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.