Nothing Wasted: Of Slides and Research Papers

Luci, the lone teeter totterer.

Friday morning, and the playground is deserted. Since I teach only one class today and Timmy is hard at work in the counseling department at school, Friday mornings I stay home with Luci. After what feels like a month of freezing weather and sickness, we’ve seized our health and the balmy temperatures and walk across the river and two big streets to the park. We walk, on our own four feet, without any strollers involved. Big steps for the little person beside me.

They’re just the first of many today. When we get to the empty playground, (suspecting all of the other two-year-olds are either in Kindergarten or still eating breakfast) Luci peruses the toy options. While I generally find German playgrounds somewhat superior to their American counterparts–full of the risky, wood-metal-tire climbable things that I remember from my own childhood–this one is a little sparse. The Americans in Kandern call this the “zipline park” because of the pretty cool zipline that runs across it, but Luci is still too small for the zipline, which leaves only a few other options.

Luci investigates them carefully. She rides the Bouncy Cat–a chipped-paint feline on a giant, rusty spring–for a few seconds. Next, I push her in the swing, an activity which brings plenty of giggling, but again only lasts a minute or two. Swings were apparently cooler when she was 18 months old. We use the digger for a while, swiveling this ageless tool in every direction and creating a trench in the pebbly, twiggy sand around it. “What about the teeter totter?” she asks, pointing to the magnificent contraption, with spots for three kids on either side. I note that we’re at least one kid short for see-sawing merriment. Finally, she turns to the slide.

I hate this slide. Maybe hate is too strong a word–I generally reserve that one for major systemic injustices, and also pickles–but this slide freaks me out. It is about ten feet high, its precipitous steel slope polished to a mirror-like sheen by the behinds of endless multitudes hurtling down at the speed of light, their little feet scraping away the pebbles at the bottom as they try to come to something like a halt. The worst part about this slide, the part that has for the most part kept Luci off of it for almost two years now, is the approach. Where the friendly, plastic slides on the Air Force base have friendly little steps to the top of their five-foot drops, this one is a ladder. It has maybe seven metal rungs, spread at a distance that would challenge a clumsy adult, let alone a shorter-than-average toddler.

“Can I go on that slide?” Luci asks me. Moment of truth. Yes, I’ve gone down the slide with her before. That’s how I know it’s fast. I’ve also lifted her halfway up the slide and let her drift the last few feet to the bottom, where I caught her before her feet touched the ground. We could do that again, I suppose.

It’s scary being a parent, with what seems like an endless newsreel of potential worst-case scenarios playing on a precarious back-channel in my brain. But there’s another channel. There’s the outdoor instructor channel, remembering teaching young adults, teenagers and, yes, little children to rock climb in the Alps, helping them to overcome fears of heights and falling, acknowledging danger and respecting the risks. There’s my own childhood, full of tree-climbing and forest-exploring and scaling the outside walls of our house from a shockingly young age. I look back at the slide.

“Yes. You can go on the slide.” I stand behind her while she climbs the ladder, one hesitant rung at a time. I remind her to look down at her feet, to place one tiny boot solidly before she moves the next one, to always hold on with both hands. When she gets to the top, I tell her to wait again. “Wait for me, and I’ll come around and catch you.” She waits, and from the front of the slide I half expect her to freeze, from the height or the steepness or the weight of being alone up there, for once in control of when she comes down. Instead, she looks at the view, a particularly nice one from way up high, takes a deep breath, grins at me, and then comes down.

And it’s not as fast as I remember; I don’t have to catch her, even. She comes to the bottom, breathless and happy. “Can I do it again?” she asks. We spend the rest of our time at the park on the slide.

On perhaps her eighth time up the ladder, when she’s more confident with the rungs, I hear my daughter say, to herself or to me, “I’m doing it!”

I think about my students, working hard to finish their research papers before this evening. It’s been a long process, these 5-7 page papers on American authors, and we’re all a little tired of it. I also know, because they’ve told me–loudly–that this is the longest paper they’ve ever written. Like, ever. I imagine some of them are already scheming how to make it truly the longest paper of their lives, plotting careers that will take them far away from writing. That happens, I tell them, when you’re tired.

After a few weeks, though, I hope the story changes. I hope that at some point, when they passed the borders of the most pages or words they ever wrote down, someone said, “I’m doing it!” I’m writing a paper, and it’s hard, but I’m doing it anyway.

I talk often with my young-mom peers about the skills we’ve brought to motherhood from earlier in our lives. The dietician who writes about feeding young children, or the artist who lets her son “help” her prepare pots for glazing. The pastor whose children take part in every aspect of her ministry, retelling Bible stories in their own charming ways from very young ages.

View from the top!

As I start to think about the transition from teaching to full-time parenting, it’s tempting–and intimidating–to see it as a hard border crossing, a citizenship change, as I leave behind everything from one role to jump fully into the other. Yet I’ve suspected for a long time that nothing we do in our lives needs to be wasted. I’ve still played violin and made spreadsheets and lattes as an English teacher, remnants of former lives that have come in handy in my current career. And I this next chapter will doubtless be full of teaching, whether its the logistics of climbing a ladder, or the celebration of accomplishing something risky, hard and a little bit scary for both of us.


March: News, Thanks, and Prayers

The BFA Boys and Girls Basketball teams, posing with their second consecutive championship plaques!

News and Dates:

  • March 2-4: High School Retreat
  • March 22: End of Quarter 3
  • March 23-April 8: Spring Break
  • March 23-28: English Department Trip
  • Curriculum for March: Modern poetry, Of Mice and Men

We’re Thankful For:

  • BFA Basketball Teams for a wonderful season, capped off by both teams winning the Division II DoDDS Europe championship! Timmy loved working with the basketball guys, and will miss basketball coaching.
  • Fiddler on the Roof, a wonderful opportunity for Kristi to brush up on the violin, play some excellent music, and spend time working on something cool with a talented group of staff and students.
  • Our Landlords, Rick and Mary Beth Holladay, who have recently sold our building and are also moving to Washington! We’ve loved living in the Art Factory, and have been thankful for their engaged, helpful presence in our lives.
  • Health in the midst of lots of sickness around here. We don’t take it for granted!

Please Be In Prayer For:

  • Travel Plans. This month sees Kristi head to England with the English Department staff for a few days, and Timmy serving at Spangdahlem Air Base. Pray for safety, health, and the details of travel to go smoothly.
  • Job Search. Pray for Timmy as he searches for a job in Washington, looking specifically for roles in the mental health area. Pray for the right job to open up, and for the details of applying and interviewing from afar to come together.

As always, we are overwhelmed with gratitude for your investment in our lives, whether in finances, prayers, or encouragement. This ministry is truly impossible without you! 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 in Kandern.

Peace in Christ,

Timmy & Kristi Dahlstrom

On Labels

Student journalists assembling our school newspaper in time for this semester’s first Distribution Day!

We’re putting the finishing touches on our latest issue of the BFA Chronicle newspaper, admiring a photo of Fiddler on the Roof cast members in the Arts section when one reporter looks up at me suddenly.

“You play violin?”

She phrases it as a question, but since this student journalist is also herself a member of the Fiddler cast, I know it’s not. We’ve been in half a dozen rehearsals together, and I’ve seen her squinting across the stage at me, as if trying to decipher if, indeed, it’s really me playing that instrument with the little pit orchestra.

“I do,” I reply with a nod. “I mean, not terribly well, but I do.” For a moment, the room is abuzz with chatter, the journalists suddenly curious and interested in this fascinating new tidbit about their teacher. It’s a senior editor who calls it to an abrupt halt.

“Yes! She’s a teacher and she does other things. Shocking!”

I laugh, and the students get back to work, which may have been Senior Editor’s intention in the first place, but the moment sticks with me.

Later, I’ll discuss labels with the ninth graders in my Advisory group. We meet twice weekly, the ninth graders and I, focusing our time on a variety of topics and activities designed to help them grow smoothly from uncertain middle schoolers to confident, autonomous high school students. After a brief video, our conversation brings us back to labelling, its uses and danger, especially in relationship to gossip.

Knowing that the defensive ninth graders are unlikely to incriminate themselves by listing harmful labels they apply to others, I begin by asking them how even positive labels could have unintended consequences. “I mean, you’re missionary kids,” I remind them. “That’s not a mean label. If anything, it’s a good one, but still. Do you always like to be ‘the MK’?”

They do not. The ninth graders erupt with tales of being asked to recite random Bible verses from memory, or speak languages that they’ve never really learned. “It’s like people only know this one thing about me,” one of them comments. “I’m more than just that one thing.”

In some ways, I think that young people are better at recognizing the consequences of labels than adults are. Or rather, they resent the labels more. I look around my school and see students that are sculptors and soccer players, graphic artists and members of the Model UN. High school is a time when we encourage kids to try things out, to see what they like and what they’re good at. At the risk of falling into cliche, it’s a time to “find yourself.”

Adults, on the other hand, seem to cling to our labels. How ardently I resisted being labeled as a teacher at 21! It’s with equal passion, though, that I claim the title now. Once we find something we love, we sink into it with abandon. This is who I am. I’ve found myself!

Except, just like the ninth graders, we’re more than one thing.

I recently listened to a sermon from our church in Seattle in which the pastor spoke of the “latent gifts” of the shepherd boy, David. Certainly he loved being a shepherd, and was very good at it. It’s probable he never expected much more for his life. God knew differently, saw the gifts of faith and leadership that would make him one of Israel’s greatest kings. David could have shut his eyes to it, crying, “I’m a shepherd! Leave me alone!” but he was aware that he probably didn’t know himself, his capabilities, as well as God did. So he listened, and learned something new.

I love people who live this way. Rooted in Christ as their only static identity, they pursue various callings and gifts in various seasons. My sister majored first in theater, then in Global Development Studies, and now owns a bakery in Seattle. My mother studied outdoor recreation in college, then went on to be a mother and later a bookkeeper for three decades, before using the last few years to become a volunteer snowshoe guide with the U.S. Forest Service.

I’ll soon shed the label of “teacher,” at least for a while. And though at times that feels painful, a stripping-away of this role I’ve loved so much, for so long, I’m inspired by the ninth graders. We’re not just one thing. We belong to Christ, who knows us best, and sees what we cannot, the king inside the shepherd, the violinist behind the teacher.

February: News, Thanks, and Prayers

Students learn the Virginia Reel at the Sadie Hawkins Hoedown!

News and Dates:

  • February 3: Sadie Hawkin’s Hoedown
  • February 9-10: BFA Basketball @ Vilseck
  • February 10, 17: Fiddler on the Roof dress rehearsals
  • February 16-17: BFA Basketball @ Home
  • February 20-24: DoDDS Europe Basketball Tournament
  • February 23-25: Fiddler on the Roof
  • Curriculum for February: The Great Gatsby, research project, newspaper editing and layour

We’re Thankful For:

  • Ken & Delena Poe, dear friends from Virginia Beach who visited us on their way home from a retreat they were leading in Hungary. Such a blessing to spend this time reconnecting with them!
  • A New Journalism Class, who bring enthusiasm and a wide variety of skills and perspectives to the BFA Chronicle staff.
  • Basketball Coaching, which has given Timmy great opportunities to connect with a team of high school guys, providing mentoring and discipleship in the context of athletics.
  • New Schedule for Kristi, which allows her to be with Luci in the mornings, while Timmy completes his internship at the school.
  • Logisical Provisions for some of the upcoming moving conundrums that await us in the next few months. Details to come!

Please Be In Prayer For:

  • Busy Month! As you can see from the schedule above, there’s quite a bit going on in February. Pray for health and energy, and for connectedness in our family as we serve in several capacities this month.
  • Future Plans. Pray for us as we begin to make plans for the future, that we would be trust God for wisdom and discernment in the midst of many decisions.

We continue to be so thankful for the investment of friends, family and supporting churches in our lives and ministry here. 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 in Kandern.

Peace in Christ,

Timmy & Kristi Dahlstrom

Remembering How To Read

My last experience with an orchestra, for BFAs 2011 production of Suessical.

In order to arrive at what you are not

You must go through the way in which you are not.

And what you do not know is the only thing you know

And what you own is what you do not own

And where you are is where you are not.

“East Coker,” T.S. Eliot

I turn the page and squint, hoping maybe the swarm of five b‘s hovering next to the treble clef will go away if I frown at it. I don’t even know what to call this key, much less precisely how to play in it, but there’s no time to complain. I have to–literally–face the music. The song is “If I Were A Rich Man,” in the key of Evil.

Except… I used to know it. There are things I don’t know how to do, like knitting and experimental physics. There are things I do know how to do, like making pies or teaching English. There are even things I’m learning to do, like being a wife and a mother, or speaking German. But there are a few things, fragments of old passions, that I used to know and love well, and have simply forgotten.

I dusted off my violin (literally dusted it off, folks) a few months ago to start rehearsals with the pit orchestra for our school’s production of The Fiddler on the Roof. I’ve played in a pit orchestra before, six years ago for Suessical, but there were some key differences:

  1. I was single then, with theoretically unlimited time for practice.
  2. I was playing viola, the parts of which tend to be more percussion than anything tricky or melodic.
  3. It was Suessical, a show full of poppy little ditties, not the intricate, Russian-influenced themes of Fiddler on the Roof.
  4. It was six years ago, six years closer to college, which was at that point the last time I’d played in an orchestra. (Now, that college orchestra is a horrifying 15 years back.)

I chose to play violin this time instead of viola because playing in alto clef makes my head hurt, but this decision comes at the price of actually having to play lots and lots of notes. Notes that I no longer know, fully, how to read. I stumbled through the first read-through of each song, trying to keep up through the exotic keys and notation that is what happens when the incredible vivacity of “To Life” makes it onto the page. I’d expected to be a small part of a full string section, but alas, there are only three violinists. So my missed notes are a third of the notes. No pressure.

Having finished the first pass at the music, we come back to the beginning today, and something strange is happening. I can follow along. I still can’t do everything, every time, but I know what I’m supposed to play. My fingers can find the notes faster, now, than my mind can name them. In the still-challenging trenches of these still-complicated pieces, I’m remembering how to read.

A Greek philosopher once advised, “If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid with regard to external things.” While I’m not certain what “external things” he had in mind, I know that this return to music over the last two months has often left me feeling foolish and stupid, a little lost and several steps behind everyone else. It’s a not a pleasant feeling, not one I want to hold onto forever, and of course it’s possible to feel both of those things without improving. And yet as I sit up straighter, as I hear the rhythm on the page before I have to play it, and realize that the notes that look impossible are actually quite within my reach, I realize that sometimes, maybe often, true growth waits on the other side of just this discomfort.

I’m also struck, here in this genial little rehearsal, among gracious fellow violinists far more talented than I and led by a chronically upbeat director, that I’m willing to keep trying because I know that I’m well-supported. If I miss a few notes, I’m not fired. The director keeps listening for the good, bringing it out in our little group.

It’s a lesson I try quite often to convey to my students. Risk working hard at this–striking out on a new book, a new idea, a new thought–and you’ll grow as a result. I’ll do my best, I promise, to help you avoid feeling foolish or stupid, but you may feel a little lost, once in a while. It means you’re ready to learn something new.

What it doesn’t mean, though, is that the learning will be easy. The stakes of the pit orchestra, small violin section aside, are relatively low and an English paper won’t follow anyone past high school. The harder sight-reading often takes us by surprise, in the unexpected twists and turns of life, and our students are fluent in transition. They are constantly moving, reading cultures and picking up languages, making friends and somehow learning dozens of unwritten and unspoken rules of each new place they call home.

My stronger fingers are a promise, I realize, that the transitions that are common to my students’ and my life are not forever. If we keep walking through them, in the company of people who care about us and following the direction of a God who cares more, the unfamiliarity wears off and we grow stronger, bolder, more fully who we were made to be, even in new places. Knowing that we’re loved, we’ll remember how to read, no matter where we go from here.


Thoughts From the Valley

“With every job when it’s complete
There is a sense of bitter-sweet
That moment when you know the task is done…”

Mary Poppins

Camping in the valley

February 2010. I’m crying in a theater in mid-town Manhattan.

Heeding the advice of one of my bosses from college, who regularly travelled to New York for business, I’ve taken this evening off from the International Baccalaureate (IB) conference I’m attending to see a show. During lunch I got myself to the Times Square TKTS box office, where I learned that my Broadway options included Mary Poppins, the clear choice for my evening of solitary fun. I got dressed up, went alone to a Thai restaurant and ordered food too spicy to eat, and then arrived promptly at the proper theater, ready for my first-ever (and last, at this point) show on Broadway.

The tears don’t come until the end of the show, which proves just as merry and quirky as the movie I’d grown up loving. With everyone else, I clap along to “Step In Time” and giggle at the escalating ridiculousness of the verses of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!” The show ends, however, with Mary Poppins’s departure, as she sings the lines above and continues:

Though in your heart you’d like to stay
To help things on their way
You’ve always known they must do it alone

The valley

I’ve come to New York this week to learn how to be a better public school teacher, but I’m not sure I’ll be staying. In fact, I had an interview earlier this week with TeachBeyond, a mission specializing in global, Christ-centered education, an interview that is one more link in the long chain of events that could lead me not just away from public education, but away from Seattle, and the United States, entirely. Untethered by property, debt or a significant other, the timing is right to teach overseas. There’s also the nagging feeling of calling, the desire I once had to serve the children of those in ministry, who are trying to decipher God’s work in their lives and hearts in the midst of the details of a ministry-centered lifestyle. Children, if I’m honest, like me. I always wanted to teach them, and now I might have the chance, somewhere far away, like Germany.

As Mary Poppins bids Jane and Michael farewell, though, my eyes fill with tears, because I’m not running away. It’s been four years at my school in Seattle, and though we had a rough start, I’ve grown to love the multicultural, unpretentious, earnest place that is Ingraham High School. I love that my students know so many languages and teach me about the wide world beyond Seattle. I love that I get to show them that Shakespeare can be fun, or that Lord of the Flies is relevant to real life, or that a graphic novel can “count” as good literature. I love that we could celebrate together when America elected our first black president, and mourn together when I got laid off (and eventually rehired) at the end of my third year. It’s time to go, I’ve started to suspect, but I still love it.

Almost eight years later, the feeling is the same. I know it’s time to go, feel confidence in the strong, sweet longing for my daughter to grow up near her aunts and uncles and for Timmy to embark on a career in mental health counseling. I see the hazy outlines of good in the future, imagining unexplored delights and challenges. It’s misty and uncertain, imagined rather than assured.

Up to the pass we go!

I often imagine transitions as a mountain pass (a real, specific pass in central Austria, if you’re curious). We’re hiking upwards, unable to see or truly imagine what awaits us on the other side. We’re free however, to look back at where we’ve been, how far we’ve climbed. We can be thankful, or even a bit nostalgic, for the valley below us, a green meadow crisscrossed with streams and frequented by wild horses. Above us are clouds, rocks, sky, and the promise that if we keep going, a new 180 degrees awaits our exploration. I’ve never been disappointed by a pass, and I’ve never been disappointed by listening to God. It will be good, God promises, because I am good.

It’s not a guarantee, I know, that we’ll get to love all the places we leave behind, but that’s how it’s been for me, so far. I’ve never scrambled up the hill in retreat, thanking God for every step that takes me farther away. I’ve always been able to look back with gratitude, the bittersweet journey of moving from one well-loved home to another.

Today I’m savoring the valley, thankful. My students began the morning sitting on their desks, energetically reviewing for their final exam. “What are the influencing factors for realism?” someone almost shouts into the morning stillness. As they talk over each other, rushing to give the answers that they’ve memorized, I sip coffee and listen, amazed. Amazed that they care so much, that they’ve worked so hard, that I get to be their teacher. We have one more semester here, a semester I know will be full of details of packing, moving, job interviewing, and traveling. But I’m thankful for moments like this, too, times to look back with gratitude and ahead with expectation, keenly aware that God has been–and will be– very good.

For more concrete information about our upcoming transition, including ways you can be praying for us, see our most recent newsletter. Thank you, as always, for reading and journeying with us.

January: News, Thanks, and Prayers

Happy to have dear friends from Seattle here for Christmas!

News and Dates:

  • January 2: Timmy takes his counseling board certification exam in Frankfurt.
  • January 8: Classes resume
  • January 12-13: Basketball at BFA
  • January 16-19: Semester 1 Exams
  • January 19-20: Basketball at BFA
  • January 26-27: Basketball on the road!
  • Curriculum for January: Exam review, Journalism enterprise projects

We’re Thankful For:

  • Christmas Visitors from Seattle! Thank you to Ben, Susanna and Emily for spending your Christmas with us here in Kandern, sharing the quiet delight of a German Christmas with us.
  • Safety after a (thankfully) minor car incident this month. Our car is finished, but we are fine, and the circumstances were far better than they could have been. Thanking God for protection!
  • Rest, much-needed after a busy fall, and the time this Christmas break to slow down, sleep, and reconnect with friends, visiting alumni and each other.
  • Jordan and Larisa, two dear students from the class of 2014 (for which we served as sponsors for four years), who got married last week. Such a blessing to see you begin your lives together!
  • Financial Provision in the form of a generous gift from a fellow missionary, which will meet our support shortfall this year, helping to stabilize our finances and keeping us here in Kandern.

Please Be In Prayer For:

  • Travel. Our students and staff will return to Germany this week from all corners of the world. Please pray, as always, for safety and smooth connections as they pass through all manner of winter weather and strange airports to get back here before school starts.
  • Future Plans. Pray for us as we begin to make plans for the future, that we would be trust God for wisdom and discernment in the midst of many decisions.

We begin this year with gratitude, recognizing the incredible provision of God in so many different ways. One of the biggest ways has been the gift of so many friends and family members, along with our three incredible sending churches, who are involved in keeping us in ministry here in Germany. We thank God for you, for the opportunity we have to serve here, and for all that’s to come in the year ahead. 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 in Kandern.

Peace in Christ,

Timmy & Kristi Dahlstrom

Things That Made Life Better This Year: 2017 Edition

Happy New Years’ Eve from sunny southern Germany! As has become a habit, I spent a bit of time this afternoon reflecting on some “things” that made life better this year. It’s been a full, rich and interesting year, and I look forward to all that’s ahead in 2018!

  1. Visiting our llama friends in Sitzenkirch!

    Llamas. There are a few families of llamas living in a neighboring village, and visits to them–and their adorable babies–have become a highlight of our family walks this year.

    • Timmy: Luci, what does a llama say?
    • Luci: Llama, llama, llama!
  2. Fellow Parents. Whether in the support of a text message from home, a standing playdate with some adorable two-year-old twins, or “proper brunch” with friends in the community, we’ve loved connecting with other parents of young kids this year. There’s something great about swapping stories with fellow parents “in the trenches” of littlehood with us.
    • Highlight: Fourth of July party with five toddlers under two!
  3. Thankful for this fellow West Wing fan!

    West Wing Sundays. In the midst of a tumultuous political reality in 2017, we loved spending our Sunday evenings with a dear friend, enjoying the fast-talking and ever-relevant reruns of Aaron Sorkin’s early-2000s political drama.

  4. Der Fußsack. Pronounced foos-sack, this is Luci’s “stroller sleeping bag,” which has kept her toasty on probably hundreds of miles of strollering though our little village. Though we can’t always keep her in hat and mittens, Luci’s fußsack has been her companion in chilly Kandern winter.
  5. Home-Making It. As I’ve written before, living in Germany has given us both the opportunity to learn how to make things we’d buy if we lived in America. This years saw the addition of homemade donuts, biscuits, beer and kombucha to our repertoire.
    • Kombucha Flavor of the Year: Holunderbluten (Elderflower)
    • Donut of the Year: Cinnamon
  6. Journalism Class. For the second year in a row, I got to teach a new class! This one, though small, has proven one of my favorites yet, featuring the fresh importance of journalism in an ever-changing world and six young people committed to learning how to communicate truth in our small community.
    • Update on a previous post: Despite a lack of popular demand, we had articles on the German federal elections in three out of our four issues. It was important.
  7. Answered Prayers: This was a year of answered prayers. Timmy has one and a half of his two internships he needs for his Masters of Clinical Mental Health Counseling, which he’ll complete in the spring. We have been blessed with generous and creative childcare for Luci. A generous donation has helped to shore up our recent dip in support. And though our car has recently completely broken (see Timmy’s Instagram for that sad tale), it broke in the perfect place and time (at a near-stop in a country village) sparing us a much worse accident had it happened on an autobahn, or with Luci in the car.
  8. Cheese & Crackers. While “watching Papa on the TV show” (Bethany Community Church’s live 8 AM service) we’ve taken to enjoying a Sunday evening meal of cheese, crackers and cured meats, connecting us to family and to traditional German fare. We’re thankful for the Internet, this great church family, and tasty salami.
    • Best Cracker: Tuc (German Ritz)
    • Best Cheese: Cream Cheese
    • Best Salami: Edeka Italian
  9. Listening to music with Papa on a short visit in November.

    Visits. In a rare year in which 2/3 of us didn’t make it back to America, we were thankful for several visitors here in Kandern, including dear friends and a good majority of the Dahlstroms.

    • “So, you’re going to Kandern–for a week–to babysit?” So glad my sister’s answer was “Yes!”
  10. Calling. From building discipleship relationships by coaching basketball, counseling teenagers and missionaries, to teaching new subjects and mentoring new teachers, this has been a year in which both Timmy and I have had the privilege of using our gifts in places we feel called. We’re thankful for teaching, counseling and the ministry of hospitality we feel Christ calling us to here in Kandern, and more than ever thankful for all of you who encourage us with prayer and financial support, making this ministry possible.


Barbarazwieg: Of Twigs, Christmas and New Discoveries

Our St. Barbara branches, blooming in our windowsill.

“Apparently it’s a big deal to dress up in costumes when you pick someone up on Christmas Eve in Switzerland…”

Christmas Eve morning, Timmy starts texting me as soon as he gets to the airport. With his customary picking-people-up-in-Zürich Starbucks drink in hand, he relates a new and strange Swiss tradition: dressing up in costumes to pick up relatives on Christmas Eve.

“Seriously,” he writes. “We’ve got about 20 Santa’s, a family of baristas… and someone hiding in a box…” I laugh and reply that he should have worn his lederhosen to collect our friends from Seattle, who will be visiting us here in Kandern for a week.

I look out of our window on the grey, sleepy village as I make cinnamon bread on this quiet Sunday morning. All of the shopping in preparation for three closed-store days is done, the house cleaned and the presents wrapped. We have just one door left to open in the Milka advent calendar, two more ornaments on the Jesse Tree devotional. Christmas is here.

In the windowsill, I notice tiny, light-pink flowers blooming on the slender twigs that have been sitting in a pitcher full of water for almost a month. The twigs were handed to me at the grocery store on December 6th, a gift from the cashier. (This is not an altogether uncommon experience; Luci has so far collected two stuffed animals and a felt bag from affectionate cashiers, just by looking cute.) “Danke!” I’d murmured, juggling the bouquet of twigs with the the stroller handle and my groceries as I left the store. One of the bakery assistants said something to me I didn’t understand, from which I caught only the name “Barbara,” and I’d left feeling foolish and laughing about the German respect for all seasons, both flowers and twigs getting their fair share of attention.

It was only on returning home that I learned the significance of the branches, meant to commemorate December 4th, Saint Barbara Day. According to legend, the medieval virgin, Barbara, having converted to Christianity against her father’s wishes, was imprisoned by him in a tower. On the way to her imprisonment, her robe got caught on a cherry branch, which she took with her, placed and placed in a jar, where it bloomed in her captivity. Though observed differently in different Catholic and Orthodox regions, here in Germany people keep the branches in water, anticipating good luck (or, in some versions, a marriage) in the coming year, should the branch bloom by Christmas Day.

At the time, the custom delighted me, both in its strangeness and in the simple fact that, eight years after moving here, I still learn so much. It’s how I feel when I find a new or particularly moving part of the Bible, or when a close friend or family member utterly surprises me. The joy of learning, discovery, never gets old to me, and I’m happy to keep finding it in a place that’s grown familiar, to know that even when I’m home, there’s always more to learn.

Today, Christmas Eve, the buds have begun to poke out into the grey day, and I think about the branches themselves. Taken from their tree, they bloom in a new place, in a strange season. What a beautiful sight for us here, as we celebrate Christ’s birth with friends, far from our places of origin. “Bloom where you’re planted” is cliche for a reason, I suppose, but these branches give it new significance for me today, in this community of expatriate students, teachers and missionaries, seeking to live and grow together, some of us far from home.

According to the flowers on the branches in my window, this will be a year of blessing, but I could have told you that without them. Because this year, like all of the others, is God’s, every day and moment. I look forward to the journey ahead, in its twists and turns, to learning and discovering with these two people I love.

Merry Christmas from Kandern!

December: News, Thanks, and Prayers

Ninth graders racing their boats down the Kander River!

News and Dates:

  • December 1-2: First home basketball games against Stuttgart High School
  • December 8-9: Basketball travels to Wiesbaden
  • December 15: Last day of classes!
  • Curriculum for December: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, satire
  • Kristi will be playing violin in the pit orchestra for BFA’s late-February production of Fiddler on the Roof!

We’re Thankful For:

  • Timmy’s Small Group of freshman guys, who bring both laughter and depth to their times together on Tuesday nights.
  • The Ninth Grade Advisory Regatta (pictured above), in which BFA ninth graders built and raced boats down the river behind the school. Good times were had by all!
  • Satire, which always brings eleventh graders to conversations of depth, humor and inquiry about the world in which they live.
  • A Visit with Papa, as Kristi’s dad came to spend Thanksgiving with us last week before heading on to teaching commitments here in Europe.

Please Be In Prayer For:

  • Rest and Recovery. Pray that Christmas break is a restorative time for our family, and for the staff and students of BFA as a whole. It’s been a particularly stressful autumn at the school, and we could all use prayer for health and calm during the quieter weeks ahead.
  • Financial Need. Due to a decrease in giving over the last few months, we’re about $250 below our monthly support needs. Though we’d previously asked for an increase in support to cover hospitality expenses, this is a more urgent need as it concerns our basic living expenses. Please pray about joining our financial support team, which allows us to serve here in Germany. $50 or even $25 a month would go a long way towards supporting us in ministry at Black Forest Academy. If you’re interested in helping to support this aspect of our ministry, please visit our Getting Involved page or our online giving page with TeachBeyond.

We are so incredibly grateful for the encouragement and support that our friends, family and churches are to us in this ministry. 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 in Kandern.

Peace in Christ,

Timmy & Kristi Dahlstrom