We Never Know

How will you use what you’ve learned in this class in the future?

Public Speaking Class Reflection

Finals Week at BFA. I have no tests to give today, so after finishing my answer keys and entering every last quarter grade into my spreadsheet, I turn to the reflections my Public Speaking students completed yesterday, their last day of class.

I once called this class “the Most Practical Class you can take at this school.” A grand label, I realize, but only somewhat hyperbolic. And today they’re looking back and ahead. What did I learn? How will I use it? What should others remember? How should this class proceed in the future? The answers that interest me most today those that require some imagination: “How will I use this knowledge?”

My students do not disappoint, writing about job interviews and class presentations, valedictorian speeches, toasts and eulogies. Others are more vague, insisting that they’ve gained the confidence to have more meaningful conversations, or in general to become better communicators. I hope they’ll go further, that the study of effective communication makes them informed citizens, skeptics in a world that needs them, but in reality, I know the real answer: You have no idea how you’ll use this class.

The most common complaint I hear among young adults–those who’ve left here or other places, who’ve graduated high school and college and embarked on the adventure of “real life”–is a lack of direction. Perhaps they expect, as my ninth graders at Ingraham used to, that by 21 they will own a house and a car, that they’ll be married and working in their dream job.

The reality is different, of course. They have jobs at desks when they thought they’d be outside, or behind counters making coffee, when they thought they should already be publishing political commentary for the Atlantic. They’re wondering if their expensive degrees were a waste of time and money, if they’ll ever use anything they learned in those mandatory years of school for any practical purpose. They don’t see how it fits together, and it’s discouraging.

There is already plenty of commentary in the world about Millennials and their high expectations, but their questions aren’t new ones. All the way back to Genesis, I think of Joseph, wondering what as a teenager he expected for his life. Even his wildest dreams–dreams that elevated him to power over his ten brothers and his own father–couldn’t have included being second-in-command over Egypt. Perhaps he expected to somehow bypass traditions of birthright, as his father had before him, and own the family business someday. Certainly he didn’t see himself stewarding the resources of a foreign kingdom and saving strangers from a worldwide famine.

Many young adults find that their road is a winding one, but this, too, shouldn’t surprise us. Joseph’s road led through kidnapping, slavery, false accusation and imprisonment, each new place more degrading than the last. He had questions at every juncture, I’m sure, but he also kept thriving, wherever he found himself. He wasn’t “just” a slave in Potiphar’s house; he flourished there, skillfully managing the household. He didn’t disengage in prison, but with God’s help rose to a position of power and authority, which brought him to a moment when a long-lost skill, the interpretation of dreams, brought him before the Pharaoh himself. Could Joseph have known, that day when he interpreted his own dreams and got himself thrown into a hole, that the very skill that caused his brothers to turn on him would catapult him to the top of Egypt? We never know.

My public speaking students are mostly seniors, one semester away from the glorious, adventurous uncertainties of college and young adulthood. I’d like to tell them that they don’t need to know what they’ll do in five years, or ten. A huge part of honoring God means showing up every day, keeping their eyes open and being ready to learn all they can from each moment. Some learning resurfaces years later, when you find yourself playing viola in a Suessical orchestra, or using those Excel skills from your college assistant job to create a grade book at your first-ever teaching assignment. Other skills–like AP Chemistry and making lattes–I’m still waiting on, but I’m still grateful.

So whether they use this class to run for president someday or to chat with someone on the train, either way I’m satisfied. We never know where learning takes us if we keep showing up, and that’s fine. All the better for the adventure.

Jet Lag

Monday night, 11:00 PM, and Luci has decided it’s time to be awake.

Only our third night back in Germany, it promises to be just as dramatic as the first two, when our one-year-old daughter wanted to roll around our bed for a few hours in the dead middle of the night, before falling sound asleep and three. We woke her at nine, but were certain she’d have gone on sleeping for several more hours if we’d let her. Timmy has taken several of these shifts already, and has online class in an hour, so it’s my turn. And in any case, none of us are really sleepy. Jet lag is no joke, my friends.

A few weeks ago, on the North American side of things, I did a little research on the matter, Googling “jet lag toddlers” as any 21st-century parent is apt to do, but the results were lackluster. “If you’re only crossing three timezones or less, for a week or so, you could consider just keeping your baby on the same sleep schedule,” one website helpfully suggested. All of the advice, in fact, seemed bent towards these scenarios: less than a week of travel, less than three timezones. Because apparently only a crazy person would venture out longer or farther with anyone younger than twelve. I guess we’re just that kind of crazy.

So now I’m sitting in the dark with a small person who doesn’t feel like sleeping and doesn’t understand or appreciate the darkness. I feel–but can’t see–her squirming around on my lap, trying to get comfortable. She squints across the room at the tiny green light on the speaker, peering at it with as much passion as Gatsby staring across the bay at the green light on his long-lost beloved’s dock. Anything to look at to stay awake.

It’s so easy to complain. Lack of sleep is high on the list of parent complaints, for me and for everyone, made even more egregious when we’re tired from travel and work and everything else. And other babies sleep, I sometimes whine to myself. (Not babies with jet lag, of course. They don’t sleep until they’re good and ready, from 3 AM to 12 PM, like tiny college students.)

Luci starts to settle down, whimpering and flailing less, with longer pauses of resting on my chest. I can feel her breath steady and slow, and her eyelashes stop fluttering against my cheek after a while. She’s asleep, but any attempt to put her down in her crib will start the process over for a while, so we stay on the couch for now.

I have a friend who often reminds herself (and me) that most of the problems she has come from a great deal of privilege, or blessing. I think about that now, sitting in the dark with Luci. At the risk of going full-Pollyanna on this situation, I consider the vast extravagance of good things ladled over us, producing this moment sleepless hour:

The capacity–both financially and, frankly, technologically–to return home for Christmas. Jet lag comes from something almost miraculous, the ability to travel around the world quickly, and the fact that we have access to it puts us in a position of privilege. What a gift to reconnect with family who just a century ago would be half-remembered faces in photographs, not living beings we get to see a few times a year in person, and much more often on the Internet.

The attic roof over our heads, at the moment collecting softly falling snow, and the radiator keeping the room warm and safe. I think about places in the world where mothers worry about their houses making it through nights filled with bombings, intruders and other terrors. Or about the mothers without homes at all, living uprooted and uncertain lives in faraway places and wondering how to protect their children in unfamiliar settings.

This now-sleeping child, so curious and adventurous that she’d rather be awake and wandering the dark house than have to sleep and miss anything at all. I think of friends who long for children, or those who’ve lost them. I try to imagine how I’ll feel in ten years, when she needs me less, or twenty, when her jet lagged nights may be spent somewhere else. These sleepless hours, with nothing to do but think and pray with a tired little girl, are an incalculable gift.

Of course I don’t know that when I finally put her down at midnight she’ll sleep for eight hours straight for the first time in… maybe ever. That’s another kind of gift, the unexpected kind. For now, with sleeping Luci and sleepless Mom, I’m thankful for what I have.

January: News, Thanks and Prayers

Luci enjoys some quality time with her Great-Grandma Ruth at the Pass chalet.

Luci enjoys some quality time with her Great-Grandma Ruth at the Pass chalet.

News and Dates:

  • January 9: Classes resume
  • January 16: End of Semester 1
  • January 17-20: Semester Exams
  • January 20-21: Basketball games @ BFA
  • Curriculum for January: Modernism, The Great Gatsby, begin research project

We’re Thankful For:

  • A Christmas in Washington with family. It was a sweet time of reconnection with friends and family, playing in the snow, and rest in a beautiful place. Thankful for the opportunity to spend this time together!
  • Community of friends and family, in America and Germany. We’re endlessly thankful for the encouragement and friendship you bring to our lives, and for the bonds of relationship that span oceans and continents.
  • Financial Supporters who have continued to make our ministry possible in Kandern, faithfully contributing to our living expenses and giving encouragement, prayer and practical provision each month.
  • Fall Semester, which has been a strong start to the year, with hardworking eleventh-grade literature students and quirky and curious public speaking students.

Please Be In Prayer For:

  • Semester Exams. Pray for students as they return from Christmas break for one last week of classes before their final exams. Pray for health, safety and focus as both students and faculty jump in to one of the busiest weeks of the year.
  • Financial Support. We’re blessed with enough monthly for basic living expenses, but could use more support to facilitate the hospitality aspects of member care. If you’ve ever desired to have a missionary (us, or anyone else!) over for dinner, help us bridge that gap in the Kandern community by investing in our member care ministry here. 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 begin this new year in Washington state, preparing to fly back to Germany in a few days, and are continually thankful for the community of support we’ve found here, in Germany, and in our other “home” in Virginia. 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: 2016 Edition

On to a new year! I took last year off of this list (something about having a six-week old made blogging difficult), but otherwise it’s become my personal tradition to look back on what made each year special in its own way, and reflect with a list of “objects” that symbolize it.

While 2016 was a year of large-scale catastrophe globally, as I look back through the doorway I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the blessings of friends and family, and the daily evidence of God’s faithfulness in our lives. By no means an exhaustive list, these few symbols represent a window into the last year with the Dahlstrom family.

 

With Chris and Holly on the big day!

With Chris and Holly on the big day!

1. A Three-Dress Wedding. Our year at home in Seattle was surprising in many ways, but the best surprise of all was the chance to be a part of the planning, preparation and dramatic festivities of my sister’s wedding. Holly and Chris had a grand celebration, complete with a marching band playing Star Wars themes, a coffee-house talent show, and three wedding dresses for the different parts of the event. I’m so thankful for these two and the joy that they bring to our lives!

2. Book Clubs. I had the opportunity to be part of two different book clubs this last year, the first with neighbors at Snoqualmie Pass and the second with friends and co-workers in Kandern. My first books clubs ever (amazingly!), both have challenged me to read outside of my comfort zone, and especially the first provided community around books that I’d been missing in my year away from teaching. Here’s to a new year of continued stretching to new literary horizons!

3. Fitbits. Whether telling us that we’d only slept 4 hours a night in Luci’s early days, or congratulating us for walking miles and miles a day through a quiet Kandern summer, we appreciated the reminder to stay active and keep healthy in the midst of a year of transitions.

On the way to Germany!

On the way to Germany!

4. Airplanes. From Seattle, to Virginia, to Chicago, to Germany and back again, we’ve spent the year in the air. Thankful for the finances to take us to all these places, most of them trips to see family and introduce them to our little Luci, and the technology that makes the wide world seem just a bit smaller.

5. A Stroller & Baby Backpack. Luci is a lover of the outdoors! We’ve been thankful for the many ways we have of getting her outside on the trails and roads around Kandern, and for the lifestyle that allows us to walk everywhere we go.

6. Chocolate Chips & Chocolate Croissants. In this two-continent year, we’ve enjoyed the favorite treats from both places, from breakfasts of tasty German pastries to well-loved chocolate chips purchased from the local Air Force base.

A sunset from our living room window

A sunset from our living room window

7. Sunsets. After living for half the year surrounded by glorious trees and mountains at Snoqualmie Pass, we were surprised and delighted by the treat of a wide vista from our fourth-floor apartment windows in Kandern. Our neighbors assure us that ours is “the best view in town,” and after half a year of spectacular sunsets, we have to agree.

8. Revolutionary Texts. I started my Honors American Literature class in a new way this fall, spending time on some of the foundational documents of our nation. Revisiting these words of our early thinkers, from the Bill of Rights to the Federalist Papers to the Declaration of Independence, and helping my students encounter them, was an uplifting and challenging exercise for us in an autumn of troubling politics.

9. Good Internet. Whether it is connecting Timmy to his middle-of-the-night counseling classes or providing a FaceTime lifeline to far-distant grandparents, we continue to be thankful for the connectivity of the Internet age.

Winter Luci!

Winter Luci!

10. A Baby Toboggan. This year has ended where it began, in the waist-deep snows of Snoqualmie Pass. The year has taken us from parents of a six-week old, who had just begun to turn her head and peer across the room, to a lively, giggle and curious girl who loves her family, the outdoors, and tomato soup. We’ve loved this trip for many reasons, but especially in celebration of the family that has become Luci’s “village,” and the chance to teach our little girl to love the mountains as much as we do.

11. Friendship. A transcontinental move made this a year of goodbyes and hellos, as we bid farewell to a place that became home, and returned to an old one. In all of this, we’ve realized the deep blessing of friendships in both places. Old and new, long-distance or close, we’re unutterably thankful for the friends who encourage us with emails and texts, Thanksgiving potlucks or evenings of popcorn and television.

Hearing The Bells

Christmas TreeI heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
     And wild and sweet
     The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
     Had rolled along
     The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
     A voice, a chime,
     A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

“Hey, this is a song!”

I hear it half a dozen times as the eleventh-graders walk into class and pick up today’s reading, Longfellow’s “Christmas Bells.”

“‘I heard the bells on Christmas Day,'” the first student reads aloud, then exclaims with recognition. “Wait, I know this from somewhere…”

“Yes, it’s a song,” I reply. “You know the Casting Crowns version from a couple years ago. But before that, it was a different song, and before that it was a poem by Longfellow. So we’re reading it today.”

We’re using it, actually, to practice poetry analysis. We needed to do this today, because it’s been a month or so of reading only prose, and their semester final is looming. I’d selected “Christmas Bells” because it’s the week before Christmas break and the poet is American. (If I were teaching a different class, you can be sure we’d be reading Christina Rosetti’s “In The Bleak Midwinter.” But she’s British, so I made a different choice.) Sometimes I’m just a public school teacher thrilled by the little things, like reading a Christmas poem in English class. I’d written the title on the lesson plan, made 31 copies of the poem, and given it little further thought until this morning, confident that any poem of Longfellow’s must count as “literature” and bear some deeper examination.

Today, I share the results of an hour’s research, telling them the story behind the poem. I ask them to look at the poem’s date, 1863, and tell me if it means anything to them. “Um… Civil War?” they murmur with varying degrees of confidence. Then I tell them about Longfellow, widowed father of six, whose oldest son enlisted in the Union Army without telling him. After a series of close shaves, Charles Longfellow was shot in battle in Virginia in late November of 1863. So in December his father and brother set out to Washington, D.C., where young Charles hovered in critical condition, unsure if he’d survive or, if he did, if he’d walk again.

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
     And with the sound
     The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
     And made forlorn
     The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

“So picture him,” I tell my students. “Longfellow sitting in the hospital, hearing these bells on Christmas and waiting to find out if his son would live. That’s the context. And for this poem, it’s important.”

With the setting established, my students get to work reading and rereading the poem, comparing it to their lists of terms and trying to decipher what deeper meaning they can find from the poetic structure of stanza, rhyme and refrain. I wander the room as they work, giving a hint here and there.

When we come back together after ten minutes, my students have answers for me.

“It has a… a refrain? The last line is the same in every stanza. ‘Of peace on earth, good-will to men.’ That’s a refrain, right?”

“Yes,” I answer, nodding. “Yes to the meaning, and yes to the refrain. The meaning comes from the refrain, right? Without the refrain, it’s just someone saying, ‘Yay, it’s Christmas! But I’m sad. But yay!’ The refrain also has another poetic device with it. Starts with an A…”

“Alliteration? Apostrophe? Assonance?” my students read from their lists.

“You know it’s not those ones. Come on, it’s…”

“An allusion?” someone ventures.

“It’s an allusive refrain!” I reply. “Exactly, and you know what it’s alluding to. The angel said this, right?”

For a moment we’re closer to Sunday School than upper-level literature class, but it’s a moment when my Christian-school kids have the upper hand at something, so we savor it. As a group they tell me about a choir of angels and some bedraggled shepherds who receive the best news of their lives. We zoom out and talk about Israel’s state in that moment, occupied by Rome and ruled by a megalomaniacal, insecure king. Israel needed peace, good-will, and here was an angel promising just that, gifts from the Messiah they’d been waiting for.

“And that’s what Longfellow saw, too,” I continue. “America torn apart by the Civil War, families literally killing each other with no end in sight. A world that still needs peace, good-will, a savior. Longfellow saw it, and we see it.”

Do we ever. The ones who pay attention to the news are more specifically worried, but none of them can shut their eyes to the refugees filling Europe, nor the wars ravaging places that my own students have lived or visited. The refrain is important to us as much as it was to the shepherds or to an aging poet and his injured son.

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said:
     “For hate is strong,
     And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!” 

We return to the theme, the meaning they decided on and I wrote on the board in red ink. “Hope in the midst of difficult times.” At the beginning of the school year we spent some time talking about the definition of “literature,” the criteria by which we set it apart from other written words. One of them was that literature had to be concerned with “ideas of permanent and universal interest.” In the midst of global crises and turmoil, talking with young adults about the hope they cling to as they come of age in a chaotic world, this concept has never been more relevant.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
     The Wrong shall fail,
     The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

As we wrap up the last stanza, I’m thinking of a Bible class I visited a few weeks ago, a tenth-grade class just starting their study of Revelation. It’s a weird book, the teacher told them, full of maybe-symbols and numbers and disaster, but the important point is that in the end, Jesus wins. That’s the takeaway, he said. Just remember.

Like marginalized shepherds, low on the socioeconomic ladder, burdened by layers of oppression as they waited for a savior. Like Longfellow, at a hospital in the war-torn U.S. capitol, waiting for his son to wake. Like all of us, worried or wandering, heartbroken or homeless, in these dark days. We remember, we grasp with outstretched fingers for the promise of our Savior, who has already conquered the darkness.

The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail, with peace on earth, good-will to men.

December: News, Thanks and Prayers

Happy Birthday to Luci!

Happy Birthday to Luci!

News and Dates:

  • December 2-3: Opening weekend for BFA Basketball
  • December 16: Last day of classes!
  • Mid-December-early January: Home to Washington for Christmas
  • Curriculum for DecemberAdventures of Huckleberry Finn, Short story writing

We’re Thankful For:

  • A marvelous first year with our daughter, Luci. She’s growing and changing so fast, and we feel overwhlemed with thankfulness that we get to be her parents.
  • Flexibility in scheduling that allows Kristi to work at BFA and Timmy to coach basketball this season.
  • Family that we’ll see this Christmas and those we keep up with from afar.
  • Financial partners who make this ministry possible by encouraging us with monthly support.
  • The English Department at BFA this year, who provide support, collaboration and encouragement to Kristi as she teaches there.

Please Be In Prayer For:

  • Member Care. Pray for Timmy with his role in TeachBeyond Member Care. Our missionaries here in Kandern have lately sustained a number of traumas and losses, so we ask for prayer both for these families and for the team of people who provide support to them in the midst of troubling times.
  • Financial Support. We’re blessed with enough monthly for basic living expenses, but could use more support to facilitate the hospitality aspects of member care. If you’ve ever desired to have a missionary (us, or anyone else!) over for dinner, help us bridge that gap in the Kandern community by investing in our member care ministry here. 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.

As the year comes to an end, we are overwhelmed with gratefulness to the friends and family whose encouragement and support make our ministry here in Germany possible. 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

What Mary Knew

It’s Happy Hour.

Not the Happy Hour of years past, but Luci and I have developed our own five o’ clock rhythm lately, while Timmy is at basketball practice. Luci sits in her high chair in the kitchen, while I make dinner and serve her bits of small food, a few pieces at a time, which she likes picking up with both of her tiny hands and tucks away with astonishing efficiency. We used to listen to Disney songs or my favorite tracks from Hamilton, but now that it’s December we’ve turned to Christmas music. It’s a good time.

I’m a broad appreciator of Christmas music. I especially love the older, sacred hymns, whose convoluted syntax and vocabulary are as integral to Christmas as the voice of Linus reciting Luke 2 in the King James Version, but even newer tunes have their place. One song, however, awakes fresh ire each Advent, a 1991 ballad called “Mary Did You Know?” Because of the existence of “Last Christmas” and “Christmas In the Northwest,” it’s hard to say if this is my least favorite Christmas song, but it’s safe to say that “Mary Did You Know?” is somewhere in my bottom five.

The verses list specific miracles, which were doubtless a surprise to her at the time, but the majority of the song bends toward asking Mary, mother of Jesus, if she knew she was raising the Son of God. I don’t care for this song because it could end after the second line–Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?–with a resounding “Yes. I definitely knew.”

Though she perhaps couldn’t have anticipated the scope, Mary had ample information about the child she’d just borne in such peculiar circumstances. The angel Gabriel had filled her in on the salient details, that she’d conceive the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit, that she would give birth to the long-awaited Messiah (Luke 1:26-38). After Jesus’ birth Simeon, overjoyed to finally meet the promised savior, reminded her that this child would be “a light of revelation to the Gentiles” and “the glory of Your people Israel.” He even interrupted his own prophecy to turn to Mary with the ominous warning that “a sword will pierce even your own soul” (Luke 2:32-35). And yet Mary still “treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

Though ignorance of what was happening might have been terrifying, for me the knowing makes Mary even more inspiring. Just a little more than a year into motherhood, I’m struck anew by Mary’s strength and humility in the midst of a challenging calling. It can’t have been easy, both before his birth and while raising a little boy, for Mary to know that she was raising the Son of God, who would become the savior of her people and indeed all humankind.

A weaker person might have regretted being told at all, and yet Mary responds to the angel’s news first with humility, asserting that she is a “bondslave of the Lord,” and then with deep joy, singing a beautiful song of thanksgiving. Though doubtless aware of the personal difficulties that this journey would cost her, Mary never made it about her, instead thanking God for the part that she can play in His greater story.

This is where Mary inspires me; whatever I’m doing, I recognize that the easiest way to tell the story is with me at the center. I’m teaching, I’m parenting, I’m living in this little town. I can become so obsessed with these vocations that I forget I’m a small but beloved piece of a much greater whole.

How much harder to live as Mary did, with clear eyes and an open heart, saying, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38), then rejoicing to participate in God’s plan for redemption. Perhaps what I’m actually doing with each day wouldn’t be so much different, but my heart would be, turned outward instead of inward, focused on God’s kingdom, not mine.

Weary

"We are never tired, as long as we can see far enough."

“We are never tired, as long as we can see far enough.”

The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.

Galations 6:9

My students silently and gingerly tiptoe across the muddy triangle of grass wedged between our school, the highway and the river seeking, as I’ve directed them, a space for “silence, thoughtfulness and solitude.” We’ve just finished our unit on American Romanticism, spending the last few days on Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, so as has become tradition I’ve taken my students out to “experience nature” for part of our class, and then spend the rest of class reflecting on it.

It serves the purpose of reinforcing course material, I tell myself, but as I watch my students drifting around the lawn I’m keenly aware that I’m that teacher right now, the Dead Poets’ Society-influenced one who drags her students out of the classroom, through mud and drizzle, in pursuit of quirky interest. I’m unrepentant, however, because today we’re not seeking enlightenment or novelty; we’re simply seeking rest.

Looking down at the slip of paper in my hand, which I cut out yesterday and drew for myself at random this morning, I read:

We are never tired, as long as we can see far enough.

A week ago it was glorious fall, the limbs dressed in full splendor, but today is just November, drab and damp and a little depressing. And I usually like November. I obediently look up at the sky, crisscrossed by black branches, at the farthest trees on the hill, which really aren’t so far away at all. I can’t see very far, I tell myself. That’s why I’m so tired.

I suppose that Emerson was likely talking about real horizons, but that’s not exactly where I’m headed. I’ve woken up most of this week feeling trapped in the confusion and urgency of the moment. There are the immediate needs of my sick daughter and our broken car, both of which require attention and planning. Both Monday night and Wednesday morning brought news that caused me to ask, “Really, God? I just don’t get it.” I can’t see far enough–into the eternity where it all makes sense, where the twists and turns of daily life smooth out into His glorious narrative, the working-together-for-good of it all–and I’m tired.

So what does it take, I wonder, to find the horizon? I’m reminded of Paul’s words, written to the Galations and echoed by Hillary Clinton in her concession speech Tuesday night:

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.

Love the things that are eternal, and work for those. I know that it doesn’t spare me from the details, that loving eternity means paying even closer attention to the needs of those around me. Today it will mean writing cards for students that I care about, remembering that investing in this way is at least as important as grading the unseen essays that loom over me like a thundercloud. It will mean going home and cherishing my family, the gift that they are to me and to many. It will mean remembering that we’re all made in God’s image, every human, and that God’s love for us is immeasurable and eternal. And that if I can wake up each day looking first to Him, that’s all the horizon I need to keep heart in doing good.

The Author Wept

This week, Black Forest Academy mourns the loss of  a baby girl born prematurely just a month ago to one of our new staff couples. We grieve as a community, lifting her parents and younger brother up in prayer, full of sadness and gratitude that she is at last whole.

While we waited for her ride to come pick her up, I sat on a bench next to one of my students. I don’t know her well, but as she talked I felt like I did; this girl, like myself and a handful of students I’ve taught each year, is a writer. She walked me through her process, touching blithely on a few different tales she’s spun over the years. She described scenes that she enjoyed writing, characters that surprised her as they wrenched themselves out of her control on the page, and her first 40-page story, written shortly after she learned to type.

After a while, we started talking about characters, about the deep investment of an author in the people she creates. She told me about a time that she startled herself while writing a particularly chilling scene, and the many times that she’s written herself to tears over the fates of her characters.

“It’s not what I wanted to happen to him,” she admitted, telling of a particularly sad ending.

NOTE: If the final Harry Potter book is still on your to-read list, it would behoove you to skip a paragraph, lest you learn more plot details than will please you.

I told her about J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, who confessed that she wept while writing one of the final chapters of the final book, when her hero realizes that he will need to sacrifice his own life to defeat the villain, and goes willingly to his death.

“She said that she just cried her eyes out writing it,” I said, confessing, “Which is pretty what happened to me reading it.”

“But” –and I know what she’ll say next– “She knew the ending! She wrote it!”

I nodded, and for a moment we pondered the paradox of an author’s weeping for a fictional character, who indeed turns out all right in the end.

“Sometimes I wonder if that’s how God feels,” I mused. “If even though He knows how it all works out, He cries when things happen. Because He made us, because He loves us.”

I return to that thought this week, as our little community mourns the loss of our newest member, a baby girl born just a month ago to a young couple on our staff. We’re caught in the tension of this heartbreak in time and joy in eternity, where she’s healed of the heart defect that took her life. We weep, even knowing that she’s well now, missing her here.

Jesus did this too. At Lazarus’ tomb, just moments before raising him from the dead, we read of his sorrow:

“When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.

I’m drawn back to the thought of the author, tears dripping onto the unfinished work for which she already has planned a happy finale. And then to Jesus, weeping to see the sadness of his friends, even as he saw joy ahead.

And so we weep, as Jesus did, mourning the broken present, trusting in eternity’s joy, and grateful that the Author loves us, made us, and sees the finale when we cannot.

Please pray with us for this sweet family in their sorrow. Thank you.

 

November: News, Thanks and Prayers

All dressed up for our local Trunk or Treat!

All dressed up for our local Trunk or Treat!

News and Dates:

  • November 2: BFA celebrates our 60th Birthday!
  • November 4-6: Weekend retreat in Switzerland
  • November 14: Basketball season starts
  • November 21: Luci’s first birthday!
  • Timmy will be serving as an assistant varsity boys’ basketball coach at BFA from November to February. He’s excited to spend time mentoring the guys and growing in his coaching skills!
  • Timmy has also started a play group for parents of preschoolers, meeting semi-regularly. This has been a great time of connection for the stay-at-home parents in our community!
  • Curriculum for November: Transcendentalism, Huckleberry Finn, Informational Speeches

We’re Thankful For:

  • 60 Years of BFA, and the chance to reflect on God’s faithfulness to our school as we celebrate this week.
  • Autumn in the Black Forest and quiet weekends to hike and admire God’s creation.
  • One Year of Luci, a time of blessing and change as we’ve become a family of three and moved to a new country.
  • A Visit from Dahlstrom Parents, which is truly a gift each fall, giving us the chance to reconnect and them the chance to hang out with their granddaughter.
  • Commencement Speeches, for giving Kristi’s Public Speaking students the occasion to reflect on what they believe deeply, and what they find to be the most important “parting words” they could give to their peers.

Please Be In Prayer For:

  • Basketball Season. Pray for us as we begin a new season as Timmy starts working with the boys’ varsity basketball team. Pray for strong connections on the team, and health and safety for all involved.
  • 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. We’re blessed with enough for basic living expenses, but could use more support to facilitate the hospitality aspects of member care. If you are interested in helping fully support our ministry, please visit our Getting Involved page or our online giving page with TeachBeyond.

In this month of thanksgiving, we are most of all thankful for our faithful friends and family, whose encouragement and support make our ministry here in Germany possible. 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