Sewing Machine

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster, 
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent. 
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster. 
Elizabeth Bishop, from “One Art”


The sewing machine came from downstairs.

Also Americans working in missions, our neighbors have been in Europe for decades, so I correctly guessed that she might have a sewing machine I could borrow. “Thank you!” I said as I turned to lug the ponderous 1950s Singer up the stairs, adding “I’ve never felt settled enough here to have a sewing machine.”

For reasons practical and sentimental, I’m making Luci an apron. She likes to “help” me make all sorts of dough, and I like it better when the flour ends up in the bowl (and the counter and the floor, honestly) rather than all over her. Also, it’s really cute. I have an old tea towel that is just the right size, and have already cut out the tiny apron, made clever use of some already-hemmed edges, and ironed some makeshift bias tape out of two long diagonal pieces to use for the strings.

Now I coax the machine to life, pulling out scraps of sewing knowledge from a dusty drawer of consciousness, each skill coming with its own origin story. I did take a sewing class once, resentfully accepting it as an alternative to ceramics my freshman year of high school, but I learned most of this from my mom and grandma long before that. I remember their sewing machines, also vintage like the one I’m using now, how the thread had to dance back and forth about a dozen times before it could finally make it through the needle. I remember shelves of leftover cloth, leftover tapes and rickracks and laces, leftover buttons, echoes of finished and unfinished projects that became doll clothes and tiny tents for Lego men.

It’s not mountains, or words, or even music, but sewing still forms a fine thread that runs all the way back to my beginning. It’s enough a part of me that planning this little apron felt a bit like speaking an old language, its cadences and vocabulary familiar and pleasant. And enough that my blithe admission from a few days ago–“I’ve never felt settled enough here to have a sewing machine”–returns to mind.

Like many other transient communities, missionaries have a complicated relationship with possessions. Things are either indispensable, items that we’ll carry to the ends of the earth, or entirely disposable, to be left and then found again at each new home. Everyone has a unique balance of the two, and different items in each category. Some tote their homes around in containers filled with delightful antique furniture, pianos and bicycles. Others shrug off each place like an exoskeleton, taking only essentials and starting over.

I’ve reflected often on what I’ve accumulated here in this pretty green valley, the levels of settledness achieved over seven years. A bicycle, a trunk, two rocking chairs and a mountain of handmade pottery. Mostly, though, for me the “acquisitions” are intangible, relationships and growth that could only have happened here, most notably my transformation from single, self-sufficient nomad to a wife, mother, and part of a community. Though I eventually conceded and bought a few appliances, a sewing machine was never among them, was something too heavy and too expensive to have in a place that may not be permanent.

Not having a sewing machine is the tiniest of sacrifices, but I find myself reflecting on colleagues, both now and even more so in the past, who left much more behind. Those who’ve gone without pianos, or beloved pets, or less portable hobbies, like sailing or gardening. Those who miss the sea, the way I’d miss mountains, or miss months of hot sunshine as I’d miss clouds. Those who’ve left relationships, large and small, to pursue a calling they couldn’t deny. We all leave something, choose to live without other things.

Even more challenging, though, is the reminder that though going without a sewing machine is no problem, in the long run, I have to be careful about applying the rule more broadly, avoiding relationships that are “too expensive” or responsibilities that are “too heavy” if they won’t be forever. Transience isn’t the special possession of missionaries, refugees, and migrants, but rather the reality of every human life. We all have to figure out how to engage fully where we are, knowing that everything could change at any moment, but that we’ll be infinitely richer if we’re willing to known and be known by those around us.

The old sewing machine chatters its way across my little apron, finishing the seams neatly and simply. I like this, I realize. I want to share this, someday, with the tiny person who for now is stirring muffin batter and rolling out tiny tortillas. And sharing it will mean finding a sewing machine–here or somewhere–again.


A Place Between: Thoughts From a Refugee Camp

Washing tables

The the students and the rest of the staff have already gone by the time I’m ready, with coat and lunch, to head over to our work site for Impact Day 2017. This is the fourth annual Impact Day at Black Forest Academy, for which we give up a day of classes to do service projects in our community. In the past, working with teams of students I’ve cleaned at a music school and done landscaping at the cemetery.

This Impact Day is different.

After catching up to the team, I follow them through the center of Kandern, quiet in the late Friday morning, past two of my four apartments. We turn left at the more expensive of our two Italian restaurants, and head past the new condos, past the Catholic churchyard, and down to the swimming pool, still half empty on this early spring day. Finally, we walk down a new red-dirt road, and a few yards later we’ve arrived at the Kandern Camp refugee center, where we’ll be working today.

The boys start our gardening project.

Waiting outside, we listen as first our leader and then the camp’s director tell us about the center. Set up in Kandern last June, it houses approximately 50 people, mostly families. The director shares about the challenges of sharing such close quarters, how it brings to light intercultural conflict and the many ways in which these refugees are conspicuously not German. His attitude is one of gentle hospitality, speaking of the residents as guests he is eager to welcome, and ready to educate–for their benefit–about the mores of his own country. “We teach. We don’t force,” he reminds us, recounting a story of handshakes that were refused, even though “Germany, this is the nation of handshakes.”

While he talks, I listen and look. From the outside, the space looks like a long train of neat construction trailers; on the inside, it feels like a greenhouse, with a translucent plastic tent ceiling. They have family rooms, but share kitchens, bathrooms and community space for eating, playing, studying and socializing. The kitchens and bathrooms are divided by nation of origin: Syrians and Iraqis on one side, Afghanis and “Africans” on another. I realize that I was expecting something along the lines of American fairgrounds–dusty, dark spaces made permanent in a hurry. Instead, I’m struck by how German it all feels, as if the camp had arrived, pristine and ready-made, in flat-packed IKEA boxes. This country, unlike mine, is prepared to accommodate.

Our completed planter

Introductions finished, we spend the day beautifying the center. Several students and staff are on cleaning duty inside, mopping the large wood-laminate floor and cleaning the communal refrigerators. I work with a handful of high school boys to plant flowers–bright geraniums, begonias and chrysanthemums–in some plastic window boxes and one barren cement planter out front. Afterwards we pick up trash. It’s a busy morning.

As we eat lunch, the children come home from school. There are about a dozen of them, mostly under ten, and as soon as they arrive the camp comes alive. Our afternoon “work” consists of entertaining kids. The students throw balls, sling water balloons, give shoulder rides and paint faces. It’s often hard to tell who’s happier with this arrangement, the BFA students or these tiny, whirling centers of energy that swarm around them.

Watching my students interact with children who are growing up in this place between, I’m struck by both contrast and similarities. Teenagers who’ve bounced around the world play with little children who don’t know where they’ll live next. Both are learning new cultures almost constantly, becoming the sort of flexible nomads who will always have a complicated backstory. And yet I’m struck by the difference of choice. How our missionary kids are following a calling, theirs or their parents’, while these children are effectively in exile. One group pulled somewhere new, trusting in God to provide for them when they get there, the other pushed away from somewhere they loved, unsure of where life will take them next.

Painting faces at the end of the day

The day winds down to quietness. A few students have brought instruments and play some low-key jazz at one end of the community space. A toddler falls asleep in one of the senior girls’ laps. Several other girls paint faces, sponging color over delighted cheeks. I hold a grinning seven-month-old and wonder what it must be like to be a new mother here.

As we walk back to school, I’m grateful. Not just grateful because of comparisons, which is a suspect kind of gratitude to take away from a place like this, but grateful for the day. For our students, who work hard and generally are up for anything, whether planting flowers, mopping floors, or serving as human ponies for squealing children. For Germany, and the way they’re teaching me what it means to love neighbors on a global scale. For this place and the people in it, the hospitality the director and residents, letting us share in their lives in a small way, and learn what it means to share this village, this time, and this quiet corner of a broken world.

Hands and Voices

Family After the months
of his pursuit of her, now
they meet face to face.
From the beginnings of the world
his arrival and her welcome
have been prepared. They have always
known each other.

Wendell Berry, from “Her First Calf”

Needle-sharp stars in a black-ice sky. Snow crunching underfoot, clinging to branches that glow grey in the half-moonlight. It’s a night for walking in Robert Frost’s woods, dark and deep, but we won’t be. Like the speaker, I too have miles to go. Tonight, precisely 36 miles, down the dark freeway to the hospital.

LaborAs Timmy drives I watch the green mile markers pass, listen to Sufjan Stevens sing lighthearted Christmas songs into the night. I breathe through each contraction, trying not to worry about their frequency or length. I remind myself, again and again, that this is the design. I’m made for this. It’s supposed to be like this. Don’t worry. At the end of this, our daughter will be born,

Will be born. Such a passive phrase, as if babies materialize magically and quietly into hospitals, delivered like extra gauze or meals on trays. But to state it otherwise–where I’ll deliver my daughter–seems just as wrong. I’m no Moses of childbirth; it will take many people to deliver this one small person into the world, not just me.

A long time ago, I remember watching a TV movie in which a woman gives birth alone, in a cabin in Alaska, sometime in the early half of the last century. Why she was alone escapes me now, but as we drive I think about that fictional woman, who labored in solitude in a wild place, who bit down on a leather strap at the height of the pain and pushed her baby out and then caught him herself. He lived, she lived, they all lived happily ever after.

LuciUnassisted, we’d call the birth now, and we’d idealize it as evidence that women are fiercely powerful, that we can prevail over even the toughest moment that biology hands us without an ounce of help from anyone. We’re just that strong.

Maybe some earlier version of me would have found the Alaska movie awe-provoking, for certainly there’s truth to the notion that childbirth is both marvelous and ancient, old as humanity and just as common. Yet while I love a good girl-power moment as much as anyone, that’s not my story. I can identify with her pain, but I don’t envy her solitude. Not even a little bit. Because apart from our baby girl herself, emerging wet and wailing at the end of it all, what I’ll remember most about her delivery has little to do with me. I was very much not alone, and it’s those who surrounded me that I’ll remember forever.

Their hands. My husband’s, gently untangling my forehead with each contraction. My mother’s, resting on my head, the way it must have a thousand other sleepless nights. A dear friend, Emily’s, busy doing whatever needs to be done, waving a fan or massaging a foot, or taking the beautiful photos she’d later make into an album for us. My daughter’s, wrapping her fingers firmly around one of mine.

EmilyTheir voices. Timmy’s reminding me to relax, reminding me that he loves me, reminding me I’m safe. Mom’s telling me she’s proud of me. Dad’s choked with tears as Luci opens her eyes for the first time. Luci’s giving the reassuring wail to announce her arrival into the world.

Hands and voices surrounding us, this tiny girl and me. And through the sharp, sweet joy of afterwards, with bright sunlight pouring over the mountains through the windows, I’ll remember those things the most. Not the pain, which has already melted into a dull ache of distant memory. Not the power or triumph of my body doing exactly what it was made to do. Just the sweetly humbling realization that at every step it was their hands, their voices, that brought us through the night, delivering Luciana, our little light, into the dawn.

Candles and Community

The top of the wood stove is perfect for making quesadillas!

The top of the wood stove is perfect for making quesadillas!

The house is cold at dawn.

I wake and build the fires.

The ground is white with snow.

from “IV,” Wendell Berry

On the night our daughter is supposed to be born (the “supposed to” determined by an oh-so-precise countdown that started way back in February), we have no electricity at Snoqualmie Pass. We’re actually more than 24 hours into a power outage, since yesterday saw one of the more vicious storms in memory, a storm that took away not only our lights, but those of over 300,000 others in our region.

Yesterday we sat inside and prayed that we wouldn’t have to drive through the tree-felling, road-saturating tempest, 35 miles “down the mountain” to the hospital. Today calm, grey light reflects off of new snow and brightens our house during the daytime. Except for the lack of hot water and Internet, and the pitifully room-temperature refrigerator, we’re not so bothered by the lack of power in the daytime.

Night is different. It gets dark at 4:30 PM these days, so at four I leave behind the Wendell Berry I was reading by the dusk in the window, and light a fire and half a dozen lanterns. My mother arrives a few minutes later with pots of soup from Grandma’s apartment downstairs, where they’d been thawing on top of her stove. She sets them now on the flat top of our wood stove to boil, while Timmy goes to the back deck to grill sausages.

At five, two neighbors arrive, stamping snow off their boots downstairs and then crowing delightedly at the warmth that our stove has provided. One shares harrowing tales of his own house, where it’s 53˚ F inside and his dog and cat sleep with him under the covers. “So warm!” he marvels, stretching out his hands over the glowing orange door of the stove. While we wait for the soup, we nibble on pretzels re-toasted on the barbecue, swap stories of the last two dark days and forecasts of when we’ll return to the 21st century. They spy me, still roundly bulky in the candlelight, and advise that I should “just relax. Babies come when they want to. Just be relaxed, Kristi.”

The truth is, I am relaxed, at rest as we break bread (and soup and sausages) with our neighbors, basking in the familiar warmth of community. Somehow, without my expecting or inviting it, community became a theme of the last five years. Though the process has been gradual, I’m amazed when I remember the studiously reserved and self-sufficient teacher that left the Pacific Northwest in the summer of 2010. I could take care of myself, I thought then, and I was happy to do so for as long as was necessary. Community–the village life that I skirted by being comparatively wealthy and urban–was undoubtedly difficult. It meant sharing life with people different than I, meant depending on some of those people for more than amusement.

And then I became a missionary, connected by relational and financial bonds to a wide range of people, all around the world. I moved to a literal village, where I lived without a car and had to rely on others for rides to the airport and hospital. I ran into my students and coworkers around every corner, and realized that even if I thought of myself as an island, no amount of self-reliance could make it so. So I joined a choir and a women’s Bible Study, and dared to date and marry my husband in full view of my village. Our home became a gathering place, where we shared meals like this candlelit one. I never expected it, this extravagant community, but I needed it. We all do.

It's also ideal for pancake-making!

It’s also ideal for pancake-making!

This little mountain road, flanked with snow and just a few houses, is a new village. I’m still learning community, this time from my parents, who are the kind of people who clean out their refrigerator (and freezer!) and invite the neighbors over for an impromptu candlelit dinner. I feel fortunate to be here, amazed and delighted that this will be Luci’s first home.

Our culture is an individual one, where it’s easy to long for space or independence, financial security or the peculiar brand of “I can do it myself” that defined my early twenties. And then the power goes out and our batteries die, and around a glowing table laden with soup, sausage and bread we share stories and laughter, brightening the early dark.

Our Time Machine

Concrete Community Bible Church
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Highway 20 is a time machine.

An east-west corridor a few roads north of the bustling Interstate 90, along which we now live, Highway 20 is less traveled than the freeway, which goes eventually to Boston, and also than Highway 2, which goes to the faux-German village of Leavenworth and various other agricultural destinations. Highway 20 goes up and up, past a series of hydroelectric dams to a pass that’s closed for half the year. In months when you can keep driving, you wind through miles of fire-scorched wilderness and forgotten tiny towns, finishing within sight of the Idaho state line. It’s a grand trip.

Not that we’re going so far today. This morning, at the misty-grey end of September, we’re destined for Concrete, Washington, in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. Concrete, named for one of its original exports, is a small town, much smaller even than Kandern, but the highway carries me back in time as we drive along it, to a moment when Concrete was the big city. I grew up even further up this highway, where the Skagit River Valley narrowed and deepened, living in the eternal shade of evergreens and high hills. To eight-year-old Kristi, Concrete meant Little League and roller skating, grocery stores and bigger restaurants. More critically, it meant Church. We’d make the fifteen-mile drive down the valley several times a year, canceling our tiny house church service for some special occasion, like a Christmas pageant or a baptism Sunday, at Concrete Community Bible Church.

We arrive at Concrete Community Bible Church a few minutes before Sunday School, where Timmy and I have the privilege of sharing about our last two years at Black Forest Academy. Its white, friendly facade looks as genial as ever, and inside it’s no different. The last time I visited, in the summer of 2013, I was planning our wedding; today I arrive with my husband, quite obviously pregnant. At every turn we’re greeted effusively, some faces familiar and others less so, by people who’ve read our emails or prayed over our printed names in the bulletin. By the time we get up to speak, I’ve already shared our story half a dozen times, and from the front of the room my usual nervousness gives way in the glow of their welcoming excitement.

There are many kinds of communities. I often write about the transience of life at BFA. Friendships, community, churches–they are ever-changing, each year and season different from the last. While it’s marvelous to see God shaping each BFA for its specific moment in time, here at Concrete CBC I find a different marvel: the beauty of continuity. It’s continuity for me–there are people here who have truly known me since I was eight years old, and can trace the twisting paths that have brought me to this point–but it’s far greater than that. Here are decades of relationship, generations living, growing and loving in this tiny town in the Upper Skagit. I listen to their prayer requests and praises, their words of encouragement for one another, with the feeling of eavesdropping on a much longer conversation. This congregation, led by the same devoted pastor for the past 23 years, knows one another well, year after year living out their calling as the body of Christ in this little town.

I suppose it’s easy for transience to be jealous of continuity, but I’m not today. I can join in this service, singing songs to the God we all worship together, with neither the scorn of the willful nomad nor the envy of the perpetual exile. Because this place is home for me, too, even if it’s just for today, our time machine Sunday on Highway 20.


Wearing the shorts {and looking a bit less round than I do now}.

Wearing the shorts {and looking a bit less round than I do now}.

“The great illusion of leadership is to think that man can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there.”

Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer

It’s been a summer of changes. We’ve slept in four different time zones, moved to a zip code neither of us has lived in before, and begun the process of settling in to this year away from Germany. On top of that, I have laughed almost daily at the changing shape of my body (Or is it our body? What do you call it when you’re sharing one space with an ever-growing little person?), and seen fireflies for the first time, which I’d previously suspected were mythical, like dragons. Busy summer, indeed.

So, there are plenty of momentous transitions about which I could write here, but I’ll stick to one that is less momentous. This summer–for the first time in the last decade or so–I bought a pair of shorts.

I’m not talking about athletic shorts, which I’ll wear running (back when I went running) or hiking like everyone else. These are navy blue chinos (whatever that is), wear-around sorts of shorts. Normal shorts.

Being neither an expert in fashion nor a particularly body-image conscious person, I never gave much thought to “giving up” shorts. It wasn’t a decision, a plan. I simply stopped buying them. I had many excuses, but for the sake of brevity I’ll boil them down to the top two:

  1. There’s not a good context for me to wear shorts. I won’t wear them to school, where the length of shorts is a fierce debate, and after school it’s just not often that warm in Kandern. Shorts accomplish nothing that a skirt doesn’t do much better.
  2. I don’t like how I look in shorts. I didn’t spend much time thinking about this, except to reflect that I don’t love to showcase the space between my knees and my waist. So, no shorts.

Excuse 2, if I’m honest, was always louder than Excuse 1. I’m relatively accepting, if not downright complacent, about most parts of myself. Did it really matter if there was this one little part that I’d rather conceal? (For the record, I’d still argue that no, it didn’t matter. They’re just shorts.)

This all changed this summer, for a few reasons. First, we spent the end of June and the beginning of July in Virginia, where the +90˚ F heat and inexcusable humidity made cooler clothes a requirement, not something to be fussy about. My one pair of corduroy maternity pants weren’t going to cut it, and I was quickly growing out of my sundresses. So I bought some shorts. Maternity shorts, because second, being pregnant in summer has added a few extra degrees to the already hottest summer–on both East and West Coasts–that I can remember for a while.

The shorts are fine, and I feel fine wearing them. They’re not special–they’re still just shorts–but they’ve allowed me to stay cool in the humid South and the scorching West, and that’s plenty. Perhaps they look hilarious, but frankly my general roundness is pretty hilarious to begin with, so I’m not worried about it. I’m not sure that this relationship will last–me and shorts–but for now we’re OK. The shorts have reminded me, however, of something more important than shorts. (Remember, almost everything is more important than shorts.)

We’re all walking around, I imagine, with places we’d like to hide more often than not. I’m no exception. I know there are topics I tiptoe around, times and places about which I simply don’t write or share, preferring to keep places of brokenness and selfishness to myself. I’ve lately been challenged recently by the honesty of friends, writing and speaking with candor about their journeys through transition, singleness and loss.

For me, it’s easy to tell amusing classroom stories, or to reflect on the nature of Christ-filled community. Trickier as a missionary, far removed from communities of family, friends and supporters, to share what God is teaching me in uncertainty or homesickness. Much harder still to reveal the maddening difference between how I so often behave and who I know Christ is calling me to be.

Wearing the shorts–something I tried with more dramatic martyrdom than I’m proud of–hasn’t been terrible. I’d wager that true vulnerability, whether here or within the communities I’m privileged to live, can be not only not terrible, but actually an open door for conversation, relationship and growth.

I am called to serve out of humility and compassion, showing love because at every turn I receive it from Christ. We’re not made for facades, but rather to be what author and theologian Henri Nouwen calls “wounded healers,” present with one another in the midst of transformation, not at the end of it.  Because the transformation is ongoing, as Christ calls us to new challenges, new seasons, new homes. Some of which call for a new pair of shorts, and all of which call for the courage and compassion to be honest with those with whom I share in the journey.

Where We’ve Landed

Hiking with Timmy and my dad in the mountains  around our new home.

Hiking with Timmy and my dad in the mountains around our new home.

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.

John Muir, “The Yosemite”

After a supper of delicious hamburgers with my parents, I leave the chalet half an hour before sunset, turning right to walk up our short road towards its origin at the nearby Interstate. I walk towards a glowing mountain, Guye Peak, its rocks and trees shining in the day’s last light.

Our road isn’t a long one; tonight I’ll traverse every inch of it twice in under half an hour. Settled comfortably among fir and hemlock trees are steep tin roofs and fortified first floors, built to withstand the ten feet of snow that some winters bring to this mountain community, their long gravel driveways branching off of the main road like veins on an alder leaf. Some of the houses are inhabited year-round, and many are not. It’s the sort of place you’d expect to be lonely and quiet, solitude for better or worse.

You’d be wrong, though. Though this year will hold many things for us, some still hidden around corners we can’t foresee, I suspect that solitude won’t be one of them. By the time Luciana arrives in November, we’ll be six people and four generations in this chalet, a green-trimmed house with three bears painted cheerfully on its front. We are sharing space, coffee, the occasional box of peaches, catching rides together for errands to the nearest “big town” and the even bigger city, an hour away.

Timmy splits wood with the neighbors!

What’s more, this street itself is alive with community. Rain or shine at seven each morning, the neighbors gather with dogs and friends to walk to the mailboxes a half-mile up the road, swapping stories of the previous day and sharing plans for this one. Most of these long summer evenings see us gathering again, this time at the far end of the road, a cul-de-sac just a stone’s throw from the thundering highway, where someone has painted a pickleball court for our community amusement. There is a book club, regular movie nights and block parties. Already we’ve been invited to trivia night at the local brewery and a luau that was unfortunately postponed due to July rain.

Halfway through my walk, a car full of neighbors pulls up beside me, all of its windows rolled down. “We saw your sister today!” squeals a tiny voice from the backseat, upon which his parents eagerly tell of their trip to Seattle, which included a stop for cookies and coffee at Holly’s Danish bakery. The boys wave newly-acquired toys and tell of the wonders of the summer day, and the parents ask about Timmy’s trip to Germany and how I’m faring without him for these few weeks.

After five years in the overseas missions community, I’ve concluded that there are as many different kinds of Home Ministry Assignments as there are missionaries. Some spend twelve months traveling coast to coast, racking up the miles and the churches, sleeping in living rooms and sharing meals with far-flung friends, family, supporters and alumni. Others settle in one place, seeking the stability of school and community for their children. No two years are alike.

With Timmy’s internship at the VA hospital starting in September and a baby joining us in November, the scaffolding of our year is somewhat clearer than it was ten months ago, when we began planning for this season. There will still be surprises, we know, places where the expectation and the reality don’t line up as we thought they would. Still, we’re reminded daily that it is the grace of God and the support of many, many people that allows us this time, and grateful with each morning walk, each smile across the dinner table, to share this place with people we love.

The North Cascades

The North Cascades

Our Villages

Timmy got to preach at Virginia Beach Community Chapel this Father’s Day.

“Raise your hand if you ever taught me in a Sunday school class,” Timmy requests on Sunday morning.

I’m sitting in the front row of a fiercely air-conditioned sanctuary, shivering while outside the temperature climbs to 90˚ F before 9:00 AM. I’m not in Germany anymore.

Where I am is Virginia Beach Community Chapel, Timmy’s home church since he was ten. It holds a special place in his heart and his story, a similar place that Bethany Community holds in mine. Today–Father’s Day–he is giving the sermon, a call to missional living lived out within the context of family and hospitality.

“Keep your hands up,” he continues. “Now, raise your hand if you ever worked with me in youth group, or came alongside me as a mentor. Or really, even just had me over to your house, ever.”

I turn around to see a forest of hands waving back, a multitude of men and women who have invested in my husband’s life.

That is missional living,” he tells them. “I’m here because you poured into me.”

It’s a powerful moment, more than a mere illustration of his point, that living missionally isn’t tied the going overseas, evangelizing or church planting that we associate with the title of “missionary.” Looking at those hands, I’m reminded of the adage that “it takes a village” to raise a child.

Aside from the fact that we’re preparing to raise a child, eventually in a literal village, this phrase has proven as true in my life as it has in Timmy’s. Even in relatively isolated parts of rural Washington–San Juan Island and the Upper Skagit Valley–my childhood was a collage of friends and mentors, people who taught me not just German words and how to play t-ball, but what it meant to love and know Jesus.

My years in Seattle were deep and rich with such relationship, mostly at Bethany Community Church, where I found Christlike models of adulthood at every step, with their hospitality and time investment guiding me towards living out my faith in a way both personal and connected to our community. I’ve had many villages.

Timmy’s sermon reminds me that even titled missionaries like myself need to remember to be missional. My heart, my mind and my front door need to be open to the young people who fill my days, as I walk a few steps ahead of them on the journey of faith that they’re choosing, or trying to choose. As I’ve written about countless times, these last five years have turned out to be about much more than teaching. They’ve been about becoming part of a village, and in turn helping to invest love and life into the young people around me.

For now, though, it’s time to revisit our own villages. It’s truly a gift to spend these weeks in the East, visiting the places and people who have made my husband the incredible man that he is. And I’m excited to arrive in Seattle in mid-July, and Skagit County in September, eager to engage with gratitude in the communities that have spurred me onward in this journey.

Four World Cups {And Kandern, My Home}

Lexi dons jersey and flag face paint to cheer for Germany vs. Ghana

Lexi dons jersey and flag face paint to cheer for Germany vs. Ghana

I confess, I wasn’t watching when they scored the first goal.

Distracted by the coolness of the German away jerseys–red and black blocks that take me straight back to Ballard High School–I was doing some online shopping when the pub erupted, reacting to Thomas Müller’s clean shot past Brazilian keeper Júlio César.

“Ahh, I missed it!” I wailed, looking up in time to catch the replay. My friends laughed at me. I’ve missed most of the German goals this World Cup, distracted by conversation or falling asleep before the inevitable extra time periods at the late ends of 0-0 games. Watching sports is not one of my gifts, you see. Distraught that I’d possibly missed the only action in this game, I fixed my eyes on the screen bedecked with international bunting, hoping there would be another goal.

I needn’t have worried.

Quite by accident, I’ve been in Germany during the last four World Cups. I don’t remember 2002, South Korea, though there must have been posters or headlines somewhere when I was dragging my 17-year-old self through the dim underworld of the München Ostbahnhof, trying to figure out where to buy a train ticket to Salzburg. I wasn’t paying attention when Germany lost to Brazil in the final.

Tunisia vs. Saudi Arabia, 2006

Tunisia vs. Saudi Arabia, 2006

I remember 2006, though, taking a night train full of drunken Italian footballers headed for Dortmund, shopping in Munich on the raucous day that Tunisia played Saudi Arabia there. I remember my friends telling me, wide-eyed, that they’d never seen so many German flags on display. “We don’t usually display our flags,” they explained to me, “Not since… We’re careful about nationalism now.”

In 2010, two American girls and three German girls grilled bratwurst in Austria, then sighed when Germany lost the semi-final to Spain, way down in South Africa. We watched the final in a library, and two Dutch Tauernhof students dominated both the cheering and the lament, though we were all wearing orange and were all disappointed.

Watching the Spain vs. Germany semi-final in 2010

Watching the Spain vs. Germany semi-final in 2010

This year is different. This year comes at the end of four years living in Germany, where people care deeply about this sport and feel comfortable expressing love for their country only during football matches. There are more German flags out in general than there were 12 years ago, but especially now. Since this World Cup began, I’ve watched games in three countries, and heard commentary in four languages, only two of which I understood. Back in 2010, when my Somali and Mexican students would watch the group stage games in my classroom during lunch, I got the impression that this World Cup business was a big deal, captivating the whole world in a way that few other events did. Now, I know for sure.

Afraid of missing something, I pay fastidious attention to the rest of the game, a 7-1 rout by Germany, which will be catalogued in history with statistics particularly miraculous or damning, depending on your perspective. “What is even happening?” we cry, disbelieving, after each goal. “Does this ever happen?” We cheer as well as we can–and have dressed in the required red, black and gold–but we’re no match for the Kanderners, who shout, cry, and break into song as the victory grows more secure.

Watching Germany vs. France, 2014 Quarterfinal, on the Fourth of July!

Watching Germany vs. France, 2014 quarter-final, on the Fourth of July!

Tomorrow, I’ll read the German coach Joachim Löw’s consolatory words for defeated Brazil, and scan faintly guilty Facebook statuses from German friends, along the lines of “We wanted to win, but this… Wow.” Tonight, though, we celebrate. When it’s over, the Kanderners jump into their cars for the bizarre and perilous ritual of driving around in circles through our village, laying on their horns and shouting. “Wir haben gewonnen! We’ve won!” they remind us as we walk home, laughing. “Show some spirit!” Apparently, a honking horn is the only acceptable response in cases like these.

I lack the knowledge and vocabulary to speak of the influence of the World Cup on the world, whether it ultimately unites or divides, whether it’s worth the cost, especially to Brazil tonight. But I’m thankful to be here, to share something so deeply important to so many, to live in this village where they cheer into the night.

To The {Book} Fair

Books in Greenwich

Books in Greenwich

…I’m coming to get you, I hissed,

as I entered the library like a man stepping

into a freight elevator of science and wisdom.

“The Literary Life,” Billy Collins

It’s a busy Friday night at Black Forest Academy. Upstairs, the junior varsity boys basketball team plays one of their last home games of the season. In the yearbook and graphic arts lab across the way, a few students and teachers watch the Opening Ceremonies of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, projected on the wall. (The Parade of Nations is never more amusing than when some of the loudest cheers are for Moldova, Romania, Turkey, Tajikistan and Korea. We tried hard to keep up when the star-clad Americans strolled onto the scene.)

Having resolved to watch basketball later in the evening, I’ve left the Olympic viewing party to get dinner and browse at the Book Swap. The Book Swap, one of dozens of annual traditions in our small English-speaking community, is exactly what it sounds like. Bring an already-read and now-unwanted book in the afternoon, get a coupon for a free new book in the evening. Simple. Or, as some of the students do, bring twenty books that you gathered from dusty corners of your dorm, books left behind by students lightening their loads, and come away with twenty that you haven’t been dog-earing for several years already.

The Book Swap is one of those Inventions born of Necessity for which missionaries are famous. We don’t have to invent all that much, I admit, since Germany is decidedly first-world. In our frustrated moments we blame life’s difficulties on the culture, but by the rational light of day we mostly know that car trouble and medical bills are unpleasant in every language. There are Kafkaesque tax processes and unfindable groceries, but as North Americans living in a German village in the Black Forest, we get along just fine most of the time.

What we don’t have, however, are books. English books. They’re mostly not for sale in our village, and this has never really surprised me. Imagine the smallest town you can in America. In Pacific Northwest terms, our town is the size of Fall City or Concrete, Washington. Then, if you can, imagine that town having a bookstore. Finally, picture the bookstore carrying a section of books in French. “Why would we have English books?” the baffled shop owner had asked me shortly after I moved here and began inquiring. “No one likes reading in English.” 

Of course there are still English books here, hundreds and thousands of them, stashed away in our living rooms and offices and in our own school library, which is what makes the Book Swap work in the first place. It hinges on the idea that people aren’t necessarily purchasing new books, but rather sending well-read words on to new audiences. It’s a beautiful idea from every angle–ecological, intellectual, communal, economic–but nothing can describe the delight of experiencing it in person.

This year, I go down with a coupon entitling me to seven free books, which I’d earned by cleaning out my living room and classroom bookshelves earlier today. I’m rather late, half an hour after opening, so by the time I arrive the pickings are slim. I peruse the tables of fiction–labeled Adult and Young Adult–along with the intriguing Miscellaneous and nostalgic Children’s sections. I pause for a while among the cookbooks, marveling over the rounded yellow letters and orangey photographs that place most of them firmly in the 1970s and 80s. Apparently missionaries aren’t up to transporting cookbooks transcontinentally. They collect here, like rain in a birdbath.

I’m not really here for new (old) books, honestly. I have a few novels at home that I keep for sentimental reasons, and the poetry books that I’ve brought because I can’t read poetry digitally, but most of my new reading comes either from the library or the Kindle store these days. I’m seldom willing to take the risk of physically owning a book that I might not like, even here where it’s a free exchange. I pick up a volume of Kipling short stories, and an old copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

For me, the chief enjoyment of the Book Swap is the students who flock here. Unlike their counterparts on other continents, the majority of our students love to read. Before I know it, I’m showing my meager findings to a girl weighted down with a stack of books she’s selected on advice from others, by attraction to covers or by the names authors she already knows. I find another student with a Rubbermaid bin full of books–the best books, he assures me–that he’s rescued from obscurity. An illustrated Bible and an anthology of Persian poetry stare up at me from the top of his heap. He’s delighted with his discoveries, even though he’s a senior who will leave most of these books in this valley just four months from now. Between now and then, they are his.

Unable to find any books I’m moved to own, I begin to make my way toward the exit as another former student enters, clutching a coupon in her hand.

“I can get one book,” she says solemnly, waving the coupon. “One. I better make it good.”

“Here, get a few,” I say, handing over my unused coupon. “Enjoy.”

“Really?” she hesitates, eyeing the coupon.

“Of course. I’m your teacher. I want you to have books!”

She squeals and throws her arms around my neck, and I laugh. Later, she proudly shows me three books written by and about women–an aviator, Biblical women and a friend of Anne Frank’s–eager to share the stories she’ll soon be drinking in like water. And I think, this is a brilliant night.