People, Part 1

April 15, 2017

Settling in for the ride, I mention to Peter that it’s a lot easier to handle the prospect of this overnight bus journey at the tail end of the trip than at the beginning. Something about village stays just makes my a-bit-too-western self grateful for a comparably comfortable and dust-free seat appealing. I think through my mental photos and plan some quiet writing time while I mix a cup of my extra-cocoa chocolate mix for us. “Mind if I ration out my hot water and make it more of a pudding,” I ask. I interrupt him before he gets out his amused “mind?” response …”yeah yeah-you’re always there for me, ready to eat my sludge.”
As I take out my phone to begin tapping out notes for serious trip documentation, Jin pops his head over from the row in front of us. “What are you eating?” he asks. Peter starts to take the spoon out of his mouth and I answer for him “it’s chocolate mix,” I say. Jin’s eyes widen a bit. “Oh-it’s your lucky day!” Not missing a beat, Peter says “Nah-it’s my lucky life.” Jin’s 4th grade brain missed the meaning of this one; his mind jumped to jokes about random occasions for luck. But I was duly impressed with my generally un-verbally-romantic hubby. We moved on to various riddles and bantering conversations with Jin for some time.
So much for that quiet writing timeI thought. But then I realized that, realistically speaking, that’s one of the things I love about this sort of international life. In short, I find it comforting somehow to embrace life that is all-consuming, in practical sorts of ways, and that interrupts plans in a way that reminds you what is really important in that moment.
That said, I’m going to try to document this week in a bit of a different way than I generally feel compelled to do. I will share about moments that mattered to me without necessarily telling a start-to-finish explanation of the whole. We’ll see how it actually plays out once I start writing, but that’s the plan 😉
I want to tell you about my husband. He went into this trip already weary from a job that demands too much from him, and that exhausts his patience for on-call and help-me-now sorts of “needs.” But this week he dove into work that he was familiar with, thanks to the water engineering projects he did when we lived in China, and he did it with energetic enthusiasm. When the rest of us would finish and head home for showers and dinner, he’d be summoned to go shop for parts they might need for the next day’s work. And when concerns were voiced about the work ethics of the person hired to do the next stage of the project, Peter mentioned that he knew how to do it, so the outsourcing was canceled and Peter got the job. There is now a brand new bore hole providing good clean water for this dry and dusty village. There is also a weary man dozing in the seat next to me who I’m tickled pink to get to claim as mine 😍
I want to tell you about Yvonne. This woman has a serving spirit that puts me both in awe of her and ashamed at my own lack of the same. She tends to be so others-focused that I have learned to watch what I ask of her, in our friendship. I have to anticipate what ways she might overextend herself and go beyond what’s needed, so that I can keep from causing over work. Two days ago I noticed she was favoring one leg, as the three of us in one room readied for bed that night. Turns out she had a bad burn from a motorcycle exhaust pipe that she’d been hiding from us. She was walking around so much that it hurt worse by the day. The next day we were finishing up with lunch and she started to get up to join the group of us going to greet folks in the village. I forbade her to join us. “Sit under the tree,” I said, “with Peter. You’re not allowed to walk anymore.” I went over to Peter to tell him that she was going to stay with him in the “burn unit” (Peter’s redneck was so bad he was also forbidden to emerge from the shade). As I turned to go back over to Yvonne, I realized that she had gone over to the well and was washing everyone’s lunch dishes. I marched over and proceeded to arm wrestle her for the job. It still didn’t work. She allowed me to help her but would not leave until the job was done. This is just one instance in many of the same, as she goes about life with the unquestioned assumption that if something needs to be done, or someone needs help, she wants to do it. Period.

I want to tell you about The Mothers. They are technically grandmothers to some on our team, but I mentally called them mom’s the whole time as I felt we were all mothered by them. Split into teams for our different assignments, these two ladies were the cooking team. Last year we cooked for ourselves over an open fire, peeling charred skin off our potatoes so that each meal left our hands and faces smeared charcoal. This year we ate hand-rolled rice balls with seaweed and sesame, spicy noodles, and kimchee. “I’m in food heaven,” I would say, asking someone to translate my words to the chefs.
These ladies were not your average grandma, mind you. When we were in between jobs and hanging out under a mango tree, one of them walked over to a man standing by his bike. She was curious how it would ride and he gestured she was welcome to try it. With him holding it steady from behind (it being too tall for her to mount easily), she began wheeling circles around us. Her guide wasn’t watching the ground in front of her, though, so she realized she was getting too close to a child crouched on the ground; without being able to brake herself, she quickly veered the handlebars so sharply that she forced the bike to fall. Rolling herself quickly back up to her feet, she shooed away the rest of us running to her, brushed the dirt from her clothes, and smiled widely.
Later we moved to another mango tree for a meeting with the village. Chairs were carried over for us, as special guests. She walked over to a log in the back, however, squeezing in amidst all the children. They giggled a bit. She laughed with them.
I want to tell you about a child. As I mentioned in an Instagram post, I fell in love with a wide-eyed face, and the animated conversations coming out of that mouth . We couldn’t understand each other in the slightest, but that didn’t hinder her one bit as she rattled off stories, instructions, and reprimands to me. Eventually we had a focused enough interaction, outside of the schoolhouse, in which I wrote out the spelling of my name in the dirt, and then found out hers. She nodded and repeated “Anna” to my own nod, smiling with a childlike but also a bit too old-soul sort of pride. Sefia.
I want to tell you about People. The reason for sharing details about this trip is a bit of a complicated one for me. A part of me hesitates to tell the stories, for fear of coming across as some sort of heroic figure. Our team this past week worked hard, and did well. But we did what anyone could have done just as well. There was no need for a bunch of “obronis” (foreigners) to come do the songs, dances, drilling, teaching, and medical care that we did; in fact, I suspect that some of the work we did could have been done just as well, if not better, by those who live in that village. There is an inordinate amount of brilliance and genius to be found in anyone, anywhere . . . a remote village in Western Africa just as much as in a bustling city in the Western world. One look into the blazing eyes of Sefia confirms this truth to me. But we—Peter and I, at least—went on this trip because we believe that there is a profound beauty in the celebration of differences within humanity. We learn from each other, and in sharing who we are with others in the world we become, in baby steps, a tiny bit wiser, a tad more patient, and a little more loving. We become whole.
*So tomorrow I will share the photos that tell the rest of this written story. Today our internet is not working, and I have just enough time at a friend’s place to post this one. Maybe I will get the rest posted tomorrow. Or maybe the next day. When the time is right it will happen . . .


“Wait,” Part II

March 29, 2017

Another day.
Maybe it was for the note waiting for me in my inbox the next morning: an email reply from a new acquaintance, in which that same “They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength . . .” verse was the featured focal point.
Maybe it was for the moment I had, thanks to an extra set of hands in the library during my lunch duty there, to join in with the student praise team for their practice. They were singing a new song, and my heart soared in equal measure with my vocal chords, exulting in the joyous harmonies, and in the joy of getting to do this during my workday. Only afterwards did I realize the significance of the words I had been singing. “Speak to me. With each word you breath new life, bringing hope to me.”
Maybe it was for the 2nd day of crossing paths with that over-extrovert at the pool. This time she pointed to my tattoo. “I’ve seen that before.” I assured her that she likely had. I then explained to her what the “ichthus” meant—or at least what it means to me, as a symbol of my faith. She grinned widely. “Oh! I’m gonna tell my uncle what I know now . . .” again dashing out the door before she’d finished her sentence. I hope she did.
Maybe . . .


March 28, 2017

At the sound of the bell I fled in frustration. “Failure,” I sighed. Far too often, that word associates itself with this particular class. It was one of those days. But today I knew that I bore the weight of this failure. Sure, they were their usual moody, and unmotivated, adolescent selves; but I was the one who, shortly into the block, felt my own motivation dwindle. By the end of the first half hour, I had pretty much given up on inspiring them to learn this lesson.
Feeling the weight of that knowledge, I began to question my own assumptions about work. I think I have always assumed that the older I get, and the more experience I gain, the better I will be at any given job. But recently, I am wondering if I’m actually getting any better at this teaching gig. No matter how many techniques I try to incorporate, or how many pep talks I give myself, I can’t seem to pull myself up by the bootstraps from this general malaise when it comes to my job. The moments of joy just stay moments, while the daily grind stays dreary.
This was the state in which I began my afternoon swim, with an ache and a longing for comfort. I wished I had a functioning MP3 player, missing my daily audio Bible readings. But instead I started to breath out prayers at each exhale, so I could actually hear my audible “groans” bubbling out before my head came up for air at each stroke.
A talk I had recently heard on Faith Conversations came to mind, in which Mike McHargue (of the podcasts Ask Science Mike and The Liturgists) spoke of his conversion experience to, and then out of, atheism. When explaining his process of coming to terms with his personal faith, he mentioned that, for all of his evangelical church training, his scientific and cosmological studies, and his apologetics (both Christian and atheistic), when it came down to it, his faith was prayer. Period.
I decided to spend this swimming time pursuing prayer, in a way that would go beyond my usual “arrow” or daily life prayers. One of my recent prayers has been a sort of “Speak, Lord.” I envision Samuel when I say this, sometimes adding, “your servant is listening.” I struggle, though, with the apparent lack of “speech” that I get in return. “How can I really know if God is speaking to me?,” I wonder. Today I grew more bold. What if God really talked to me right now, while I am swimming? If I have enough faith, will He talk to me?
As often happens when I am doing anything meditative, I began to “sing” [kinda hard to actually sing underwater ;-)] lines from songs that came to mind. I was in the middle of “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength . . .” when another song popped into my head. An old high school favorite—“40,” by U2. I began to go through the lyrics to this one: “I waited patiently for the Lord. He inclined and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit. Out of the mire and clay. I will sing, sing a new song . . .” Then tears sprang to my eyes, blurring my already foggy-goggle vision. That was what I needed to hear. Hope returned. It then occurred to me that I had just jumped from one “wait” song to another. I tried to think of all the verses that spoke of this word but my memory didn’t do that well at coming up with a list. I did, however, settle into those two songs for the remainder of my swim. And I also felt certain that God had indeed spoken to me just then—and that what He said was “wait.”
Wait for what? I don’t know.
Maybe it was for the little one who started to tug on me each time I passed her, shouting out “Auntie—hello!” Turns out she was just an overly extroverted youngster who continued to talk to me in the pool (about how she was watching me swim my deep end laps while she tried to get to the other side of the shallow end) and then in the changing room (“Auntie—why is there a shower in here?” Um, I don’t know. “There’s a shower out there and one in here . . .” her voice trailing off as she walked out to investigate other strangenesses).
Maybe it was for the memory of another class today, after which I had a completely unexpected chat with a high schooler who didn’t see anything wrong with legalizing prostitution. I told him of stories I’ve heard from friends who work with sex trafficking victims, and I explained my perspective on it. He was clearly ignorant about bits of knowledge I simply take for granted, and it struck me that I was in the right place at the right time. It was a rare occurrence of heartfelt (not just head) knowledge that I was, in fact, doing some good in this teaching gig.
Maybe . . .

reason to laugh

March 16, 2017


Today I chose to laugh. I did not feel like it. I would have, in fact, preferred to crumple into a weepy mess on the floor. But considering the circumstances of a classroom of 13-year-olds watching me, I managed to suck up my inclination in favor of a more productive response.

For some time now, I have lived in fear of a student—a middle schooler who has managed to hold an inordinate amount of power over me in the classroom. I had her for one semester last year, when I was struggling to figure out this classroom teacher business, and also battling significant dorm parent issues in the home, with a boarding kid who was also in this class. It was, quite simply, a daily nightmare.

As a result, I spent a large portion of last semester dreading this one, when that group would once more grace me with their classroom presence. The class is smaller this year, and only a handful of the same students from last year remain . . .but they are a powerful few, and I’m afraid  I still dread each 80-minute block with them. To be fair, I have grown in my teacher identity since last year, and have learned some better classroom management skills for that age group. Some days I feel much better. But some days I don’t. Today I did not. Today the ringleader saw the opportunity to snag the upper hand and she took it. She also, I believe, was quite aware that she had control, as she is an extremely smart teen. I do not think that she is consciously out to spite me; rather, I suspect that she is hurting, in some form or fashion, and that she uses her influence with her peers in order to comfort herself. I try to remind myself of this, and to not take it personally, but I know I do it poorly, with my complete lack of a “poker face,” and my tendency to be frustratingly visible with my emotions.

Anyhow, all that to say, I was not a happy camper today. In the midst of the power struggle (which happened while they were taking a practice test), I had no reply to one of her jabs and just turned away to hide my face. Doing so, I turned towards another student—one whom I’ve enjoyed in different contexts at the school (like my girls’ fitness class). While I watched her, she looked up from her paper and loudly called to another student by name, “Hey—what time is it?” I frowned and immediately called her out for talking in the middle of the test. She looked so confused that I walked over to her desk to see what was going on. I, incidentally, was confused by the realization that the wall clock hung directly in front of her.

When I looked down at her paper, she simply pointed at the question she was working on, looking at me with that still genuinely perplexed expression.

Then I laughed. The instructions were to show me various forms of translation to the French language. The question she was looking at read: “Ask a classmate what time it is?”

She had simply forgotten that she was taking a French test and taken the sentence literally :-)

In that moment, I realized that this girl was my “escape hatch” for the class period. If I looked at, and listened to, the students who were simply trying to do their work, I would be able to almost-forget the hurt, and able to laugh—even if that laughter was masking tears.

. . . ok, so maybe it’s only completely different in my odd-ball world :-)

A spoken “blog” post



I’m participating this week in a blog post link-up with Emily Freeman about seasonal learning. Whatever “winter” is supposed to mean in this hemisphere, here’s my short list.

  1. “Heaven is a wonderful place . . .

. . . filled with glory and grace . . . “

Any of you out there who grew up with 80’s Church camp may be singing along with my right now :-) The lyrics to this slightly annoying but catchy tune have been running through my head for a few days now. I know the truth of the concept, and have for decades now. But the enthusiasm is new, thanks to a beautiful moment in my ladies’ Bible study this week. We were studying the book of Romans, and focusing on 8: 22-23. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” A few women began to talk about what that actually would look like: the bodily redemption that was to come in heaven. As they did so, the idea of actually being able to do all the activities I love in this life, with none of the frustrations, just hit me in a way that it had not before. “Thank you!” I blurted out as they talked. I continued, explained that I had suddenly had a beautiful lifting of the spirit at the realization that I didn’t have to just trudge gloomily through my days, as I generally feel I am doing. It has been a season of Eeyore-ish-ness for me, with my daily activities simply feeling like a list of chores and obligations. But suddenly I realized that, my nature being one of goal-oriented motivation, I can handle any sort of hardship if I can see the end in sight. And in this case, what a stunning end!

The version I was actually reading was French, in which the word for “groaning” translates literally as “sighing.” I am a sigh-er, vocalizing my annoyance and frustration more often than I wish. So if I consider these frequent sighs, on any given day, as a reminder of a glory that is to come, I feel as if I might be able to step a bit more lightly, and smile a bit more brightly. When the ladies left and my husband came out from his office hiding place, I was still on a bit of a high. So much so that I spontaneously serenaded him with full-on, belted out serenades (Hanson Brothers, anyone?).

2. I’m not a very good teacher.

There was a time in my life when work came easily and naturally to me—when I felt confident about my career and proud of my accomplishments. This is not that time. Full time classroom teaching has stretched me beyond my comfort level and stripped me of the illusion that I know what I’m doing. I have learned that one classroom can have me teary-eyed with joy while the next can provoke tears of frustration and, at times, even panic. I am grateful for the lesson in humility that this has been . . . but I am growing weary of the challenges and beginning to suspect it is time to settle back into work that is a bit more natural for my introverted and intuitive (INFJ, if you’re a Myers Briggs person) sensitivities.

3. I’m a pretty good student.

I never thought I would do seminary. I was, in fact, originally headed towards a Doctorate in Education. But that program did not offer a scholarship; this one does. So I’ve ended up discovering a somewhat surprising side of me, in that I really enjoy being a student, and learning, again. I guess I knew that to a certain extent [I like to say that I became a librarian so that I could have a job of learning everything about everything] But the actual experience of enjoying my studies—and of craving time to be able to do it—is a bit of a surprise considering what I thought I knew about my student personality [thinking I was goal-oriented about it, as opposed to just enjoying the study itself]. In this case, I have no professional aspiration for this MDiv . . . but I’m enjoying the process,

4. I love my students when I’m dancing with them.

At the end of International Day festivities today, several of the high schoolers taught a few of their respective dance moves. As I followed along with them, and watched their rhythmic beauty, my smile grew to a ridiculous grandeur. I thought of the happy moments spent with them in such times—like when I have done dances with them during Girls’ Fitness class a few weeks each year. It was a blessedly needed reminder of the beauty of humanity as a whole, and of each of these students in her unique giftedness. After a morning of frustration with my abilities in the classroom, this vantage-point shift was life giving.

5. I love my students when I’m playing nurse.

Because the school does not currently have a nurse, I have ended up acting as one a couple times, seeing students needing something as I passed. Today I was freed up from normal schedules due to the afternoon festivities, and so was able to sit with an elementary student while she was on the breathing machine for an asthma attack. I decided to start telling her stories, to distract her from the fact that she was alone while her classmates were out having fun. At the end of the 20-minute treatment, she took her mask off and smiled at me. “Can I have more stories on Monday?” she asked? I was simultaneously saddened (at the knowledge that next week would be normal classroom teaching for me) and gladdened (at the exquisite certainty that I had been in the right place at the right time, if only for today).


February 11, 2017


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, 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


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


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 . . .