November 30, 2013
So on this year’s “on this day,” I once again find myself living in a different country from the last year’s “on this day.” But this time I’m not planning my next move. This time the transitional period has been a bit different. More on that may come in the future. But for now, without further ado, on this day . . .
I remember, this day–November 30–in 1988. On this day, I awoke excited–no, more than that–I was ecstatic. I was running through lines of the Christmas program in my head, eagerly rehearsing for the program that night. You see, tonight we were performing for our families, for my family. They were on their way by this time, I knew, beginning the drive early that morning that would bring them along many lonely dirt roads, winding through villages and across open plains, to arrive here.
It had been 3 months now since I last saw them, when I boarded the little Cessna on the grass strip of our village, clutching my stuffed bear in one arm and holding my sister’s hand with the other. We stood there waving goodbye one last time on the boarding stairs, and then waved again out the window as we sped along the airstrip and lifted off into the air. I loved that moment of lifting off in the airplane–and have ever since–the exciting rush of becoming airborne and soaring faster and faster through the air.
That day, however, my excitement of the beginning was tinged with the sadness of knowing I would be away from my family for many nights now. The days were always full of learning, fun adventures in the bush with friends and with various creatures to be discovered and trees to be climbed. The nights were the hard part, though, when I fought the tears that often came in spite of my fierce will, silently dampening my pillow while I stifled the shortened breaths that may give away my tears to the classmates sleeping near me in rows of bunk beds.
The 3 months since that last flight had passed quickly–3 months of good books read, math problems solved, geography discovered, play weddings acted out in free time, and all manner of grade 4 activities. I had also turned 9 the previous month, and knew my family would now celebrate my birthday and my brother’s 4th birthday 3 days earlier, as soon as we made it back home. While on a shopping trip in South Africa, my Dad had acquired our first car, so the decided to make the road trip instead of Helen and I flying home as we had always done before. So, I knew they were loaded up in the Isuzu, along with 2 village friends–a teenage student of my Dad’s and the Zambian pastor he worked with in our Church.
So that afternoon, after various activities designed to keep all us boarding students preoccupied so we wouldn’t be bouncing off the walls with the excitement of our families’ arrivals, we all filed out the drive-up area to await the first arrivals. I had in my mind the perfect picture of what to expect, so as each vehicle arrived, I craned my neck to see my mom’s long arm waving out the window and Alex’s goofy grin peering out from her lap. But the cars came, parents claimed their clamoring kids, and my picture-perfect arrival still had not appeared. Finally, a lady I recognized as the mom of some friends who lived fairly near us went over to our Dorm Mother and said something to her, gesturing in our direction. She then came and told us to go ahead and get ready for the program–not to keep waiting for our parents there.
I was disappointed, but assumed they would arrive at any moment, so just kept waiting as we practiced our songs. My mental image just altered itself to adjust to a late clamor of hugs and kisses rushed in before the program started . . . but the program came, began, and ended, and they had not arrived. The next morning we were taken to the Cessna, and told we were going to go back to the village by flight after all. This time I imagined the whole family standing there on the airstrip, coming into focus as the plane landed, with eager smiles and waves–still, no. The parents of a classmate took us in their car instead–so of course I changed my expectation once more, this time thinking they were taking us to our house where the family would be, picture-perfect, waiting in front of our little home.
Instead we arrived at their house. Auntie Elaine (according to British habit, all family friends were “Auntie” and “Uncle” to us kids) finished up dinner preparations while we helped set the table. And then, instead of sitting down to dinner, she asked Helen and I to come and sit with her on the couch–”Anna, Helen–I have some really sad news . . . your Daddy went to heaven . . . ” Before the sentence was finished, I had burst into loud sobs, Helen looked at me and started crying, and Auntie Elaine and her daughter were both crying and hugging us.
I don’t remember any mention of the rest of the family at that point–nor did I wonder, as far as I can remember. The rest of the day, of the week, of the month, passed in a sort of a fog, in which my memories are clear but displaced, as if each memory was plucked from its proper place in the continuum of time and placed instead in some never never land of homeless moments.
I remember falling asleep with fitful dreams, waking up convinced I had dreamed reality, and that Daddy would walk in and comfort me any moment. I remember being reunited with my brothers, staring at Alex’s discolored and misshapen head, and carting Ian around carefully in his body cast, propping him up against walls . . . supporting him and holding his modesty blanket over his midsection as he pinned the tail on the donkey at his belated birthday party. I remember visiting Mom there in the Zambian hospital, horrified at the sight of my strong, active, beautiful mother lying there on the stretcher bed unable to move herself. At one point during a visit, the nurse had to turn her over so that she wouldn’t get a bed sore. As she did so, she let go of the sheet and mom was briefly exposed to us all in the room. I didn’t know whether to blush, sob, or scream–I wanted to just run away, to disappear forever into the endless, dreadfully beautiful African wilderness. I hated seeing mom like that, and dreaded the visits . . . and I hated myself for feeling that way, thinking there must be something wrong with me if I didn’t want to see my mother . . .
Somehow, time passed. My Daddy’s funeral passed in a blur of friends, strangers, languages I didn’t know, and wails I knew only too well. As soon as mom was strong enough to be transported, we were shipped to the U.S., where hospitalization and then physical rehab came for her. I hid in my books–in beautiful worlds of fantasy–to the extent that my grandmother still teases me for always having my “nose stuck in a book” as a child.
And eventually Mom was well enough to take over the care of the 4 of us again. I still don’t know for the life of me how she did it–a paraplegic supporting and caring for a home of her own and 4 not-always-angelic children. She did it well . . . she loved us well.
On this day, during my childhood, Mom beautifully commemorated the anniversary. She would buy what looked to me like hundreds of helium-filled balloons, bringing them home so that the house was bursting with balloons. Then she tied note cards to the string of each one, and told us to write notes on them–as many as we wanted, and whatever we wanted to say to a stranger. I remember writing things like “Jesus loves me this I know . . .” and “My Daddy died on this day, and he is now in heaven with God, because he loved God. I do too.” I wrote silly notes, but meaningful ones, longing, in all my childhood intensity, to somehow tell the world that I had a great Daddy, and that some day I would see him again.
I still catch myself, when I am still enough to listen to the deeper desires of my heart, craving moments of remembrance of my Daddy, and eagerly clasping to memory any tidbits about him that people from his past may be able to share with me. And thankfully my own mind clamped down firmly on all the memories I had of my times with him, out of a personal need for them and, I suspect, out of a nagging suspicion that someday, somehow, there would be a greater use for, outlet for, it all.
November 26, 2013
I had a bit of a “Chariots of Fire” moment today. Tomorrow we have the annual school Turkey Trot, in which all the elementary students will be running courses of various lengths, according to age level. The littlest among them have some difficulty keeping on course [and avoiding the temptation to stop along the way to investigate various rocks and bugs and such], so I have been asked to run with them during my free periods this past week. Running with 4 and 5-year-olds has been an interesting learning curve for a Cross Country coach, to say the least ☺
Case in point: this morning’s Kindergarten run. I intended to stay ahead of them all for the entirety of the loop, so they could all look ahead and follow my path. One youngster, however, proved to me that I highly underestimated the speed and stamina of a 5-year-old: he kept me on my toes [;-)], so much so that I eventually gave up and let him take the lead. Once he had finished I went back to fetch the remaining runners.
After getting all the obvious ones I saw the last one walking along a lap behind on the track. She is very obviously special needs; the school is trying to get her tested and properly cared for but up to this point she has been studying along with the rest of the children. I have had her for both art and library classes from August till now and, up to this point, have not had any interaction in which I was aware of a connection with her.
Today when I went to bring her to the finish line, I jogged towards her and reached my hand out: “Run with me, Janie,” I said. To my surprise, she reached her hand towards mine, grabbed hold of it, and began to run. The P.E. teacher, watching us from the finish line, told the rest of the class to cheer us on. So Janie and I ran almost an entire lap together to the sounds of “Come on, Janie!,” “You can do it!,” and “Go, Janie!” coming from a chorus of young voices. Periodically she would look up at me grinning and, to my surprise, she did not once let go of my hand, or stop running. We finished the race. I went back to the library. And I spent the remainder of the day smiling about those 7 minutes with Janie.
November 16, 2013
We had a date with the sun. Anticipating [hoping for] its breaking-through today, we planned out free afternoon to be spent sitting on the rooftop to soak up as much of it as possible. Our conversation was interspersed with periodic gazings to the West to see if it was about to break through the clouds. When it did at one point, A said, “Do you ever sing ‘Here comes the sun’ to yourself when the sun comes out? “All the time!” I exclaimed. I think we’re pretty similar in many ways, I began. Then I paused and we both burst into laughter at my unintentional joke, well aware that our personalities are in fact extremely similar, fitting strongly into the same highly unusual personality typing.
But there is a definite difference that came up as we talked. At one point the topic of “living in the moment” came up. You are very good at that, I commented. I mean it in a good way. The phrase sounds trite—almost worldly. But I don’t think it is at all. In its truest sense, I think that living in the moment is in fact the highest calling we can aspire to. What is true faith if not to be fully present, and fully loving, to the people He has put in our daily lives?
When A commented on how glad she was that I recognized it as well, I clarified. I had to explain, you see, that I recognize it not because I am good at it. In fact, I struggle immensely with that calling. My weakness lies in my tendency to wander into my own little world of to-dos and worries when I would be better of living in the moment with the people I am with. When I comment on that truth, it is as one who is longing to get to that point, not as one who is anywhere close to there.
So I surround myself with people like A. People gifted in that calling who see fit to hang out with strugglers such as me, and who inspire me onward, upward . . . loveward.
November 10, 2013
I feel a bit as though my life is lived in cycles, and in themes. I have written of these themes in the past, and have found that they often last for quite some time. And they come in the form of a sentence or phrase that pops into my head, clearly and distinctly, in such a way that I cannot take it as anything other than a divine word, spoke directly to my heart by its Maker.
Now, before I continue with this thought, I should perhaps mention that I am actually hesitant to put it onto writing. As real as these words are to me, I feel sheepish about claiming them, as if it is presumptuous to state out loud that I have a word spoken straight to me from God. But admitting that hesitancy makes me realize that it would be more wrong for me to deny it than to admit it … For is that not a clear promise to us, that we have a direct line to a loving Maker? So, that said, here goes …
When I was living in afgh@nistan, the theme I was living into was that “He deals with me gently.” The very real truth for that year and a half of my life was that I had stepped into a beyond-me reality. I stepped in fearfully. But I stepped in. And as He has always done in my life (but that I did not really recognize till then), He accepted my feeble steps and gently led me along a path that terrified me, providing Grace at every fear-provoking point. Gently.
Soon after I had moved on to the next phase of my life-yet another path that I had not anticipated in the slightest but that I had to just walk forward, in faith, into-I realized that I was still living into that “gently” reality. But I also realized that the time of immediate danger was over. The life I had stepped into here was a more predictable, more “normal” sort of existence. I am aware as I write this that I may draw some amused raised eyebrows by this assertion. Many would see this place I live, and life I lead, as anything but “normal” … But for my quirky standard of normalcy, the designation works :-)
Here I should perhaps mention that I skipped over one theme that arose from the in-between phase: “Lord, break my heart.” I do not need to delve into that one now. But I will simply explain that yes, He did.
Which brings me back to here, now. In some ways this past year has stunted my writing life. I have been occupied with so many endeavors here that I have seen neither need nor point in taking the time to write about it. It occurred to me not long ago that perhaps I should be worried about this fact. I mean, I am, after all, a contemplative, processing sort of person … Aren’t I? Am I being too lazy to do the writing I should be doing? But, wonderings notwithstanding, there has simply not been the time lately even to worry about this question.
This weekend, however, a bit of a window of time and space arrived. And this morning I ended up quietly musing for the bike ride into church (well, quiet interspersed with several amusing passings by others heading the same way, waving at each other from our various different modes of transportation). As I did so, I heard a clear word spoken to my heart. I am tempted to speculate on reasons and manifestations of this word now. But I think that instead, considering the newness of it, a better course of action at the moment may be to simply state it, and let ramifications follow as they should, in due course. That said, this is it: “Anna, claim your life.”
Yesterday I went to a park with fall leaves. Real fall leaves. E and I picked the best of the leaves to make a bouquet out of their colored loveliness. It was nothing grand, and certainly nothing world changing, but it was done for someone special. And that was enough.
November 2, 2013
I have disappeared from blog land for quite some time now. I have been occupied. Preoccupied. Funny how life just kind of happens to you sometimes. You flit along, minding your own business, busying about with various plans and then, suddenly, plans change.
The things that have occupied me lately fit into a few categories, some relatively mundane and some, well, not so much.
In the more mundane variety, you could fit the category of weather. This is something that tends to end up being a bigger deal for me than it seems to be for most people, and I have, for the most part, made my peace with that fact. But when we do have a string of really cold, and really rainy, weather, like we just had, it still manages to catch me off guard with the intensity of its effect on my mood. All that to say, I have ended up somewhat preoccupied with the effort required to stay warm and dry, and to continue functioning properly in my work as I do so.
In another potentially mundane—but not mundane so far as I’m concerned—category falls my work. Added into the usual mix lately has been a small accumulation of kind of cool un-usuals: coaching has been a fun extra for some time already, and it remains a happy time consumer for me. But I have also been recently readying for my first experience performing with the students in a musical. It’s kind of like a delayed fulfillment of a dream for me, really. In my adult life it has not really occurred to me much but when I was a child and teenager, I had dreams of singing and dancing for performances. The singing I managed to do, but dancing was always just a quiet love of mine. So it’s caught me off guard a bit to be suddenly the Disney singing/dancing character I always secretly dreamed of being [though I would never have admitted to such a girly interest, I suspect ☺] We have now come to the day of the performance. Here’s hoping for a good one: may we all break a leg!
One other occupying life category is not really mundane at all: this particular preoccupation may be written more about in the future . . .
There have been days lately when it’s just been too much of a good thing, and I’ve ended up completely at the end of my rope. As I snagged a 10-minute walk with a friend before a rehearsal the other day, I lamented the fact that I had just ended the workday feeling completely overextended and altogether flustered. I looked up as we talked to see a kite flying overhead. It reminded me of all the times I noticed kites in the last place I lived. I share a bit about the reason I was taking a picture of this one as we walked and, as I did so, I was humbled. There was a time in my life when I was intensely aware of the fact that, like a kite, I was buffeted about by the wind but held fast by a string firmly secured in the hand of my Maker. It was a time of very real danger then and it serves me well to remember now where I have been in the past, where He has brought me to now, and what blessedness He holds for my future . . .
September 30, 2013
We were supposed to be off on an adventure at the moment. Not able to swing any major travel for this holiday, the three of us decided, about a week ago, to have a mini-excursion, heading out on a 2-day hiking trip. In some ways it was going to be actually more of an adventure than a standard vacation, as we were going to just play it by ear once we got there, so far as hiking plans and lodging goes, none of us knowing the destination point other than just by word of mouth. The idea of getting out of the city, however, was enough to energize us with an edge of carefree adventurous spirit thrown in there.
But when V called me this morning, about an hour before we were supposed to leave, what I heard was not a question about our plans as I expected; instead I heard a voice speaking too quickly, so that I had to ask her to pause and start over before I could understand. She had begun to worry about several things on her agenda for the next few days, and about the prospect of going away. She didn’t think she should do it. Apparently whatever came out of my mouth was not what she imagined because she sounded surprised. “You’re not upset?” she asked. Not at all, I assured her. In fact, I had a few of my own misgivings that I just had not vocalized. We called M and decided together to cancel the plans.
Instead, today, we ended up picnicking in a park. In some ways this simple activity was actually a bit unusual, considering how green and different-from-our-usual-surroundings the park was.
Scrapping the intended agenda, then, we each unpacked our hiking bags, repacked picnic daypacks, and biked to the park. On the way over there, as I enjoyed the peaceful thinking time, I realized that I was getting less peaceful in my thoughts and more intense as I talked to God. I began talking out loud, repeating a few prayers as I did so. Until this moment, I had not realized how much I needed to pray. Really pray. Busy-ness has a way of doing that—a way of crowding out prayer space from the mind and heart. Today being the first real day of un-planned-ness, then, my feelings of late were able to be really felt. And tears came.
Later, at the park, once we had gotten our goofy photo-taking urges out of the way, we sat down to our picnic. As we did so, I talked of my bike ride over. And like I suspected in might, it resonated with V and M. In my case, it is due to the fact that another year’s door in my life is about to open. Or close, depending on how you look at it, so far as biological clocks go ☺ And as the years pass, I grow increasingly aware of the ways in which my life’s path has not turned out the way I used to assume it would. For quite a few years, this didn’t really matter. But now time has crept up on me and I realize that at this point in time, I may never have some of the experiences I assumed were just a “normal” part of life.
I do not say this to have any sort of a pity party: in fact, I have a great deal of enviable aspects to life. But it is simply a matter of fact right now. And I say it matter-of-factly. So be it.
We encouraged each other then, M recalling a quote she had heard recently. As best as she could remember, it went like this: “You [i.e human beings] are too insignificant to mess up God’s plan for you.” This hit a deep need in my heart, since one of my struggles, in this season of long-term vision-seeking, is the fear that I have somehow messed up His plan for me.
No, the day may not have gone as we planned. But it most certainly went as He planned.
*At one point in the day V snapped a photo of me smelling the only rose we could find in the “rose garden. When I looked at the way the sun’s rays were shining down, I gasped and asked how she did that. She shrugged and said she always manages to capture the sun’s rays like that . . . she would :-)
September 17, 2013
“Dear God, thank you for making time when there is none,” I prayed this evening, after being asked to bless our dinner. It was the only thing I could think of to say at the time, considering the fact that I almost didn’t make it there.
Today I ran out of time. I arrived to Cross Country practice flustered by my inability to get out of the library when I wanted to, and flustered as well by my impatience with people asking for things as I tried to leave. I’m late! I was muttering to myself, imagining the team twiddling their thumbs as they waited. The fact of the matter, however, is that they are quite a self-sufficient bunch and were diligently stretching when their wayward coach arrived. But the point is that I felt overextended, and distracted. Practice went amazingly well, in spite of me. As I tried to worry about multiple things at once, it suddenly occurred to me that the team was doing an incredible job with their workout, pushing themselves with a single-mindedness that would make any coach thrilled. Realizing this, I tried to push my time-crunched feelings out of my mind, refocusing on the practice and reconciling myself to the fact that I might not make it to my weekly evening appointment. In between time trials I texted my language teacher. “Practice is running late and I haven’t packed for the trip yet. I might not make it tonight. Sorry!”
Later on in the practice, though, I realized that if I skipped a shower and went straight there, I could make it. I called her and was told to come on over. The evening was, as I suspected it might be, exactly what I needed. No, I hadn’t packed. [still have not, in fact, thanks to a quickly-planned flight with a friend who needed a hospital trip]. And no, I had not taken a shower [that one I have now remedied ☺]. But there is nothing like a little one to take one’s mind off of grown-up concerns.
A friend of mind once told me that she sometimes asks her husband, “Why do you love me?” when she is feeling particularly insecure and/or unlovable. I often feel the same way about the children I spend my workdays with. So much of the time I lose my patience, am unfocused, or simply plain unlovable; yet they love me still.
For whatever reason this little one I am tutoring loves me, quite clearly. She was obviously excited that I made it tonight, and we happily laughed our way through some semi-productive lessons. When I excused myself and explained I needed to go pack, she picked up a pile of her stuffed animals, placed them on a pillow as if it were a platter, and told me it was my food. I pretended to gobble it all up, then took it over to my bag and acted as if I were packing them into a suitcase to take with me. She laughed and called me silly. I asked her mother about the word to make sure I was getting it right then practiced my language skills by saying “ Goodbye silly little one.” She shot right back at me, “Goodbye silly big one.” We all laughed then, remember the previous occasion in which we had exchanged goodbye nicknames, me being her “desert” and she my “forest” the last time. I think perhaps our original nicknames were more complimentary ☺
**Photo is one of the shots of those time-making little ones in my recent workdays.
September 8, 2013
For 6 days I have prayed fervently for sun. The rain has been falling steadily, confining us to buildings that grow increasingly chilly as the wetness cools the air. This is not a place accustomed to cold, so structures [and people, for that matter] are simply not equipped to handle it. Winter is generally so mild that there is no such thing as central heating. And certainly, September does not count as winter . . . not usually. But this past week has been a steady deluge without our usual sun-breaks, and without any relief from the chill in the air. Winter coats, hats, and scarves have appeared as general attire.
I know how I feel about the cold. But for some reason I thought I had gotten a bit wiser in my old age: a bit more patient about waiting it out. This week threw me for a loop, though: I could feel my mood darkening by the day, and a sense of panic setting in—an irrational fear that this was it, and that the sun I had grown to love so much in this home was gone forever. What if the tectonic plates have shifted and from now on our climate was going to be forever cold and wet? [yeah, I know--tectonic plates have nothing to do with climate but, hey, I have a point to prove!].
It was humbling to realize how externally motivated my sense of well-being can be, especially as this week has also included significant work challenges, demanding much of my professional resources on any given day.
This weekend we had our annual staff retreat. Envisioning a weekend spent at an outdoor center in this revived my sense of panic, so my prayers were amped up a bit. I called on extra prayers, in fact, recruiting my mother and a friend to pray with me. But the morning of our departure did not look promising, in the slightest. As the day wore on, however, it grew oddly warm. There was still nothing resembling true sunshine but it was pleasant enough that three of us decided we would spend all our free time outside regardless. I think we were like-minded in our feelings about this past week because as we romped around the lake, we all grew giddy, acting much like the little ones we spend our days with. Eventually we had the inspiration to break out a phone and have a little cell phone dance party. We were dancing to an odd choice of tunes, though, since my playlist consists largely of hymns and folk tunes. It worked for us, though. We raised our hands to the sky and laughed as the sun broke through the clouds.
It was, in all respects, a beautiful day. And the weekend as a whole left me heart-filled with a sense of family. Our theme for the weekend was that we were working towards being, and becoming, a community of grace.
This morning we had a closing session. In my small group of four, I confessed my feelings over this past week, using that as an example of a way in which I would like to grow more in a grace-filled approach to my work community and not just eke my way through the days. As I talked, though, I realized something. One at the table said that she had felt the same way about the week, and I suggested that maybe part of being a grace-filled community is have grace for our humanity: our own and that of each other. What if we all are weak-willed, flesh-driven souls striving together in a quest for something greater than ourselves? If that is the truth, then what more can we do, on some days, that simply step forward together, leaning on each other in our baby steps?
August 26, 2013
In the book I read to each art class last week, before we began our International Dot Day project, one page contains the following interaction: when a young student looks at her blank piece of paper, complaining that she can’t draw, “Vashti’s teacher leaned over the blank paper. ‘Ah! A polar bear in a snowstorm,’ she said.”
Today we began a new project, emphasizing space, line, and medium. I showed each class an example of a spiderweb-like pattern of lines, instructing them to fill in the blocks between each set of lines with colour and pattern in different media. After the grade 5 class had begun the coloring portion of their artwork, I noticed one whose paper looked rather monochromatic. I walked over to him and reminded him that he was supposed to experiment with patterns as well as colours.
He nodded innocently and pointed out to me the small pair of black dots on each portion. Then he began a list, pointing to each block as he did so, “A bat in a cave. A camel in a sandstorm. A whale in the sea. A grasshopper in the grass. A polar bear in a snowstorm . . .”
I grinned and moved on, resisting the urge to smack him upside that endearingly smart-alecky little head :-)
August 20, 2013
In my art classes this week ["Didn't you mean to say 'library,'" you ask? No, I mean art. "But I thought you were the librarian." Yes, I am. "Oh, so you have switched jobs?" No, not exactly . . . just honing my juggling skills these days ;-)]
Anyhow, as I was saying . . . No, never mind what I was saying. Instead, I’d like to point out that the funny thing about it is that the roles of art teacher and librarian can coincide rather perfectly. Especially when cool things like International Dot Day are happening in the world. I learned about this event last year, and was able to submit a project with my library classes there in Afgh@nistan. This year is a bit more rushed in the preparation time for it, but I came up with an idea that will work, I think. Each student creates his/her own dot. The dots of each student then combine to create a class dot. And, eventually, once all classes are finished, I will find some way to hang them all together and make a school-wide dot. Well, we’ll see how it goes . . . if nothing else, it makes for a happily consuming project for us all :-)