Grateful Goodbyes

Proud Papa dedicating his first granddaughter at Bethany Community Church.

Proud Papa dedicating his first granddaughter at Bethany Community Church.

Here are the hard goodbyes
Love you ’til the day I die
Here’s where regrets all fade
Into the light from which you’re made

And here is the warm sand
Sifting through your perfect hand
Here’s where you laugh again
In the memory of a friend

And here’s where you find the truth
It’s the heart and soul of you
Here’s where the body fades
Beautiful in every way

Here’s where the songs we’ve sung
Weave into the constant one
Turn all your fears to love
There is nothing left undone

Julia Massey, from “Here Is A Stone Wall”

Goodbyes are knit into a teacher’s existence. At the end of each school year, we watch some leave forever, and mourn the quieter endings of sweet, intricate classroom communities, built of shared words, spoken and read. The kids depart and I grade the last essays, bringing the year to a stumbling halt, like running down the stairs in the dark, when you forget how many stairs there are. Seven years out of nine (everyone has rough years–mine were the first two), I’ve thought a little sadly that I won’t love any class more than the one I just finished with. All that investment, all those hours, and they’ve moved on, leaving me behind. But then August comes, and usually between September and December I fall in love all over again. Hello and goodbye.

And because I was a teacher for a long time, and a student for ages before that, perhaps part of me thought I’d get out of the goodbyes, just for one year. That somehow I was taking a break from not only the planning and grading and disciplining, but from the adapting and knowing and loving that comes with it. Not so, I find today, as we do one last load of laundry and pack our last bag, counting suitcase pounds like pennies in a piggybank. I’ve fallen in love again, and I’m saying goodbye. Again.

There’s a quote that goes around this time of year, Graduation Season, that goes “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” I doubt that Winnie the Pooh actually said it, as it’s often attributed, but frankly it doesn’t matter. It’s true and beautiful, and today it’s exactly how I feel, sitting on my parents’ couch and watching the hard June rain soak Snoqualmie Pass one last time. It hasn’t been a year of classroom laughter and epiphanies, but it has been a good year.

I look ahead a few days, squinting past air travel with an infant, rental-car machinations and autobahns that will deliver us back to our village, and I know that it is also home. That we’re going, again, from one home to another, from one good to another good. How lucky we are, really, that we’re neither fleeing danger nor heading into exile, like so many are today. From home to home, love to love.

It’s still hard. We reach the end of our year at home with tightened bonds, strengthening the knots that tie us back to people and places an ocean away. I’m sad and thankful, excited and mournful, wondering how I could possibly have forgotten after all these years that beginnings come after endings.

Mostly I am grateful for a year. We once thought of it as an interruption, a tax-mandated pause in ministry, but this time has been infinitely more than that. It’s been a year of family. That lazy proximity to my parents and siblings that I’d been missing for five years, space to know one another again, and for them to know my husband and now daughter. It’s been a year of time. Time to think, to rest, to write, to prepare, to love. So much time that it seemed endless at points, until it wasn’t. Until today.

We take last photos, give last hugs, and say goodbye. We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again, the sweet cost of loving. A family, a home, a year. And I am so grateful.

This is my family, sharing Thanksgiving in June on our last night in Washington. I miss them already.

This is my family, sharing Thanksgiving in June on our last night in Washington. I miss them already.

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Baby Goals

Luci practices her standing with Aunt Holly at the bakery.

Luci practices her standing with Aunt Holly at the bakery.

“She just wants to be a bigger baby.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Here

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

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

What I Expect of You:

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

What You Can Expect of Me:

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

From my Honors American Literature Syllabus

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

  1. Be Prepared.

  2. Be Present.

  3. Be Respectful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kaffee & Kuchen: Seattle Edition

Hear about this place...

Hear about this place…

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

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

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

Where: Seattle, WA

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

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

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

Hope to see you there!

Hello Again

September 1998.

In the grey minutes between picking up my schedule in the gym and the digital bell that began my first day of high school, I wound my way to the musty, forgotten corner of the campus that housed the music room. It was empty, as I’d suspected it would be, since there were only a few of us who auditioned for the string orchestra. With nothing better to do, to distract from nagging worry about the edgy, scary place I’d be spending the next few years, I opened my violin case and went through the comforting, familiar ritual of getting ready to play it.

2001, after an orchestra concert

Halfway through the process another student arrived, to my immense relief a JVC volleyball teammate that I already knew. I remembered now her mentioning that she’d be in the orchestra, that like me she played violin. She too sat down and got ready to play, and other students trickled in. I don’t remember if we played or not, that first day, but I suspect that we did. It was a good class, like that; we always played. Even on September 11, 2001, with the TV on in the background, we played to cope with how our world might be falling apart. That was how we started our days.

I knew she played volleyball and violin that day, that first day. I didn’t know that she was one of the most talented violinists that I’d ever meet, nor that we’d spend the next four years in this orchestra, beginning every day the same way, with her concertmistress’s bow raised, my breath held in the first viola chair, waiting for the downbeat. I didn’t know we’d start a string quartet, travel to Disneyland, or spend hours practicing the first and second violin solos of Corelli’s Christmas Concerto. One of the better friendships of high school had just started, and I had no idea that first day. I just came to play violin.

As an avid reader of books, I find literature a useful metaphor for life. It’s painfully cliche, I know, to refer to “chapters in life,” but still it helps me sort out seasons from one another, slicing them in various ways until patterns emerge. More recently I’ve been considering the “characters” that populate this story, how because of the amount of moving and the kind of work I do, there are necessarily many people who pop in for just a few pages, changing me just a little bit (0r sometimes quite a lot) before saying goodbye. I’ve often thought that if I could “read ahead” five or ten years in my own life, I would be surprised by the setting and probably wouldn’t recognize many people.

Or maybe I would.

Among the many things I didn’t know that first day of school was that in seventeen years and two months, we’d both have baby girls in November, just days apart. We met once last summer, to walk around Greenlake and marvel at how, apart from one salient detail each, neither of us had changed much since we said goodbye in red robes and square hats after commencement. Now we’re meeting again, this time with our daughters, for much-needed coffee and baby-meeting. And though we could spend the time reminiscing, we don’t at all, instead choosing to marvel at how our lives have just changed with the addition of these two miniature people. The conversation faces forward, not backward, that of current friends and not past ones.

As a missionary, a teacher and a sometimes expat, I say goodbye often. Some years are harder than others, and some goodbyes more painful, but shifting community is constant. What a delight to be reminded, this year at home, that I haven’t read the whole book, and never know when a favorite character will return, if just for a while, to celebrate the past, revel in the present, and introduce me to an adorable baby.

2016, with babies!

 

House Hunters: Kandern

 

No door or heat in this bedroom. Worth it, though.

No door or heat in this bedroom. Worth it, though.

House Hunters International makes me dangerously smug.

The House Hunters franchise, as far as I can tell, forms a cornerstone of the Home Garden Television mansion. The basic formula involves someone–usually a couple–looking for a house, then being carted around to three different houses by a realtor. At the end, the couple has to reach some kind of compromise, either between themselves or amongst their many “must haves” and pick a house. Simple.

If I’m Goldilocks, International House Hunters is the “just right” of these shows. Normal House Hunters makes me feel slightly broke, and Tiny House Hunters makes me feel more materialistic than I like. International House Hunters, though, is the perfect mix of relatable and crazy. I can see these places all over the world, and I know how impossible the hopeful tenants’ wishlists are. The typical episode starts like this:

Expat Husband: We really want an old building, walking distance to the old city, and with super-fast wifi.

Expat Wife: Also an open-concept layout, with a kitchen with an island. And of course we need a fenced-in yard for our dog.

Realtor: (shakes head)

Trouble is coming! Even if the budget provides for it, such a place seldom exists. They must settle, giving up on some features in order to get others. Eventually they pick a place that makes them happy for some reason, and then the episode ends with a “a few months later” interview, revealing the rightness of their choice.

Six years ago when I was preparing to move to Germany, there was an email floating around about the apartments we’d likely be living in. “There are no closets,” it warned. “You will have to purchase schranks to put your clothes in.” (Somehow that German word slipped into a document meant for people who’d never lived in Germany. I guessed it meant “wardrobe.” I guessed right.) It continued with ever more dire predictions. “Light fixtures don’t come with the apartment. You may have to provide your own.” The worst news came last: “Germans typically take their kitchens with them when they move. You may have to purchase your own when you arrive.” Having always thought of a kitchen as a room with walls, not necessarily portable, this was mysterious and grim.

The message: This place will be different from wherever you used to live. It was a helpful message, I suppose, setting us up to be very excited when the first apartment we lived in had not only lights but its own kitchen! Still other surprises were waiting, however, in my new attic bedroom.

Roommate: So, your room is cool, but it doesn’t really have a door.

Me: Oh, so the door doesn’t lock? Or is there a curtain or something?

Roommate: No. There just isn’t one. No door. Just a hole in the floor.

Frosty sunrise from the chilly attic.

Frosty sunrise from the chilly attic.

Ah, the cost of living in an attic. I learned on arriving that my attic also wasn’t really heated, except for whatever radiated through said hole in the floor, so that one winter morning I woke up to frosty skylights and an indoor temperature of 46˚ F. But the sunrise was magnificent, my blankets perfectly adequate, and it’s still the best bedroom I’ve ever had.

I think what I like about House Hunters is the inevitable realization, created like clockwork by optimistic producers, that a house and home are wildly different things. That while a house can have quirks and disappointments, ultimately a home is created almost entirely by the people who live there.

This is never more real to me than now, living in the icebox of early spring at Snoqualmie Pass. I visit Seattle, where leaves and blossoms and 70˚ F days are starting to become common, then return to ten-foot snowbanks and a bedroom window still encased in ice. I could complain, if not for the inspiring little roommate who shares our igloo bedroom. Each day when my daughter decides it’s morning, I turn on the light to see her enormous, excited smile. She’s happy to see me, of course, but also frankly delighted by the room itself. There’s a red paper star light to look at! And the shadows it throws on the wall and the floor! Look, that blanket has a smiling panda bear on it! And this pillow–it’s so magnificently black and white! Who needs a window, she seems to say with a grin, when there’s so much beauty and love right here?

Who indeed? My daughter and the House Hunters remind me to look for the beauty that I miss when I’m focusing on the cracks, the flaws, the falling-short of expectations. Yes, there’s still snow all around, which might not melt until July. But I live in house, a home, with four generations of family, this year’s gift of unmatched excellence. And I can always come upstairs to look out the windows.

In a few months I’ll return to Germany, to an new apartment. We love the building and the landlords, but it’s on the fourth floor and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have a shower, just a tub and spray nozzle. Still, I’ll go there with the two people I love best in the world, and I’ll have some awesome baths and watch some stunning sunsets in our top-floor apartment. Like my daughter, I want to wake up each morning with delight in the loveliness of these homes God has given me, looking for the beauty and shrugging off everything else. Because houses are just houses; it’s people who make them home.

An Experienced Novice

Luci and Timmy, waiting to board her third flight.

It’s hotter in Texas than we’d like. When we unfold ourselves from inside the narrow tube of the three-hour “express” from Norfolk, Virginia to Houston, we step onto the warm runway and breathe in the foreign, humid scent of February in the Lone Star State. Three flights down, one to go.

Living overseas, Timmy and I have become accomplished travelers. We are comfortable in airports, happy to while away hours reading, drinking coffee and peering out of windows on our layovers. Security doesn’t stress us out, nor do online check-ins or packing an appropriately sized carry-on. We’ve done this a lot. If travel were a video game, we’ve already mastered the levels of Traveling Alone and Traveling While Married (surprisingly tricky at points). I might even say we’re “expert” travelers.

Not today.

Today we’re novices on a new level: Traveling With A Baby. Not as much novices as we were two weeks ago on our trip out to Virginia, when we naively packed books and Kindles, thinking “So what if I have a baby on our laps for six hours? Once she sleeps, we’m going to read and eat snacks and listen to music like we always do.” Ha! Timmy and Kristi of February 13, how wrong you were.

Entering the terminal, the three of us find a mostly empty corner near our gate to spend our hour layover. Timmy goes to find lunch, while I lay Luci down on a blanket on the carpet. After a few minutes, ten small fingers and a pair of brown eyes appear over the top of the row of seats across from me. The inquisitive face of a small boy, maybe eight or nine years old, peeks over curiously at us, watching Luci kick her feet and laugh at the fascinating airport ceiling.

“I think your baby’s tired,” he remarks quietly. When I look up, he repeats his observation, afraid I haven’t heard him.

“You’re right,” I reply with a shrug.

“I think the baby’s cold,” he observes.

“No.” I shake my head, looking at Luci’s flushed red cheeks. “She’s hot. It’s too hot in here.” The boy shrugs, seeming nervous at my disagreement, and I find myself genuinely unsure what to do with him. Until recently I’ve only spent time with teenagers. Now I’ve added three-month-olds to my repertoire, but I suspect small boys are different than either. I’ll need to grow into this parenting thing, I think as the boy continues to watch Luci and I continue to wonder what to say to him.

We’re a culture that values expertise. Whether defining someone as a “professional,” or logging the 10,000 hours of practice that author Malcolm Gladwell claims will elevate you expert level, it’s mastery that we’re after, in ourselves and others. We’re known by what we’re best at. For me, it’s writing and chocolate chip cookies. The days I claim to be an expert teacher–I have put in the 10,000 hours, after all–are usually the ones when I spill my coffee on myself, argue with a student over something useless, and badly underplan my lesson. Expertise is elusive, but valuable.

Wanting to be an expert, I mostly try to rush past the novice stage as quickly as possible. I think back to training sessions at new jobs, times that I spilled lattes or engaged with the temper tantrums of disappointed ninth graders far longer than I should have. I so desperately wanted to be past the “learning curve” part of my work, on to the accomplished and productive work of a seasoned employee. It’s uncomfortable to be new, inexperienced, making the mistakes of the first-timers and hoping for a chance to do it better next time.

I’m an experienced novice. I’ve been a new barista, a new teacher, a new wife. Now I’m a new mother, a novice again. And this time around I’m leaning into the newness, trying not to rush. I won’t learn this overnight, neither the mothering nor the baby-transporting. It comes in steps. Baby steps.

We board the plane early, now part of the auspicious “passengers traveling with young children.” When we’ve found our seats and I’ve gotten Luci happily settled with an afternoon meal, I glance across the aisle at another early-boarding passenger. She’s elderly and silent, her eyes closed and her covered head tilted back. Timeless and austere, she looks out of place in the crowded plane. As the plane fills, it becomes clear that she doesn’t speak English at all. Her world is a fast and loud one, possibly unfamiliar and strange.

Luci’s first plane ride!

And as a novice mother, I watch her curiously in the moments when Luci is sleeping, quiet, or playing with Timmy. Has she done this? I wonder. How was it different for her? How was it the same? As has happened a few times in past months, I feel connected to her by an invisible thread, of motherhood or the potential for it.

Halfway through the flight, Luci decides she won’t sleep under any circumstances, not when screaming is so much fun. We avoid eye contact with everyone, trying various bouncing and pacifier tricks to please her. After what seems like forever, I pick up my water bottle and wave it slowly in front of her. Luci pants to quietness, blue eyes following the green bottle with interest. Across the aisle, another mother gives us an approving thumbs up. A few minutes later, I catch the eye of my elderly neighbor, smiling at Luci. Babies, across languages, are universally adored.

It’s humbling, just starting out, making mistakes that seem so big and making them in front of others. But if being a new mother has taught me anything so far, it’s that everyone has to take these steps. The mothers I love and respect, all of them, have been here already. Taking flights with babies, hypnotizing them with water bottles, one imperceptible step at a time walking towards the experts I admire.

Why Give?

With our return to Germany set for five months from today, we are working to raise about $1200 in additional monthly support before then. We are incredibly grateful for those of you who have been supporting us financially for years; our ministry truly hinges on your partnership. As we look ahead to the future, we are excited for this opportunity to bring new supporters into this ministry at Black Forest Academy.

So who should support this ministry? While there are many reasons we are passionate about serving students at Black Forest Academy, we love to partner with those who are excited about education, young people or overseas missions.

Passion for Education

DebateAs a premier Christian international school in the region, BFA offers a quality education, building a solid foundation for young people from which to become learners and leaders in the world. Since all of the staff and faculty are support-based missionaries, your support allows the school to offer this education to the children of missionaries at a fraction of the cost of other international schools.

Passion for Young People

Winter Retreat 2013The students of BFA often come from mission backgrounds, but most arrive at school at a critical point in their learning and faith development. Many are pursuing a relationship with Christ as they make the transition from childhood to adulthood, and the staff of BFA are privileged to stand in the role of mentors and role models on this journey to maturity. Through the gifts of financial supporters, we have been able to invest in the lives of extraordinary young people as they seek answers about their lives and the world around them.

Passion for Overseas Missions

Central AsiaThe majority of students at BFA are the children of missionaries serving around the Eastern Hemisphere. With especially concentrated populations serving in ministry in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Central and East Asia, BFA facilitates global missions by providing for the educational needs of families serving in these places. Many of our students tell us that their families would have had to leave missions entirely if not for the education and community available at BFA. Supporting us as we serve at BFA in turn supports mission work in over 60 countries around the world!

We love being able to share the work that God is doing with education, young people and in missions worldwide through Black Forest Academy. Please pray about getting involved in this great work and joining our support team for the coming year. If you have questions about our work in Germany, feel free to email me at kristi.dahlstrom@gmail.com.

Choosing Morning

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Psalm 103:1-5

It’s about 8:30 AM when I decide that it’s morning. Decide, because the definition of morning that I’ve followed for most of my life–the time when I wake up and then need to start the day–doesn’t apply at the moment. The truth is, I wake up often, between three and… one thousand times during the night. Not all of those times are morning. And they’re certainly not all times to get up and begin the business of living in the world.

Upstairs, Timmy has been awake for hours, genially building a fire, making coffee and playing with Luci so I can sleep a bit more. I married a good man, I think, and then I look out the window, which looks like this:

Our bedroom window.

Our bedroom window.

No we haven’t moved into a basement. My parents’ house in the mountains, where we’re living this year, has two floors. Upstairs there are three small bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen. Downstairs is Grandma’s apartment, and our large bedroom. Downstairs there’s also about seven feet of snow on the ground outside, so our windows are rather obscured, further blurring the lines between day and night. A bit of daylight that trickles down the sloping bank, but from where I sit there is nothing else to see. Just a wall of blue-grey snow.

I think sleepily of the verses I read sometime last night, verses from the Book of Common Prayer’s Daily Office. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not his benefits. These benefits, the psalmist goes on to list: forgiveness, healing, redemption, honor and youth-renewing goodness. I think about how easy it is to forget such blessings, especially ones like forgiveness and redemption, the latent goodness we enjoy as a result of Christ’s sacrifice. Wishing for a bit more sleep, I’m forgetting the weight of goodness that awaits me each new morning.

Timmy brings Luci in now to eat breakfast, so I draw this warm, cooing little person close to me. She looks up at me, eyes wide awake, questioning my sleepy ones, then cranes her neck toward the light, a good day-dweller already. …Who satisfies you with good. This, I think, is good. Good that more than satisfies.

The upstairs windows bring new meaning to the glib command to “Get some perspective.” I never understood it until now, when I climb the stairs and look out of the second-floor windows onto the world. From here there are dark-green trees dressed in white, sharp walls of snow lining the road, and austere, wintry forests all around. Light snow falls from light-grey sky, and it’s morning. Real, genuine morning, and I almost missed it.

The front window upstairs

The front window upstairs

Choosing morning–both the real and the metaphor–takes effort. It can be tempting to squeeze my eyes shut on challenges, blind to the places of beauty in the midst of struggle.

It’s just as tempting to stay in the igloo-room, trying for more sleep, extending the night. There’s a time for sleep, yes, but this isn’t it. Coming upstairs means getting dressed, giving up on the night. But here, looking out of a better window on a lovely day, holding my wide-eyed daughter, I realize that the morning is worth it. Upstairs is worth it. This is the day, reads another recent Daily Office selection, that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice, and be glad in it!

And I rejoice in the noisy room, the coffee, the crisp mountain view and the family that awaits on this God-made day, sweet and new and waiting for me.

How The Storm Tried To Steal Christmas

I’ve been trying to get around to writing about our candlelit Christmas for a bit now. Oddly, it’s not easy to set aside time for writing (or even thinking, sometimes), with a wriggly six-week-old as a loud and pleasant constant companion. I’m tempted to write in metaphor, some bit about light and darkness that would be profound and not so unflattering to me, but there’s a nagging conviction that I should be more honest about my experience. Anyway, my father’s already written that post here. Read his, read mine, and a belated Merry Christmas to all!

Christmas morning eggs, prepared on the back porch. Photo: Richard Dahlstrom

Christmas morning eggs, prepared on the back porch.
Photo: Richard Dahlstrom

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.

from “How The Grinch Stole Christmas”, by Dr. Seuss

Christmas Day, 1:15 AM. Luci and I are startled awake in Grandma’s living room, where we’ve been sleeping in front of the gas fireplace because it’s warmer than our bedroom. The house, so quiet for three days without electricity, is suddenly alive with noises. The refrigerator hums complacently, white lights wink at us from the Christmas tree, and the washing machine, halted in the middle of a spin cycle, roars to life.

“It’s a Christmas miracle!” I exclaim aloud, since we weren’t predicted to have power again for almost 48 hours. Upstairs, I hear my parents plugging in phones and removing “The Muppet Christmas Carol” from where it was trapped in the DVD player, while Timmy turns the heater back on in our frigid, snowbound bedroom. Ten minutes later everything blinks off again. Oh, never mind.

The falsely restored electricity is just the most recent in a long string of challenges this week. Yes, the power shut off on Monday night (it’s now Friday morning), plunging our rural street into darkness from 4:00 PM to 8:00 AM each day. But we’d already received four feet of snow in as many days at that point, and we’d get three feet more by the time Christmas arrived. This means that the freeway, the main artery between the eastern and western halves of our state, has been intermittently closed, including all day Christmas Eve. So no Christmas shopping, no candlelight service in Seattle. I’m surprised to realized that these things matter to me at all, but they do. I’m sure I’m not alone in remarking that Christmas, meant to be a time of joyously celebrating our Savior’s birth, has taken on layers of extra expectations over the years, and mine have been thwarted this week.

Indeed, I’m a little disturbed by the extent to which the lack of electricity bothers me. Friends guess that this must be difficult with a newborn baby. Not really. Luci goes to sleep when it gets dark, and her most pressing problem is that the ceiling fan, which she loves, is no longer spinning. No, I want to say, this is difficult for me! I can’t bake cookies or cinnamon rolls! I can’t listen to Christmas music! Even the Christmas tree isn’t on! I modify Amy’s lament from Little Women for myself: Christmas isn’t Christmas without electricity.

All of this, of course, is somewhat petty nonsense. I’m reminded of one childhood Christmas, when my siblings and visiting cousins all received giant plush toys–bears and tigers and alligators–while I received a porcelain music box. My grandmother apparently believed that I, at the age of eight or nine, was enough of a grown-up young lady to enjoy something strictly ornamental. No such luck. I was petulant, dissatisfied in a way that still embarrasses me slightly. Unable to appreciate the gift I’d been given, I stomped my feet and wished for what everyone else had, a stuffed animal of my own to play with.

The irony is that Advent itself is a time of expectation, but I’ve taken to expecting the wrong things. Each year we set aside this season to dwell in joyous waiting for Christ’s birth, remembering the beauty of hope fulfilled in Him. This expectation–unlike my constant refreshing of the power company’s estimated power restoration time–doesn’t disappoint. Thank God, quite literally, for a better reason to celebrate than special food, special music, a special tree.

Luci and I, enjoying her first Christmas morning. Photo: Richard Dahlstrom

Luci and I, enjoying her first Christmas morning.
Photo: Richard Dahlstrom

Christmas morning, in the blue-glowing light of day, is a different gift this year, but a gift all the same, which chastens my complaining with its uncomplicated magnificence. Dad makes sausage and eggs on the camp stove on the back porch, while my mother builds a fire. Timmy, Luci and I snuggle under blankets on the couch and look not at the dark tree, but out to the gloriously snowy new world that our street has become. Holly and her fiance, Chris, drive up around lunchtime, and we share a day of laughter and rest. Holly plays her new ukulele and we sing Christmas carols.

Later we gather around the table, eating barbecued chicken thawed from the freezer, and to talk and feast in the candlelight. It is quiet and lovely, rich in the gifts of family and rest. It is Christmas, not stolen by a storm and several dozen snapped power lines. We are rich in love, warm and safe, and infinitely thankful this Christmas Day for the gifts we enjoy, and the God who gave us all of this and the ultimate gift of His son, born for us.

Candlelit Christmas dinner. Photo: Richard Dahlstrom

Candlelit Christmas dinner.
Photo: Richard Dahlstrom