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'Tis the season of mixed emotions

If you haven't heard our big news yet, check out the following video:

So . . . . . this pause isn't the only thing that's pregnant. You should probably watch this video NOW.
Posted by Joshua Slabaugh Garber on Sunday, November 15, 2015
Helping Julija with her church camp in August. You can see a
post from last year's camp here, although this time Alisha was
able to join. Julija is the student who adopted us.
If you know anything about our story, you know that our process of trying to grow our family has been one filled with pain, disappointment, and fear. In fact, almost exactly one year ago we were not celebrating -- we were in deep mourning as Alisha and I tried to cope with our second miscarriage.

But this season is much different. Advent has taken on new meaning and the place where Mary's song comes from is filled with new life as we hear those words with fresh ears. If Christmas is about birth, then Advent is about pregnancy.

And holy cow is Alisha pregnant! (For those of you who are interested, we've established Alisha is the "sassy" kind of pregnant lady)

Josh and several of the Ukranian students at the first day of classes parade.
Josh secretly hopes he can be as cool as they are.
We know our blog has been somewhat silent and we apologize. In many ways, it's hard to know what to say. Our fourth year at LCC has not been filled with new experiences and new revelations, but we have stayed busy. In many instances, it feels as though we could just re-link to a past blog post and it's content would be just as relevant today as it was when first posted.

However, outside our LCC routines, there's a lot we've wanted to comment on but we've not been able to find the words. I'll do my best here to recap with hopes of revisiting some of these ideas second semester:
  • Alisha's pregnancy is something we learned right at the start of this school year, so we've had growing anticipation all semester that we had to keep to ourselves out of fear of the devastation of another loss.
  • In the midst of our joy and the anticipation of new life, we've found ourselves in mourning -- late October, we learned that a very close friend and the lead pastor at our church in Phoenix died in a motorcycle accident. I tried to write about that in a blog post but there are no words that can express our sadness. We're still recovering from that along with the Trinity Mennonite Church community.
  • The refugee situation here in Europe -- what is there to say? We've tried to do our part in bringing the conversation to LCC's campus but there's not a lot of certainty on how incoming refugees will impact us and the rest of Lithuania.
  • We were fortunate to travel a few times this year (click the links to see photos). First to Malta for our 10th wedding anniversary, second to Spain to visit some exciting Anabaptist communities, and finally to Telšiai in Lithuania to play music at the SIELOS festival with the LCC Chapel Band and our group, Sparrows.
  • What is our plan for next year? December is usually when LCC wants to know if we intend to return next school year or not. As we are in the fourth year of what was initially a two-year commitment, this has become a process involving great reflection and discernment. We are certainly in the midst of seeking God's will for us.
As you can see from this post, our thoughts are everywhere and anywhere. Our hope is to elaborate better on some of these ideas next semester but, for now, we seek to stay present in this Advent season.

Also, we will be learning our due date and whether we will have a boy or girl after New Years, so check back regularly! We are resolving to keeping this blog updated on a much more regular basis from here on.

If you are reading this, we thank you for your support, encouragement and prayers!

"Cruisin' down the street in my '64..." This is why Josh doesn't get to choose where to park the school van anymore.



The Difficult Undertaking

Even under the best of circumstances, living in a Residence Hall is a difficult undertaking. The Residence Hall: a unique environment where nearly everyone is in young adulthood (except for a few student-affairs professionals, and staff who live on campus), devoid of children, middle-aged adults and the elderly, and with the exception of small fish, any animals. Yet new students enthusiastically embrace this artificial reality because their goal is simple. They want to escape parents, family members and any kind of adult supervision in their quest for independence and adulthood. 
Students celebrating the first day of classes on September 1 as part of a parade in Klaipeda, LT.

For those who have already experienced university life are painfully aware that, without the right support systems, Residence Hall living can be a recipe for disaster. Why? Because people who are in youthful stages of their emotional, mental and social development often behave in ways that are not socially responsible, civil or respectful—of themselves or others. To envision how easily civilization can turn into chaos when the young are left to their own devices, one only has to remember the boys who devolved into savagery in William Golding’s classic novel Lord of the Flies.

Every year our university’s Residence Halls open their doors to hundreds of new students who will occupy shared-living settings with a population density more concentrated than most urban residential buildings. With the exception of a few encounters at orientation or Facebook exchanges, most of these students don’t know each-other. Nor have most of them ever lived away from their families, except for perhaps a customary summer camp excursion. More and more students are entering university have never shared a bedroom with a sibling, and in some instances have never even shared a bathroom. Outside of directed social group activities or participation on a sports team, most have not had to live or work cooperatively with members of their peer group.

Some students have problems with alcohol and drug use. Others are boisterous, noisy, messy or rude. Some struggle with personal relationships, mental health issues, or hold racial and religious biases that interfere with their ability to connect with others. Others come with even more serious problems, such as a history of stealing or violence that is not disclosed which eventually manifests itself in the close quarters of residential living.

In some ways, residential hall living and the students who occupy these spaces are just a microcosm of the larger world, but with the inherent behaviors and characteristics of youth. Soon after their arrival on campus, new students face the demands and stresses of their academic programs—classes, assignments, exams, and papers—and tensions and conflicts with their roommates and friends. These are the circumstances that, every year, frame the fundamental challenge faced by the residential life staff at universities—how to build healthy communities quickly and effectively so that students can live together productively and harmoniously.

I wish I had a “magic potion” that when dispensed, would enable students in the residence halls to, at a minimum, allow students to get along with each-other. Since this isn’t Hogwarts and no such tincture exists, we must settle for the theoretical model known as “community standards.”

The community standards allow students to utilize a mutually agreed-upon expectation that define how their community will engage and function on an interpersonal level. The model relies on a dialogue to create and maintain standard because peer-to-peer interaction, according to Astin in “What matters in College,” has been found to be the single most potent source of influence on growth and development during the undergraduate years; and the simple act of sharing feeling scan influence and change peer perspectives and behaviors.

With the use of community standards, theoretically, staff members are no longer expected to control but rather guide the community towards individual and group responsibility and accountability.

What sounds great in theory is difficult to implement in practice. On Monday, September 29 I had the pleasure of serving as a guest Lecturer in the Conflict Transformation Models and Practice (CST 310) course here at LCC International University where I shared about the discipline process at our school. We discussed the historical context for LCC’s shift from a judicial approach to discipline, to one of Restorative Justice. I introduced the E.P.I.C. Journey approach to student conduct, compare and contrasted inactive vs. active restoration process, discussed our integration and defined the new mentoring program.

Explaining the practical application of Restorative Justice on LCC's Campus to the students of the Conflict Transformation Models and Practice (CST 310) class.
The last year of research, reflection and networking brought us to the point of change at the beginning of this school year. The previous model used fines and implemented tasks, often unrelated to the violation, to ‘right’ the broken rule. This not only didn’t teach the students anything about themselves or the reason for our standard, but it separated the ‘haves’ (those who could afford such fines) from the have-nots’ (less-fortunate students who would in turn go hungry because they had made a mistake and broken the rules).

I pray that in this school year, we can reach towards what Zehr described in The Little Book of Restorative Justice: “Restorative justice is a process to involve, to the extent possible, those who have a stake in a specific offense and to collectively identify and address harms, needs, and obligations, in order to heal and put things right as possible” (Zehr, 37). Let us heal and put things as right as possible.



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New Year, New Responsibilities, New Excitement

Amanda, our friend and co-worker, blindfolds Alisha during some Student Life team-building exercises.
A bit of an apology for this post. The text was all written up by Alisha in and we were ready to find pictures to make it nice and then...the Internet went out for 1.5 months. No joke -- such is the life that comes with living in a resident hall. A new update will be posted next week to give a proper update.

Life on campus at LCC International University has been extra busy as students return. For many students, summer is a time of working, studying and relaxing. We spent the last two weeks training our Resident Assistants (RAs). The training was extremely successful and I’m very excited about the new student leaders we’ll be working with this year.

Alisha snags some snacks during the Resident Assistant training retreat. If these
photos look familiar, we went to the same retreat center as in this post.
What, exactly, is it that you will do this year at LCC?” you may ask. Josh will continue working as a Resident Director (RD). That means he’ll care for the students who live in the East side of Neumann Hall. He also will lead and organize the chapel band, plan worship, and coordinate monthly events, meetings and co-curricular activities to aid in the RAs’ professional development. This will be a departure from last year when he supervised the residence hall receptionists and night guards.

In addition, Josh will also be the adviser for the Roots of Justice activist group. Roots of Justice is the group we wrote about in this blog post that seeks to educate the LCC community (and beyond) about the human-trafficking issues that occur in Eastern Europe and beyond. In an attempt to take a more holistic approach to the issue, the group is expanding to help encourage and support a climate of volunteerism on campus.

This year I (Alisha) have moved into a new role on campus. I am now the Interim Director of Community Life. I'll provide leadership and oversight for Community Life, setting the vision, tone and goals for the department. I also manage the Residential Housing program and staff (RDs and RAs) in order to provide a quality living and learning experience for students who live in LCC’s university housing (yes, this means I’m Josh’s boss – weird). Lastly, I'll provide oversight for the Office of Intercultural Programs (they provide intercultural educational programming at LCC and within the Klaipeda community).The un-fun part of the job is handling discipline for students who violate the community standards. However, even though it’s not the most enjoyable part of the job, it is an excellent opportunity to mentor the young students and get them back on the right path.

I’ll also be looking forward to coordinating the campus Artist Collaborative (i.e. Art Club). It’s an awesome way to connect with students where our passions intersect and build relationships outside of my job description.

We squeezed in a breakfast lunch with Ieva. Last year, Ieva was one of Josh's RAs.
This year, she is serving orphans with another LCC graduate in Kyrgystan. Check
out her blog here to see an example of how LCC students are changing the world.
In addition to our on-campus responsibilities, we will also continue to support the Vineyard Klaipėda Church through volunteering at a local orphanage and supporting the church-in-the-bar and open-mic nights at a local pub. We’re so lucky to have such great friends in Kel and Sharon – the church’s coordinators. Thanks to them and our partnership with the Vineyard church, my Temporary Residence Permit (TRP) has been approved and I’m legally able to work in Lithuania! This month at the orphanage, Josh will be attempting to teach the kids who are 13 years and older the concept of American Baseball – a tremendously foreign concept. Keep him in your prayers (editor's note: the baseball game went very well and the kids all were impressed with Josh's skills)

We’ll also be continuing the “church alternative/house church” we started in our apartment called the “Mustard Seed Project.” It’s specifically designed to call on the students who are curious about Jesus but might be skeptical of the church (sadly, this is fair number of LCC students). We’re hoping to continue to shine a little light in this part of the world.

This upcoming weekend will prove to be a memorable one. Josh will be hosting a futbol/football (don’t call it “soccer”) viewing party in our apartment – it’s the World Cup qualifiers this weekend and some of our students are tremendously excited to tune in. (editor's note: Nigeria won, much to the joy of one of our students) Meanwhile, I've got the chance of a lifetime to go home with one of our students, Renata, to her village for her family’s potato harvest. I’ll get to pick potatoes on their goat farm and their cat just had kittens!!! Needless to say, we both have a lot to look forward to.

Bonus Section

We like to play a game called "Eastern-European doppelganger." Occasionally we spot someone while out and about who reminds us of one of our friends from the U.S. Below is our second public installment. We present "David Boring."

This handsome devil is a chef at a new restaurant in Klaipėda called “Meat Lovers” – I don’t know about you, but he looks a lot like David Boring to me!

When I told this red-headed gentleman about the look-alike contest and told him my North American friend’s name was David Boring he couldn't believe it. He said, “There’s no way a guy this good looking could be called 'Boring.'” 

And with that, I wish you a great week!

Bonus Bonus Section

Here are a few pictures from Alisha's potato-harvesting adventure.
Most of Alisha's photos consisted of animals from the farm. For example, here are two "glorious goats."

Renata's family harvesting potatoes. It is common for families to work together to harvest their potato fields at the end of the summer. The potatoes are then divided into three categories -- large ones will feed the family through the winter, medium ones go to the livestock, and small ones are saved to re-plant the next season.

Alisha -- the happiest potato picker ever.

The harvest's yield.

Renata, right, gathers some apples to take back to LCC while her mother plays with
the cat, "Donut." It's no surprised that the family has fallen in love with Alisha and
ask Renata about her frequently. 

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Busy? We'll show you busy!

Very short post this week as I am currently sitting outside a storage room helping returning students find their possessions while Alisha is downstairs checking in students. This week has consisted of a lot of that, meetings, and training our resident assistants (RAs).

The RA training has definitely been the most enjoyable part of this hectic week. Although this is our first year as resident directors (RDs), I feel we've already been able to tap into our personal experiences in ways that will help these young adults as they prepare for a challenging, exciting year in student leadership.

Here are some zazz-y pictures!