After The Wedding

Lovely bridesmaids after the wedding!

Lovely bridesmaids after the wedding!

Still I always look up to the sky

Pray before the dawn

Cause they fly away

One minute they arrive

Next you know they’re gone

“O”, Coldplay

After the wedding, we wake up slowly. Even Emily and I, who slept on the cool tile of the of the solarium, don’t immediately get up when the June sunshine splashes our faces. We were the first back, just after midnight, and the rest arrived after we’d gone to sleep.

We’ve come to Switzerland this weekend to celebrate the wedding of Rochelle, a former Black Forest Academy student, a Swiss-British-American girl who grew up on the steep, vineyard-striped shores of Lac Léman. The wedding was surreal and marvelous, complete with an ancient church in a steep Swiss village, an afternoon at a castle, a boat ride, and the traditional dinner and dancing familiar to all. It was a star-studded evening, magnificent and festive.

Now we’re sitting on the lawn outside of the bride’s childhood home, looking over the silky blue waters of the lake, eating breakfast. On the table is a generous loaf of crusty Swiss bread, along with butter, honey and Nutella. Our hostess, the mother of the bride, brings out tea and orange juice, encouraging us to dig into the bread and begin.

Many of Emily’s and my small group girls had been among the crimson-draped bridesmaids, and now they yawn their sleepy way to the breakfast table, laughing and collapsing into chairs. They tell stories from last night, last week, the years that they’ve known the young bride. They laugh about the breakfast–essentially good bread with things to put on it–and declare how much they’ll miss meals like this when they leave Europe.

“When I leave” is a common suffix today. Most of them are leaving Europe, and most of them soon. By the end of the month, this tightly-knit group of friends will be in Ontario, California, Oregon, Wisconsin, Croatia, and Korea. Only two of us will still be in Europe by the end of the summer.

I remember Lexi, a friend with whom I’ve worked, played and shared life for the last three years, once writing about Saturday breakfasts at Storchenblick dorm, where we spent a few weekends volunteering last year. We’d get up early and make waffle batter, then sit with cups of coffee at the counter, talking with the waves of sleepy girls that trickled through the kitchen. Those mornings were sweet, unpressured time to spend with these students we’ve come to love.

Today is like that. Ignoring all the work we have to do as soon as we leave the table, we linger. We sit in the morning sunshine, drinking in the hazy mountains and crisp air, the triple languages and good breakfasts of Switzerland. We memorize faces and voices, laughter and mannerisms, or at least record them with smartphone cameras, hoping to capture the moment. They go home to packed bags and empty houses, home to load their lives onto planes and on to the next adventure. This moment together, an idyllic breakfast above a Swiss lake, will be the last for a while. We cut slice after slice of bread, the dwindling loaf reminding us that our time here is limited.

It’s almost lunchtime when the first departure breaks the spell, taking the first of us off to Geneva, then to Korea. We stay a while longer, before finding our bags with a sigh, piling into the rickety van that will take us back. We wind our way down the hill to the lake, to the train station from which Emily and I go on to a few days of camping in Montreux. Untangling ourselves from the dusty seatbelts, we give hugs, shed tears, say a prayer as it begins to rain. Eventually the van goes west, and we continue east, further into the heart of these mountains.

We don’t always see them coming, these goodbyes, but this year has taught me that even when we know for a long time–for four years even–that eventual parting is inevitable, it’s still sad. We’ll still miss each other as we walk ahead, still long for home as we explore new lands. As we walk away, I find myself still praying for each of them, both that they continue to love one another well from a distance, and for the friends that they’ll meet in the new homes waiting for them. God will provide for them, as He does for me, that much I trust. Uncurling my fingers from the gift of these years–and this morning–I give them back to Him in thanks as we start a new chapter, beginning summer with a camping trip in rainy Switzerland.

A photo from a hijacked phone.

A photo from a hijacked phone.

Fly on  Fly on, ride through

Maybe one day I’ll fly next to you

Fly on, ride through

Maybe one day I can fly with you

Fly on

“O”, Coldplay

Hurdles

HurdlesThe hurdlers are not happy.

From where I stand at the end of the long jump pit, waiting for my seven jumpers to come bounding down the runway, to land with a sandy splash in front of me, I can see the hurdlers, shivering in their navy warm-ups, less than eager to start their race.

“We like the 100!” they’ve wailed, after discovering that they were signed up for the grueling 300 meter low hurdles. These are sprinters, preferring the intense glory of the quick, high 100 and 110 meter race. This business, three times as long and far more taxing, isn’t their game. Our point-savvy head coach, noted that they aren’t the only ones; this race seems universally hated, and therefore offers many opportunities for scoring points in the abandoned lanes. All hurdlers, he declared, will do the 300 this week.

SorcheWhile the freshmen and sophomore hurdlers shiver in the wind, I stand with Sorche, a senior. She’s new to track this year, returning to BFA after two years in Canada to finish her senior year. Though energetic and athletic, this is her first sport at BFA, and as such she represents much that I love about BFA sports. In many schools, there’s no opportunity to try a sport. You try out, and hope to make it on the team at all. Here, students often show up with little experience, just to learn and enjoy. Sorche is like that. She came, she decided the intimidating hurdles were fun, and she worked hard to learn and improve.

On this chilly afternoon in Stuttgart, she stands in shorts, ready to start. She’s had shinsplints since early in the season, so her legs are crisscrossed with pink athletic tape, giving her the appearance of a Lisa Frank zebra. She squints at the 300 meters of race ahead of her, at the hurdles in the way, frowning. She’s no more excited about this race than the freshmen, but she’s not trying to get out of it.

“It’s just–far,” she sighs.

“You’re right,” I reply, ever the helpful coach. “But it won’t last forever.”

“Yeah, OK.” She takes off her jacket and hands it to me, shivers one last time and folds herself into the starting blocks. A final gunshot, and she’s off. I follow her pink-striped leaps around the track with my eyes, jogging over to the finish to see the last few.

At the finish line, she meets the ground in a happy heap of relief.

“You’re done!” I cheer from above, handing her the warm-ups.

She nods, smiles.Finished

“How was it?”

“Hard.”

“Yeah?”

“Hard. But–” she hesitates. “I think I’d do it again.” She looks up at me and grins. “I mean, I may be crazy. But I want to do that again.”

Earlier this week, I asked my juniors a number of questions to help them select a topic for their upcoming practice college admissions essays, the last essay of the year. One of them regarded lessons that they’ve learned lately.

Sorche’s race was my lesson, not a new one, but a forgotten message brought to light: Hard and good sometimes come together.

I sometimes complain that teenagers hate challenge, doing whatever it takes to write the simplest essay, run the easiest race, read the shortest book. While the herculean efforts of Sorche and many of our other track runners scold me for this unfair generalization, this race today also reminds me that high school students are not the only ones trying to avoid difficulty.

So often, I want to avoid my own hurdles, running around them or under them, running the other way entirely. The challenges of relationship, vocation, trusting God with future and present–all of them can be deflected with enough eye-shutting and subject-changing. And yet, without challenge there is no growth.

Looking ahead to the next month, I know already that the hurdle of farewells looms large. A school year almost always ends bittersweetly, this year more than most, as many of my closest friends and the class to whom I’ve become most attached will leave Germany in June. Though the change is inexorable, I know that I could somehow dodge the suffering, withdrawing into some snail shell of denial or detachment, refusing to say goodbye. Or, I can remember, like Sorche, that even the hardest roads are sometimes worth running into head-on, eager to grow, learn and finish well.

Hurdlers

Oh, The Places We’ve Been

Ninth graders take the World War I trenches by storm.

Ninth graders take the World War I trenches by storm.

The times we had
oh, when the wind would blow with rain and snow
were not all bad
we put our feet just where they had, had to go
never to go

“Postcards From Italy,” Beirut

The view from our castle tower is stunning, the lights of Saturday-night Nürnberg spread out below us in sequined splendor. We’re sitting, five of us–two teachers and three students–on a double bed in a hostel room, late on the last night of this year’s High School Retreat. Our school goes every year, uprooting all 270 students and 50 of the staff, and relocating a bus-ride away for a weekend of reflection, reconnection and recreation. The last three years, we’ve gone to Lenk, Switzerland, bringing our laughter to the high-altitude clean silence of the Swiss Alps. This year, the buses brought us to Nürnberg, in northeastern Bavaria, a red-roofed city with a colored recent past.

Tenth graders, playing in the snow.

Tenth graders, playing in the snow.

The other teacher is my former roommate, Emily, who over the last four years has transformed from anonymous name on an email, Personnel’s pick for my flatmate, to a dear friend, recent bridesmaid in my wedding, co-sponsor and leader of this small group of now-senior girls. The three students are three of the six girls we’ve been mentoring since they were fourteen. There’s history in this room, growing maturity that we celebrate, questions that often surprise us but bring to light the depths to which these young women are seeking to know and honor Christ with every aspect of their lives.

 

Junior year, Paris.

Junior year, Paris.

“I just think,” one of the girls is saying, “I just think that we’ve had an amazing time, you know?” She gazes out the window, down the hill at the city, looking for a moment like an illustration of a princess in her castle tower. We’d been talking over the places we’ve been together, even just for High School Retreat, which is never anyone’s most dramatic travel story. Our students always get teased by their peers back home, in North America or Korea, when they complain about “having to go to Switzerland” for the weekend.

 

 

Paris

“I mean, we’ve traveled the world together,” she continues. “To Vienna, Rome, Athens. In the spring London… Who gets to do that? Spend high school traveling with your best friends? It’s amazing,” she repeats. I look up and catch Emily’s eye, realizing it’s true for us, too, that we’ve traveled together often, with and without students, in the last four years. It is amazing, as she says, and I echo her thankfulness.

 

 

 

Seniors waiting at Piazza San Marco, Vatican City.

Seniors waiting at Piazza San Marco, Vatican City.

Four years, and I’m near the end of an important season at Black Forest Academy. In my first months here, not knowing how long I’d stay, I took on class sponsorship for a herd of freshmen I’d never met. Missing the ninth graders I’d taught for years back in Seattle, I also volunteered to mentor a small group of girls just beginning high school. At that point, I wasn’t certain I’d see them graduate, but I was willing to invest some time in their first years here, hoping to help make them positive ones. Honestly, these roles weren’t always the easiest, and there were times when the tenure of class sponsor and small group leader seemed very long indeed. Not the middle distance of a year of teaching, these were marathons of mentorship.

 

RomeAnd yet, as this season draws to a close, I miss them already. I’ve been all over with these kids, from the trenches of eastern France to the ruins of ancient Rome to the crumbling facades of Oradea, Romania. After a year of English class, I know their handwriting, their affinity for odd idioms and hackneyed similes. I can recognize most of their voices across an auditorium, in the dark around a campfire, or from the back of a bus or a plane. I know that my small group loves cashews Youtube videos, and writing funny quotes on Post-It notes, that they want both to keep wandering and find out what it means to stand still, and that they understand what a paradox that is. Realizing this, my love for this group of students who’ve been here as long as I, there are moments when the transition ahead feels impossibly melancholy, as I try to imagine what this town and school will look like after dear friends and these students have left it.

 

SeniorsWhen I was younger, the grey winters of Seattle were broken by only a few days of snow each year. When it started snowing, I was gleeful. Almost immediately, however, I was mourning the inevitable melting of the glorious whiteness. I missed much of the joy, anticipating its end.

The antidote to such gloom, I know, is thankfulness, like this young woman who looks out the window, knowing the uncertainty of her future, and declares that these years have been amazing. Challenging, full of growth and difficulty, but amazing all the same. I couldn’t agree with her more, or possibly be more thankful for these last four years at Black Forest Academy and the students that I’ve come to know along the way.