I’m Moving to Africa.

Photography Basics (1)

If you’re reading this, I’ve already made the announcement to my family and friends. I’d like to share a bit more and I’m hopeful that you’ll take the time to read it and see how you can be a part of my service to God.

For the past few years, I’ve watched my educational career transform into something that I refused to believe was my future. There were days when I was unable to serve, love, and encourage my students in God’s truth because of circumstances beyond my control. Fortunately, I’ve never been a quitter. I wouldn’t let my personal frustrations be the reason why I walk away. I waited on the Lord. I fervently prayed, meditated, and studied about the trials that come with service and ways to submit that hurt to God and my family. It gradually got better. I was able to walk on campus and love my students relentlessly, BUT I was left with a yearning for more.

On February 26, 2018, I was informed that I was accepted as a missionary in Jos, Nigeria with The Rafiki Foundation. I am sure you’re wondering what this foundation is and what that means for me, so you can click the link to know more… In short, The Rafiki Foundation is a non-profit, faith-based organization. It focuses on two main ideas, one of which is teaching the Bible and discipling Africans, while simultaneously increasing their standard of living and level of education. It also focuses on the upkeep of ten training Villages (in ten different African countries) that teach, encourage, and are living, breathing examples of God and His truth. Unlike some international missionary organizations, Rafiki Foundation is extremely transparent about what they do and the importance of preserving African culture and integrity.

I do not think I can adequately put into words how humbled I am to have been chosen by God to take these steps, but I am confident that He has been preparing me long before I knew it to be so. Many of you have watched me serve our community. You’ve watched me get declined time and time again for adoption. You’ve watched me prepare for a hysterectomy at the of 26. You’ve watched me engulf myself in education and mentorship to love, serve, and encourage my students long after graduation. You’ve watched me hunger for maternity without being a mother. I ask that you not merely watch this part of my journey but walk alongside me as I take these next steps.

I am asking that you pray with and for me and the continent of Africa. Pray that God provides in ways beyond my imagination. The Rafiki Foundation is a non-profit organization, so I will need financial support. I am asking that if He calls you to give financially, you joyfully obey. I ask that you see it as a service to the people of Africa rather than a “donation” to Shakiyla. I am confident that prayer and encouragement can be physically felt, and I ask that you wrap me up in yours. I would like to leave by this time next year, or sooner, but that is dependent on the rate of financial support and God’s timing.

I will be hosting a Q & A in May, and I would love to see you there. I will answer any questions and give as much information as possible. Please send me your contact information in  the “Connect” section of my blog, and in the comment box write “Rafiki Information/Sponsorship” followed by any questions that need immediate answers. You can also add me on Facebook and message me! If you think your church or personal business would be interested in me visiting, sharing God’s calling, and ways they can serve the nations, please contact me!

If RIGHT NOW you are confident that you would like to join me in serving the country of Nigeria, feel free to go to my Missionary Profile and click “Donate to Shakiyla.” On this site you can set up monthly donations, so i can send you my monthly newsletters and you can choose one amount sent the same day each month. A student of mine has also set up a GoFundMe. This account will specifically cover international insurance, and my travel Visa. This is more for my students and friends who are unable to do a monthly donation. Just CLICK HERE No amount is too small!

Often when I think about foreign missions, Acts 1:8 is at the forefront of my thoughts: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” To my frustration, and ultimate comfort, for the past few years, I have had an overwhelming pull to Galatians 4:27 For it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.” I have been called to serve the children of the desolate, please join in my assignment.

Thank you for reading.

I love you.

Meet Aries.

I know it may seem a bit juvenile for me to introduce my dog in the “Meet A Friend” collection, but he has done things in my life that I’ve failed to put into words-until now.

On March 15, 2016 I was diagnosed with Endometriosis. It was easily the best thing to have happened to me. For years, I’ve struggled with understanding my body and why my reproductive system just didn’t seem to be healthy. I’ve had countless doctor’s appointments, with numerous specialists, and spent thousands of dollars on “trial treatments.” I’d finally gotten a semi-concrete answer for my pain, so I was satisfied. Simultaneously, my doctor found an alarming amount of cancer cells from a cervical biopsy. I didn’t tell my family until about 6 months after beginning treated, and by then, I was having to re-learn the value of self. It wasn’t that I didn’t want them to know, or that I didn’t think they could handle it, I was just too scared to say it aloud.

I was in a relationship, one that I don’t regret, but he was not prepared to carry this sort of burden. I soon found out that I’d tested positive for HPV, so I told him. It seemed like every visit to the doctor came with a bag of bad news, and I was sick of sharing it, but I knew it was my responsibility. I’d broken my virginity that year. I felt safe having unprotected sex with him because I trusted him. I was sure he’d be my husband, and it’s like I set aside what I knew to be true about sex outside of marriage. I took a risk. Luckily, HPV can easily be treated, when caught in time because it’s a virus, not a disease. This was not the case for me. The infectious cells had multiplied at a pace I wasn’t aware of, and those were the now cancer cells, I was fighting.

I know you may be asking, what could this possibly have to do with a dog, but I promise I’m getting there. On more than one occasion, he (my ex) made it very clear that I was becoming “too much” and that he “wasn’t used to seeing me this way.” We separated for more reasons than that one, but I think that one hurt the most. I don’t blame him for any of this. I don’t see him as the enemy. I have no hatred in my heart. I will always love him, but it was necessary that I realized the beauty in letting go. I was not as strong or rational as I’d been in the past. I was sensitive and easily broken. I was fragile. I was afraid. I was damaged goods. Eventually, the only emotions I felt were loneliness and perseverance. I may have been lots to handle, but I needed to be handled, and he was not the man for the job. I was determined to submit my brokenness to someone, and I finally told my mother. The way she held me is a moment I often re-live in my head. I have never wept like that in my life. I vividly remember yelling “He took so much from me, but motherhood?!” I said this because with the treatment and surgeries I was scheduling, infertility was the biggest risk factor. I remember her responding with, “Don’t you let hate fester. This will not break you, Renae.” I fell asleep in her lap, on the floor, in the living room.

At the ripe age of 25, I was diagnosed with Endometriosis and Stage 1A Cervical Cancer.

The school year seemed to drag, but as an educator, I had to put on my “poker face” and serve. It was exhausting. I was exhausted. My students knew something was up, and they refused to take “I’m fine” as an answer any longer. The thing about Endo, is that it causes a kind of pain that I don’t think I can adequately put into words. There were days in class when I’d have to walk out, sit on the floor in the hallway, take deep breaths, then reconvene. I remember one of my Senior girls catching me outside on the concrete beside the building, in a ball. She said, “Queen, whatever it is, let me hold you” and I cried. I could not stop crying. It wasn’t a snotty, snorting kinda cry, though. It’s like the tears just fell while I sat there in a blank stare. I felt so inadequate as a leader, mentor, and teacher, but that was the first time in a while that I didn’t feel like a burden. I never told that baby what was wrong. I got up, told her I loved her, and went to my next class. When I talk about my bond with my students, it’s so much more than being their teacher. This was the day after my doctor suggested a full hysterectomy. I hadn’t missed work the day before, because I refused to miss out on that little bit of joy. A hysterectomy meant no kids, no family, no motherhood, and I was broken. If you’ve read my blogs in the past, you know how badly I long to be a mother. You know about the adoption process that came back void. You know about the fostering. You know I’ve tried.. I found myself reading Galatians, where Isaiah 54:1 was referenced, it said,

For it is written,

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;    break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!For the children of the desolate one will be more    than those of the one who has a husband.”

I decided then, that being barren would never define me, nor would being a mother. I, instead, loved my students as if they were mine. We decided that instead of a hysterectomy, a Myomectomy may do the trick. This would remove the non-cancerous fibroids that had formed, once I’d treated the cancerous cells. This would also increase my chances of fertility. I haven’t made a concrete decision. I’ve mainly been focused on taking care of my body, as is, but I have an appointment this March and we’ll see.

Still wondering where Aries comes in? Here he is!

a year ago, my doctor recommended I see a therapist, just to help navigate through my emotions. He knew that I’d broken up with my boyfriend and he knew how close I was with my moms, but he also knew how prideful I am with my feelings. It’s crazy how necessary mental health is, and how often we cower away from it (that’s a blog for another day). I’d decided “I was fine” and carried on. Soon after I made that dumb decision, a co-worker of mine posted a picture of this long-legged, gray, something or another dog that she’d found. She had 3 huge babies of her own, and couldn’t see herself keeping him. I waited. I prayed. I wrote. I legitimately thought about whether or not I was in a place mentally to care for that creature. I decided I wasn’t, but he would be the driving force behind my getting there.

I adopted Aries Paul Lewis at two months. He was gentle. He was afraid. He was nervous about yet another new home, and person he’d have to trust. I had a connection with him that still blows my mind. On days when the pain brought me to my knees, he’d lay his head underneath mine while I cried. On days when the bleeding just wouldn’t stop, he sat on my feet in the bathroom while I screamed. On days when I couldn’t walk, he’d let kme hold on to him while I crawled to the other side of my apartment. On days when I couldn’t get up out of bed because my pelvis had swollen and my bladder refused to release, he curled up against me and let me lie on his back. What I thought was just a dog being overbearing, was a friend being my protector. I still have some hard days. I still have days when it’s more comfortable to sleep on the floor, and on those days, I text my mama, and curl up with my best friend.

My cancer has since subsided, and I’m down to only about 6% cancer cells. I haven’t tested positive for ANYTHING in over a year. I have no tumors. I have no bleeding, and I thank God for that daily. It sounds silly, but I felt “dirty” and now, I feel like I got my freedom back. Unfortunately, the only treatment for Endometriosis is surgical procedures and pain relievers. I’ve had 2/3 conservative surgeries which is the removal of endometrial tissue. I can honestly say, I have never felt better. I’ve changed my lifestyle. I’ve changed the criteria for people I allow in my life. I’ve changed the way I see perseverance, and I’m thankful for the people who have walked with me through those changes. This sickness took a toll on many of my friendships, because I’d grown exhausted with talking about the pain. It taught me who would and could stick around. It also taught me the uselessness in complaining. It taught me so much. I still have days when the pain can become unbearable, but I’m learning that it comes with the territory.

Aries has played a vital role learning what it means to love myself. He taught me how to, even when I didn’t think I deserved it. I call him my best friend and people laugh. I sing happy birthday and people laugh. I make him waffles for breakfast and people laugh. The laughing is fine, because I’m fully aware of how ridiculous I can get, LOL,  but please understand that this dog played a major role in saving me from myself. So, again, meet Aries.

He’s my best friend.

Thank you for reading, I love you.