taking a breath

September 25, 2017

The last words she spoke to me were words of anger. I did not know what to say, so I said nothing in response. I never will.
When I learned of her death today, I relayed the news matter-of-factly to my husband. “I’ve wondered if this would happen,” I added. I continued moving through the motions of the day, assuming, I think, that I had no reason to be sad about the loss of a person I had already lost years ago. But you don’t lose 25 years of friendship just because 2 recent years have been lacking the same. I began to realize this as I swam. The waves washed over me accordingly, and I began to whisper/gasp out the thought “breathe” with each stroke, speaking the words to her. It was she was who begged me, while bumming at the pool one afternoon 6 years back, to teach her how to breathe while swimming. I dutifully donned my swimming instructor cap [no pun intended], and began the lesson. Instead of watching attentively, she proceeded to grab her camera and photograph my face as I passed her mid-stroke. By the time I had finished my first two demonstration laps and had emerged to explain the mechanics step by step, in detail, she was doubled over in hysteric laughter. I stared at her confused while she attempted to explain. In between fits, she gave up and pointed me towards the pictures. “Your face,” she sputtered. “You have no idea how funny you look when you’re opening your mouth like that . . .” She lost it to her laughter once more, while I furrowed my brow in my best not-amused expression.
We gave up swim-breath lessons after that day. But I still think of her when I’m taking those breaths in the water.
This afternoon I cried instead of laughing, though. I breathed out my “Breathe!” prayers. I waded in the waters of my sorrow.
I mourned for my friend.
I mourn for my friend.
I will mourn for my friend . . .


September 21, 2017

This week I stumbled upon a lesson that rocked my world . . . or at least my upper elementary library lesson world. It started simply enough, with a recognized title I had shelved on my “emergency” lesson plan stack (for those days when I need a bit of inspiration help—or, perhaps, a last -minute grab bag pick, as the case may be). At any rate, this was a day when planning ahead had been a struggle, with interruptions abounding. When it came time to think about the two groups of elementary kids on my afternoon radar, I was stilted. But in they filed, and into “Koko’s Kitten” I began. It was the kind of book I knew was quality material, for a non-fiction lesson; I was unprepared, however, for the brilliance of the class as it played out. For one, the story itself was far more moving than anticipated. I was not the only one with tears in my eyes at one (no spoilers!) point in the tale—I think it even got to a few of the too-cool-for-school pre-adolescents in the crown. Then, when the story had ended and discussion began, I asked a few normal genre questions. One kid piped up here and argued that this book was fiction, because animals don’t talk. I corrected him, saying that, in fact, this gorilla does talk: audible words are not the only way to “talk.” I then began signing to them and, after a moment, said, “Did you get that? I was talking to you just then . . .” They got the point, and before I knew it were asking me for more of a lesson in sign language. I couldn’t really afford the time for it by then but couldn’t resist arguing with one dissident who scoffed at the idea. “This is library class, not sign language class!” It gave me the excuse to launch into one of my favorite librarian-speak rants, in which I explain that librarianship is all about “finding stuff,” with “stuff” being information. And pretty much any sort of information counts, so it’s really like a job that means always learning about new things, and figuring out how to figure out whatever it is you might need . . . yeah, us nerdy sorts can’t help but get a kick out of this idea ;-)
Anyhow, the sum total of this particular class tale is that all went well—remarkably so for a group with a rather squirrely reputation. You just never know.

alphabetically grateful

September 12, 2017

My husband is my hero.
He is on Day 2 of a 3-day complete fast. I am not. In some effort to join with him, I happened upon a very good exercise today. It was inspired by a Catalyst interview I listened to, with Max Lucado, about his new book entitled Anxious for Nothing. In the interview he mentioned a simple but striking point: that anxiety and gratitude cannot coexist.
I began thinking about the truth of this statement, and it occurred to me that, considering the combination of my general nature and my recent attitude towards life, I would do well to “fast,” in a sense, from anxiety. I began to try to redirect my thought life from the constant train of worries to a sense of thankfulness; but I soon found that this approach was too general and, consequently, ineffective for me. I realized I would need a very specific thought-pattern in order to accomplish any real anxiety-banishment. What came to mind then (probably thanks to a great deal of alphabet talk in training of library interns and with my lower elementary classes) was a one-word alphabet list of my day’s “thanks.” I walked my mind through the letters of the alphabet, attaching a single mental image—one moment—that I could associate with a word to go along with that letter. This is the list I came up with, along with explanations if necessary:

Alphabetical order. See above mention of its usefulness with all ages of students.
Bini. A student I had come in today for a 2nd try at following directions &, consequently, getting to select the book of his choice to check out. He was clearly diligent and conscientious this time around, and his bright and eager smile brought me near tears . . . the joy of reconciliation]
Chocolate. Though generally associated with my own [daily, I must admit] enjoyment of the stuff, today it brought another sort of pleasure. This time, after finishing a favorite read-aloud, and moving on to check-out for Grade 5, I was, frankly, happily shocked to find girls and boys clamoring around me with requests for pencil & paper. Not having asked them to do anything, I was perplexed until I realized that they were gathering around the book I had finished in order to copy down the recipe included at the back of the book, for the chocolate cake the protagonist makes with her grandmother. My smile then grew too large for my face.
D. See “S”
Empty. The pool today, for my afternoon swim [during which I composed this list]
Full. My belly. [sorry, hubby!]
Home. Of daily and future varieties.
Introversion. I complain at times about the trials of being an introvert in an extroverted world. But the truth is that I like being an introvert, and would be quite horrified at the prospect of pretending to be anything else. Imagine that—an extreme introvert not liking the idea of things associated with extroversion! ;-)
Joujan. I like my name [and the family that goes with it]
Kiddos. See “Z”
Lon Po Po. The version of Little Red Riding Hood that I was able to introduce to the 1st grade class today. Gave me the thrill of getting to pull out a few words from my out-of-use Chinese vocabulary . . . and then I got to see them fighting over the two copies I had available for them to check out.
Music. Sitting in a staff meeting today, I found myself looking at the face of the music teacher [one of the few who’s worked here for all our 3 years—sadly enough]. I thought of how much I love her, & her daughter [who is one of a rare breed: kindly conscientious and diligent teen.
Numbers. Of the Dewey Decimal variety. I got to wax poetic about the thrills of library organization, thanks to a “captive” audience of 8th grade research students. Some of them might have even cared . . . about the grade they were going to get on their paper!
Orange. My favorite color for flowers. And the color of the bloom that is currently, surprisingly, re-blooming on my front porch.
Quiet. The library that I was able to close a few minutes early this afternoon, thanks to the shortage of its usual middle school dwellers [not that I ever feel anything but sweet affection for the dear youngsters. Bless their hearts]
Rain. I’ve been complaining about the overabundance of it. But I know that if it were not for the amount we have recently had, we would be miserably melting by this point in the hot season. I did, in fact, enjoy today’s light drizzle.
Sun. It came out today—briefly. I managed to stand outside in it for a few happy minutes, my cloud-weary skin soaking in its rays [and its vitamin]
Time. I had an unexpected enough of it today, on the weekday that generally leaves me fearful in anticipation, thanks to the usual lack thereof.
Under. The lovely feeling of being submerged in water that’s slightly too cold, for a brisk swim, & then of taking a soothingly hot shower.
Violin. I cheated. This one refers to two days ago, & to the joy of having a talented guitarist on the worship team. I must admit, with a fair bit of musical embarrassment, to a slip of the tongue [brain fart?] that had me refer to her as our “violinist”
Welcome. “You are welcome” is a happy phrase around here: an invitation to us foreigners to be part, and to partake, in whatever food or drink they may be partaking of at the time.
X. Again, I cheated. This time with not even a semblance of inventiveness. I have no idea . . .
Y. Why’s everybody always pickin’ on me?
Zoo. Sometimes I feel like I’m in the middle of one, on any give school day. But when it comes down to it, I love the crazy kiddos, and the madness of a life spent surrounded by them.

*Forgive the repeat of last post’s photo op. I couldn’t resist another of the same plant’s joyous blooms.

summer learnin’

September 1, 2017

Linking up with Emily P. Freeman this month, to talk about the timely topic of “10 things I learned this summer.” So without further ado . . .

  1. Greek is hard. Up to this point in my seminary career, I’ve been a bit spoiled, in that for the most part I have taken classes that are relatively easy for my brain to wrap around, under professors who are generally complimentary of my performance. This summer I have been humbled to discover that Greek is extremely difficult for me—or at least taking it online, as an Independent Study. For much of my life I have considered myself a language person, sometimes even feeling a bit sheepish about how quickly languages come to me. Maybe I’m getting old. Maybe I’ve lost my skill. Maybe Greek is just different. But for whatever reason I am currently stressing fabulously over an upcoming exam, fearing that I will fail the course altogether.
    2. I’m a glutton for punishment. When I discover something that makes me feel good, I make it a habit. As my husband gently chided me recently, I tend to act as if something that is good to do once must be good to do every day. A few years ago I discovered swimming, finding it to be an amazingly effective stress reliever that I could do consistently here where the weather is often too hot for my former preferred activity of running. So I swim every day, unless dramatically prevented from doing so. This has carried on to a variety of summertime locations, some of which have been WAY TOO COLD for swimming. I’ve gotten myself near-hypothermic with my attempts. And lately, even though we have been back in Ghana for a month, I’ve continued to suffer miserably as I swim. The weather has been strange here, with the rainy season continuing long after it normally disappears. We’ve also had cool winds, making the swimming pools (all outdoors here) become very uninviting. But I still swim, returning home with chattering teeth and exclamations of how awful the water is to Peter who, no doubt, is kindly holding back from comments as to why in the world I would continue to subject myself to the misery I consistently complain about. I continue . . .
    3. I can be a grown-up. Or at least do some grown-up things. “About time!,” you might say, as I slide steadily towards 40-base ;-). But I’ve gotten away with a lot of avoidance of future planning up to this point in my life and, realizing this, Peter and I set out this summer to do something practical about the fact that our lives currently do nothing to plan for retirement. We decided to invest in land and had a summer of land-hunting. It was a somewhat unpleasant, somewhat unorganized, and somewhat aimless hunt. But, at the last minute, we managed to come out all right . . . and are now feeling pretty good about what we did!
    4. I have good neighbors. This seems to be a bit of a theme of my life; it seems that no matter where I land, good people end up right there to give a helping hand when needed. This summer I had a slew of good kin (like my mama!) and good friends. We were wined and dined, and generally royally treated by the fine folks who deem us, for some reason, worthy of their time. And somehow, that pattern continued right on to life here. Our move brought us this school year to a compound of 3 apartments that have us welcomed in to others’ lives in a daily, delightful manner. More on that in #5 . . .
    5. I like promoting community. One evening as I planned our dinner club, I commented to Peter that I never realized I had a thing for setting up neighborly sorts of things. But one of the first things I did with our compound was to see the value in a meal rotation and set one up, so that we alternate evenings of cooking dinner for the 3 apartments. It just occurred to me that it takes less effort to multiply a meal than it does to cook a brand new one every night. And with the time commitments required by the teaching profession, it just makes sense to do what we can to lessen the stress entailed my meal planning and prep. This rotation has offered an economical and healthy alternative to other outcomes of schedules that leave little space for time in the kitchen. And thankfully, so far I don’t think I’ve wearied anyone too terribly much with one-pot, down-home dinners :-)
    6. I need to sing. Specifically, I need to lead worship. This summer I continued my trend to seeking out ways to sing at the churches we spent time in. I thought I was wanting to take a break from my responsibilities in that regard but, turns out, I didn’t want a break—I just itched to keep singing. So now, as this school year begins, I find myself a bit tickled pink that I was invited to join the chapel music team. I used to watch longingly from afar but, thanks to some good friends heading it up this year, I get to be “one of the gang,” as my old Peanuts sheet set used to proclaim. I wonder where that pillowcase went, now that I think about it . . .
    7. I need to write. So tonight, in the midst of worrying about replying to emails, studying for seminary classes, and outlining committee meeting notes, I am not doing any of those things. I am writing this post.
    8. Sometimes I don’t follow all the rules. I used to think I was always a goody two-shoes. I think perhaps I’m actually more of a people-pleaser, though . . . or at least worried about what people think of me. But my underlying motivation isn’t even that: I’m actually an “upholder,” if you are familiar with Gretchen Rubin’s 4 tendencies. So I’m a bit self-centered when it comes down to it. I want people to think well of me. But when it comes down to it, I’m more deeply concerned with following through with what I’ve either set out to do, or with what I think is right. Don’t know whether this is good or bad, but, there it is!
    9. This list will have only 9 numbers (see #8).

*Photo is of a flower that was given to my by a roadside shop owner that is now potted and sporting new blooms, after being simply plucked out from the ground after I exclaimed about its loveliness. Simple pleasures.