foreigner

February 11, 2017

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I don’t talk about politics—mainly because I feel ignorant enough to be afraid to speak up. That said, there are a few oftentimes-political topics that I feel strongly about. I didn’t know that I cared so much until I started to weep at any book or film that broached these topics. One example is Amistad. I saw this movie in the theaters when I was in high school, going with a group of my girl friends. I got so overwhelmed during the showing, however, that I ended up putting my head in my lap as I wept uncontrollably. When my friends tried to console me, though, I insisted that I was fine, and I refused to leave the movie. It is one of the movies I now consider an all-time favorite.

The issue of slavery, and mistreatment of people (adults or children) is a major button-pusher for me. As a result, the refugee issue is one that I also care deeply about, though I must admit to not having found (made) the time to research all that goes into the current debates, so I am wary to voice any specific opinion.

The other day, however, I almost paused in mid-swim as I heard a passage from Malachi in my daily audio Bible podcast. I had never before heard a version like this, in which the people are warned about those “who turn away immigrants” (3:5). My interest was peaked and I decided I was done with my ignorance and on a mission to educate myself. So far I have listened to one interview on the topic (thanks to Anita Lustrea) with Dale Hanson Bourke, who wrote a book simply titled Immigration. I also read some of her blog posts and portions of the book.  I really appreciate her focus on educating the public, with the idea that many people are riled up, on both sides of the fence, without having a real knowledge base on the facts (such as the difference between a “refugee,” an “immigrant,” and an “asylum seeker”). Another point of interest for me was her explanation of how difficult the U.S. makes the process of gaining status as any of the above. She explained that if given the choice people often opt for another country (such as Australia) to avoid the amount of time, paperwork, and confusion that the American process includes.

From there I went on to read articles from news sources that have different leanings on the spectrum, via the website AllSides.com, which features “left,” “right,” and “center” viewpoints for current news topics. Frankly, my head is still swimming a bit, and I still feel rather ignorant when it comes down to it (living outside of the U.S. for much of the past 8 years or so probably doesn’t help!).

I do, however, have a sense that there is an underlying issue feeding all the chaos bubbling in this immigration/refugee pot. Or maybe I just have a bunch of questions:

Could it be that the root of the problems the world is facing is a tendency to want to “turn away immigrants”? This is certainly not an American problem, either, lest you think I’m just blaming that country. Everywhere I have lived, there is a word for “foreigner” that is called out to those of us who are, obviously, different from the norm. This generally means white-skinned, in my experience. Here I am pointed at and called “obroni!” In China I was “waiguoren” (or 外国人 if you are like my husband and prefer using the characters). In Afghanistan it was “horaji,” and in Zambia “mzungu.” Though I don’t enjoy these labels, I am also highly aware of my privilege—I know nothing of true discrimination; nor of hardship related to my nationality.

I do, though, know what I have seen, experienced, and observed—a world full of people prone to want to surround themselves with others who think, act and, yes, look like them. It is a part of human nature, I think . . . of our fallen nature. And maybe—just maybe—what the world needs now [is love, sweet love?] . . . ok, seriously: what we need is a hard look at the ways we all [I] “turn away” those in need for the sake of our own ideas of what we [I] need in order to preserve our own comfort and security.

*photo is a flash back from last year’s post, and from the village dance in which I was welcomed in, white skinned, rhythm-impaired, and all

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One of the podcasts I recently discovered is Anne Bogul’s “What should I read next?” It was the inspiration for my last blog, in fact, about being a Writer & Reader who barely writes, and oftentimes only reads vicariously, listening to others talk about the books they love and dreaming of being able to read them—all of them!
But, in those ever-eloquent words spoken by Holmes, “It is what it is.” That said, this same podcast has this week come out with a “What’s saving my life right now?” blog roll. I feel like I have barely been keeping my head above water for the past two weeks. So the idea of making a list of simple, sanity-saving snippets felt rather heavenly. That said, here’s my shortlist [which, who knows, may end up becoming a long-list once I get going with the writing of it :-)]

Teenagers. A house currently full of teenagers from around the world: a couple Koreans, a Chinese, a Ghanaian, a Nigerian, and a Liberian . . . all camped out for Friday night festivities (à la Sherlock). Our role with the dorm kids lightens our normally instruction-oriented classroom teacher mode, and helps us not get quite so stodgy in our “old age” ;-)

*insert 2-day pause here*

2. Fast acting malaria meds. Friday night I was feeling pretty bad (thus the pause) and by Saturday decidedly worse. I began a round of meds Saturday night and by Sunday morning was feeling much better. Have had to take random naps—after leading worship, for instance, I was too tired to socialize and sat in the back of the room and took a nap while others chatted—but am not feeling like the walking dead anymore.

3. Singing. There are times when Praise Team is just another “job.” But there are many more occasions when, arriving on any given morning weary and numb from the week’s work, I find myself dancing and “tamying” (tambourine) with joy in spite of it all.

4. A patient husband. Marriage is hard. God is good. Grace.

5. Podcasts. I’ve been experiencing a love of a community of women in a way I never before knew I was lonely for, thanks to the women I listen to during my runs. Jamie Ivey, Anne Bogul, Christy Nockels, and several others.

6. Reading. Thanks to above-mentioned podcasts, I’ve actually rediscovered my love of reading. With a long way to go yet, so far as real time spent, I am loving the sweet stolen moments with current reads Embracing the body and The highly Intuitive Child, while I anticipate the purchase of other exciting new ones I’ve heard author interviews for (like Bread and Wine).

7. Swimming. I crave the swimming pool like nobody’s business, relishing the respite after teaching, worship leading, or any other extroverted activity. In one of her podcasts, Christy Nockels spoke of how she will literally pull covers over her head after each role in front of people, retreating to a quiet space with God. I feel my equivalent of bed covers is the water in the pool. As my arms pull me through the waters, I will sometimes pray to the rhythm of the strokes, sometimes listen to the Daily Audio Bible, and sometimes just breath out gutteral sighs as I let out the stresses and soak in the soothing waters. Sometimes the crowded waters make the swim rather difficult but oftentimes, when I am extra needy, I find an unexpectedly quiet pool.

8. Neighbors. The other night, I was in the middle of dinner prep when I realized I had forgotten to put two things on the shopping list. I berated myself for my poor planning  and wondered how I was going to do without my daily chocolate mix. A knock on the door brought my generous neighbor’s face to view. She thrust a bag of cocoa and a bag of sugar at me and said she found extra and hoped I could use them. I blustered a bit about how timely it was and then just breathed out a prayer of gratitude for small (but significant) blessings. Another set of coworkers lives on the road between the swimming pool and my house. They don’t seem to mind my weekend pop-ins, knocking on doors on my way home and sitting with them to “work” a bit (i.e. distracting them with chatting while they attempt to do their lesson planning).

9. Work. I spend much of my time bemoaning it, stressing about it, or questioning my capability for this beyond-me role as a classroom teacher. But at the end of the day, I love the students and I love having a role, and a job. So whether or not I am doing it all well enough, or being the best teacher/librarian out there, I’m doing it. And as one coworker said last year, it’s certainly better than if no one was doing it  . . . I think ;-)

10. Family. I do not get to see my own family much at all. But thanks to my role with students, I tend to find excuses to tell stories about them or show off pictures of my nieces and nephews. We may be scattered on 3 different continents, but heart ties are stronger, and tighter, than any length of ocean can sever.

not writing

January 22, 2017

img_1900On the way home from church today I looked down at my lap and, sighing at the sight of the tattered zipper seam on my backpack, I announced, “I’m falling apart.” Then, to all around, I explained that, in addition to the bag in front of me, I had hit the point in any given year when I start to feel like my possessions have had it. I’m hard on stuff, thanks to a variety of factors including (but not limited to) a habit of wearing, and using, the same things repetitively. This habit combined with the fact of living in a harsh area of the world means that I currently carry a bag that looks as if it might unload all my stuff at any moment, I wear clothing that needs to be safety-pinned and (dare I admit this?), sometimes, rubber-banded, I leave a phone charger perpetually plugged in (so as not to risk the exposed wires dying altogether), and I have most recently killed my new computer (spilling water on it when switching classroom lessons this past week). I did not mention the fact that underwear is one of my issues, seeing as how the “all around” in this scenario was our pastor and his family. Yes—I’m falling apart, in a somewhat comical sort of way.
I am also falling apart in my personally professional life: namely, I’m not writing. I’ve been growing increasingly obsessed lately about how long it has been since I have blogged and, more importantly, how long it has been since I wrote anything more lasting (more meaningful?) than a short-lived (i.e. short-read) post on a blog. And years ago I began a project that I simply abandoned, for no good reason. It is a story that would come easily if I just set my self to it and finished the writing.
I am a writer. Though a sorry excuse for one these days. I go a month without writing anything, and I have gone years without publishing.
I am a lover of words, and a lover of books. But I have not read an actual book, in its entirety, in ages. I read in snippets—in stolen moments of random input, that I must admit to recently include social media scrolling that, generally, leaves me with a sense of wasted time. Sometimes a worthwhile inspiration to write to a friend, or to pursue a useful project, comes from this but, more often than not, much of the “input” feels empty. I have taken to listening to reading-related podcasts, being inspired by one book after another as they are discussed, and happily remembering those I have read in the past . . . but never actually reading one of the books that I think about.
So today I am writing about not writing. This post is simply to say that, for whatever reason, I am battling a sense of angst over the question of when to write and when to “live.” I feel guilty for not writing when I know it is something I am made to do (though I do not know what my specific writing purpose in life is). I also feel guilty for taking the time to write when there are so many seemingly more immediate and practical things that can be done in a day . . . shouldn’t I be helping someone else rather than whittling away the minutes in my own wordy brain?
I honestly do not know the answer right now. But I do know that a spontaneous conversation with a fellow teacher this afternoon brightened my outlook. This particular friend is a creative soul, so when I saw her I started to blurt out this angst instead of just answering “fine” to the “How was your weekend?” query. She got it, as I suspected she would. She also felt the same, so far as recent creative outlets go, on her end.
What happened next was the sort of conversation that brightens up a spot in the soul that you didn’t know was faded:
We made a plan. It was a simple one, really—stemming from the realization that each of us and, we suspect, others as well, could use the inspiration and accountability of a scheduled working space. So we are going to come together, and invite others to join, for a dedicated wort-time. It will be likely squeezed in between teaching duties and obligatory meetings . . . but it will happen. It has not happened yet, so nothing has been “accomplished” for my sense of angst, if you think of it in one way. But I am choosing to think in another. I choose to be uplifted with the knowledge that a step has been taken. The writing will happen. And this gives me a bit more ok-ness with the fact that I am still, for now, not writing . . .

*Much of my not-writing time lately has been spent in the kitchen (often baking bread) or teaching youngsters. So this photo, from a while back, of teaching little ones said art, seemed appropriate.

abide with me

December 16, 2016

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I had spent three weeks trying to remember which hymn it was that had been so meaningful to me in one worship team I sang for. At the time, our worship leader was trying to get the church to develop a love for classic hymns, and for the beauty of their lyrics. He would bring in various musicians (incredibly talented with instruments ranging from banjo to djembe, to contrabass), vary up tempos, and promote an end result of soaring pieces that transported not only the congregation, but me as well, as we sang. I knew how difficult it was for me to get lost in worship while leading, so I was constantly in a state of grateful awe as we practiced and praised.

During one practice, I was doing my usual pattern of listening for harmonies as I semi-read the sheet music he had given me. Suddenly the leader stopped and stared at me: “What are you singing?” I started to apologize, assuming I had hit something discordant. He stopped me, though, and asked me to sing it again. I tried to recreate what I had just done and, looking at the music, he said that I seemed to be singing the cello part. Sure enough, when I compared what I was singing to the string sheet music, it looked like I had begun following that line. I tried to change what my ear wanted me to do but he said no: it sounded surprisingly good. I felt self-conscious but also musically proud and I spend a good chunk of time going over that song in my head, and out loud—at times bugging family and friends till they agreed to sing the melody so I could sing that part alongside them and feel the singular thrill of creating a sound that sinks straight to the core, striking a chord of beauty.

Last Saturday night, once more, I ran through two notes in my head, desperately trying to remember the rest of the song so I could enjoy that musical bliss once again. 

The next morning I walked into church to begin practice and began humming along with the pianist. I was talking to a friend at the time but stopped in mid-sentence and dashed over to the piano. I blurted out a rapid-fire explanation before begging her to start at the beginning and play again. There it was: “Abide with me.” Without words (the lyrics on her music were all in Korean ;-)), I sang along as best as I could remember, repeating the lines that came to mind but not caring all that much: what mattered at the time was that this song-love was back in my life.

This happy bit of serendipity came shortly after a significantly less happy “coincidence.” Less than a week after the anniversary of my family’s original trauma, my mother and stepdad had a serious car accident. Graciously, what should have been fatal (the car flipping over) ended with an almost injury-free complete roll, so that the vehicle landed back upright. I did not know it had happened until two days later, due to one of our periodic power outages. When I did get the news, I was beyond distraught, carrying my laptop around the house as I read the email, squinting through my tears and gasping for breath while I, in my panic, wailed. In this instant, my sensibilities reverted back to my 9-year-old self, with one too many parallels for comfort: the lapse in time between the event and my awareness of it, for one, since the initial accident had been concealed from me until a family friend could break the news, days later. Also, the parallel of the distance between myself and other members of my family (being at boarding school for the original accident). And then, as mentioned, the date of the accident itself.

After the shock had subsided, and I had communicated with my mother so as to ease the panic, a new feeling set in—a highly uncomfortable mix of guilt and anger. I felt guilt over the fact that I had been ignorantly going about my daily business before learning of it, and that I had just sent a silly one-line email to my mother before learning of it. And I felt anger: anger that my mother, who had suffered so much in life, and who had managed to care for the 4 of us by plodding along through the grief, material hardship, and physical pain, in order to raise us with as little knowledge of each of these as she could manage. She concealed her pain—to a fault, in fact, as I later wished I had some sense of her human frailty when she always appeared so strong and “together.” I sensed the struggle, so wished, when I encountered my own battle with depression, that she had let me know of her own.

Like Job, I raised my proverbial fist to the heavens last week, and cried out: 

Why let her be in severe pain again? … Why should she have to worry about finances again? … Why let her relive the living hell of that trauma? . . . Why, Lord, why?

Did God answer my questions? Truthfully, no. Does He need to? As much I wish he did, the fact is that no, He does not. He is a just God. He is a true God. He is a right God. And He is right, when the world is not. My own idea of what is right cannot compare to the deep truth of HIM.

*image is one of the Christmas card designs I drew many years ago. One of the hobbies I have almost forgotten about, and had to hunt a while in email files to locate a visual of . . .

on this day

November 30, 2016

This morning I received an email unlike any others I have received from the mission board I am associated with as an MK. The only emails I usually get are the periodic newsletters. This one was a letter–a quite long one entitled “Letter to all SIM MKs  . . .:
An open letter of gratitude from SIM’s International Director “

Intrigued by both the letter and the serendipitous timing of its arrival, I began to read. I found it immensely moving–unexpectedly so, seeing as how this was a form email message from someone I have never met or had any dealings with. Here are a few snippets from the letter: 

Perhaps you have not been privileged to glimpse the result of your parents’ work, to experience the joy of seeing the fruit of their labour. I assure you that their labour and your sacrifice have never been in vain . . .You were born into a family that, in the course of your life, carried the gospel to others, and this necessitated personal sacrifice, which I acknowledge by this letter. We celebrate with gratitude your service alongside your parents . . .You may be one who has experienced suffering or adversity, perhaps from separation from your parents at an early age . . . Many of you have gone out as missionaries, taking your own children along. Many more have contributed to ministries or to the local communities into which God has placed you. We celebrate your contributions, your resilience, your grace, your hope. Your unique experiences are almost impossible to explain to those who never walked in your shoes. You are often misunderstood in both your host culture and in your parents’ home culture. Yet this you have endured with determination, a sense of humor, and ultimately with renewed grace. We celebrate you today as one of “our” MKs, as one of our masterpieces created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for you to do. I want to personally thank you for the blessings that you and your family have been to many . . .

What this letter said to my heart was, “We remember your father . . . we remember you.” And that is what I feel the need to say tonight, as I share these words yet again.

Daddy, I remember you.

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That said, here it is: the annual post:

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.

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such a time

November 20, 2016

I spent today’s usual after-church swim musing on the book of Esther. This thought-train-focusing endeavor probed to be a surprisingly effective way to distract myself from the periodic dodgings of people, and acrobatics underneath the rope that Sunday swims entail (it being a rather crazy day for attempting to swim laps!). Somehow my mind was consumed enough to focus in spite of all of it, however, and I found myself asking intense questions as I swam, wondering, as Prof Jan asked in the lecture, “What is God asking me to do ‘at such a time as this’?”

I thought about the usual suspects:

my lesson plans for the next week; an overdue email to a family member; a newsletter I’ve been meaning to write . . .

At this point in my line of thinking, a flash of red appeared in my periphery of vision and suddenly I realized my elbow was about to intersect with a small knee. Impact. Oh no! I thought, with a sinking (no pun intended ;-)) feeling. I have just traumatized a little one as he practices his swim techniques . . . he’s going to lose all motivation for learning, if he even survives this impact at all . . . he will spend the rest of his life remembering that moment in which he almost drowned because of a large “obroni” (white person) elbow . . . thus ensued my line of thinking for some time. I tried resuming my productive writing-brain, but the rest of my swim ended up being skewed in that obsessing direction.

After getting out of the water, I assumed I’d rush back to the list of things to be done: stop to check on some new teachers and make sure they were ok with their lesson planning, continue on home start dinner, make sure my husband was recovering from his heat headache, and work on my own lesson plans.

Instead, however, I paused and watched an in-progress swim lesson. That flash of red turned out to be a little one I had observed many times in the past. He had impressed me with his little 5-year-old gumption, but I had never stopped to really process that thought. Doing so now, I realized that he was actually progressing well in his skills, and that he was clearly on track to be quite an accomplished swimmer, if he continued at this rate. Rather than continue on with my own business, I then walked over to where he had paused by the side of the pool. I knelt down and his instructor greeted me. “You know,” I began, “this guy is quite the swimmer.” The boy looked up and I then looked at him. “You know what?” I repeated, “You are amazing! I keep looking at you swimming and wish I could swim that good too! I bet you some day I’m gonna see you in the Olympics!”

I left them to the rest of their lesson and, as I biked on to continue with the day, I realized that God had just showed me my own “such a time as this.” Rather than rush on to the next task, I was meant to stop and tell that little kid how good he was. Why? I have no idea . . . but I know that’s what I was meant to do. And Lord help me, I’ll do the next “such a time” thing as well . . .

extravagance

November 8, 2016

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My most recent seminary lecture was covering the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles. When the lecture moved to talk of the specifics of Solomon’s temple, my mind settled on the lavishness of it, with a thought that moved me. If God allowed such lavish expenditures to be put into His temple, does that mean that He considers us, His people, worthy of extravagance? I tend to think in terms of scrimping and saving, and I am familiar with the feeling of “not enough.”
But I think a lesson God is trying to teach me, through my (marrying late in life) husband of now 2 and a half years, and through a variety of life experiences, is that, in Him, I have enough and, most importantly, I AM enough, in the sense of worth.

Today was a lesson in the same. As work ended, and I closed up the library, I felt guilty about leaving work before the students’ basketball game had ended. A friend told me I could some swim at their pool and, longing for peace and solitude, I went to do so (all the while naggingly suspecting that it was wrong of me to want to be on my own). As I biked over there, the sky suddenly darkened, as it does before an intense and dangerous storm. Desperate for my swim, I continued on my way, knowing that God was going to punish me for continuing.
I should turn back . . . should go back to safety. I am going to get stuck there, and not be able to get home to prep dinner for me husband, or prep classes for tomorrow. I won’t be able to swim, but will end up stranded by the side of the road, drenched and miserable . . .
The whole while these doomsday thoughts ran through my brain, I managed to get to the house, talk to my hostess about whether or not in would rain, get in the pool for a glorious swim, and then emerge to look up at the sky in wonder. A slight sprinkle of rain had fallen while I swam, but the sky was bright and, there in front of me as I dried off, was a beautiful rainbow. I gulped back a teary-eyed sniffle.
Um—I think I get the message . . .
When I arrived back at home, my husband was grinning at me from our front steps. Rather than his usual dash for the shower after a harshly hot run, he explained to me, he was just sitting there, not ready to go into the house to clean up.
I grinned. “Yep—that was amazing!” Mutually relieved, we went in to carry on with the business of the evening in our unusually pleasant and airy home.

Extravagance.

imela

October 23, 2016

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During a recent seminary lecture on the book of 1 Samuel, my professor used an example of building construction, and asked us all, “What size of a 2 x 4 does God have to hit you on the head with?” The question hit hard, considering my own current life issues: basically, after a lifetime of taken-for-granted good health and better-than-average agility, muscles, and energy, I have had a string of physical challenges over the past three years. Some have come as a result of athletic over-training, and others have come, as my husband says, as a result of our decision to live a life that calls us to difficult places and unknown illnesses.

“Where do you live?” is a question I heard recently on an NPR podcast entitled “toxins.” My answer, as I seek out the cause for a painful and unsightly rash that has planted itself on my face, is this: “I live in a land of unknowns.” More often than I’d like, I find my response to all manner of questions to be a shrug combined with an “I don’t know.” I don’t know whether we will have electricity and water tonight (when asked by a house guest if we would be able to cook in my kitchen). I don’t know what’s wrong with my face (when asked innocently, in those exact words, by children passing me by in the hallways where I teach them each day). I don’t know how long I will live in Africa . . . I don’t know how I find it, how I like living here (I just try to fill each day’s responsibilities the best I can). . .

So how big of a 2 x 4 do I need? I pray that it is not so big that I crumble underneath it. But I also suspect that God has a lesson, more directly appropriate for my uniquenesses, tagging alongside the 2 x 4. And I think He showed it to me in a surprising manner, in the throes of one of my usual work week flurries of writing seminary papers, cataloging books at work, and planning teaching lessons for the coming week; in the midst of this juggling act, my subconscious took over my conscious word-processing and began to mull over personal regret. I started to feel the familiar pangs of regret combined with guilt over my past and present failures. I felt like a child before a disapproving parent who has just seen the evidence of transgression, and who is prepared to admonish the fault. But instead of lingering there, I began to talk to myself—to that child. “I did the best I could” is what I said. But the thought continued from there, as I explained, the adult self with experience and hindsight speaking words to truth to the child. “It may not be the best it could be . . . but it was the best I could do at the time. I did the best I could.”

This morning, after telling my running buddy about that image, I arrived for worship practice still in a reflective mood. We walked in to the almost-empty room to find the drummer on his own, jamming to a song I had never heard before, but that instantly carried me away. I grabbed the tambourine and began to dance.

After I had danced for a while, the drummer mentioned to me that the title to the song, “Imela,” meant, simply, “thank you.” I smiled and continued to dance. “IMELA . Imela. Imela. For all you’ve done for me. Imela Imela. If not for your grace Where would I be . . .”

Yes, Lord, thank you. Thank you for the grace you have shown to me, your slow-to-learn child. Thank you that my feet can dance. Thank you that my mouth can sing. Thank you that my heart can rejoice in this moment.

like a dove

September 11, 2016

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“Oh that I had wings like a dove. Then I would fly away and be at rest” (Ps. 55:6)
Lord have mercy. Oh my Lord, have mercy upon me …
Many years ago, as an insecure and immature college student, I stumbled upon this verse during my private devotion. I was, at the time, desperate to find relief from my own troubled soul. I was also functioning behind a facade of put-togetherness, being a stellar student and a Bible study leader with my campus fellowship, and seriously looking towards the future with my boyfriend at the time.
Facade.
Funny thing: a local friend asked me today what the word meant. Here on our annual church retreat, I find myself with just long enough–one weekend–removed from my daily life to be able to put some words to my feelings. I can’t recall the precise wording of my answer, but I find it ironic that the word has made its way into random daily vocabulary, in a similar fashion to the way that it has become a far-too-present reality for my life.
I am battling myself, you see. Battling the onset of a darkening of my inner reality …a “dark night of the soul,” as Mother Teresa so aptly, and boldly, described it, as her own state.
Once again, as I felt when a college student, I feel as if I must go through the motions of my life while desperately hanging on to a semblance of “togetherness.”
I have children coming into my classroom every day, waiting for me to instruct and engage them. I go through the motions.
I have a congregation watching me each Sunday as we gather for worship. I sing the songs.
I have boarding students in my home for after-school activities. I entertain them.
To be fair, there is a joy in each of these activities: as Robert Frost penned in his poem “Birches,” “one could do worse than be a swinger of birches.” Or, in my case, one could do worse than be teaching these classes, singing on a praise team, and leading yoga sessions. I love these things …but only when I love my own life.
I’m afraid that at the moment I feel rather like the paralytic by the healing waters. I see the hope in the distance, but I cannot seem to get my body there. I cannot move fast enough to find my way.
My body has turned against me, and my foot refuses to heal. For a short few weeks, it had been improving and I was getting back to a semblance of mobility-testing the waters again, and thrilled when I was able to run without pain. But then the pain returned with a vengeance, as if it was back to when I first injured it, over 3 months ago. I am back to a painful, and infuriatingly slow, limp. Back to being the gimp.
What scares me now is that I no longer trust the healing process. I fear that I am not just waiting to get back to my usual self, but instead adjusting to a new, broken, existence.
I know this sounds overly dramatic, but I say it, knowing that is the case, because I need to voice the intensity of my fear. It is real.
I must also admit to the shame that I feel as I come to terms with the depth of my reliance upon my coping mechanism of a daily workout routine. Without my runs, I Eeyore my way through each day, with my physical plodding feeling like a mirror of my inner moping.
Yes Lord, have mercy. Give me a hope for the future. Give me a heart that loves. And please, if You see fit, let my feet dance again …

*this retreat happens to be taking place at one of the most beautiful spots I have yet visited in this country. My friend started taking pictures as we stood on a balcony overlooking the city. I felt the irony at the time, of the beauty surrounding me while I struggled to see anything through the cloudy lens of my inner vision.

prepared

August 28, 2016

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As we tested microphones for practice this morning, I realized with a start that I had completely forgotten about one of the songs I had intended to learn before this morning. The other vocalist was leading the Korean lyrics, but I was going to lead the English. This meant learning the song, but also figuring out the phrasing, as English translations often don’t mesh perfectly with the flow of the notes, like they work with the song’s original language. In the business of the workweek and then that of the dorm students come Friday night, I had simply forgotten about this song. Until this morning. Grace abounded for me, and for all of us, when the few minutes before the service ended up being enough to get a feel for it. And then somehow, during the song itself, the rest of it came together and it worked–so far as I could tell, at least.
Now I am in no way attempting to advocate for a lack of preparation…though lord knows life as a teacher involves a fair bit of a learning curve in the art of pant-seat-fly-by-ing ;-)
But the fact of today is that I dropped the ball. I should have been prepared and I was not. I am also, however, grateful that I did; this ball-dropping was a way that God allowed me to see the slippery slope I was heading down, and to give me a check on it before I dropped a more significant “ball.”
I have, since this school year began, been striving. And I have been tired: worn out from pushing to accomplish something-anything-but seeing little fruit for my labor, as far as my own perspective goes. Each day I wonder if I can make it through the business of the day …and I crave a sense of doing it well. But at this point in my job, tangible outcomes are just not a reality. The library is, quite frankly, a mess; it cannot hide years of neglect and the absence of a librarian. And I have not yet figured out a good work flow/balance that will allow me to make sense of the library while teaching all my classes in an effective, and wholehearted manner. Thus far, I’ve had to focus more on the teaching, though the truth is that I’d rather be tackling the library! So when this week ended, and I did not see the results I wanted, I refused to allow myself to feel weary. I figured I should have some tangible results if I was going to be tired from the week. Not seeing those, I began a weekend of attempting to make myself feel worthwhile. When this led me to wear out, and then end up needy for affirmation that wasn’t coming, my husband lovingly called me on it. Instead of profusely thanking me as I busied about with attention-seeking household tasks, he simply commented: “you don’t have to make yourself useful.”
I’d like to say that I immediately slowed down and had a peaceful Saturday evening at home; in fact, however, I let my wounded pride simmer and resented his ability to relax. I made myself miserable and, most likely, this was a large part of the reason for this morning’s issues.
But our lives are so much bigger than how we may feel about them at any given moment. And more was happening yesterday than my own off-kilter emotions.
In the midst of it, I was responsible for a couple of high school girls who actually did “need” me in the midst of, and in spite of, myself. It didn’t even matter to them how I felt: imagine that! They needed me to occupy their afternoon with an excursion in search of a swimming pool. It was a longer walk than either had anticipated, about which they were quite vocal. But once we arrived at a pool that was just for us, after two that were closed, it was all worthwhile. We splashed about in the water. They put flowers in each others’ hair. And I jimmied a sling for my camera phone, using swim goggles and the corner of a pool chair, in order to capture our afternoon. The resulting, off-kilter, photos, seemed quite appropriate, all things considered :-)