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.


Other roads

July 24, 2017

IMG_6247Rifling through my wallet to pull out my dimes and pennies, I apologized to the clerk. “Sorry,” I told her, when I had the right amount for my gas station cappuccino, “I like to use up my spare change before leaving the country.” “Oh!,” she said, her weariness morphing into a starry-eyed smile. “Must be nice,” she added. I felt at once guilty and starry-eyed for my own version of hers. “No,” I started to explain, “I just live there …” My voice trailed off as I thanked her and jolted myself back into the fast-paced mindset of get-in-mom’s-car-and-get-on-with-trip-to-airport mode. I squelched my desire to explain the ins and outs of this life journey, reminding myself that the average stranger is not likely to be interested in my poetic musings … and, for that matter, I’m not all that interested in waxing poetic when international travel is looming in my immediate future. But the fact is that, in between the fits and starts of frenetic business matters, my deeper self is preoccupied with a deeper sense of reality than that which is urgent. I know something about myself that the world does not yet know. I know that each year it gets harder to say goodbye to the “home” that family is for me. I know that my independent, self-sufficient, footloose-and-fancy-free globetrotting persona is not the deepest part of who I am. I know that the experiences I have had as a resident of Asia, Africa, and Europe have been invaluable and have formed me–or perhaps have simply filled a mold that was already there? I am also growing aware of some truths that are more obvious but that I have not been so aware of till now: of the ways in which 40-ish-ness affects my interests, my intellect, and my physical self, for one. And of the ways in which marriage changes those aspects as well–or perhaps the way it makes them more fully authentic?
I know that I have countless steps to take yet before coming to any real maturity or wisdom. But I think I’ve come a little ways along that path of late. And I think I know where this path will lead in the not-so-distant future.
A poem I happened upon this morning, via Anita Lustria’s Faith Conversations podcast, says it better than I can. I will close with the words of Ruth Bidgood.
No need to wonder what heron-haunted lake
lay in the other valley,
or regret the songs in the forest
I chose not to traverse.
No need to ask where other roads might have led,
since they led elsewhere;
for nowhere but this here and now
is my true destination.
The river is gentle in the soft evening,
and all the steps of my life have brought me home.

Read the rest of this entry »


July 6, 2017

FullSizeRender (8)
We celebrated the 4th of July by picking asparagus beans. I’d never heard of them, never mind seen them on the vine but, as we showed off the blooming wonder of a garden to Mom’s visiting friend—Mabel—she stopped mid sentence to berate Lou for not picking the asparagus beans. Turns out the poor guys were growing so low to the ground that their showy purple hues had gone completely unnoticed. We “ooh”ed and “ahh”ed a bit, hopefully rescuing the pride of the productive plants, before plucking them clean of their fruits.
I almost didn’t go down to the garden, though: I had preparation for an upcoming flight in mind, along with the trip back up the mountain that night. In general, I have come to a peace with the portion of my nature that is just not a partier—more prone towards the “party pooper” personality, if I’m honest about my nerves and level of sociability. Come a certain “pumpkin” hour, as I used to joke with old college roomies, I just want to be settled into my room, curled up with something to read and a cup of tea as I wind down for bed.
A few exceptions come to mind, during which I let loose with a rare partying side of myself. One involved a college catering gig for a ritzy island family, after which my fellow server and I were invited to relax, and enjoy the party fare. That night I consumed a rather large quantity of exquisitely tasty “fruit salad.” The hours afterwards are fuzzy in my memory. I recall a great deal of time spent lost in dancing heaven, to music that was perfectly danceable for me (probably hip hop or reggae). I remember being returned home to sit around and recap the night with our other housemates. To my embarrassment, I learned that I had not been simply carried away by the music that night; something special in that fruit had assisted the process—my friend had not mentioned it to me at the time, opting to nod with amusement while I raved about each tasty bite. My other housemates were equally amused at the telling: one also reassured me when I blushed, noting that it was likely a positive way for me to spend one of the evenings fresh from my first true heartbreak. Looking back, I suspect she was right; I also suspect that I needed to learn to lighten up a bit from some rigid ideas about “proper” Christian girl behavior. It has been a long and sometimes steep learning curve for me, in that regard—becoming who God intends for me to be and not an idea of who others expect me to be.
I digress. What I was going to write about was last night—our 4th of July celebration. It was a cozy group of 7 of us: my parents, my grandparents, my mother’s childhood friend, who now lives in Florida, and my husband and I. We ate chicken and beef kebabs, along with plenty of garden-fresh veggies and mom’s famous bread. We laughed about small things, like my weak joke of “Where’s Jack?” when Mom commented on the impressive height of one of her beanstalks, wondering how we would manage to pick the beans. My grandparents headed home around 7:00 pm, and my husband and I did so closer to 8:00.
Nothing of consequence happened. Except one thing. One small twinge of that gut-tugging feeling you get when you know something in your heart needs attention. This happened at the moment when Mom headed down to the garden with Mabel. As I mentioned, I almost did not go. I was starting to pack up the car and had in mind a to-do list and a schedule. But when I watched Mom start her slow walk down the hill, Mabel beside her, I stopped what I was doing. Looking at their backs, I felt an immediate loneliness, nearing panic, at the thought of them leaving me behind. I wanted to be leisurely walking with them, chatting about nothing in particular, at the slow pace Mom herself jokes about when she’s using her walker. I wanted to be one of the girls.
In that moment, I realized that I had not had this feeling before—at least not directed towards my mother. I had spent the evening soaking in the presence of this friend I had heard referenced so often in childhood. I put pieces together in my mind as we talked—like the fact that this was the friend who lived in the neighborhood we moved to later on, when we came to the U.S. Her mother had fed the children creamed eggs on toast—a dish that Mom carried on herself, so that the taste of it still reminds me of childhood comfort. I watched the two of them share memories, and I laughed with them when Mom told my grandmother that Mabel was staying with them that night—“Yes, we’re going to have a sleepover!” she grinned.
Honestly, I think I might have felt a little bit jealous. My mother is a good friend. I know this because I have come to know some of her lifelong friends. People who are good friends to others attract good people to them, and this is the case with Mom. She has a small circle of solid, true people, who would drop everything if they were needed. In fact, I have seen them do exactly this.
When Mom was recovering from the accident, one of these friends came to take the 4 of us, along with Mom, when she was allowed out for “field trips” from the spinal center. Some of my first post-accident happy memories are from visits with her: I recall the sheepishly proud feeling I had after she gave me my first American hair cut. Looking in the mirror afterwards, I noticed the way it suited my features, and framed a face that looked more feminine that I was accustomed to feeling (for all my desires to be a strong and independent woman, I am afraid that it did little for my pre-adolescent ego to be told that my muscles looked like a boy’s).
Another of Mom’s lifelong friends more recently treated me as one of her own family, giving my husband and I the luxury of having our wedding at her top-notch bridal-pick of a farm. She told me she considered me family, and that there was no need for the huge cost usually associated with this venue. We were able to have a beautiful, but simple, “us” sort of wedding, because she associated me with my mother.
My life has been full of similar instances—of occasions in which I have benefited from association with someone like my mother. I’ve taken this fact for granted and have, oftentimes, responded to her with a semblance of adolescent eye-rolling or irritated “Mother!” moments. Somehow things are changing (I guess it’s high time, considering my near-40-ish self!) Instead of coasting along on a life of association, I would like to spend this next season of life choosing to choose. I want to choose the life that has been given to me, and to choose all the joys, blessings—and even heartaches—that it has to offer. I want to choose, this time around, even the family that I did not originally have a choice in. Here, and now, seeing the beauty of what was given to me, I want to choose love. And I want my family to be my friends.

satin linings

June 27, 2017

“Oh, Anna-I feel awful. Something’s wrong with me, I know …” She walked past me in her customary flurry, but this time on a mission to sink into her armchair. I followed her with a slightly panicked version of my usual (these days) concern over her increased aging ails. Worried that her insistence on going to the store had really done her in, I furrowed my brow and agreed with her stream of comments about how miserable this sickness was and how impossible it must be to imagine. “Do you feel this awful when you have malaria?,” she queried. Not sure exactly what I was comparing the feeling to, I decided to simply affirm that, sure, it must feel as awful. Still unsure what to actually do to help, though, I spontaneously put my hands on hers and closed my eyes. “Amen,” I breathed, after a few moments, adding Julian of Norwich ‘s All shall be well. And all manner of things shall be well.

Looking up, I saw a calm smile and felt pleased with my decision. But then she spoke again. “My casket is out in the pantry – I mean den. I mean office. Do you know how hard it is to find good caskets anymore? They don’t make the satin-lined ones anymore. But we can’t afford those anyway. The last funeral we did cost us $8000 – can you believe that? I heard someone say they had found a good casket maker …” She paused for a moment and I thought perhaps I should chime in. “Oh-the kind lined with satin?” I tried, wondering if I was following her train of thought. “Oh no,” she responded. “You just put your own sheets and quilts in there.”
This time I just shook my head, done with trying to make sense of the conversation. “Grandma-you’re a nut.”

I hugged her goodbye and we headed on to Mom’s place, as planned. When we got to the house Mom was on the phone. Grandma had called to say that she thought she should go on to the hospital. Instantly I felt guilt for having left when I did, and for not lingering until the hospital trip had been decided upon. I should have anticipated it, right? I should have insisted on taking her myself …

The four of us sat down to dinner, with periodic calls coming in with updates. Once we had cleaned up, Mom announced that they needed to decide whether or not they should go as well. Quite frankly, it had not occurred to me to go join the waiting room party, but they said they’d head on over, expecting to be waiting till well into morning hours before she would be seen. We joked that Lou might as well bring his overnight bag so he’d be ready to start work in the morning (he works at the same hospital). Then Peter and I got back on the road to head to our place while they left for the hospital. “I feel really guilty,” I told him, as soon as we were in the car. “You want to go?” he asked. ” “No-but I feel like I should. In our family that’s what we do. If one person has a problem, everyone stops life in order to pitch in …or join the waiting party, as the case may be.”

And that is the way it stands as I write this. Grandma is waiting out another hospital visit, still with no idea what the actual problem might be. Is it natural aging aches and pains? Is there something more specific that needs treatment? I don’t know. But I do know that the angst -filled and agonizing waiting game that we reside in now is not a happy place. I flit about with random household tasks, unable to focus on Greek lessons—or on anything else that would require more than a 2-second attention span. Family. Life would be so much easier without such emotional entanglements, would it not? Without guilt . . . without conflict . . . without drama . . . without . . . love?

Postscript: All is well, for now. They spent 4 hours waiting and then, when the doctor saw her, he prescribed meds to treat an infection that she’d previously been aware of, but that had more symptoms than realized. Everyone went home around 11:00 that night and today things were normal . . . insomuch as a family is ever “normal” ;-)

being home

June 23, 2017

Don’t be fooled. This may look like a rather dull, and definitely uninteresting photo. But it is one that inspired me to grab Peter’s arm, as he attempted to drive 3 somewhat high maintenance “back-seat drivers” home on a drizzly June evening, requesting a sudden stop for a photo op. I had just learned, from PaCharley, that we were passing the patch of road where he had first spied my grandmother. She was walking from the office building where she worked to the pharmacy across the way. He, from the other side of the road, caught a glimpse of the beauty and, reserved and proper though he was, could not refrain from requesting the scoop on Beatrice from his buddy as they worked. But I told this story once before, years ago; I will refrain from launching into the tale once again. Have no fear, dear reader: if you so desire, you may read the story as I originally wrote it (if you choose to sample my unpolished, flowery, young writer wares), by going to this “story of a gentleman and a lady” link from my blog archives. One more note about this evening, however, before I leave you: tonight the story came with a bit more intensity than it originally bore. That time I was young and starry-eyed about the future of adventure and travel I envisioned ahead of me. This time I am not-so-young and decidedly un-starry-eyed. These days I am inclined to fret and flit about, anxious about to-do lists and logistics. But these days I am also blessed with the grounding presence of consistency in my immediate “family,” if not my immediate surroundings—yet. And as the two of us work towards a future of a bit more predictability and stability, in so much as it can depend upon us (can life ever promise such?), I cannot help but be struck by the profound blessing of a couple of nonagenarians who, when we have the privilege of being with them in this land of abundance, take every opportunity offered to remind us that we have a remarkable heritage . . . that we are rich in kin . . . that here, where they are, we are home.
*Here is another photo from our recent family gatherings: a bit telltale, so far as our quirkiness goes. But I suppose any family can say as much, can it not?

IMG_6108Be forewarned: this post is written purely for the enjoyment of its writer. I have no intent to inspire, educate, or enlighten you with these words. Rather, I am writing it to relieve the stress of this past month for myself. And of this past weekend. In the throes of acting as makeup coordinator for the school Spring Musical, of writing final exams and study guides for my own students, of and writing term papers and tests for my professors, I’m a cooked goose. I’m tired of logistics. I’m tired of planning. And, believe it or not, I’m even tired of words!
Inspired by a podcast I listened to during my run today, I am, consequently, going to amuse myself by writing a “bucket list.” I have no idea what direction this post will take as, quite frankly, I have no idea what my bucket list is. But I like to dream. And I like to envision myself in less-demanding, less-frantic positions than this one in which I currently find myself. So here goes . . .
I want to go [back] to New Zealand. Spending one blessed Christmas holiday thawing out from Kabul’s chill, and basking in the welcome of a salt-of-the-earth family (who saw fit to adopt me in, for reasons I have yet to comprehend), I want to go back. I want to revisit that place, and experience its beauty with my husband.
I want to publish a book. A really good book. Not self-published, though: I want someone else to think that my story is worth telling to the world. And I want to tell it. I want to tell it well.
I want to visit Israel. Oftentimes I like to revisit places I’ve loved in the past. But in this case I want to put skin (dust?) on the studies I’ve been undertaking this past year in the Scriptures. Cliché though it is, I do, in fact, want to walk where Jesus walked.
I want to be a farmer. Ok, so maybe this one is a bit far-fetched. I’m probably no good at being a real farmer. But Peter and I have been seriously researching, talking about, and leaning towards some sort of simple, our-style, homesteading. We just know we don’t like a lot of stuff, and we like doing things ourselves—and the older we get the more we realize that we actually have a fair bit of experience and interest that lends itself well towards a somewhat self-sufficient lifestyle.
There’s a hole in my bucket . . .

. . . because I know there are TONS more items that I want to add to this list. But this is what I want to write tonight, before the hour gets late and the morning too near.

*Photo is from church this morning, before the service began. One of the deacons took this photo and sent it to me intending to show how good Peter and looked, side by side as we fellowshipped together. He didn’t realize that I had Peter’s kindle in my hands, and was, at the time, engrossed in Hillbilly Elegy.

People, Part 2

April 16, 2017

DSCN9976Still offline at home, so “Part 2” will be short and sweet, word-wise, while camped out at an internet hot spot. But who needs words when there are pictures, eh? :-)


Enough said


In front of my 1st idea for an Alphabet lesson: a poem I’d written before. Scratched that idea the next day . . .


Being assisted by Rafyeku to “wash my hair,” which was really just an attempt to stay cool


While on a village walk with Magdalena, accepting an invitation to join the women for a drink: corn-based beverage in a gourd bowl


Peter in mid-construction of the base of the water tank


Success: flowing water from a newly-dug bore hole


Peter giving a closing message: a beautiful talk about who Jesus is, and why He came


Another accepted invitation–this time to help pound Moringa leaves


A second day’s idea for a lesson: one-line songs going through the alphabet, to learn different verses


“If I were a fuzzy wuzzy bear . . .”


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 . . .