Monthly Archives: December 2013

Mugs and a new place

unnamedEvery one of them has its story.  A personalized, purple-y mug crafted by a co-worker.  A solid blue with the logo of some engineering firm, passed on by a friend who knew I’d like it because it was “just the right shape.”  Today I sip one brought years ago from a friend in Germany, a mug marked with the words Onhe Kaffee ist alles doof — without coffee, everything is dumb.

Company in my apartment receive an invitation to drink a warm mug.  If I told the stories of each one, it would take more than one visit, so I mostly keep them to myself.  My guests sit and sip, while I drink in recollections of old friends and other places.  Connection between the past and present takes place as new memories are made over old mugs.

Earlier in the year, a few friends who know me well gave me a gift to take with me to the Middle East: a teapot and two mugs.  They said they felt the connections I had shared with them and others over hot drinks.  They wanted to send me with part of themselves, and also bless the connections and conversations yet to come.

As I pack this week, deciding what to keep and what to leave behind is nowhere near as difficult as wondering what parts of my life I can take with me, and what I will need to let go.  But the unseen loved ones, as well as the untold stories, carry influence.  Like the mugs that hold memories from old days, are savored in the present, and anticipate new use– I carry influence from each story, each place, and each connection, with me both now and into my new life.

Everyone who has every shared a warm mug of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate with me: You have influenced me.  You have been woven into the fabric of a story yet unfinished.  I will be taking you on this journey, remembering as I drink hot cups of Middle Eastern coffees and teas with new acquaintances.  You are deeply appreciated.  Your part has not finished yet.  A second story is happening.

Rickety Stair Stories

It’s snowy.

Things have been wrapping up over the past few weeks.  Just in the past two days, I graded the last papers for the class that I taught, and attended my final board meeting for my local congregation.   This afternoon had me sniffling as I went through dusty drawers of seldom-used items.  Keep.  Throw out.  Give.  Recycle.  Look up on the internet and try to figure out what it is. (That’s for my under-utilized electronics…)

And what I really want is to have people sit in my house as the snow falls, or to hit a coffee shop with friends and my “to be done on computer” task list.  But the snow made me less adventurous, so some things had to be done today in the quiet of this basement: just me, Pandora playing in the background, and an occasional sniffle because of dust.  Mostly because of dust.

One of the drawers I cleaned out held an old flash drive.  On it were research notes from my “ethnographic study” in Southeast Asia.  A twenty-two year old version of myself, with several months of language study and very little clue how to do it, went to a big town on the outskirts to look at life there.  My host family’s house was on stilts, as per local traditions/comfortability ideas, and a rickety staircase led to their door.

My twenty-two-year-old self, nervous and off-balance with a big red suitcase, attempted to make her way up to the door.  This led to a rather ungraceful “stumble” between the slatted steps.  My host family, concerned, asked me several times if I was okay.  When I replied that I wasn’t hurt, just embarrassed, they reassured me, “At least no one saw your fall!”

For the next hour, everyone in the neighborhood– or that’s how it felt– came to meet me.  It wasn’t every day a foreigner came to this area of town, much less took up residence there for a month with the sole objective of hearing people talk and learning about their stories.  And during that hour, my host family told each person who entered the hilarious story of my fall up the stairs…

And that became my first research note, “re-discovered” today on my flash drive :-).  Now I sit in the quiet, and I can hear the sound of my host sister’s voice, the good-natured laughter of our neighbors, and the quickly-forgotten consolation, “At least no one saw!”
I tell my present self that it’s okay.  Stumbling toward new things, sniffling on the way– some moments are made to be savored in quiet, and others in community.  But I think I’ll go out in the snow tonight.

Taken over… and over…

There were twenty minutes of class time left, and one of my students stood up.  “Professor,” she said.  “Since you’re leaving soon, we all have something to say.”

I’ve been teaching this college class for four years– a freshman-level course that aims to develop students’ academic, study, and personal skills.  We get quite personal in this class, talking about vision for the future, struggles, disappointments, and inspiration.  Each student even chooses a song that pushes them to keep going when things get tough, and presents these “inspirational lyrics” to their classmates (This year’s selection included everything from Bob Marley to worship songs to “Hakuna Matata“.)  That day each of them told how being in our class impacted them, and by doing so, wrote words on my heart that will long resonate.

Several days after my students “took over” class, I was at a Christmas party with the music team for my local Sunday fellowship.  We had all gathered in one room.  I thought it was time for the “white elephant” gift exchange, but again, someone stood up.  “Since you’re leaving soon, we have something to say.”

They didn’t just say kind things.  My fellow team members gave insights and observations to help me see what had worked well, what I should keep doing, and what strengths God has given me, that I can take into a new context.    Their words were blessings to continue what God was doing here, in my Middle Eastern community.

Take over normal conversations with words of encouragement.  Take over normal events with conversations that build up each others’ souls.  Those conversations will lead to laughter, risky feedback, deeper understanding, and occasionally tears.  And those conversations help us give each other perspective, “second-story” views on life.  Thanks to the students, friends, and family who do this in my world.

Afraid of…?

Today someone asked again.  “What are you afraid of most?”

Perhaps I should put the answer on this blog’s “Questions and Responses” tab, as it frequently comes up.  But I always pause– not because I’m not feeling anything, but because I am not sure “fear” is the word to describe it.

Yesterday a young woman said to me, “Don’t be afraid.”  She is from China, and was the only believer in Jesus in her family.  After a long season of prayer, some quietly courageous acts on her part, and God’s work in their hearts, her mother and sister chose to follow… and eventually her father as well.  My friend knew I am heading overseas in a few weeks, and after telling the story of her family, she told me to be courageous.  To go and to not hold back.

I think I’m “grieving” more than fearful.  I have wonderful friends and family, people close to my heart, with whom I enjoy walking through life here.  What I fear is that I’ll say the goodbyes, go to the Middle East, but it won’t make an impact on people there.  Would I be content going even if I don’t see change/transformation right away, or even for awhile?

I will take my friend from China’s advice.  I will not hold back, I will go, and I will leave results in the hands of the one who made me and my friends-to-be in the Middle East.  He is the one who transforms, and He is the one who calms fears.  Thankfully, He is also present in the sorrow.  But that’s a second story.