and titled “Faithful Love, Not Sacrifice.”  The big question of the devotional was, “Can we be faithful to God in the ordinary, or do we have to do ‘big things’ for God for our faith to be legitimate?”  I was so caught up in my thoughts of “I’m not doing big things! I’m sitting around in Fremont, Michigan, instead of serving God in a different country. I’m surrounded by family and am not experiencing anything hard like I would in Russia!” God knew these thoughts and reminded me through His word by saying, “For I desire faithful love and not sacrifice.” (Hosea 6:6)

I find sacrifices easier than quiet faithfulness. It’s easier for me to dream of living in a different country than to actually live a quiet, largely unknown, completely unflashy, but faithful life. God doesn’t ask me to make a big sacrifice, but instead to be loyal and faithful even when it doesn’t make for the greatest update blogpost.  I serve a God who is in control of my papers in Russia. He isn’t surprised or disappointed that I am not in Moscow. He seeks my faithfulness. That faithfulness may lead me to Moscow, or it could lead me to the Ukraine or somewhere else, but He isn’t just interested in what I sacrifice or what I dream of sacrificing. He is really simply desiring my loyalty, faithfulness, and affection.

“Come, let us return to the Lord!”  Hosea 6:1

…and if not, He is still good.

 

After a crazy couple of days, I was given a visa for 30 days to go to Russia and get my Russian passport. I’m here (there?). IN RUSSIA! And guess what?

I have not seen the sun in Moscow until today, but He is still good.

I have not taught a full day of school, but He is still good.

I have not understood any Russian spoken to me, but He is still good.

I have not gotten my Russian passport, but He is still good.

 

There are so many things that I haven’t accomplished, but He is still good.

 

I have a crazy, energetic, and competitive class. I have a great roommate who doesn’t get annoyed that I literally cannot do anything outside of the apartment and the school by myself (or at least she hasn’t let me know it bothers her 😉  Emily! Have you found MY MOM??). I have great co-workers and friends at the school who care about my life and how I am processing the crazy life God has given me (and do cool stuff like Sunday Funday with me).

Although I would love to sit and write every detail for you, I have found that I do not even understand what everything means. I do know that unless I can find my birth mother or family in the next two weeks, I will be getting on a plane to go back to Michigan. Many rules don’t apply to me because of my adoption but there are enough that apply to me that makes staying in Russia difficult. At this point, if My (biological) Mom is not found, I will need to apply for temporary residency. That’s great because it will not be hard for me to get (being born in Russia). However, it requires a couple of papers from the U.S. that will take about 10 to 12 weeks to obtain. This sets me up to return to Russia after Christmas.

It’s disappointing that I may have to leave. Russia has been on my heart for as long as I can remember. Being here has made me fall more in love with the country I was born in. I would love to stay and it not, He is still good. I have no answers or certainty of what will happen in the next two weeks but I know that God has asked me to trust Him and who am I to deny Him that trust? He has been nothing but good to me.

Two years ago today, I posted a quote from a book I was reading at the time. I had no idea that I would be a teacher in Russia. I had no idea what I was doing when I graduated. But God new and prepared my heart:

“Faith isn’t faith, unless it requires taking a step into the unseen. It doesn’t take faith at all to cling to what you see. The faith that God is after is a faith that clings to Him and isn’t threatened or destroyed by adversity and uncertainty.”
Be still (Let Jesus Calm Your Storm)

Thank you for your prayers and encouragement! Please continue to lift me before our Savior.

With Love, from Russia.

 

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Waiting on Russia

In about an hour, an airplane will board its passengers and take off for New Jersey. Then, a different plane will board passengers and fly to Munich, Germany.  After a ten hour wait, yet another plane will board passengers and fly to Moscow, Russia.

Three days ago, my name was written on tickets for each of those planes. Seats were saved in my name. Arrangements were made for people to drop me off in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and pick me up in Moscow, Russia. My apartment was paid for, my support was raised, and my job was waiting for me.

But here I am, in a small town called Lake Ann, Michigan. Instead of sitting on a plane for the  next two days, I will be sitting at the water front. I will be waking up to clean bathrooms, serve meals, and interact with guest groups.

It’s an odd feeling. Every time I look at my phone, I automatically think of where I would be if my plans had worked out the way that I had so carefully written in my planner. After two long trips to Washington D.C., I am no closer to obtaining my Russian passport than I was in February when the whole process started.

For those of you wondering, I am a dual citizen. I automatically became an American citizen when I was adopted into my family. What I did not know is that I can not lose my Russian citizenship unless I formally denounce it. The Russian government makes it nearly impossible for people to give up birth citizenship. I recently found out that it’s a blessing that I still have the citizenship because my American passport states that my birth country is Russia.  If I had given up the citizenship, I would have also given up any hope of entering into Russia again because visas are not issued to anyone born in Russia.

Russian Passport. It was a small error of a missed stamp that has caused all this waiting. I find waiting hard. I’ve had this trip planned for so long. I thought for sure that raising support would be the hardest part of becoming a missionary in another country. Never would I have imagined that something like a simple paper book would hold me back from such a great opportunity.

Although it is disappointing,  I am excited to see what God has planned for me. I was finished with my nanny job end of July and I had no back up plan. I guest counseled at Lake Ann Camp for a week and was given an opportunity to come back and work for the month of August. I took it! One step at a time, I will fill the time I have in the states being productive until God provides a way for me to enter Russia. All the anxiety and worry I felt before my last trip to D.C. is gone. I feel at peace. I feel rested. I am determined to bring my Russian Passport issue boldly before the throne of God, with confidence and faith. There is a specific reason for the delay and I fully intend to learn what God has yet to teach in me preparation of such a huge life change.

So as I wait, please pray for me and with  me. I believe God will do great things in Russia and He doesn’t need me to accomplish those things. However, I believe that He has called me to influence the lives of students and the Russian people in Moscow, Russia.  Pray that the next post I write to you will come soon and from Russia!

I have a Purpose

Weeks have passed. Months. And finally, I write an update.  

Ever since I can remember, I always told my parents that I wanted to be a 2nd grade teacher (if being a hotel maid didn’t work out because I LOVE cleaning!).  I can’t say that I remember everything that happened in second grade but it was the first year of school during which I was able to understand what was said.  First grade was a language emersion year. The summer before second grade was spent catching up. Second grade came quickly and I still remember my teacher: Mrs. Yonker.  She was kind, she was patient, and she was encouraging.  Everything I needed at that time of my life.  I remember the ticket system and the prizes. I remember the reading fort. I remember the number scrolls. I remember having to sit next to Wade Paris and still not understanding to this day what is so exciting about a mechanically pencil (wooden ones tend to brake less!)

I started my student teaching experience paced in a second grade classroom. I was nervous. I only had experience in a third grade classroom for both of my practicum placements. I had convinced myself that third grade was where I would eventually end up. Third grade was the coolest grade. Yet my feelings seem to have changed. 

I have 19 students. Each unique and precious in their own way.  I have students who are fluent in Spanish, Italian, and Indian. I have students who can draw better than I could ever imagine drawing. I have students that can throw a football further than than I can. I even have students who can daydream better than I can! What all of us have in common is that we are created with a purpose. A purpose that many haven’t discovered and won’t for a while, but it’s a great purpose. Some of my students will change the world publicly, while others may contribute from a small home or apartment. And that is why I love second grade. I get to invest in each life. I get to be Miss Bont.  The “second teacher.” The teacher who laughs at their jokes. The teacher that has to ask a seven year old for help on the smart board. The teacher who was able to encourage them to grow! 

I fully realize that I can do that in any class. I intend to continue to help students grow in a third grade class during my next placement. However, the second grade mentality has stollen my heart. Although I now have a preference for second grade (just like I always dreamed), I believe that I’ve learned something important about myself: I love individual teaching time.  I love to work one on one with students. I love the challenge on finding ways to help a student who has fallen behind.  I enjoy working with a student until I see them finally understand what is being taught. I love celebrating their success and helping them through their frustrations.  

With all of that said, do I know what I intend to do the rest of my life? Nope. I do, however, know this: I have a purpose.  There is a specific reason I was placed in my family. There is a specific reason why I went to school 12 hours from home. There is a reason why I had a second grade teacher who has a heart bigger than this world. And there is a reason why I will be moving to a third grade classroom in a week. I’m ready to take the steps God has provided for me.  I may not know what He is doing now but someday I will. That “someday” is enough. 

Never the Same

It’s August. I can’t believe that it’s already August.

Nine weeks ago, I packed up my little blue Jetta (affectionately known as Donna) and drove to Lake Ann Camp.  I was so ready for camp, to see what God would do in the lives of campers of all ages.  I didn’t know how exactly I would be used, but I prayed all the way up there that I wouldn’t be the same coming back. In six day, I can confidently day that the Jenna leaving camp is not the same Jenna that drove onto the grounds.

I started the summer thinking that I would be posting every week of situations that blew my mind. I was sure I’d have an opportunity camper every week if not multiple in one week! I expected to cry with my campers reminding them that God has a plan and I didn’t have an answer for what they were going through. Yet instead of helping my campers through this, they helped me, which resulted in us growing in our relationship with Christ.

I was given an opportunity to serve Jesus by selflessly loving campers.  Every week, my campers asked me what I was going to do with my life when I grew up.  I told them general dreams: be a millionaire and adopt every orphan baby in the world, be a soccer mom with an awesome mini van, be a public speaker for teen girls, or teach in a hospital with chemo kids.  The girls would come up with further details about each dream and tell me how amazing it would be.  Yet every week, there was a girl who asked me, “But for real, what are you going to do when you’re done with camp and school?”  That was my cue to smile and say, “I have no idea.”

That’s the truth. I have no idea what I am going to do with my life after December 15th.  I will have an early childhood/ elementary education degree and no direction of where I need to go with it.  I could be a missionary. I could be a teacher in a Christian school. I could be a teacher in a public school. Or I could go in a totally different direction and go through the police academy.

As this summer wraps up, I’ve realized that I still struggle with control.  I’ve encouraged so many campers this summer to trust God and to let Him direct their lives.  To give over control. To stop doubting the God who created the world.  I’ve directed them to go to God in prayer about everything. Yet here I am focused on what is yet to come.  I doubt that God has it in control and freak out trying to get everything in order.  I don’t need to have it figured out.  God has opened many doors for me at the moment but the time for me to walk through a door has not arrived.  My control issues want me to choose a door now and focus on making that happen.  What if that door isn’t the door that is open the most? What if it’s really a glass sliding door that’s super clean? What if it’s a door with a screen that you can’t see until you’re up close?

God is faithful. If I had a penny for every time I’ve thought that, said that, and heard that, I really would be able to adopt all the babies in the world.  I believe that yet everyday I need God to help my unbelief. I don’t want to be concerned about what will happen to me but instead what will happen for Jesus.  I want to do hard things. I want to do dangerous things. I want to do boring things. I want to do cool things. I want to do longs things. I want to Love. I want to Live. For Jesus.

Today, at West Side Community Church, the pastor said, “Don’t let your perspective determine your reality.” Looks like I’ve just had a reality check. Time to continue the change. Last week of camp: make it the best week ever.

Lake Ann Camp: Round 2

So here I go for another crazy summer. I’m praying for hard weeks because those are the weeks when God works in my campers lives and also shapes and molds my heart. There is no doubt in my mind that I’m not prepared for this summer. I sure am glad God is.

It’s been exactly a week. A long, tedious week since the Summit University campus became nearly empty. Yet here I am, sitting in a dorm. I chose to stay and work a couple of weeks before the big summer begins for me. The biggest summer of my life.

No. I am not getting married. Nearly everyone else my age seems to be, but instead, I will be having the hardest and best summer of my life. I am a counselor at Lake Ann Camp (Lake Ann, Michigan).

I grew up going to Lake Ann every year that I was allowed too. I would count down the days, starting in January, until my Church packed our vans and drove north. Every year the week seemed to get shorter and shorter. Most camps have kids crying to go home mid way through the week but not me. I would be the child crying because I knew I would have to go home.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my family. But Lake Ann. Lake Ann was the greatest place on earth for me. Not only did I get to play games and swim every day, I also got to hear amazing speakers talk about Jesus.  I made memories and great friends.

After my second year here at Summit U, I decided to go back and counsel. It had always been my dream. I was going to Lake Ann and getting PAID to stay there the whole summer. There was no way any other job in the world could compare. I thought it would be easy; play with kids all day and have the weekends off. Little did I know that God would changed my world.

It all started my first week. I had six junior girls in my cabin.  The first day was a dream. They had decided to call me “Awesome” because Jenna just seemed too long to say.  Nick-names were the big thing that week. But then it was time for bed.  I read the girls a bed time story and tucked everyone in.  I had just snuggled into my sleeping bag when I heard the first whimper. Then I heard another. Little did I know that junior girls tend to get homesick at night and want their counselor to sit on their beds and brush their hair for most of the night.  And that’s exactly what I did with two girls. I went to bed around 3am each night that week. There wasn’t a day to sleep in either, since the polar bear swim (in the lake at 8am) is a great experience (I, as a counselor, GOT to do it).

At the end of my first week, I had to rethink my approach to summer camp. I wasn’t a camper anymore. And I would not survive another week if I kept that mentality.  The summer consisted of many tears and laughter. Both my own and my campers.  I wouldn’t change a thing.  There were days when I told my friends that I was done. There was no way that God could use me to help the girls that were placed in my cabin. Nah. It wasn’t about what I could do, but about what God could do in each girls heart. I was just there to listen and make sure they arrived at events on time. Camp is for the camper. Not for the Jenna.

So here I go for another crazy summer.  I’m praying for hard weeks because those are the weeks when God works in my campers lives and also shapes and molds my heart. There is no doubt in my mind that I’m not prepared for this summer. I sure am glad God is.

May 31.

That’s the day my training begins. I can’t wait to update y’all on the crazy things that happen.

Lake Ann