on this day

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.

7 minutes

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.

a claim

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 . . .