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.

Baby Goals

Luci practices her standing with Aunt Holly at the bakery.

Luci practices her standing with Aunt Holly at the bakery.

“She just wants to be a bigger baby.”

We say it a lot these days. My daughter wistfully watches me make dinner in the kitchen from her spot in the living room, and I can almost see her plotting a route to me. I’ll stand up, then walk around the corner and stand there with Mom, she’s thinking. But she’s only seven months old, so it doesn’t happen. She tries to pull herself upright with one hand, only to lose her balance and spin herself to a sudden fall back to the floor. Then she cries and cries, perhaps wishing for the words to tell us what’s wrong, how far her strength fell short of her desires. I know we wish for them, those magic words.

Even more, though, I want the words to make her understand that she’s fine, just now, the way she is. That we’re over the moon about her new comfort with sitting upright, laughing at us and repeating B sounds over and over. Walking and talking will come; just wait. You have some growing still to do.

We live in a world of goals by many names. There are the tongue-in-cheek #goals of social media, the five-year plans of corporate mobility, the Disney movie dreams we’re supposed to fight for at all costs. And they’re all good, these goals, as anyone who’s ever worked with hopeful teenagers can attest. Goals are motivating and pristine, places we’d like to go and, at their best, plans to get there.

But my daughter’s woes remind me of another kind of goal, a kind that I’ll call a “baby goal.” We don’t talk about babies having goals–though I’m beginning to think that they do–because it’s too silly. Why would they resolve to do something that will happen naturally, if they’re only patient enough to wait, strong enough to grow? Baby goals are the goals that are more or less out of our hands, requiring time or the input of others or, quite plainly, the intervention of God, to come to fruition.

How often, though, do I get frustrated by my own baby goals? We’re still fundraising for our return to Germany, now just a week away. We’ll go, still hoping for the rest of the support that will shore up our finances and encourage us in ministry in Kandern. We’ve written letters, hosted events, and pursued leads all over the country and the world. We’ve had a marvelous team of friends, family and churches praying for us from the beginning. We’ve worked as hard as we can towards the goal, but I forget that in part it’s a baby goal. Because our ministry at BFA, our finances, and the dozens of other ours I could string together now, aren’t really ours at all. And the timing and sources of our support, which we pray and stress over, aren’t really ours either.

Of course, we’re not without responsibility, even for baby goals like these. Luci will never learn to walk if she lies on her back and giggles at the ceiling fan all day; she has to practice, as well as she can, and risk a few falls. We have to show up, too, by communicating our needs clearly and effectively. In the end, though, we’re waiting. Waiting on God to provide what we need for our daily life and ministry in Germany. Waiting on others to come alongside us in that ministry. And in the waiting, we’re growing, drawing closer to Christ and holding this calling with open hands.

All Here

Enjoying at day at the Zoo with my sister (and Timmy, Luci and our new brother-in-law, Chris).

Enjoying at day at the Zoo with my sister (and Timmy, Luci and our new brother-in-law, Chris).

What I Expect of You:

2. You’ll be Present. Come to class on time every day.       When you are here, be fully present with your body, mind and soul. Some of you know one another very well, but your social life belongs in the hall. In here, you are scholars, readers and writers. Treat one another this way.

What You Can Expect of Me:

2. I’ll be Present. I am thrilled to be here and be your teacher for the year. I will come to class on time each day, and give my whole attention—body, mind and soul—to helping you learn and grow as students.

From my Honors American Literature Syllabus

It smells like summer here at Snoqualmie Pass, but this afternoon–after answering several emails from next year’s Honors American Literature students–I’m thinking about my syllabus. Specifically, I’m thinking of the three exhortations on the front page:

  1. Be Prepared.

  2. Be Present.

  3. Be Respectful.

And while preparedness and respect are important, it’s the second command that I’ve stalled on today. Be present.

I think ahead to a few months from now, when I’ll discuss this point with a new class of teenagers. “Be fully present,” I’ll tell them. “As in, here in the classroom physically, but also mentally, emotionally. Not that thing where you’re here, but not really all here.” They’ll nod knowingly, the future students, because they understand. We all do.

Fully present. It was a point in my dad’s sermon on Acts 17, another undiscussed thought in common that punctuates these days. Because it’s easy, right now, to be partially present. Sort of here, yes, enjoying sunny late-spring days with my family in this chalet on Snoqualmie Pass. But also sort of not here. Sort of in Kandern already, unpacking things into a new apartment. Sort of walking well-loved trails with my daughter, showing her this place where she began. Sort of daydreaming about reading my syllabus with students I haven’t yet met. Transition is the enemy of full presentness.

I think of Ecclesiastes, the preacher exhorting “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” and Paul’s Collosian callback, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.” With heart and might, be present. Be here.

Being present means writing letters to friends, seeking new supporters to shore up our finances before returning to Kandern. It means writing thank you notes to those who’ve given time, money and encouragement to us while we’ve spent this year in America. It means mailing out postcards and magnets all over the country, hoping our faces will grace refrigerators and our names the prayers of friends.

But being present also means having dinner with my sister and her new husband, watching the NBA finals with my dad, going to get my hair cut with my mom. It means watching my grandmother play with my daughter, and cherishing the last few weeks we have living with four generations under one roof. It means visiting the new baby boy of my college roommate, and making plans to see friends “one last time” before we leave. It means tightening the bonds that we’re blessed to have, knowing that the relationships will soon stretch out over a continent, an ocean.

And it occurs to me now that each kind of presentness–the practical work of support-raising and the time set aside for relationship–is important to this season. That neither the preacher nor Paul said, “Work hard, all the time” or “Play now, because you’ll never get to again.” Both said, “What you’re doing, whatever you’re doing, do it well. Be all here.” In that sense, even the preparing for the future, oddly, is being present, as we focus on letter-writing or suitcase-packing so that our last days in Washington aren’t a whirlwind.

It takes wisdom to know exactly what to do with each moment, some days more wisdom than I feel I have. In these busy last weeks, I feel the familiar tug of other endings, not just of the next place I’m going, but the seven things I could reasonably do with each day left to us here at the Pass. It’s been a sweet year, rich and blessed, and we savor each remaining day we have in this place. If you think of us in the next two weeks, in between prayers that the last 20% of our monthly support will appear, pray for this wisdom. To know where God wants us to be, completely and wholeheartedly, as the days count down to our next journey.

June: News, Thanks and Prayers

Visiting our friends, the Kings, on San Juan Island last month.

Visiting our friends, the Kings, on San Juan Island last month.

News and Dates:

  • June 10: Dinner for Snoqualmie Pass neighbors
  • June 19: Luci’s dedication at Bethany Community Church
  • June 23: Return to Germany!
  • The good news: We’ve gained several new supporters this month, bringing our monthly support to $4250! So exciting to see God putting this team together as we prepare to return!
  • Because of a change in the way that TeachBeyond collects income taxes, our support goal has been moved to $5500 for full support. This means we still have a little way to go towards being fully supported and able to purchase a car once we return to Kandern. Please pray about joining our support team if you haven’t already!

We’re Thankful For:

  • New Supporters who have joined us in the last few months. Thank you for the encouragement that you are to our ministry, and for making it possible for us to work and live in Germany!
  • The Roe Family for hosting our Kaffee & Kuchen gathering in Seattle last month. It was a great time of fellowship with new and old friends, giving us the chance to share our heart for the work God is doing in global missions at BFA and in Kandern.
  • A Year of Milestones that we’ve been able to be a part of during our time here. From weddings to new babies to significant birthdays, we’ve been so thankful to be on this side of the ocean to take part in these celebrations.
  • Our neighborhood at Snoqualmie Pass, which throughout the year has been a place of genuine community and encouragement to us as we’ve become a family of three. We love you all, and will miss you greatly!

Please Be In Prayer For:

  • Travel & Moving! Pray for us as we return to Germany at the end of June, for safety and health as we cross the ocean for the first time as a family. Pray also for us as we settle into our home in Kandern at the end of the month.
  • Financial Support. Our goal for returning to Germany in June is $5500 in monthly support, which will cover the added living expenses of our growing family, and we’re currently receiving about $4250 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.

As we look ahead to returning to Germany in June, we’re overwhelmed with the support and encouragement we receive from all around the world. You are so instrumental in keeping us in ministry; we couldn’t do it without you! Please let us know if there are ways that we can be praying for you, or if you have any questions about what’s going on in our lives these days.

Peace in Christ,

Timmy & Kristi Dahlstrom

Homecoming

Luci on the beach for the first time!

Luci on the beach for the first time!

It’s only after we’ve been on the beach for a while, watching her little toes rake through the gravel, that I realize Luci has never felt the ground with her bare feet.

I can count on one hand the times that my snow-born baby has been outside without a coat on, and she has never been to the beach. This–our afternoon on the western shore of San Juan Island–is a special day. Luci’s first at the beach, and my first at this beach, on the island where I lived until I was six, in at least 15 years.

“There are hermit crabs in here!” Timmy calls from the rocks nearer to the water, where he’s standing over a tide pool. We have a longstanding debate, my East Coast husband and I–as he was raised on the wide, sandy strands of Atlantic shore in Virginia and North Carolina–about the beach-ness of our Pacific Northwest shores, where icy-cold waves lap against rocky coasts littered with driftwood. Today, though, he concedes that whatever they lack in sand, our beaches make up for in other amusements. I ask him if he has poked the anemones.

“You can poke them?” he replies. “Don’t they sting you?”

“Never have before,” I say with a shrug. I get up and find one, it’s sand-colored tentacles waving in the ripples until I introduce my finger into its center, whereupon they close slowly but firmly, while Timmy and I squeal like kids.

Like a kid. That’s how I feel this weekend, visiting San Juan Island today and the Upper Skagit River tomorrow, before a speaking engagement at Concrete Community Bible Church on Sunday. There are only a few people I know here now, and even the buildings are mostly unfamiliar, though I still recognize the boxy church we left behind. The beach, though, is a familiar face, its voice and smell a comforting, long-lost friend. I flip over rocks to watch tiny black crabs scuttle away, or walk along the lengths of driftwood back to where Luci curls her toes in the smooth beach gravel that was my first playground, too.

The mossy North Cascade rainforest

The mossy North Cascade rainforest

I suppose some people are able to visit their hometowns and find communities intact, mostly unchanged, but that hasn’t ever been my experience. I’m not the only one who moves away, and people change as much as places. Though well-loved friends remain, they are few and far between, no longer part of a tapestry of belonging that I once knew.  The places, though, still call to me, even if I don’t know anyone there.

A friend who grew up in Mexico City recently told me of her plans to return this summer, for the first time in over a decade, with a group of young people on a mission trip.

“Will you see anyone you know?” I asked her.

“No,” she replied. “They’re not there. But the places… I’ll go back to places.”

She’s not alone. This ritual of return is shared by many third culture kids (TCKs). Many of my students at Black Forest Academy recall how strange it is to go back to Kandern, to find that their friends and many of their teachers have moved on. “You can’t really go back after a while,” one of them said. “It’s not the same.” Not the same, I thought, but you can go back.

Even the returning isn’t an option for everyone, though. I think about students who have had visas denied over summer vacation, who are never to return to the countries and languages they knew as children. Or those who grew up in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, whose tales of leaving involve bombs that dropped while they were away, apartments still full of belongings they’d never see again.

The students are just the beginning, I know. Our village in Germany now plays host to 1500 refugees who long to return, someday, to the ruins of homes they knew. Will they still smell the same, like the San Juan Island beaches do for me? Will they hear the same birds, like I do in my Cascade rainforest? Or see any of the same buildings? What is home, when war and fire scrape the settings back to mere topography?

One of the former Alaythia Fellowship's cedar log cabins

One of the former Alaythia Fellowship’s cedar log cabins

Tomorrow, we’ll take the breezy ferry back to the mainland, and drive sixty miles up into the mountains, spending our second night in my second home. We’ll sleep in a cedar log cabin on the property of what we once called Alaythia Fellowship, and again, it’s the nature that feels like home. Everything manmade is smaller–buildings, the road, even our playhouse that now holds trashcans–but the jungly rainforest is just the same. Mossy branches look like muscly arms reaching to the ceiling, while ferns claim most of the forest floor.

We go to visit our elderly neighbor, but he isn’t home. Without him, there’s no one left who remembers me, barefoot and nine years old, swinging on the swings that Grandpa built for us, which were taken down ages ago. But if I close my eyes I’m there again, hearing the raucous cry of the birds and smelling the heavy sky about to pour rain. I open them again to find my husband reading on the porch, my little girl rolling around on the floor, just about to crawl. It’s a privilege to return, to visit these places formed me long ago, a privilege that I’m keenly aware isn’t available to everyone, but my students are right.

It’s not the same, because I’m not the same. I scoop up my daughter, sit down next to Timmy, and watch heavy raindrops begin to fall. Not the same, but still infinitely good to be in a past place with present people, dreaming about the future we’ll share.

Timmy and Luci on the beach on San Juan Island

Timmy and Luci on the beach on San Juan Island

A Summit Day

The three wedding dresses of Mrs. Holly Prairie

The three wedding dresses of Mrs. Holly Prairie

She decided to wear three dresses.

One day my sister, Holly, came up to the chalet in the mountains and we pulled out “every wedding dress in the house.” There were, surprisingly, four, belonging to myself, my great aunt, my grandmother and my mother. She’d also brought two she’d ordered online for comparison, a grand bridal fashion show. Two of the six were declared winners, neither of them the purchased ones, which she promptly sent back. The third dress, the one she made, came later, inspired by the Sugarplum Fairies at the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker last Christmas. So, three dresses for my sister’s wedding.

Far from the only unique element of the wedding, the costume changes were just the beginning. Holly and her fiancé, Chris, dreamed up a grand affair, which included a marching band playing themes from Star Wars, a parade through Woodland Park in Seattle, homemade macaroni and cheese for 250 people, and desperate prayers for good weather on the day of the picnic reception. The evening finished with a talent show, coffee and pastries, uniting their love for baked goods and espresso with the community of musicians that had surrounded them since their beginning.

And now, on her brilliantly sunny, late-April wedding day, I’m standing at the front of the church, sunflowers in hand, watching my little sister approach with a parent on each arm. The ivory satin dress, first worn by my grandmother Nadine on Christmas Day, 1943, ripples down the aisle behind her. I imagine my grandmother, who missed the wedding by a year and a half, watching with glee. My grandmother, whose middle name Holly has, who always spoke to her with both names: “Holly Nadine.” What a proud moment this is for her. For all of us.

And I think about how weddings, like other highlight-reel moments in our lives, are about the past and the future. Here we are celebrating a beginning, Holly and Chris and the gloriously genial married couple they’ll be, but behind that celebration there are so many years of history making it all the sweeter. Most of us don’t attend weddings for strangers (except occasionally as dates); we go to witness the next steps of people we know and love. It’s Grandma Nadine’s dress that she wears, but it’s Holly’s history I’m remembering. The baby sister, the laughing, elfin little girl, the theatrical teenager and the gracious, world-traveling adult. We come to celebrate the people God created, then put together just at the right moment.

John Donne wrote that no man is an island, reminding us of our interconnectedness in communities and families, but today reminds me that no day, no matter how remarkable or climactic, is an island. These days are more like mountaintops, the last few pebbles or crystals of ice atop many layers of days below. A graduation is special not because of billowing robes or square hats, but because of the years of work leading to the final day. A birth is infinitely more precious because of the months, and sometimes years, of waiting and anticipation prior to this tiny one’s arrival. Every moment is built on the ones before, and days like these are so much more beautiful in their context.

The PrairiesHours later, after vows and rings, macaroni and picnic, coffee and songs, we stand with sparklers on the sidewalk, waiting for the new Mrs. Prairie and her groom to emerge. Here she is, the grinning bride in a white and gold ballet-inspired dress, dodging flying sparks and gripping her husband’s hand as they make their getaway. They ride off on bicycles, and not the cute old-fashioned bikes you see in staged wedding photos. These are their everyday bikes, and they’re conscientiously wearing their everyday helmets. Still wearing today’s finery and riding tomorrow’s bicycles, they glide away as we cheer for their future, grateful for the pasts that have brought them, together, to this summit of a day.

Kaffee & Kuchen: Seattle Edition

Hear about this place...

Hear about this place…

Who: YOU! Friends, family, supporters, those who read this blog and are interested in knowing more about our ministry in Germany.

What: An evening of coffee, cake and conversation about our ministry through TeachBeyond and Black Forest Academy in Kandern, Germany.

When: Sunday, May 22, 7:00 PM-8:30 PM

Where: Seattle, WA

...and eat this cake! (Never fear: Fresh cake will be made for the event.)

…and eat this cake!
(Never fear: Fresh cake will be made for the event.)

How: For a full invitation (with an address for the party!), email Timmy directly at timmy.dahlstrom@gmail.com.

Hope to see you there!