23 September 2013


I've been home for three months and thirteen days now. I haven't written anything in that time (other than Post-It note reminders which I've ignored). It's time to start again. If you're interested, please join me over here.

27 May 2013

Spainiversary, Year Two

Love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places
-e.e. cummings

May 25, 2011 was the last time I saw the United States.

Of course there are things I miss: water fountains in public places, for instance, and streets that align to a grid. (My navigational skills have gone off the charts, however, after two years of maneuvering streets with names like Calle de los Martires de Camarma toward Avenida de la Corazon de la Virgin where it splits into a ring around Calle Catalina Maria Juana Rosario del Toledo.) I miss being able to pick snippets out of the conversations around me; I miss being able to make important phone calls myself. I miss free-standing houses in different colors than brown.

And there are the parts I won't miss about life in Spain: emails from mom, informing me that my credit card company has called yet again about potentially fradulent charges. (Mine. Always only mine.) Walking through the inevitable daily smoke cloud exhaled by some man two steps ahead of me. Getting stuck behind the world's slowest walkers on a sidewalk only three feet wide. I won't miss my slanty ceilings, the ones that taper off to a three-foot wall with closet doors best suited to hobbits. Or the mildew smell that seeps from those closets when the clothes that hung on the rack for three days still aren't dry.

Even still, it's hard to say that I'm ready to go home again. It's not as easy as tucking everything into a suitcase, ready to unpack for normal life. This has become normal life. These two years constructed from remnants--borrowed furniture, copies of old lesson plans, new numbers on new accounts--are just as much life as the one I had before. I so often wonder if I'll soon feel like Lucy Pevensie as she tumbles out of the wardrobe, waking from one reality into another, heart full-to-bursting with love for a place she can't re-enter.

I will miss this place.

I will trade in bus tickets for gas receipts, and I will miss this ultra-pedestrian life once I'm in the land where car is king. We depend so much on that small piece of paper--worn to nearly unreadable--we all carry in our wallets: the 255 bus schedule. We have memorized the evening timetables because it's still better than Spanish driving school (which has been known to make grown men cry). That first moment you master public transit, you feel like a demigod, as though you'd just deciphered the Code of Hammurabi instead of a stupid 3x5 sheet of paper. Even if the ticket reader on the bus is broken and the driver has to hold-punch your brand new bus pass. You are unbreakable because you understand the bus schedule! And the first time you realize you can explain the menu to your non-Spanish-speaking friends? THIS. IS. SPARTA.

I'll miss the way travel is almost an expected weekend plan. I'll miss my travel friends and the trip-planning system we've condensed into two minutes: "Wanna go somewhere?" "Yep." "London is less than €50." "Okay." Boom, we're eating grocery store breakfasts, waking up in cheap hostels, unfamiliar languages sliding through the air around us. I'll miss the beauty of European countries nestled into one another, borders like scars marking former fractures.

I'll miss owning a cell phone that no one calls, that I pay €10 every two months to keep. I'll miss paying with Monopoly money, all those colors and sizes, and 50-centimo coins and paying entire bills in change. I'll miss the tiny burst of delight after finding a Euro coin with something other than Juan Carlos' face on it.

I'll miss the collection of street performers on Sol: Hello Kittys and floating monks and up to six patriotic Mickeys around the fountain at any given time. Referring to places like "the color store," "the cute scarf store," "the cheap clothing store"--and knowing exactly where to find them on Alcala's Calle Mayor. The way Kleenex and hand sanitizer are travel staples. I'll miss the country that made me a coffee drinker--socially only, with higher proportions of milk and sugar than actual coffee.

I'll even miss the refined science of fitting everything just so into one Carrefour bag so as to prevent having to buy a second one, although I'll always forget the bag at home the next time anyway, stash it away on the ever-growing pile of bags we shuffle around the community like currency. I'll miss the way we compare Carrefour bags in terms like "the pretty blue one" or "the pretty bird one" and the strange satisfaction that strikes when a new bag design is released.

I'll miss Fanta Limón, Mercadona's cheap hummus, mini pans con tomate in the bright red bag. Paella and tinto de verano and that classic European standby, the kebab. I'll miss saying hola when I enter and luego on the way out the door, even though I'm sure it'll slip out the first time I leave Target--just like all those other words that were never really in my English vocabulary but have now rooted themselves firmly in my brain with a strong Spanish accent: saldo, via, plaza, puente, huelga. Wi-fi will always be wee-fee; I'll still respond to sneezes with salud! And though I'm sure I'll be glad to see a Perkins menu, I'll miss not knowing what the foods are unless they're written in Spanish. (Seriously, gazpacho is so much more than cold tomato soup.) Supper at six seems ridiculously early. I hope I remember to leave a tip.

I'll miss the seasons slipping from one to the next without severe distinctions, the way summer unfolds from the chrysalis of spring with only a few clues of warning: the clacking of storks from every high corner, the chatadero's mumbled microphone, the old men perching along the corner Banesto. Old ladies dressed in their crispest outfits, grasping hands or linking arms in a line as they take up the center of the street. The cafés pulling their chairs and tables back into the streets, harem pants returning to clothing store racks, bus drivers finally acknowledging that 80°F is warm enough to discontinue use of the heater.

After living here, my navigational senses are sharpening. My understanding of European geography is stellar. My Spanish level is still as low as plankton, but I'm fluent in public transportation. I can toss out random words in Polish, Norwegian, and Czech, and I have a new, deeply ingrained fear of leaving my keys inside the house. My co-workers are my friends, and they know exactly how exciting it is to eat a real dill pickle, who owns which Region 1 DVDs, and how to piece Spain friends together into a patchwork family when you can't be near your own. The lady at the dollar store off the plaza laughs when she sees me coming for ice cream. I'll miss all of it. And I will miss the roses falling over the tops of fences as I walk to school, the poppies pinpricking the field like blood-drops, the view of mountains and Madrid from the top of Camarma's hill.

But the thing I'll miss the most? Them.

I'll miss the way they crash into my classroom at 9:05 each morning and use up all my whiteboard markers on drawings of monsters and pigs. I'll miss the clamor at break time, when they stuff themselves under my desk, giggling about how long it takes for me to accidentally smack them with my legs. I'll miss a certain seventh-grader popping up from the stack of beanbag chairs and announcing, "Surprise!" before realizing he'll be late for his next class.

The first ECA students I met had just finished seventh grade, scrawny and squealy in all the photos of our tapas outing. They are becoming young men and women now--almost tenth graders. I have seen them stretching taller, faces thinning into more adult shapes. I can feel them pulling ever-so-slightly into themselves instead of spilling everything about everything--from crushes to poo--with the unrestrained enthusiasm of a middle schooler. And the next time I see this year's seventh graders, they'll be treading that border of adulthood too, likely also taller than me.

I've never been closer to a group of kids before. They are my before-school, after-school, during-break, on-the-weekend life. They are what drew me here in the first place. They've been asking almost daily since March, "Why are you leaving?" The question makes me bubble up with that wistful feeling of well-maybe-just-one-more-year, even though I know classroom teaching won't be my life forever. I know that leaving is, for now, a good decision and the right one--but how to say goodbye to the kids who've invited me to an overnight Harry Potter marathon, the 8th grade girl who hugs me at the end of each day, the boys who are so eager to find me a nerdy Christian Clark Kent? They've slept over at our house, baked cupcakes, bared their hearts in writing, given high-fives, left notes on my desk. The birdlike girl who tosses herself into my lap each morning--I hold her more tightly these days, wondering if I'll still be able to hug her so openly next time we meet. I'll come back to see them changed without knowing what has changed them. I'll miss being a constant witness to their lives.

I miss them, and I haven't even left yet.

And yet. Love, I believe, has liquid properties: you can pour it into new surroundings and find that it still fits somehow. And I know every relationship shifts shape in the hands of time, that this doesn't have to be an end--just a new form, a new way of holding them. Skype. Facebook. The postal system. Same love, different container. Thirty spaces in my heart that will alter over time, some growing, some shrinking--but none disappearing. It has not been easy, but I have loved them. I have loved this place. I have loved this life. Already I feel the width of the ocean and wonder if I can hold it in my hands forever.

Where is home? It is love. So yes, perhaps I'm ready to be home. In the meantime, I already am.

"I will love. More. So much love that no one will have any idea what to do with me.
They will watch with a confused look and wonder why I give so much and do not ask for more in return. I will give it because giving is getting and there is nothing quite so important as emptying your heart every single day and leaving nothing undone,
no declarations of it unsaid."

-Tyler Knott Gregson

17 March 2013

Student Quotes, Volume I-Can't-Remember-Anymore

Well, folks, it's that time again. Time to write something big and meaningful? Ah, yes, I wish. As it is, we just finished the third quarter, and I'm still beating myself up for having written nothing much in the first two quarters. Not only have I fallen off the bandwagon, the horses tromped on my inner organs and I have dirt in the wounds. Hmm, that sounds horrible. Actually, things are going really well, thanks for asking. The real problem is that I leave my computer at school every night (so I won't get sucked into this other real problem called facebook). It's great for my outer life but not so great for my writing one. All that to say, I need to go to bed. But I think you'll enjoy these.

Boy 1: (to me, out of the blue) "One day you'll have a boyfriend who will be really good to you."
Boy 2: "Not like us!"

Me: "Why were you late?"
Boy: "It's just...they were chasing me!"
Me: "Who, the girls?"
Boy: "I wish!"

During a discussion of the root "mal"
 Me: "So, anyone want to guess what malady means?"
Girl: "It's a man without a lady!"

As a boy sat distracted by the back of his pop can
Me: "I need you to pay attention."
Boy: "Sorry, Ms. C, it's just that I haven't seen a nutrition label in so long."

(Note: Principe Azul, or "Blue Prince," is the Spanish version of a white knight)
 Boy: "Ms. C, do you like anyone?"
Me: "Um, not at the moment, no."
Boy: "It's okay, Ms. C. One day you'll find your blue prince, like the genie from Aladdin, and you'll have blue babies."

Boy 1: "What are you laughing about?"
Boy 2: "You have to read the book to find out." (It's Twilight.)
Boy 1: "I'm not gonna read three fat books about girls!"

Boy: (attempting to ask, "You have a water bottle?") "You got a boddawadda?!"

Me: "Why are you standing up?"
Boy: "What? I don't know! What are my legs doing?!"

Boy 1: (pointing to classmate) "He looks different today. He looks like...Steve Irwin."
Boy 2: "Crikey! I'm Steve Irwin! I'm gonna jump on a crocodile!" (proceeds to faceplant in a beanbag chair)

Boy: "You have a very acoustic bottom."

Boy: (jokingly, after paying €.50 to retrieve a lost-and-found item) "You're not my mom."
Me: "What? I'm not? I need some time to get over this."
Boy: "What are you gonna do with that fifty cents?"
Me: "Hey, if you're not my son, don't talk to me."
Boy: "Okay, you're my son. Wait..."

Boy 1: "I don't want to do cooking class!"
Boy 2: "You have to know how! How are you going to make meals for your wi...girlfriend?"

Me: (after halting an extended giggle session about crushes) "You look very nice in that dress."
Girl: "Just trying to impress, you know."

Girl: "Can I borrow your scissors? I don't want to use my delicate hand."

Girl: "Can we go to Ms. D's room and pet the first-graders 'cause they're just so cute?"

But this final one is perhaps my favorite:

Me: "Why were you late to class?"
Boy: "I was reenacting the Titanic."

02 February 2013

Second Semester

A few highlights from this semester so far:

One week into school, the second-floor water heater pried itself from the wall and threw itself three feet to its death, after which it leaked over most of the second floor and dripped through to the first floor. Sarah and I got the call around 8:35, just before we were going to leave for school.

"No school today!" said Emily.

"Is it snowing?"

"The school flooded. Oh, the power just went out!"

We threw on sweatpants and walked toward ECA, commenting, "If second floor flooded, Merry's going to be really angry." Merry, the teacher who's been at ECA since nearly its beginning, doesn't like people messing with her plans. Mother Nature has been known to quake in her path. It was sunny when we entered the building, but the inside was a rainstorm. And then we saw the water-filled ceiling tiles, the rivulets running from top to bottom, soaking mops flying across the hallway in the hands of high schoolers. We looked into Sarah's room. "Aw, crap."

The desk was drenched; the stuffed animals were swimming.

So we mopped and we slopped. We dropped piles of ceiling tile crumbs into buckets and aimed hairdryers over sopping teacher's manuals. We stayed until 1pm, long enough for the floors to start drying, for the maintenance man to drill extra water-release holes in Sarah's ceiling, for the insurance guys to start roaming the building. Long enough to laugh with our coworkers over dripping walls and books spread across a makeshift clothesline. Long enough to be glad that I work in a place like this.


Also during that week, one of my 8th graders didn't finish his vocab homework. As usual. So I sent him outside the room to work on it while the rest of us corrected our work. As usual. Then I forgot about him.

Five minutes before the bell rang, one of his friends asked, "Hey, where's David?"

I slapped my hand across my mouth. "Oh my goodness! I totally forgot about him!"

That's when one of the more clever boys suggested we make a music video. The song? Somebody That I Used to Know. "We could pan across the class," he said, "and then zoom out the door to the far table where David is sitting alone."


Last week, our friend Emily celebrated her birthday. We made her a Fudgie the Whale cake, which probably no one knows or cares about unless they are fans of The Office. Which we happen to be.

After carving and eating Fudgie, another teacher found a Fudgie the Whale song on youtube, and three of us agreed that we needed to play it during classtime, to test whether any of our students noticed. I had the song going when my 8th and 9th graders entered and exited, and some of those high schoolers were definitely moving to the music. Almost imperceptibly, but still moving. One left humming the tune; another was softly singing, "Punching the whale, punching the whaaaale..."

Adam reported later in the day that he'd brought Fudgie up in class discussion ("What exactly is a Fudgie the whale?") before playing the song, and Steph remarked that several students commented how weird it was that three different teachers were playing the exact same song that day. The sad part is that I'm not certain they realized the deliberate orchestration of our plan. The good part, however, is that I feel we have mastered a form of low-level mind control.


My former roommate Steph got married in Colorado at 2pm Mountain Time. At 10pm Central European Time, a group of us gathered in the ECA science room to watch via webcam. It was like a Who's Who of ECA friends: "There's Scot! There's Marie! Did you see Jim and Beth?!" And we in our fancy dresses and ties sat in high school desks, ate finger foods, and yelled at the screen when the computer went to sleep. It was like a SuperBowl party. It was one of the best weddings I've attended.

24 December 2012

The Distance from Home

You might call it irony, the way I am sitting on a couch in Spain, sorting out my future the same way I did thirteen years ago in North Dakota when I promised myself I'd never move far away.

At fifteen, the future was lined with a handful of cards ripped from Campus Life magazine. I checked the boxes carefully, making sure not to leave errant ink next to the name of any college that wasn't in Minnesota or a Dakota. I wasn't even open to free info from either coast, so sure recruiters would try to rip me out of the Midwest with their shiny brochures and scholarship offers. And when I finally made a decision, at seventeen years old, it was exactly 502 miles away. Not far enough for my classmates, who all claimed they'd blow this dump after graduation. Too far for me, the only one who felt safe inside the edges of our tiny world, a bell jar safely covering the radius around my family's farm.

The 4500 miles between North Dakota and Madrid don't feel as wide now as those first 500, that eight-hour drive carving a sharp divide between childhood and adulthood. I thought then that choosing anything new meant severing the old--and not only severing, but hacking to bloody pieces with a dull knife. I left my parents' home--a stray sunflower in the middle of a wide open wheat field, as if someone dropped the wrong seeds, magically harvested a ranch-style earthberm on the prairie. I had no idea where our land started and stopped, only that I was somehow included in the "our," that I was invited to return to the pastures and tree rows and gardens forever, even if I hadn't helped with the planting and harvesting.

When a college friend enlisted in the army, she distributed her five most precious books to friends for safekeeping. The rest of her possessions were sold, trashed, donated. I opened an envelope once to find a letter handwritten in the margins of pages she'd torn from an Emily Dickinson volume. This was a great mystery to me, having grown up in the same place where my father has spent most of his nearly-sixty years, which is also where his father spent an entire eighty-six. My closet shelves have buckled beneath the books I've been stashing since graduation. I've never yet had to change my permanent address.

And yet I live across the sea, doing things I never anticipated I would be brave enough to do. That's not exactly true, though--that I am doing anything because I'm courageous. The truth is that the sense of belonging to a place is the weight allowing the balloon to dance in the sky. The number of miles between two spaces means less than having a space to measure distances from. And this, I think, is why it's impossible to completely cut the strings, to fly haphazardly until tangling in a tree. I am free to go anywhere because my heart is tethered securely to the one place I can always call home.

Mom, Dad, thanks for letting me fly so far this time. Next year, we'll do this together. Merry Christmas.

23 December 2012

The Card

Since I needed to go into Madrid anyway, I tried my hand at Aluche.

(Aluche is topped like a circus tent, blue and white and swirly. It's the place in charge of sending out the letters that tell you to come on down, get fingerprinted, wait 45 days for a plastic card that proves you're a legal resident of Spain. But Spain has conveniently decided not to send me this letter for the second year in a row, so here it is, nearly the new year, and I've spent seven months of my new card not having it in hand.)

The laywer told me to go first to Manuel Luna, which is the place I first went last January. (You may recall that I handed my first stack of papers to the authorities in June and finally received that residency card the following February.) "Is it necessary to start there?" I emailed back, since last year's visit resulted only in a wasted day of school and some lady at a desk telling me I should've gone to Aluche in the first place.

Anyway. Friday. First day of Christmas vacation, and I had a date. With destiny.

I walked into the carnival of bureaucracy with a sheet of paper I'd printed from the secret website which no one's ever told about directly, just learns of through others having paperwork woes--like a secret password handed around between members of a secret society. The man ushered me through the door, and though I was supposed to request a fingerprinting date on the second floor, something inside me--something spontaneous and adventurous and, I don't know, maybe glutton-for-punishmentous--decided just to stand in the short line. The line where all the people who received their letters go. A kid on the "naughty" list, trying to sort things out with Santa--that was me.

A few minutes later, someone pointed me to a desk. I slid my paper stack across the table to a man who clicked a few buttons and typed a few things, then handed me the bank form for the extra tax I needed to pay. "That's it," he said.
"That's it? Just this, and the photos, and these papers?"
"And your passport."
"And that's all?"
"That's all."

(Keep in mind that this was in Spanish, so my part of the conversation probably really sounded like, "And all? This and photos and papers and is everything, yes?")

Could it be? Could I dare to hope against hope that my piddly little internet paper would in fact grant me access to fingerprinting that day? I rushed from the building, powerwalked the next few blocks back to the train station, and asked some nearby policemen for the nearest bank. The first two banks had signs posted on the front door: We only allow payment of 790 tax between 8 and 10. 11am. Dang it. I rushed around the corner, paid my form, hustled back to the train station to get some quick passport photos done (since both photo booths at Aluche were broken), and nearly skipped all the way back to Aluche, fists clenched around the papers. Once again, I stood in line just to see what would happen.

I'd been composing happy facebook statuses in my mind, things like, "The world must be ending today: Spain has finally decided it likes me!" The man at the booth must've seen the hope in my eyes, because he reached out to snap it in half. "This is not an official date." He jabbed at the paper that declared me approved. "Who told you this was okay?"
"I don't know, this guy who was sitting there, he said I just needed these three things..." (Again, a more literal translation would be, "Um, uh, don't know, a man he who seat yourself here, he say this is good.")
"This is not a date."
"Okay. Where do I go?"
"Second floor."

I hear stories of people who glide into Aluche with their paperwork and glide out two months later, card-wielding members of this crazy country. Sarah even got a letter reminding her that her residency documents were due! As for me and my household, we resigned ourselves to the second floor, where an indifferent man stamped a piece of paper and handed it to me. March 6th, 2013. By the time I actually receive my residency card, I'll have about six weeks left in Camarma. Apparently Spain wants to save my card for a going-away present.

This video pretty much sums up all feelings I have regarding this process:

P.S. On the brighter side, I rode the train into Madrid with two dorm kids. One of them was sniffling incessantly halfway through the trip and kept asking us for Kleenexes. "Where is a bum selling Kleenexes when you need them?" (It's common practice for people to walk up and down the aisles of commuter trains, setting Kleenex packets on your lap and hoping you'll buy them.)

A few minutes later, a homeless man with a "Pide Ayuda" sign did enter the car. As he neared us, asking for money, our boy asked, "Got any Kleenexes?"
"Of course I don't have Kleenex! I live on the streets!"
"Oh, okay, man. No worries."

And that, friends, is a little something I like to call irony.

29 November 2012

Another Delightful Installment of Student Quotes

Boy 1: "We should just sit around and eat all day."
Boy 2: "I will not do that. That is against the Ten Commandments of my life."

Boy 1: "Ms. C, he looks like a girl."
Boy 2: "I always look like a girl, honey."

Girl: "I have a prayer request. I'm ill."
Me: "Okay?"
Girl: "Not, you know, the regular kind of ill. The other kind."
Me: "Yes?"
Girl: "You know, the other kind of ill. You know. Lovesick!"

Girl: "Did you get a haircut? It's so cute!"
Boy: "No, I just showered."

Girl: "Hi, Miss C."
Me: "Hi, Miss (Name)."
Girl: "I'm not a miss yet!"
Me: "You're always a miss."
Girl: "Well, you're more miss-y."

Test Question: Name three major characters in Judges. What are they known for?
Girl: "Ehud was a very epic leftie who killed a very fat king."

After I scolded a student for making the world's most obnoxious (and continuous) noise
"Unfair! You won't let me woodpeck!"

At English camp, when I told two of my boys to join me at the Shrinky-Dink workshop
Boy 1: "Yay! Shrinky-Dinks!"
Boy 2: (crestfallen) "Oh, there's no food in here?"

Card drawn from a board game based on actual events from Joshua
"Evil unicorns attack your house! Go back three spaces."

Boy, in reference to The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle: "What's that book about the girl in the ship? Sarah Palin?"

Boy: "Ms. C, why doesn't this school have Slushies?!"

Girl: "Ms. C, did you ever have crushes?"
Me: "Well, sure, most people have crushes at some point."
Girl: "I bet you dumped 'em all, huh?"
Me: "The thing about crushes is that most of them are kinda secret. Most of my crushes never knew they were crushes at all."
Girl: "Oh...do you have a crush now?"
Me: "Nope, no crushes."
Girl: (quite sympathetically) "Well, that's okay, Ms. C."

Girl, after learning my age: "28? That's young for someone so tall!"

27 November 2012

Team Retreat in Toledo

Summary: American Thanksgiving celebrated in Spain, with lots of turkey and no lefse. Followed by meetings and bonding in the magical town of Toledo. My WorldVenture team is really divided into three different areas of ministry: theological education, MK education, and working with North African immigrants. Such a diversity within our group--and such great people.

And then, for the first time ever, I got asked out to have a beer. In Spanish. By an overfriendly store manager named Paco who was at least thirty years older than me. "No, no, I have meetings," I said, "lots and lots of meetings."

"Will you be back in Toledo?"

"Maybe one day, maybe in a few months."

"You stop by my store."

"Maybe I will bring a friend to see all the beautiful paintings."

"No, no, no friend. Just you and me."

Buying stuff in any small Spanish store is magical because your purchase, no matter how common or small, is treated with special delicacy, wrapped carefully, sealed with a sticker saying Deseas te gusta (We hope you enjoy). But I've never before had a purchase come with a date offer. I need to move north, where nobody touches each other.

18 November 2012

A Few Disconnected Thoughts

Last year at about this time, I was on an airplane leaving Marseille. I remember leaning my head against the window and saying to myself, in a voice so loud I'm sure even those outside my head could hear, "I am never going to make it." We had three weeks til Christmas break, and I felt like my bones were going to splinter under all the pressure.

I can't believe it's been almost a year since that plane ride. That we're almost to another Christmas break. We have only two full school weeks, three half weeks, and twenty-five research papers to go. There's been such a distinct ebb and flow to the semester: first, the month-long euphoria of smaller classes and a year's experience. Then, the drain of October, of assignments collecting dust in the grading bin. The November peak, the holidays ahead, the nestling in of the classroom, the routine. Now it's a steam train plowing toward 2013, to Lord of the Flies and Anne Frank. And my head is in such a mess of it.

I wish I'd kept better track, even if it meant writing down one-sentence summaries of the days:

Biked to Alcala and ate potentially rancid hummus on the sidewalk outside the Asia Store.

Got a visit from a friend and introduced her to one of the most integral parts of Madrid: Hello Kitty.

Scary man on the street yelled at Sarah in Spanish: "You are a big problem for my friend!"

Alas, I've been asleep for the past year and a half. How painful to realize that, potentially, the biggest legacy I'll leave for future generations is a string of semi-coherent facebook statuses.

Sometimes it feels like there's nothing to say, only because there's too much to say. The days blend together into a mess of weeks, and I'll flip back through my lesson planner, trying to figure out how on earth we got from there to here when it seems like we just started! I wish I'd written more! I wish I'd captured every minute of it! The end of November makes eighteen months in Spain, leaving just six more. Six! A fraction of a second. And the life I was so sure would crush me last December has become the most normal and--dare I say it?--enjoyable thing.

My kids keep asking why I'm leaving and what I'll do next year, and I don't know what to say to any of them, but I wish I could pack them into suitcases to carry with me. Don't grow up, I'd tell that. Nah, that's bad advice. Grow up wise, but always keep your childlike hearts. I get nervous for their futures on their behalf, maybe more nervous than I get about mine.

These days, it gets dark so early. I'm ready to hibernate by 9:00. The most important man in my life is Michael Scott. I am not as tired as I used to be. I want to hold on to every minute.

23 October 2012

Here I Raise Mine (28th) Ebenezer

Here I raise mine ebenezer; hither by Thy help I'm come. I never really got that when I was in my high school hymn-hating days. The idea of ebenezer is a "remembrance stone," a memorial to God, but to me, the lyrics conjured up images of Dickens' Scrooge swigging a cup of grape juice with old Father Abraham. This was the best you could do, Robert Robinson? Israelites in the desert, raising cane and ebenezer?

Still, thirteen years ago, I came home from camp with a styrofoam cup filled with sand from the volleyball court. "Miracle debris," Todd had called it. He asked us to pick something--a twig, a rock, a flower--any physical reminder of all God had done that week. I carried that scoopful of sand home with care before stashing it in my desk. There I raised mine ebenezer. Perhaps the first deliberate one.


I turned 27 with a list of virtues in hand, of disciplines I wanted to work on during the coming year, of characteristics I was going to develop. Then the calendar flipped to the most stressful month of my life, a September that yanked me from bed at 7.30am and refused to let me collapse until the lesson plans were wrapped up at 9pm. I was too hot to exercise, too tired to read, too exhausted to care that I hadn't been as generous or encouraging as I'd intended. I took inventory during Christmas break, figured out all the things I hadn't done. Hadn't written a book, hadn't cleaned out my file cabinet, hadn't made one school lunch the night before, hadn't saved the world, hadn't lost weight, hadn't figured out how to make my impulse haircut look presentable. Oh, but I had watched two full seasons of The Office in the course of one week. So, basically, at 27, I was still the same, disappointing me I'd been at 26. I'd tried to lead her into the forest without a trail of breadcrumbs to bring her out, but she kept managing to follow me home.


On my last night of 27, I plunked my legs on the table underneath a tree, just Sophia and I still awake on our staff retreat. We'd overlapped life in Spain for only two weeks last spring, but she was back now, asking if the past year had been good. I'm not good with that question unless you're good with long answers. I'm always tacking a caveat somewhere. It was a good movie, but... I loved the book, except... I think I said something like, "Well, overall, it was a good year," but what I really meant was, "The year was good, but I still suck."

The things I hadn't accomplished had been spinning like laundry in my brain, wringing out disappointments in dishwater colors. But Sophia asked, and the thoughts untangled, arranged themselves in a straight line, and leapt straight out of my mouth: "I know that I've needed to be here, because God has me in a position that is forcing me to see something I couldn't see from any other vantage point." I'd been testing out those words for months, but suddenly they tasted true.

That's when I saw my past year--my past ten years, even--all burned up and burned out like a row of scorched trees waiting for the ax. I've carved the charred branches into planks just so I can shove them in my own eye; I've searched the crevasses of the bark for rot and ash, never noticing the tiniest of leaves uncurling. Or the stacks of stones glinting between the piles of broken branches.

I've built them with my own hands, I guess. Stacked stone upon stone and cemented them together with criticism and self-loathing, the prodigal daughter carving a shrine from pig waste. Here stands the row of ebenezers left to become ruins. Ebenezers to self.

Oh, dear Lord, that's it.

That's it.
The night flipped past midnight and into 28, and I had to be sitting under that tree at that moment, at that angle, answering that question, if only so I could see clearly this one thing: I'd been ignoring a path lined with miracle debris because I wanted God to notice my ebenezers. Hoped this would be the year I'd check everything off the list. Looked so intently at myself that I forgot whom I was building for and began to loathe what was being built.


It's been two months. It's still so easy to look at myself and see only the lack. But I know this: I know on an August night, I felt Him yanking the plank out of the place I'd so firmly lodged it. It could take another 28 years, but I'm certain he is removing this chunk of wood, planting it, watering it, transforming it, miraculously, back into new life.

Into ebenezers.