Thursday, February 7, 2013

New year, new name, new life!

My new life as Dana Lawson started on New Year's Day, when I woke up thinking, "Whoa. I'm getting married today!?!  Let's get this party started!"

I really wasn't at all stressed or nervous -- just excited as I anticipated 4:30 p.m., when I'd walk down the aisle with my dad at Siesta Key Chapel.

Dad and I had a nice walk on the beach the morning of my wedding--just like old times.  Both of my parents had given me beautiful hand-written cards for my wedding day, with priceless messages of love and encouragement.  Their cards were actually part of a box of cards and letters that my wonderful sister (and Maid of Honor) Deanne surprised me with when I woke up on January 1st.

I want to give a great big heart-felt THANK YOU to everyone who contributed to this special gift.  These mean the world to me, and I will truly treasure them always. :)

Of course, I will also always have the precious memories from January 1st as well. I'm so glad I have soooo many photographs from the day to help me always remember. I've posted some photos on facebook (and will try to post them on the right side of this blog, too). Between all the pictures that my photographer took and all the pictures that my brother Derek took, I probably have enough to create about 20 albums! haha.

My favorite pictures are the ones where people are either A.) Laughing or B.) Smiling real big!
Because overall, it was such a FUN day from start to finish, and I think these photos capture that:

First of all, I LOVE this girl!!  Deanne, you're the best sister a girl could ever ask for! ♥

We had a blast getting ready for the day, while the Rose Bowl parade played on TV in the background...

My absolutely gorgeous sister-in-law Brittney and cousin Cara

                                                "It's a little hard to breathe here!...*gasp*"
P.S. Thank you, Sarah, for helping me get ready and doing a fabulous job on my hair!

                                                Ok, so I admit, this picture was totally posed.

But this picture was totally NOT posed!  (The elevator was taking a million years, and it was
hilarious.)  And neither was this one...

                                                            Silly veil, stay on my head!

After a courtyard photoshoot, we got in a limo(!)*, and headed to the chapel, to (not-so) patiently wait our grand entrances....

*The limo was all Johnny's idea

And finally, the moment(s) I'd been waiting for...

Just pronounced husband and wife!

And then we entered our reception as husband and wife... :)

Woot woot!

                                                                 Flowers in the air!

We had sooo much fun dancing!  It was hilarious when Michael did the tango with Johnny--I love Stephen's expression in the background. :)

Overall, the whole day was great!   I definitely felt God's presence the whole time, and I had so much fun!  It turned out exactly how I'd hoped for and planned for, so I couldn't be happier with how everything went on my wedding day.  Thank you again to our wonderful family and friends for your tremendous love and support!


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Looking back on the past year...

Even though it's not quite the end of the year yet--so it may seem a little early to reflect on the events of 2012--I realized today that it's been a whole year since I last wrote in this blog!

Wow.  That's hard to believe, actually.

But when I think back on what has happened in the past year, a good word to describe it is actually "Wow."

Because within a year, I met the love of my life, moved to Florida, got engaged, started teaching middle school English, and am now only 25 days away from our wedding!  It's kind of surreal.

On January first, I'll literally ring (as in wedding ring) in the New Year with family and friends here in Sarasota when I become Mrs. Lawson! Some of my students at Tabernacle Christian School are already calling me Mrs. Lawson "for practice." :)

I met Johnny in January when I was visiting my grandparents.  He was the handsome stranger sitting directly across from me at the Japanese hibachi restaurant.  I knew immediately that Johnny was someone very special, and I know with certainty that God brought us together that night at the restaurant.

One of the things I love most about Johnny is his strong faith and his ability to be a spiritual leader.  Like me, he was blessed to grow up in a Christian home and was raised by absolutely wonderful parents.

Johnny's mom, Kathy, told me that last fall--when she witnessed Johnny going through a rough time--she prayed that Johnny would meet "the one" sometime before his birthday.

Johnny and I met just two days before his birthday.

Meanwhile, last fall I was seriously praying every single day for God's direction in my life.  I was looking for a full-time job (while working two part-time jobs) and wondering what to do/where to go next.  To be honest, it was very unsettling.

Little did I know that God would soon make the path clear--in a way I couldn't have imagined.

He really does know the desires of our hearts, and He's faithful to fulfill them.

I still definitely have the desire to be a "girl on a mission."  I want to take mission trips all around the world!  My heart constantly goes out to people in third world countries, and it's my dream to go to those places 
and help out in a hands-on way.

I'm not sure about the logistics of how that dream is going to become a reality.  But that's OK.  Because I know for sure that I can trust God with the future.  He has proven that.

In the mean time, I know I have to "bloom where I'm planted." :)  For now, that is Sarasota, Florida, where God has led me.

I'll always be a "girl on a mission."  After all, my mission as a Christian is to love like Christ--no matter what.  And that's our mission no matter where we are or what we're doing.

So I want to just encourage you this busy Christmas season.  (I know what it's like to be busy!  I'm currently teaching, getting an apartment ready to move into next month, furniture shopping and getting ready for Christmas, a wedding, and a honeymoon!)  Anyway...I want to encourage you to keep your focus on Christ during all the craziness.  After all, he's who Christmas is all about!

Merry Christmas, friends. :)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Challenge Team Phase 2: "Well...that's a deep subject..."

First of all, Merry/Happy (almost) Christmas, everyone!

I'm definitely in the holiday spirit: watching holiday movies, baking cookies, wrapping gifts and singing/humming Christmas music like it's my job.

And this year for Christmas--as a gift to people in developing nations--I'm raising funds to provide clean water, through a campaign called "Jingle Wells Round 2."  As you can see by clicking on the link, we're  just about half way to my goal of $500!

I'm passionate about doing something (however small) about the water crisis in our world.

So I was excited when I learned that as my second challenge team in northern Sri Lanka, I'd be part of team working to clean wells in order to provide clean water to the people there.

Honestly, I didn't know exactly what "cleaning a well" would entail.  As it turned out, it involved hopping into the bed of a pick-up truck...

...taking a long scenic drive to a well somewhere...
...jumping into the well and swimming in it, plus attempting to scrub down the walls while pumping out the old water...

...and also inevitably having a mud/water fight in the process. :)

At night, we slept on the floor of a church, under mosquito nets...

And on Sunday mornings, we worshiped at the church we camped in...

Besides cleaning wells, our work also included cleaning and painting a couple of bus stops.

Here's a BEFORE shot of one of the bus stops...

And here's an AFTER shot of a different bus stop...

This post only begins to touch the surface of what my phase two challenge team was like.  In short, it was exciting, unpredictable, exhausting, and an overall blessed time. :)

For more photos, check out the album titled "Sri Lanka: the north" on the right side, at the top.

[Note: I'm having some technical difficulties while writing this post and apologize for the funky alignments that I'm not sure how to fix!]

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Challenge Team Phase 1

Hello there blogging world, I'm back!

I was going to use the summer to write allll about my time on (and off) the Logos Hope, but wouldn't you know, summer has come and gone--and we're almost half-way through October!?--without any blog updates. Whoops.

So now I'm rewinding back half a year to share about the mission work I participated in during my five weeks in Sri Lanka while the ship was having maintenance work done.

During the first 2.5 weeks (called Phase 1), I was on a "challenge team" of five gals...

From left to right: Qian from China, Ganaya from Mongolia, Emma from the Netherlands and Sarah from New Zealand. In the middle is Pastor Sasi, who was our gracious host and such an amazing guy!

We stayed at a learning center along with a dozen teenage girls who we enjoyed hanging out with when they weren't at school. We did a whole variety of things with them--from girly makeovers and dance parties to teaching them English and playing baseball...

...and jumping around in the rain! (One of my personal favorite activities.) :)

There were also other kids from nearby neighborhoods that would come over for English lessons, songs and games...

I forget what we were playing here (we played a ton of different games!), but I was constantly entertained by this guy. :)

Besides spending time with the kids, we also did ministry work by making house calls--mainly to families affected by flooding--and praying with them. This was another highlight for me--just sitting and listening to the stories of people who had been through hard times, and hearing how God was providing for them.

In addition to ministry and entertaining children, we did some practical work. A few of the projects we worked on were: washing a hospital floor and bathrooms, cleaning up outside a hospital, planting coconut trees, helping build a wall, and cleaning up an outdoor marketplace.

Pastor Sasi showing us how planting is done.

Here's a look at the nearby town, which we often drove through on a three-wheeled tuk tuk car.

Our time in Sri Lanka was all about expecting the unexpected. There was one day that we were told we'd leave at 9 a.m. to go clean the marketplace. At 8:30, they asked if we were ready to go. Fortunately, we were ready early, dressed in our old clothes for cleaning. But then Pastor Sasi told us, "Change of plans. We're going to a school for differently-abled children, and you are leading the program!"

So we changed quickly into our Logos Hope team t-shirts and grabbed some teaching supplies we'd brought with us from the ship, including some balloons for making balloon animals.

Except I popped every single balloon animal I tried to make, so ended up drawing animal faces onto regular balloons instead! haha. Whatever works, right? We taught the kids different animal names in English, sang songs about animals, and then played games with the balloons. Not bad for making up the program on the spot. :)

I really liked the laid-back culture of Sri Lanka, which is so typical of hot climate countries. Certainly kept us on our toes!

An aspect of the culture I didn't particularly care for was the spicy food. I was already burning up from the heat, so I didn't want to eat anything that would burn my mouth, too! But I was grateful for the food that our hostess, Roni, made for us, and it was fun to try some different foods... this meal, which actually wasn't too spicy, but very tasty. (Couldn't tell you what's in it though!)

Besides leading some English lessons, we also led worship at a couple of church services...

The last service we attended was Palm Sunday. We paraded into the church carrying swords made of palm branches, and were surrounded by palm trees.

It's as I look back on my time at the learning center that I realize how many different things we did! It was such a special time of fellowship. As Qian said one day, "My heart is so full and happy here."

To see even more pictures from my phase 1 challenge team, click here for my facebook photo album.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

There's no place like home

I had an overall wonderful experience on the Logos Hope, and there's so much I could say about it that it's kind of overwhelming!

But first, it really is so good to be back home again in Indiana (from India to India-na), just in time for the birth of my perfect & precious baby niece!! She's such a miracle, and it was amazing to hold her at the hospital when she was just over an hour old! Needless to say, the whole family is excited and happy that both Brittney and baby are healthy and well.

I also feel so blessed for the good health and safety that I had--during the time on the ship, then the five weeks of doing practical work in Sri Lanka, and the week of traveling up the coast of India.

God is truly AWESOME!! I'm in awe of His great love, His creation, and how He has a plan and a purpose for each person. One of my favorite verses is Jeremiah 29:11:"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." It's for this reason that I don't need to worry, even though I don't have a job now, and I have no idea what my future holds.

It's obvious that my time on the ship was part of God's plan for me. It was inspiring, challenging, educational and exactly what I needed. From first-hand experience, I know how upsetting and disappointing it is when you make your own plan, and it doesn't work out. But that just means that there's something else you're meant to do instead.

For me, that "something" was serving on the Logos Hope, in the three-month program with these lovely people...

What a fun bunch! By the way, this was taken on Fun Night, when I danced to an Indian song with one of my Indian buddies, Giribabu. That's why I'm wearing a saree. :) I actually received the saree as a gift from one of the hosts of my first challenge team! I'll write about my Phase 1 Challenge team and share pictures next time, ok?

Me with my roommates (we're missing Anita) who shared the 10-person "party cabin," #111...

A look inside. (This is about the cleanest it ever looked, haha.)

I really miss all my friends from the ship, as I knew I would. It was so special to be part of such a unique, international Christian community--an experience that I'll always treasure. And in the coming days, I'll enjoy going through pictures, reflecting, writing, and posting about the last few months. Stay tuned. :)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Hello from Colombo!

There's been a whole lot going on since I last wrote--never a dull moment around here, that's for sure!

During our nine-day sail from Dubai to Sri Lanka, I was busy with orientation, training, and daily activities like morning devotions, worship and prayer meetings. During the sailing, I also participated in all kinds of different fun activities, such as: drama practices, a skit night, an Irish dancing night for St. Patrick's Day!, swing dancing, a coffeehouse, games, etc. And of course I spent a lot of time just chatting, getting to know people.

Shortly after we set sail, I learned about the devastation in Japan. Being out of the loop and unable to get on the internet to read the news or check my e-mail was incredibly frustrating. But I finally got word that my friends in Kuji are OK, Praise God! Since then, I've heard stories and seen photos of the destruction in Kuji, and my heart goes out to my friends there. I have five new Japanese friends onboard the ship, and thankfully their families are safe as well.

The Arabian Sea was unaffected by the tsunami, and sailing was fine. The only time I felt a little sea sick was on the last night, when the boat was really rocking! I was stumbling around just trying to walk down the hallway, and at the same time was on an energy high from the dancing earlier in the evening--it was such a weird feeling!

About half-way through the sailing, I started my work in the Catering Department. I'm on the ''pantry team,'' which means I help keep the dining room clean. I work eight hours a day, five days a week (the days and times vary) vacuuming the floor, washing dishes, wiping tables, washing more dishes, refilling the juices, jams, teas, etc. and washing dishes again. It's not a glamorous job, but I work with great people and we have a good time together. Attitude is everything. :)

On my first day of work, the whole ship had an orientation about Sri Lankan culture (which was so interenting and informative.) I was really excited about the ice cream break after the orientation until I discovered that I'd be the one to wash all 400 bowls and spoons in addition to all the dishes from lunch! Washing dishes in a never-ending job, and on the days I work the morning shift, I have to start washing at 6 a.m.! Nothing like a mountain of dirty mugs to motivate you to get out of bed before the sun rises, haha. Ever since we've been docked in Colombo, I spend any time that I'm not working either:

A. Off the ship, seeing the city or passing out flyers about the ship's book fair.

B. On Deck 4, where the book fair is. I enjoy chatting with the local Sri Lankan people who come on board to visit.

C. Chatting/hanging out with friends on the ship. I absolutely LOVE making new friends from all over the world. :)

D. Sleeping! Non-stop socializing and dish-washing (especially at the dawn of ridiculous a.m.) takes the energy out of me.

Some local schoolgirls with "The Captain" on Deck 4.

So that's an update of what I've been doing recently. I continue to be impressed by how efficiently everything works on the ship--how all the departments work so well together--and I am thoroughly enjoying being part of this unique ministry!

It will be a long time before I'm able to update my blog again, since I'm getting ready to particpate in two different "challenge teams." The ship is staying in Colombo for the whole month of April for maintenance (called "dry dock"), so most of the crew is getting off the ship and going to different places around Sri Lanka to do service work. The month of dry dock is broken up into Phase 1 and Phase 2.

For Phase 1, I'll be on a team of five gals going to a childrens' center in a remote town that's a 10-hour train ride away from here! We'll be staying with different hosts for the next two and a half weeks and helping at the center however we're needed. I don't know many details, so it's quite an adventure.

I'll meet up with the rest of the ship's crew at a venue that's TBA, and find out where I'll be going for my Phase 2 challenge team...and who I'll be going with! Right now I have no idea. I'm excited about these mysterious challenge teams, and am looking forward to whatever is in store for the next month. Have a Happy April!

Love and hugs, Dana

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Greetings from Logos Hope!

Sooo...I just spent the last hour writing a blog post, and now it's completely gone. BOOOO! This confirms that the internet on board really is as bad as they warned me it would be. Bummer.

It's the middle of the night and I really need to get to sleep (a combination of excitement and jet lag has made me an insomniac!), but here's a brief re-cap of the long blog post I just wrote:

I'm doing great so far, meeting new people left and right, and trying to memorize all different kinds of names! We had orientation all day today, and my favorite part of that was doing a scavenger hunt as a way to familiarize ourselves with the ship. We set sail at 6 p.m. which was really exciting with everyone cheering and waving! I can barely tell we're moving since it's so smooth...I'm happy to say that "smooth" is a good word to describe the entire journey thus far. :)

I'm absolutely loving being part as such an international Christian community (as I knew I would), and I can't wait to see what God has in store for the next two and half months!