Home Is Where We Start From

The view from Rodborough Fort

Three days into spring break, I find myself on a windy hilltop, alone and reading poetry. At my back is the high outer wall of Rodborough Fort, a well-kept castle of indeterminate history or function, not open to the public but apparently available to lease. I text Timmy a picture of the castle and the “To Let” sign: “Let’s move here instead of Issaquah.” I mean, Issaquah is great, but this is a castle. Worth a shot.

The Cotswolds region of Southwestern England billows out below me, a vista of beige commons, lacy wood and stern hedgerow. I’ve come to Britain this week with five colleagues–the rest of the high school English Department at Black Forest Academy–for a long-expected journey to the birthplace of our mutually favorite language. We’ve come for various reasons, seeking rest and recreation, time to read and places to explore. Mostly, our trip was precipitated by two circumstances:

  1. This year was the first in ages that BFA has had the same six English teachers two years running.
  2. Four of us won’t be returning to teach here in the fall.

So this is bittersweet, a shared adventure at the breaking of a good fellowship. Today, my colleagues are out on a literary pilgrimage to Tintern Abbey, a ruined cathedral in Wales, subject of William Wordsworth’s eponymous poem. Having slept poorly last night and still battling a cold, I opt to stay behind.

Though often given just the title of the abbey itself, Wordsworth’s poem is called “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour. July 13, 1798.” The poet writes of returning to this panorama, a hill overlooking the green expanse of Wales, with his younger sister. He reflects on seeing this same view as a younger man, of a time when Nature “to me was all in all… an appetite; a feeling and a love / That had no need of a remoter charm.” This place, he reflects, used to be everything; his comfort, his joy, his ecstasy, his purpose.

Though I’m missing the abbey itself today, my afternoon echoes the poem. I’ve brought T.S. Eliot’s Collected Works, and have been reading “East Coker” aloud into the wind. (As one does, of course.) Both the poem and the place carry me away from today, reminding me of other seasons as clearly as a Dickensian ghost. Because I’ve come back to England often–far more often than any other destination–for various reasons and with various people. And this particular poem has been with me, off and on, since I first began this journey overseas, eight years ago.

“Home is where one starts from,” I murmur to no one, reading Eliot’s line to the spread-out valleys, but also to the past selves I meet in this place. To the soon-to-graduate English major, uncertain about the first job she’ll return to in Seattle in just a few months. To the 25-year-old sitting in a cafe in Canterbury, stealing a quiet moment from a field trip with international high school students, wondering if easy solitude, traveling alone and living light, will be her fate forever. To the wife about to become a mother, hiking all over London with an also-pregnant friend, aware that these travels will be done for a while.

“Tintern Abbey,” in the end, is also about time. It’s about growing older, revisiting those places and things that gave us joy in when we were young, and how we see them from the far side of experience. The poet confesses, a few lines later, that

That time is past, 
And all its aching joys are now no more, 
And all its dizzy raptures. Not for this 
Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur; other gifts 
Have followed; for such loss, I would believe, 
Abundant recompense.

Long gone, the poet reflects, are the days when Nature alone was “all in all,” but he doesn’t complain. Since last he visited this hill he’s grown up, taken on new cares and discovered new joys.

While nature, where I meet God’s creativity and beauty most consistently, will always hold roughly the same place in my heart, I realize today that travel is what’s changed for me. These explorations used to thrill me, an end in themselves, making me feel bold and young and alive. I still enjoy them, but like Wordsworth, I find the pleasure changed. I look for different things, and find different joy. And now there are other gifts. I’m thankful for this hill, this familiar place and familiar poem, but soon I’ll walk down the hill. I’ll call home, and talk to my husband and daughter, whom I miss so much after only a few days. In a few days I’ll be home, and that will be even better.

Earlier on this trip, I told a colleague that when I first travelled to England, in 2006, I found it unimaginably foreign. The driving-on-the-other-side-of-the-road, accented English, odd foods for breakfast, and generally mysterious currency were so bizarre, and I’d truly reached the edge of my comfort zone. “Now,” I laugh, as we walk to a grocery store open on Sunday and buy almond butter and Reese’s candy, “This is halfway home.”

Home is still where we start from, but as I look down to my own personal Tintern Abbey, I’m also thankful for the returning, a new gift in this new season.


Jet Lag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


Five years ago, I left the Pacific Northwest. I was alone and excited, seeking adventure and responding to calling on this quest eight thousand miles east. In a few weeks, I’m going back, married and expecting a baby, but with the same sense of calling and adventure as I retrace my steps back to the North Cascades.




This is my letter to the East,

Who always called to me.


Driving south were Mickey Mouse,

In-N-Out and Grandma’s house.

North meant order,

Cool green border,

signs in French and ferry rides.

And West was only water.


But ghostly East,

You lurked beyond

The penciled hills that hid the dawn.

To lands where anything could come,

Your roads rolled infinitely on.


Later you told tales wild,

Of castles fair and colonies,

Battlefields and Bible lands

Were all with you, and always true.

You were real and reeling me

To shores appealing, feeling

I could sail to you,

If only I’d go far enough.

That Narnia and Normandy

Shared some secret, eastern shore.


And now I’ve chased you,

Near and far,

From home to home, by

Plane, train, car,

I’ve read a nation backwards,

Halfway, saved the start

For later days, the older part.

I’ve skipped the seas, and skimmed the globe,

A round stone,

Touching down, covering ground,

In shimmering rings and splashing sound.


Still, wild East, you call to me:

There’s more to walk, to hear, to see.

In two-named towns and creaking trains,

Find onion domes and Mongol plains.

You tempt me with your grey-green steppes,

That climb forever, back in time,

A curious and endless debt,

Of exploration now is mine.


Perhaps—someday—I’ll find you, far,

I’ll recognize your eastern smile.

You’ll tell me that I’ve learned it all,

And let me sit and rest a while.

But now, my East, you’re not a place,

You can’t be found or reached by road.

A mystery that makes me wait,

That pulls me west, and back, and home.

A new adventure, small, not grand,

In a pacific, emerald land,

Where soon I’ll hold a tiny hand.

You draw me back where I’ve begun,

So West is East, your face, my sun.



A Sunset

Sunset in the Dolomites

Dreizinnenhütte in the Dolomites

…But I didn’t want to say
the heart breaks, even though I know
it’s true & the breaking
can be a good thing
sometimes, like the way
my heart shatters
a little each time
I think of my friends
& how lucky in life
I’ve been to get
to know them, to have
had the time to laugh &
drink & dance & to argue
& feel hurt too.

Gina Myers, “For N&K”

We wanted to watch the sunset. At the end of a long day of hiking, which took us from our Austrian hotel up and up, through echoing, stony valleys to this Italian pass at 7300 feet, we were exhausted but committed to the darkening sky.

I’d gone to Austria to hike with my parents, starting their 40-day trek through the Italian, Austrian, German and Swiss Alps. In the midst of a slow summer, I took the train across Austria, and now tottered up the trail behind them with my week’s worth of clothing, while they trotted along gaily, minimalist packs bouncing. We hiked much of the day, stopping for lunch in a sunny, green meadow and arriving at our destination, Dreizinnenhütte, a few hours before a massive three-course dinner. Full of the improbably delicious feast, we wandered outside with cameras and coats into the chilly evening, hoping for a show.

Dolomites 2Dad explored the top of the cliff, finding the best shots of the stony surroundings from every angle as the midsummer shadows lengthened. Mom and I sat down on a rocky ledge, our backs to a cliff and our feet far from the next edge. Across the valley, the Drei Zinnen–three battlements–stood in a stately spotlight, watching over the lodge perched precariously on the pass behind us. We leaned against the sun-warmed stone and watched.

And talked. For an hour or more.The sky changed from blue to yellow to pink, then again to blue, casting deep shadows across the wrinkled mountain faces before plunging them into black silhouettes against the last light. Far above, the first stars began to sparkle as our conversation deepened, like the night sky. To future, past, marriage and family.

Dolomites 3Though it wasn’t even a year ago, I don’t remember everything we talked about, but I remember basking in the luxury of a long conversation, side by side and gazing at a sunset instead of a computer screen. I marveled for the hundredth time at this wise, gracious and courageous woman who raised me, and felt the unspeakable good fortune of being her daughter, being here in the Italian Alps with her, sharing a sunset.

People used to ask me often–and now slightly less often–what it’s like to live “so far from home.” It’s a complicated question, more complicated than they know, because home has become huge, enveloping oceans and continents in its wake, borne all over the world by the people who’ve helped create it. But that night, up in the mountains sharing sunset and stories with my mother, that’s what I miss. The unpressured beauty of time in the same place. It’s rare and precious, not to be wasted or taken for granted when nights like that one come along.

Dolomites 4And even over the telephone or through the grainy windows of FaceTime and Skype, I am the most fortunate daughter. To have a mother who makes time across time zones, who listens and loves, who encourages me in this calling that’s taken me far away, and who has a home where we’ll bring our new baby into the world in November.

If I’ve begun to learn anything in this three-month venture toward parenthood, it’s been that life is unpredictable, and every day is precious. I’m sure that my 26-year-old mother, pregnant with her first child and moving to San Juan Island, never imagined that thirty years later we’d be sitting on a cliff in Italy watching the sunset. But we did, and for that, and for her, I’m endlessly thankful.

Hiking with my parents, summer 2014

Hiking with my parents, summer 2014

Beyond the Hallways

Senior girls go for a spin!

Senior girls go for a spin!

We’re driving away from our last exploration.

Switzerland is damp and cool this April day, unseasonably grey for the spring Senior Day trip to Lucerne. Upon our arrival to this touristic hamlet on the shores of Lake Lucerne, I’d sent them off with a small walking map and instructions that included “walk across the cool wooden bridge” and “See the lion monument that Mark Twain liked so much.”

I may never be a tour guide, but instructions like these are all the Class of 2014 need to have a good time. I know that they will walk across the bridge, take pictures, find the inevitable Starbucks to warm their fingers while they wind their way through cobbled alleyways and past the ornate doors of whispering churches. I know, because we’ve done this many times before. My final instruction, at the bottom of the map, was “Explore, as you’ve done many times, reveling in the uniqueness of your European education.”

The “many times” is what strikes me about today, how at the end of this season with these high school seniors, we can refer back to similar exploration in half a dozen different countries, wandering together through the trenches of Eastern France, the crumbling steps of the Coloseum or the post-Soviet ruins of Romania. Our students don’t know what it means to hop into someone’s car and go to a movie after school. They don’t understand the rules of football (American football, they insist) and they’ve never been to a pep assembly. Instead, they do this, marking seasons in their education by bridges on the rivers Rhine, Danube, Tiber, Thames and Seine.

Today used to be called “Senior Transition Day,” until the word “transition” sent the students into a tailspin of malaise. Now it’s called just Senior Day, but the transition is still there, silent but important. We spent the morning both celebrating the uniqueness of their time here and talking about how to end it gracefully, as they move onward to new chapters, scattering to several continents six weeks from now. There were guest speakers, people who asked about college plans and reminded them that this is a time of change for everyone their age. True enough.

Exploring LucerneAs we ride back through the fluorescent greens of Swiss spring, I think about their plans. It’s a season of planning, of permanently creased eyebrows that squint into the future, trying to weigh the options. College, Bible school, working, getting to know families and countries they left behind long ago. There are many plans, most of them feasible and worthy. So how to choose?

Their plans remind me of my plans at similar crossroads. I planned to go to a high school and a college based mostly on what I could afford. I planned–reluctantly–to become a teacher, imagining I wanted to teach literature to young people. I planned to teach in a school that didn’t thrill me, resigning myself to a job I didn’t expect to love to stay in a city that I did. Later, much later, I planned to come here, again expecting to teach English.

There’s a graphic floating around the Internet these days that makes me smile. It’s a cartoon showing the difference between our plans and God’s. On the left–Our Plan–is a stick man with a bicycle, looking up a steep but linear slope, ready to climb. The right–God’s Plan–shows a still-upward path, this one riddled with deep water hazards and tightrope crossings. God’s plan, it seems to say, is tricky.

I agree, but not in the way the cartoon seems to imply. My own version would show my plan as the door at the end of a long, straight hallway. I’ll go that way, I shrug. That’s why I picked this hallway, so I could go through that door at the end, into another room. God’s plan isn’t in a hallway at all–God opens a side door, revealing untold paths that I’d never have chosen, because I didn’t know they existed at all.

I planned to teach English to students, many the children of missionaries, in Germany. By God’s grace I’m here, but these years have been so much more than I planned. This bus fills with the echoes of prayers, laughter, confessions, and questions that I’ve shared with students here. This teacher has become a wife, a mentor, an advisor, an event planner, a discussion leader, a violist, a coach, a baker, and a friend. Outside the hallway, God’s plan is bigger.

And that’s what I’ll tell these seniors. The planless bite their fingernails, while the decided crash back into their plan like it’s the last choice they’ll ever make. Rest in Christ, I’ll tell them, not the plan. Walk ahead–carrying with you this green place, these busy years, these well-loved friends–trusting Christ and knowing that His real plan, the best plan, lies just out of sight, out of the hallway.

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.




“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.

Open Letter (Of Thanks) To My Flight Home

While my fellow teachers in America sleep in and make food, we spend Thanksgiving in Germany at school, celebrating even on a school day. Some classes have snacks. Mine have a creative writing assignment, a letter of thanks to an object, abstraction or entity that represents what they’re thankful for. This year, I’m thankful to be going home to Seattle for Christmas, for the first time in three years.

28 November 2013

Dear Lufthansa Flight,

We’ve met before. It was by accident, when I was younger but more tired, in June of 2008. I was running away from a difficult year of teaching, a year when I had 190 students for a while, students who often missed, but when they did they lit assignments on fire, wore headphones in class, and called me names when I asked them to take off their hoods. Though I loved my school, and even my students, it was a rough year.

And then there you were, a magically nonstop flight to Frankfurt, 11 hours of European-airline delight. No layover in London or Amsterdam or, heaven forbid, Atlanta or Philadelphia. No long domestic airline, forgetting to feed me and yelling about overhead bins in a language I can understand. It’s a long flight, yes, but by the time I got to Frankfurt that summer day I felt rested, awake, and far from home. Good news, then.

Now I’m not going between Seattle and Germany just for fun, for a summer-vacation fling. This is my life, and you make it better, Lufthansa Flight. I’ve tried many ways of getting home. Multiple layovers in Chicago and London. Stranded for three days in the snow in Basel. A cheap knockoff of this flight, operated by an airline, Condor, that I’d never heard of, and hope to never hear of again. None of them were good, because none of them were you. I live only three hours from Frankfurt, so now you’re not the best link in the chain; you make the way home a one-link chain.

Seattle isn’t a big deal, I admit, even though we pretend to be. Why on earth do we have a direct flight to anywhere in Europe but London or Paris? I don’t know, but I’m not complaining. Because now you’re my ideal, Lufthansa Flight. Three hours on the train is a small price to pay for a direct flight home. At Christmas. To get married! You are the prince of flights. Let’s be friends forever. Or at least while I’m living in Germany.




Terminal 5Starbucks vanilla lattes taste the same, everywhere and always.

With one sip of sweet, hot, vaguely coffee-flavored milk, I could be fourteen and trying coffee for the first time, or twenty and drinking my first latte of my shift at 5:30 AM as the sun rises. It doesn’t matter that ten years have passed, or that I’m eight thousand miles away from the origin of Starbucks coffee. It’s all the same.

This whole experience, actually, smacks of déjà vu. But not the kind where I know that it’s my imagination, but the realization that I have actually sat in this airport and drunk this coffee, sitting by this window and looking out onto a similarly stormy English sky.

Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5 is a strange place, a food court and shopping mall where gates are only revealed a precious 45 minutes before boarding, to the dismay of edgy sojourners eager to get as close as they can to planes that they can’t get on yet. And as I finish my sushi from Pret A Mange and my latte from Starbucks, I realize that three years of living in Germany has added one more thing to the list of  interests I share with Black Forest Academy students. I love airports.

Our students, whether of the missionary, military, diplomatic or other expatriate variety, love airports. Not traveling, always—traveling, for many of them, is a complex, multi-day affair, requiring far more adulthood from them than they actually possess—but airports. In an airport, most of our students feel experienced and comfortable, even experts compared to some traveling novices around them. Others simply enjoy the feeling of being just as out of place as everyone else, for once.

I suppose I share some of this, now. But for me, the real allure of this place lies elsewhere. In airports, I find an endless source of variety and challenge.

Even though air travel still seems like the marriage of magic and cheating, when I can fly from Germany to Seattle in a day I almost believe that the world is small and manageable. The more international terminal of one of the greatest air travel hubs in the world, it also features almost endless supplies of languages. Five continents are represented on the Departures board, which only covers the next few hours. The travelers in Terminal 5 gather only for a moment, to eat and await further direction, before scattering to corners of the world. The world is wide, and I’m humbled to realize that the international experience of which I can be so proud is just a tiny fragment of it. There’s so much more yet to see.

Apart from these endless variations on the human theme, each airport offers a new challenge, a game whose rules are always changing. I flew alone for the first time in February 2002, just a few months after a handful of madmen changed this mode of travel forever. Since then, each flight is different, a chance to look around, wide awake, and discover what’s happening here. This shuttle, I don’t remember it from last time, but it looks right. We’ll see. Is this a shoes on security, or a shoes off security? Why do they stamp my passport some places but not others, and demand to see a visa, in increasingly frustrated French, when neither my origin or destination are Germany?

More than anything, airports remind me that I don’t know it all. I keep making mistakes, keep getting delayed by storms or lost on one-way trains that leave me stranded in wrong terminals. These places are crazy, surreal versions of real life, where the consequence isn’t life-and-death, but another day delayed from going home feels almost as serious. I get the feeling I’ll never be quite comfortable here, but that here on the edge of comfort is where I learn the most. There will always be new twists to this travel business. And for me, that’s more a promise than a threat.

Home is Wherever I’m With You



Brother Tom nodded understandingly. “It’s the memories, the old loyalties; they are so precious,” he said. “Things that meant so much, that stay present in the wood and stone of a place. If you let go of the place and the things that belong to it, you feel afraid that you’ll lose hold of the memory.” The Hardest Thing To Do, Penelope Wilcock

The window of this cafe offers a familiar view. I look out on an intersection, four corners beside a steep city street. I watch from one corner. The remaining three corners feature a vinyl record store, vintage clothing shop, and organic cafe, respectively. The weather is slate-grey and windy, but every so often a pair of pedestrians–dressed in the bold colors and thrift-store chic that is its own urban uniform–forges up or down the hill.

I’m in Brighton, a city on the southern shore of Great Britain, but it looks like Seattle. I close my eyes and hear the barista and servers speaking the French that is native to this patisserie, while the other customers converse in a million shades of British English. But when I open my eyes, I could be on Capitol Hill, having just ducked in from a tempest in another rainy city.

I’m reading Travels With Charley, Steinbeck’s memoir of his camper-and-poodle adventure across America in the 1960s. He recalls a conversation he had with an old friend in Monterey, arriving at his old California home after many years. He finds it different, predictably, irrevocably altered from what he remembered and knew.

“Let’s not fool ourselves,” he writes. “What we knew is dead, and maybe the greatest part of what we were is dead. What’s out there is new and perhaps good, but it’s nothing we know.”

It’s been three years since I decided to leave Seattle. In August, it will be three years in  Kandern, a place that has become a home, rich with community and simple familiarity. I often miss Seattle, but it is relationships that draw me most, seldom the city itself. Yet here in Brighton, a brief stop during spring break, I’m reminded of the one city I truly love, thousands of miles away but always close.

After only two visits in three years, I’ll return to Seattle twice this year: once in the summer, to bask in the best of Pacific Northwest seasons, and again in December, to get married. I hear Steinbeck’s warning: you can’t really go home, not to the home you knew. How tempting to believe that our homes and lives exist just as we left them, like a playroom with the light off, all the toys waiting for us to return and pick them up. But it’s not like that, I know. As I’ve changed in this time, so have the people I know and love in that faraway home.

It’s an experience I share with our students, and one I appreciate more the longer I live here. I see them oscillating between continents, these flexible young people changing languages, relationships and cultural norms half a dozen times a year. For many of them, there is Kandern, the country in which their parents serve, and the North American country of grandparents and supporting churches. If these places have any space in their hearts, being anywhere is a balancing act of longing and appreciating, seeing where they are and missing where they’re not.

Three years is different from a teenage lifetime, but I’m beginning to understand. Sipping coffee in Brighton, I miss the city it reminds me of, six thousand westward miles drawing me to itself. Paradoxically, in this grey and busy city I also find myself longing for the warm green hills of Kandern. Surrounded by strangers, I miss seeing people I know every time I go outside. I’m always missing somewhere.

The challenge, then, becomes living fully where I am. Waking each morning and remembering that God has made this day, that He’s here in this place, and that I live to serve Him. In Brighton, in Seattle, in Kandern. He is still my home, everywhere.