Somewhere I Want to Go

I don’t want to go to Heaven, she says. I just want to stay here.

I wasn’t expecting, hadn’t planned.

But there are fourteen in that class, and we can’t stop there.

Think about the best thing ever. The funnest thing you’ve ever done. I say.

They think.

Heaven is better.

They consider, those little ones sitting there on the rug.

One straightens her back, eyes earnest: Better than Hilton Head?

Yes, better. Way better.

Here’s why: No crying. No sadness. No disappointment.

All those fun things you’ve done? They ended.

You had fun, then it stopped. That was frustrating. Sad. Angry.

Not this, family.

Heaven never ends.

Can we see God? I ask. They shake heads, hesitant, a little.

Nope, I confirm. We can’t.

In Heaven, though? You can.

See Him, talk to Him, hear His voice.

Be with Him all the time.

After you go to Heaven, do you go to Hell then? One asks, concerned.

No, kiddo.

You stay. Heaven is forever.

And the little one on the side; skinny arms, blonde hair.

Earlier so very convinced that Heaven was not the place to be;

she nods her head now, eager, when I ask if Heaven sounds good.

Sounds amazing.

Sounds wonderful.

Sounds like somewhere I want to go.

~Natalia

This is Summer: Season Two {#23}

20130731-225044.jpg

Took two littles out
to the yard and setting sun.
Summer night with chalk.

~Natalia

Manor House Table

It’s the kitchen table that I keep going back to. We don’t even eat in that house anymore, up there on that farm in Michigan. It’s been a couple of years since we were too many for the dining room that used to feel so big. Now we eat in the school-house. Every morning before WOW Camp. Evenings, dinner; lining up almost to the thin screen door, clutching not-yet-filled paper plates to our chests.

We don’t eat at the Manor House, except dessert, sometimes. But there in that low-ceiling kitchen, next to the stairs, outside the bathrooms, we sit at the table. For one week in June, we practically live at that kitchen table.

After WOW Camp, campers are home, and the students, those high school, junior high youth, they work so very hard during the day. And then it’s 3:30, life doesn’t rest when you’re 16, they play hard, too. And we sit there at the kitchen table, between front door- by the living room, behind the stairs- and back door- across the dining room- and the sounds of life slam in and out all afternoon, into the evening.

Sometimes, it’s just a few- three, four, around that kitchen table. It’s a long table, heavy. I tried to move it, once. Alone in the Manor House, I walked bare feet through that dusty kitchen and the table seemed off, moved. So I pulled the benches out- two of them, one long slab of wood on either side- and I moved that table. Slowly, lopsided. Ten inches, back four, aligned it under the window, then left it there, a little off-center.

Good enough.

But that heavy table is big, and there’s room for many on those benches so hard, yet so very comfortable. Early in the week, we’re six at the table, with twenty more slipping, stomping, slamming happily, energetically in and out, through the kitchen. Two at the table, across from me, are making guacamole. College leaders like myself, they purchased avocados on Sunday after church, when this WOW Camp team invaded Glen’s and the line stretched around the cracker aisle. Now the green plants are ripe, soft, and one- the one who bought the ingredients- sits focused, intent. Chopping, spicing, sampling, adding. He’s making guacamole. The other, taller, straddles the bench, watching. There’s a bag of chips- Hint of Lime- and I’m hungry, trying desperately to sneak a chip. They snatch the bag, tell me to wait until the guac is ready. One brandishes his paring knife, grinning. The other clutches the bag of chips behind him. Both laugh. I join them.

Beside me, across the table, three young girls, the same fifteens I’ve written to so recently, sit swinging their legs under the sturdy table. They’ve commandeered my phone, somehow, and I turn, watch them take pictures, giggling as the images appear in thumbnail size on the screen. They laugh, rocking back on the bench, as they pass the phone between them. Leaving the chips, I lean towards them, glance over a shoulder at the pictures. Then, suddenly, I’m making a face next to their precious heads, and we’re all laughing and those pictures? They’re still on my phone.

The day, the hour, the people; it all changes. A little, a lot. But the table stays the same. Twelve strong, we slide side by side, some lean in, standing behind. Others scoot in, barely squeezing onto the unmoving bench. And there are seven conversations going on all at once. And the voices call out, easily floating out the screen window, across the yard. And the table is a collection of water glasses, cards being written, cards read, a first aid box, the remnants of a bag of Hint of Lime chips. And everything at that Manor House table just feels so right.

~Natalia

This is Summer: Season Two {#22}

20130729-234113.jpg

She said she’s make the
biggest rainbow in the world;
this has to be it!

~Natalia

Dear 15,

I told someone, recently, that I hated being fifteen. I was thinking, when I said it, about all the bad things that come with every high school sophomore. Like the middle of puberty and what’s up with boys and too young for college, for the real world, but there must be more to life than this homework, these classes, that sport.

15, I remembered, was two new sisters. Biology and then chemistry AP classes with a small group of co-op students. 15 was the winter my boots with clunky, stained, despised. The year I chose to wear three sweatshirts and a down vest everywhere, spurning my mother’s persistent offer of an actual winter coat. 15 was too young for the adult life I dreamed of, too old for the safety and blissful ignorance of the childhood I longed for, but dared not admit to missing.

Sometimes, like that weekend conversation, it’s easy to remember 15 hard.

But you’re fifteen, lovelies. All three of you. And you girls, you’re amazing.

You’re funny. You make me laugh, eyes scrunched, mouth open, holding my sides. I underestimate you, in many ways. I’m sorry for that. But when you quote a movie, a Youtube clip, toss a you-original joke into casual conversation, sometimes, it surprises me, and it makes me smile. Laugh.

You’re dedicated. You do so much. Of course, it’s easy to say now: Vacation Bible School starts tomorrow and everyone around here it seems- all of us- are deep involved in preparing, setting up, getting things just right. Of course you’re working. But it’s not just now and it’s not just this. You do well in school, I know. You play sports. You dance. You work. Play. Practice.

You make me proud, my girls.

You’re wise. Do many people tell you that? Of course, no one’s perfect. I’ve done many things that can only be described as foolish; you’ve witnessed some of them. But you girls, you think. You consider. You choose. I know you do. I know you do in the moment that you have a choice, make a quick decision, and it’s only later that I look back and realize that you made the right one; a good one. You’re wise-thoughtful, too. I can hear it in your questions. The things that you think about, slipping out in queries.

What is this?

Did you do this?

Why not that?

You’ve got wisdom, loves.

And this afternoon, after all that work that I watched you do so well, bent, four heads low around the classroom table. Before youth group, the three of you- the trio- wandered, chattering, into the sanctuary. Decorated, prepared for Vacation Bible School tomorrow. Stomachs full of frozen yogurt, chocolate, you collapsed onto the blue stage, three girls like stars on the pale carpet. I was there with you, listening, watching, being with you.

And you tease each other the way you will probably forever. And you laughed about things you’ve just learned, things you’ve known for years. And I laid there on the stage next to you three, and I looked up at the church ceiling high above, and I thought that really, 15 must not be quite so bad.

Because you’re doing it so well.

~Natalia

Picture it All

There are pictures, of course; seven of them appeared on Facebook this morning. The faces, they’re there. Some of them, at least. Your back, hair pinned aside, a doctor next to me. You face a child, across the table- a child-sized desk, really. Dark skin, round cheeks, eyes rich and deep, pupil blending imperceptibly to iris.

The pictures help remember, of course. That’s why we take them. But sometimes there’s not a camera, and what you see is what you get, hold onto that memory tight now.

Then it’s Friday morning again, up early- too- and there’s no camera to click, click the scenery along that Guatemalan highway. Then airport, check in, customs, security; suddenly, you’re sitting on the plane and those pictures in your mind, you hope they’ll stay there. Hope they’ll not fade.

Then, Saturday night- could it only have been a day later- you’re sitting in a church office- conference room, really- and there are three students there, too. High school, fifteen, you remember that time; the pictures in your mind of high school freshman, sophomore, all blend to one, blur, and you wonder if that’ll happen to the images you hold now. The images of Central American mountains, stories, and all those many, many faces.

And Vacation Bible School starts on Monday, and the to-do list felt heavy, uncomfortable, demanding, this morning. But just like that Guatemalan school, leaning across the desk from child after Jesus-precious child, there’s something in those three teens, too. There in the Chicago suburb church conference room. And it doesn’t seem so very big, overwhelming, anymore.

And you sit there and watch them laugh, all lined up there on the carpet, in front of the mini fridge, and you click that picture, file it away in your mind, your heart. Alongside those dark-eyed ones from that southern country and a midnight flight over Chicago’s glowing yellow- was that only last night?- and twenty-one years of other mind pictures.

Don’t forget, you tell yourself. Hold onto that. You nod towards the memory where it sits, fresh. Keep that still, close. Cherish it.

Maybe you should work harder to store those Guatemala memories. It was an amazing trip, wasn’t it? Yes, it was. Truly. And those pictures in your mind, you’ll hold them. Save them. Write about them, some. Like the stories He Himself is writing, the stories in those pictures will wind themselves out, around, in the days, weeks, months, to come. Stories and pictures, memories; they don’t sleep.

But right now, this moment, has pictures, too. Stories. And somehow, an evening meeting, sitting in that tipped-back plastic chair, watching those girls talk, laugh, prepare with you for Vacation Bible School, that’s a picture, too. One you want to remember. So you do.

Because sometimes life is big bites, memories, experiences, moments so many it seems like you might not be able to capture them all, hold them all. And sometimes, life is slow, swinging, slip of peace in a quiet church building on a Saturday night.

So you picture it all. Remember it all.

~Natalia

They Danced

20130724-220424.jpg

And tonight, those little boys whose papa left, whose family turned their backs, whose mother worked alone? They ate cake, they laughed, and when the band played, and the lights dimmed, they danced.

~Natalia

Previous Older Entries