Teaching & Remembering

Friday, September 9.

I scrolled through my cache of YouTube speeches, looking for one to share with my students. Each Friday in Public Speaking class, we watch a speech together, then spend time afterwards critiquing and learning from the style and–to some extent–discussing the message. This was only the second Friday, though, so I had little precedent and no real algorithm for deciding which speech to watch. There were historical addresses by presidents and reformers, the commencement advice of celebrities great and small, and half a dozen TED talks on as many topics.

Remembering the date, and the power of Presidential addresses in times of tragedy, I took my search in a new direction. I started typing “George W Bush” into the search bar when Google filled in the rest: “George W Bush Sept 20 2001 Speech.”

I didn’t remember the speech right away, the President’s address to Congress just over a week after the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. I didn’t remember it, but I know I watched it, because that’s what we did that week. We watched. As I read the transcript, dug up from a dusty corner of the Internet, I began to remember.

This was the speech that began the War on Terror, the speech in which our last President reminded a grieving nation that the acts of religious extremists don’t represent the faith as a whole. The speech in which he assured us that we were united, that we shouldn’t be afraid. I remembered that we were united, but we were afraid anyway. Every time a plane flew overhead, those first weeks, we looked up, even in Seattle.

I poked around the Internet, looking for the whole speech, but could find only the most intimidating parts excerpted to personal YouTube channels. I considered showing those parts to my multinational speech class, asking them to parse out the rhetoric and tone of those strong words for anxious days. But my students, though astute citizens of the world, are also sixteen, seventeen, eighteen. I do the math quickly, realizing that I was their age and they were toddlers in 2001, too young to understand that their world had changed in an instant. They’ll need memories to understand this speech. In strength they’ll hear vengeance, not reassurance.

“They keep getting younger,” a fellow teacher said to me last week, as we’d laughed over how very young even our seniors seem this year. “Not me,” she continued. “Them.”

Like my colleague I’m not getting older, of course, but events get pushed back and back, until they disappear from view, like the view of the dark-green shoreline from the ferry deck. My first students, only a few years younger than I, begged for time every year to remember, just a few minutes to retell where they were when the Twin Towers fell. Some suggested moments of silence, too, and I always obliged. Remembering is important.

Now I’m realizing that memories like these divide generations as surely as technology or presidents or any other marker that sociologists devise. Do you remember that day? Or have you just learned about it? In just a few years my high schoolers will have lived all their lives in a “post” world, and that maybe someday their commemoration will be to simply ask me “You remember? What was it like, then?”

We watched a different speech, just as relevant, called The Danger of the Single Story. In it, Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie implores the West to treat her country and continent with nuance, to learn the rich tapestry of stories that make up her world, instead of the single narrative of poverty and disaster. While my young students took notes on her anecdotes, vocal cadence and nonverbal cues, I thought about the art of remembering well, as a community, the importance of our many stories.

On Sunday, the fifteenth anniversary of September 11, 2001, I sit in the dark, holding my daughter while she naps and reading what New Yorker writers wrote in the days and weeks following the catastrophe. Closer accounts, from writers older than I was at the time, they still hit home. I cry more freely now than I did when I was seventeen, with more to lose, more to love.

And I wonder if next year–or even next week–I’ll go back for that speech, or another like it. I close my eyes and see the President, wearing a hard hat and holding a bullhorn, embracing first responders. They don’t remember that; perhaps I should show them. I wonder if the season has arrived when I’m teaching about tragedy instead of remembering with, and if that’s just as important, after all.

More Than Passports

This year's seniors display their flags before Opening Ceremonies. Photo: BFA Communications

This year’s seniors display their flags before Opening Ceremonies.
Photo: BFA Communications

  1. What is an American?
  2. What did you learn about America from the book you read this summer?
  3. By your own definition, how American are you?

Write for five minutes without stopping. Be prepared to share!

Honors American Literature, 5 September 2016

Familiar scratch of pen and paper, familiar slant of morning light through familiar second-floor windows. Unfamiliar students, answering an old question at the beginning of a new year. What is an American?

We’ve spent a few days pondering this, reading New Yorker articles written by outsiders looking in and trying, as best as we can, to capture the “essence of America” as we begin our course in American Literature. Last week, my students claimed that institutions like bottomless chips at Chili’s, monolingualism or the game of baseball were emblematic of America, revealing features of nation’s face. Today, we’re discussing the face itself. When we get to the bottom of it, what is an American? And am I one?

It’s not an irrelevant question for us, either in English class or here at Black Forest Academy. In class, we’re beginning a year of exploring the relationship between a culture an its art, so uncovering the culture at its foundation, the basic scaffolding that makes this one nation different from the others, is key. We’ll get to the American Dream later, yes, but for now we’re back at the beginning and even before it. Before there was an America–before declarations and constitutions and wars–who were Americans? And how did they know?

At BFA, the question is more personal, and more interesting. I ask the class how many hold U.S. passports and the majority raise their hands. “How many of you, then, have spent more of your life outside the country than in it?” Again, mostly raised hands.

I tell them about my students back in Seattle, who were always from somewhere, but also American. Somali-American, Mexican-American, Vietnamese-American, African-American. Even the ones born elsewhere were American, having adopted this country as part of their hyphenated identities, calling it home and vowing to stay. And I tell them about themselves, or past versions of them, students born in the United States, with American passports, who feel like strangers in Topeka or Chicago or Portland, and at home in Baku or Nairobi. Identity is more than a passport, I remind them, and they nod knowingly.

Toward the end of the class, they line up as a spectrum from most to least American, by their own definitions. By the window are students whose only exposure to the United States has come from their classmates here, who have no other relationship to America and who doubtless wonder why I’m making such a big deal about this question. By the door stand a few students who’ve just moved here, who are also mystified by the many identities that their classmates hold in tension. In the middle, though, are the tricky stories.

The brief visits to America punctuated by most of their lives elsewhere. The feeling of not fitting in to the culture that issued their passports, but still realizing–often with self-awareness beyond their years–that they’ve been shaped by their starting point, and that American culture will always be their native language, their default mode. Yes, we’re American, my students tell me. We just don’t quite know what that means, all the time.

From Joyce’s Stephen Daedalus to Luke Skywalker, all through literature we learn that a hero’s ambivalence about his place of origin is the beginning of a good story. As I listen to my students, global wanderers still trying to pin down “home,” I realize that a new story has begun, and that I’m thrilled to meet the heroes that will fill this year.

September: News, Thanks and Prayers

2016-2017 BFA Staff Photo: BFA Communications

2016-2017 BFA Staff
Photo: BFA Communications

News and Dates:

  • September 1: Second day of school! (First real day of classes)
  • September 12-16: SEW (Spiritual Emphasis Week) at BFA
  • September 29: Juniors go to Normandy! Seniors go to Rome!
  • After a few months’ delay because of a clerical error, Timmy was promoted to Captain with the U.S. Air Force Reserve!

We’re Thankful For:

  • A Good Residency Week for Timmy in early August at Regent University, where he is pursuing a Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.
  • Our supervisors both at BFA and in TeachBeyond Member Care, who have helped us to navigate this new season of life with a little baby. Thankful for their help and flexibility as we learn what being a family of three means in our roles.
  • Students who have returned to fill our little village with laughter and excitement.
  • A great staff at BFA that God has brought together for this year!

Please Be In Prayer For:

  • New Roles. Pray for us as we learn the new routines of work and family as the school year begins, for balance and wisdom as we seek to honor God and each other with the way we use our time here.
  • Financial Support. We currently have about $4315 pledged monthly, and we continue to pray for a bit more support to cover increased cost of living here. If you are interested in helping us return to this ministry fully supported, please visit our Getting Involved page or our online giving page with TeachBeyond.

As we begin our sixth and eighth years in Kandern, we’re overwhelmed with the true blessing that so many of you have been in our lives, whether by encouraging us from afar with emails or joining us as support partners. Please let us know if there are ways that we can be praying for you, or if you have any questions our life or ministry.

Peace in Christ,

Timmy & Kristi Dahlstrom

Then & Now


It’s me, three bags and a violin, and climb the three floors to my new apartment downtown at the end of a hot summer day. I’ve taken three trains today, from Austria to my new home in Southwestern Germany. This morning, my new boss told me that I wouldn’t be teaching the classes I’d planned on all summer, middle school English and history, but instead high school English and Canadian history. I would be more frustrated if I had planned anything for the middle school classes, but I haven’t. I probably should be more nervous than I am, since school starts on Tuesday and I’ve never even been to Kandern, the village where the school and my flat are located. I should be, but I’m just tired.


It’s me and Luci, a baby carrier and a yellow umbrella, four floors up in our apartment at the top of the town, in the middle of a rainy summer day. We’ve left the house once today, this morning for groceries, where I bought food for the weekend and chatted with a friend in the produce section. Other than that, though, we haven’t been out much, and I haven’t done much planning for the classes I’ll teach in three weeks. Mostly we’ve sat on the floor and played with cups. Until now, when Luci decided that the cups were suddenly not interesting enough to distract her from the late-afternoon malaise of being a baby and teething and walking and bumping into things. So we leave.


My new roommates have secured a few items of furniture for my attic bedroom. A bed with blankets, a wardrobe, a red end table for a desk and a brocade chair. It’s not much, but it will be enough, and it’s more than I expected. I look at the peaked ceiling, peer through the slanted windows at the little town I should start calling home, its tile roofs warm in the golden sunlight.

“Can we go for a walk?” I ask my roommate, Emily.


We wander around the apartment getting ready. From Luci’s room a pink coat and little shoes. From my closet a pair of sandals. From the side table in the hall Luci’s baby carrier, a present from my parents that has taken us through half a dozen airports and countless hikes. I pull Luci close to me and loop the straps over my shoulders, and we stand by the living room windows, looking out at this familiar town, at the tile roofs gleaming in a break in the clouds.

“Let’s go outside, Luci,” I tell my daughter, grabbing an umbrella as we go.


Emily and I drift through the narrow alleys of the village we don’t know yet. “Can we get up there?” I ask, pointing towards a high, round hill at the end of the town, atop of which a gazebo appears to be perched. Emily shrugs. She hasn’t gone there yet, but she’s willing to explore with me. We wind our way through the town, the hill in our sights. I get acquainted with the town, sweet smelling and still mostly silent, and my roommate, hearing about her summer and her first weeks in Kandern. We’ll become friends, but today we’re just almost-strangers exploring a place and each other.

We don’t find the gazebo, or the way up the hill, but we walk and talk, and I’m satisfied as we climb up the stairs, the sun setting on my first day living in Germany.


Luci and I climb the hill behind our house, my feet carrying us automatically up the little-known road that leads to the trail that leads to the shorn, grassy path that leads to the gazebo high above the town. At the top of the hill it starts to rain, so I unfurl the yellow umbrella, which makes Luci laugh. Larger drops make a louder sound, and she keeps laughing, craning her neck to see more and more of the flowery roof over our heads. She can’t be bothered with the view, doesn’t know how precious it is to me or how special this place is. The gazebo I didn’t find with Emily on that first night, the gazebo where my husband gave me a green mug and told me he liked me, yesterday forever ago. Someday she’ll care, but not today; today is it’s all about the umbrella.

So I leave her to her giggling and spend a moment remembering. How simple life once was, just me and my bags and a vague idea of what I’d be doing here. It was a minimalist’s dream, that life, the ascetic attic with its sparse furniture, my capsule wardrobe that I could carry in a single backpack. Now it’s complex, layered, three of us in a home full of everything we need that may fit into ten suitcases whenever we leave this place, if we can sell a lot of it first. I suppose I could have kept the minimal life. But as I stand in the rain on a favorite hilltop, six years later, with my umbrella and my giggling little girl, I thank God for the beauty of complexity.

Under the umbrella

Under the umbrella


The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
And He delights in his way.
When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong,
Because the Lord is the One who holds his hand.

Psalm 37:23-24

These days are about walking.

Teacher preparation starts in two days, and school staff are filling our town and keeping Timmy busy with airport runs, moving help and welcoming new TeachBeyond colleagues. I’ve corresponded with students, cracked some genuine American literature, and listened to the Hamilton soundtrack a few times for good measure. As usual, listing out tasks completed and coming up makes it sound like August has been a busy month. It has, but mostly, August has been the Month of Walking.

Some of the walking has been practical, mundane, even… pedestrian. (Pun intended… I can’t help myself.) Though we’ve been blessed with the car of a former staff member, mostly we walk everywhere here. To the school, to the grocery store, to friends’ houses. We walk for fun, too, in the hills and forests and most often down to the creek. After driving an hour each way to Seattle for a year, speeding up and down Interstate 90, we’re getting used to a different pace of travel, one day at a time.

The more important walking, though, is done down near the ground, by a person just over two feet fall. More and more, our daughter has destinations–Walk to the chickens! Walk to the hall to chew on shoes!–but her walking is mostly for its own sake. Luci walks–arms raised for balance, eyes wide with curiosity and excitement–not to run errands or because she wants exercise, but because she can. She walks for the steps themselves, each one precious and more sure than the last.

And watching her walk, gaining new appreciation for the miracle that any babies, all of us at one point, ever learn to walk, I’m reminded of the many places in Scripture that we’re instructed on walking, our steps and God’s part in them.

And He delights in his way. I think about the great delight that we take in each of Luci’s steps right now, no matter where she’s going. Later, I’m sure we’ll love the metaphorical ones, too, reveling in the moments when she makes wise decisions or acts of kindness.

I think about these verses differently now than I have before. Not as an adult, for whom walking comes as easily as breathing, but as one just learning and the ones teaching her. Because we’re delighting in her steps, we’re holding her hand, sometimes guiding her path. And though the other kind of walking, the expert kind, has its merits, I’m glad of the reminder that on this journey with Christ I’m as new at this as Luci, that He delights in my steps and holds my hand to keep me from falling.


August: News, Thanks and Prayers

Playing Bananagrams at our conference in July!

Playing Bananagrams at our conference in July!

News and Dates:

  • August 7-12: Counseling residency at Regent University in Virginia (Timmy)
  • August 18-30: Staff Orientation at BFA
  • August 31: First day of school!
  • Timmy will spend the second week of August in Virginia beginning his Masters in Counseling with Regent University. While the program is mostly online, there are three weeks in residence throughout the three-year program.
  • While Kristi will still be teaching American Literature and mentoring new teachers, this year she’ll also be teaching Public Speaking for the first time!
  • Luci is getting more mobile every day! She’s loving exploring our new apartment on hands and knees, and even took a few steps the other day!

We’re Thankful For:

  • A Great Week at the Avant Europe conference at the beginning of July. We were thrilled to spend the time getting to know some great kids and learning more about what this mission does throughout the world.
  • Financial Support in the last few months that has added up to our monthly goal. Thankful for the one-time gifts that have helped to make up the difference in our monthly support shortfall.
  • Time to Rest before beginning the busyness of the school year. Even Luci has started to sleep better!
  • Our Home at the Art Factory, which has started to feel more and more homey. Thankful also for our landlords and the community that surrounds us here.

Please Be In Prayer For:

  • Transitions. Pray for us as we transition into the new roles and routines of the school year, both in our individual vocations and as a family. Pray for clear communication and that we would use the time given us here to God’s glory.
  • New Staff. Pray for the families and individuals traveling to Germany in the coming weeks to start their lives here, and that God would reveal ways that we can show them hospitality as they engage with the community here.
  • Financial Support. Our monthly support goal is $5500, which will cover the added living expenses of our growing family, and we currently have about $4315 pledged monthly. If you are interested in helping us return to this ministry fully supported, please visit our Getting Involved page or our online giving page with TeachBeyond.

We continue to be deeply grateful for the support and encouragement we receive from all around the world. From showing us hospitality to blessing us with financial support, we couldn’t possibly serve without your involvement. Please let us know if there are ways that we can be praying for you, or if you have any questions our life or ministry.

Peace in Christ,

Timmy & Kristi Dahlstrom

and all shall be well

and all shall be wellAh, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

Mary Oliver, from “Starlings in Winter”

It’s a summer of contrasts.

Last night there was a suicide bombing, again in Germany, in a town to which I’ve traveled often for track meets. And another shooting in Florida. Three days ago, a young shooter attacked several other teenagers at a shopping mall in Munich. Before that was a coup. Before that there were policemen and black men, killed and killing. Before that were more guns, more bombs. Violence and injustice, innocent lives lost everywhere. The speaker at church on Sunday scrolled backwards through this litany of terrors–just in July–events in America and around the world that remind me of a line in Romeo and Juliet: “For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.” Except this isn’t Tybalt killing Mercutio, or Gatsby’s great, heat- and rage-fueled car crash. It’s real violence, not literary, and it won’t pass with the hot days of summer.

Meanwhile, we’re a town so quiet that we can hear horseshoes clattering or cats fighting on the street four floors down, and accordion music floats lazily through our window in the evenings. We spend most days watching a person grow. (Slower than grass, but so much more entertaining!) We watch her standing, balancing on her toes then heels then toes again. We hear her trying to talk, telling us in dozens of syllables all of her thoughts and feelings. We give her watermelon and peaches, delighted to see them disappear into her toothless smile. We take her to the pool and learn she’s afraid of cold water (But who isn’t?), then exult when she consents to sit down and splash for ten merry minutes in the shallowest part of the wading pool. These are my days, both dark and bright.

And a sentence keeps running through my mind, one that I’ve loved for a long time. And all shall be well. Part of Revelations of Divine Love, by medieval mystic Julian of Norwich, these words have run like a line of music through the last decade or so of my life, a promise of God’s power and goodness that has carried me through more than a few times of upheaval. Still, I confess it’s only today that I remembered to be a dutiful English teacher and look up the context of the quote (beyond the two lines around it, borrowed by T.S. Eliot in “Little Gidding”).

I discovered that the lines were Christ’s response to her question–why was sin necessary? As God replied to Job, Julian received a reply, but not an answer:

“But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.'”

Sin was necessary, but all will be well anyway. God will make all things well.

Psalm 23 tells the same story:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me…

Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Psalm 23:4,6

I feel the tension between the beauty of my daily life and the pain that surrounds me, but this is nothing new if I’ve been paying attention. Life in Christ is a tension between contrasts. Light in darkness. Beauty in brokenness. Sin all around, but sin conquered at last. Goodness and lovingkindness following me–not puddles or moments of it, here and there–even through the shadowy valleys of these dark days.

Thank you God for the beauty, for the all that shall be well. Oh God, walk with us through these valleys.

The New Kids

Some leisurely sketching on a conference afternoon.

Some leisurely sketching on a conference afternoon.

The conference ends with the new kids.

Timmy, Luci and I have been at the conference this week for Avant Ministries, a mission agency dedicated to planting churches internationally. Though still very much members of TeachBeyond ourselves, committed to sharing Christ in educational settings, we’ve been asked to host the youth program at the Avant conference this week. And so, with eight days in Germany under our belts, we drive four hours north to a retreat center in the windmill-populated hills of the Rheinland-Pfalz Westerwald.

It has been a week of games and discussion, with many new friendships for us, forged in the family camp atmosphere of the conference. Watching the teenagers this week, I remembered my own summers at Capernwray Harbor family weeks in British Columbia, and my dad’s memories of Mount Herman camp from his childhood. I’m keenly aware of the privilege and stability that these “summer places” represent, and so I’ve been pleased to see it reflected here, among the children of missionaries who so crave long-term relationship and the common denominator of a place to return to, year after year.

For the youth, though, week is more family reunion than family camp. All week we hear stories from these kids, many of whom have spent the majority of their lives planting churches with their parents. I know firsthand the investment that comes with having parents who work in a church, especially a new and small one, and some of these kids have done this many times already on multiple continents. One young woman, ready to start her post-high school life in America, remembers growing up overseas, far from most of her extended family.

“These,” she motions at the long, noisy tables full of missionary families in the dining hall, “These are my uncles and aunts and cousins, really. This is who I’ve grown up with.”

At the end of the conference, after the final songs and thank yous, someone asks the children of the new missionaries to come to the front of the hall. Many of them are young, some even toddlers, and they sit patiently on the steps of the stage while the smiling teenagers line the center aisle that leads out of the room.

The speaker tells them what they already know. Moving to a new country—to Poland, to Spain, to the Czech Republic—can be hard and scary. Some will start at new schools soon, many in new languages.

“But look at these teenagers,” the speaker continues. The teens grin back at him, at each other, knowing looks of shared experiences. “They’ve done it, too.” He points out one young man who’s lived in Japan, Poland and Spain, and a young woman who grew up in Ecuador and France.

“How many of you,” he asks, “Have started school in a classroom where you didn’t speak a word of the language on the first day of school?”

Most of the teenagers raise their hands, nodding dutifully and doubtless remembering those confusing, isolating early days.

“But how many of you learned that language eventually?” he follows up. The same hands go up, this time with proud smiles.

Earlier this week with the youth we discussed the call of Abraham, a tale in which these international kids find themselves easily. They each recall similar moments, relating not always to Abraham himself but to the huge entourage that he took with him out of Ur, a family and household uprooted from a comfortable place by God’s calling. They’re thankful and genial, this particular group, eager to take ownership in their families’ ministries, but I’m struck this morning by the many journeys reflected even in this short demonstration.

I can’t know what the new kids think about this, as I stand in the back with Luci, but it is a powerful moment for me. It’s a reminder of the resilient, adventurous kinds of students that we work with at Black Forest Academy, but it’s also the first time I encounter these kids as a parent myself. I wonder when a baby becomes a missionary kid? When she goes to Kindergarten in a different language? When she understands what goodbye means? When she starts to develop strong opinions or habits around airports? I try to squint ahead and imagine Luci in a few years, wondering what her life will look like, and if she’ll one day identify with these nervous toddlers or confident teenagers.

As usual, this kind of future-squinting uncovers more questions than answers. In the end, I can only pray that if God keeps us overseas for the long haul, if Luci’s childhood is a multilingual, many-miled sojourn, that she’ll greet it with the open hearts and eyes that I’ve had the privilege of meeting this week. They are young people who’ve chosen adventure and obedience, and I am delighted that these are the kinds of students we’re returning to serve at BFA, the people who will surround my daughter in her first years of life.

July: News, Thanks and Prayers

Our little family on Father's Day!

Our little family on Father’s Day!

News and Dates:

  • July 2-10: Avant Ministries Conference in central Germany
  • We sold our car on our last day in America! Thank you for all your prayers along these lines; it was a huge blessing to be able to tie up that loose end.
  • Speaking of cars, we were given a car to use in Germany this year! Again, thank you for your vehicle-related prayers.

We’re Thankful For:

  • New monthly support in the month of June! As you can see from our thermometer, we’re still creeping up on our goal, but this last month saw some great progress.
  • One-time gifts this month, which encouraged us so much and will go towards the expenses of setting up a new home.
  • Safe, smooth travel from Seattle to Kandern. It was a long trip, full of stages and transfers, but we made it, all three of us, in relatively healthy and happy fashion.
  • A new home here in Kandern, a top floor apartment with one of the loveliest views in town. We’re loving settling in to our familiar village, and thankful for our great landlords and this pretty place we get to live in.
  • An amazing year in America, rich in rest and reconnection with friends and family. To all who were a part of this great season, we thank you, and we’ll miss you deeply.

Please Be In Prayer For:

  • New Roles. Pray for Timmy and Kristi as we prepare for new roles that start in August. Timmy will be working part-time with TeachBeyond Member Care, providing pastoral care to our fellow missionaries. Kristi returns to the classroom, teaching Honors American Literature again and picking up a new class with Public Speaking. Pray for us as we get settled this month and prepared to begin serving again next month.
  • Financial Support. Our monthly support goal is $5500, which will cover the added living expenses of our growing family, and we currently have about $4370 pledged monthly. If you are interested in helping us return to this ministry fully supported, please visit our Getting Involved page or our online giving page with TeachBeyond.

Throughout this year in America, we’ve been overwhelmed with the support and encouragement we receive from all around the world. From showing us hospitality to blessing us with financial support, we couldn’t possibly serve without your involvement. Please let us know if there are ways that we can be praying for you, or if you have any questions our life or ministry.

Peace in Christ,

Timmy & Kristi Dahlstrom

Grateful Goodbyes

Proud Papa dedicating his first granddaughter at Bethany Community Church.

Proud Papa dedicating his first granddaughter at Bethany Community Church.

Here are the hard goodbyes
Love you ’til the day I die
Here’s where regrets all fade
Into the light from which you’re made

And here is the warm sand
Sifting through your perfect hand
Here’s where you laugh again
In the memory of a friend

And here’s where you find the truth
It’s the heart and soul of you
Here’s where the body fades
Beautiful in every way

Here’s where the songs we’ve sung
Weave into the constant one
Turn all your fears to love
There is nothing left undone

Julia Massey, from “Here Is A Stone Wall”

Goodbyes are knit into a teacher’s existence. At the end of each school year, we watch some leave forever, and mourn the quieter endings of sweet, intricate classroom communities, built of shared words, spoken and read. The kids depart and I grade the last essays, bringing the year to a stumbling halt, like running down the stairs in the dark, when you forget how many stairs there are. Seven years out of nine (everyone has rough years–mine were the first two), I’ve thought a little sadly that I won’t love any class more than the one I just finished with. All that investment, all those hours, and they’ve moved on, leaving me behind. But then August comes, and usually between September and December I fall in love all over again. Hello and goodbye.

And because I was a teacher for a long time, and a student for ages before that, perhaps part of me thought I’d get out of the goodbyes, just for one year. That somehow I was taking a break from not only the planning and grading and disciplining, but from the adapting and knowing and loving that comes with it. Not so, I find today, as we do one last load of laundry and pack our last bag, counting suitcase pounds like pennies in a piggybank. I’ve fallen in love again, and I’m saying goodbye. Again.

There’s a quote that goes around this time of year, Graduation Season, that goes “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” I doubt that Winnie the Pooh actually said it, as it’s often attributed, but frankly it doesn’t matter. It’s true and beautiful, and today it’s exactly how I feel, sitting on my parents’ couch and watching the hard June rain soak Snoqualmie Pass one last time. It hasn’t been a year of classroom laughter and epiphanies, but it has been a good year.

I look ahead a few days, squinting past air travel with an infant, rental-car machinations and autobahns that will deliver us back to our village, and I know that it is also home. That we’re going, again, from one home to another, from one good to another good. How lucky we are, really, that we’re neither fleeing danger nor heading into exile, like so many are today. From home to home, love to love.

It’s still hard. We reach the end of our year at home with tightened bonds, strengthening the knots that tie us back to people and places an ocean away. I’m sad and thankful, excited and mournful, wondering how I could possibly have forgotten after all these years that beginnings come after endings.

Mostly I am grateful for a year. We once thought of it as an interruption, a tax-mandated pause in ministry, but this time has been infinitely more than that. It’s been a year of family. That lazy proximity to my parents and siblings that I’d been missing for five years, space to know one another again, and for them to know my husband and now daughter. It’s been a year of time. Time to think, to rest, to write, to prepare, to love. So much time that it seemed endless at points, until it wasn’t. Until today.

We take last photos, give last hugs, and say goodbye. We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again, the sweet cost of loving. A family, a home, a year. And I am so grateful.

This is my family, sharing Thanksgiving in June on our last night in Washington. I miss them already.

This is my family, sharing Thanksgiving in June on our last night in Washington. I miss them already.