We Keep Living

Look back and you’ll notice it.

My posts, the pictures and words that I share with you, are less frequent now.

What was every day, maybe a skipped day once a week, is now every other day, maybe even longer.

I’m blogging less this year.

Part of this was intentional. January 1st, 2nd, I thought about choices and priorities and doing things and doing things well, and I decided to write for you less.

Less, but well.

This space has always been an outlet, an opportunity, for me to share what I’m thinking about, learning, living.

I’ve spent many, many late nights sitting on my bed, at my desk, on the flattened carpet in the hallway, writing.

I’ve told you about friends,

and about classes.

I’ve written about work,

and recounted story after story of my beloved family.

I’ve told you about fear and faithfulness and grace and my own inability, insufficiency.

That’s not going to change; I’m still experiencing and thinking and learning and writing, and you’ll still see that here, find me here.

But I’m also living.

I’m living the heaviest class load I’ve ever had, and the classes and the reading and the homework and the papers are written there, boxes on a full calendar, waiting for a check mark, waiting for completion.

But I’m also living friendships with hearts inside this school, and outside of it as well.

I’m living high school youth group time and relationships and Snapchats on Friday morning because they have a free period and I’m just reading.

I’m living family visits on the weekend, texting the Mother the days in between, little sister stories and inside jokes and the Father texting late when her phone’s left unattended.

I’m living work and little swimmer conversations and Jo-baby just turned 7, she wrapped her little arms around my waist last night, told me I was her favoritest coach.

And there’s a million other things I’m living; just like the life and the moving and the story that you’re living, that we’re all living.

And I’ll keep writing and I’ll keep telling, because I love this time and I love this space, and these lessons I want to remember and these moments I want to record.

But sometimes, the living will outweigh the writing and days will pass, and there will be no stories in that time, no new words on this space, then.

And when that happens, you and I, we’ll both keep moving and keep living, because there’s so many things to do, but there’s also a God who is so sovereign and who gives so much joy,

and for that, we just keep living.

~Natalia

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Setting Up

You might know, if you’ve been around, if you’ve followed these words for long, that I go to Michigan ever summer. For WOW Camp. One week, high schoolers, jr. high students from these Chicago-area towns, working to create a summer camp for more than one hundred children in a small, broken, wonderful town in Northern Michigan.

It’s a busy, challenging, exhausting, exciting, amazing week every summer, and recently, we began planning WOW Camp 2014. There are planing emails in my inbox and messages on Facebook and conversations on the couch in the living room. I have a notebook labeled WOW Camp 14, and we’re talking games and themes and music and food and housing and recruiting students and designing applications.

We’re preparing.

And as we plan and communicate and make lists and organize, I remembered a night last summer, almost exactly in the middle of our week on that WOW Camp farm.

Chapel night, David’s worked to organize worship, prayer, set-up in the past, and it’s the two of us who step between the orchard and the tall line of pines, down to the little chapel, on that Tuesday afternoon.

It’s one room, wood on the inside, outside. The floor is rough-hewn, and the wooden pews scrape across it as we work together to move them, arrange them, create a sanctuary. It’s been a beautiful day, and the air in the chapel still holds the earlier heat of the sun, and we’re warm when we finally finish.

We’ve created a square of bare floor, there in the front of the little chapel, under the window. Through the window, the valley rolls downward, long green grass sloping down, threading between creek, trees, a grassy track worn down by golf cart wheels. There’s a cross in the window, and its beams cast a shadow across the floor, David’s face as he sits, pulls his guitar into his lap.

There are no lights in the chapel, but long candles hang at intervals around the little room, and Sunday afternoon college leader shopping trip, we bought boxes of tea candles from the dollar store.

The pews in order, the sun beginning its late-afternoon sink into evening, David and I disperse the miniature candles. Line them along the aisle that stretches along the chapel, from screen door to cross. In the open space in the front, we spell the word LORD, swapped and scooting candles until the “L” is straight, the “O” isn’t too small.

Then, things are ready, for a little while.

Later, after dinner, as the purple of remaining sunset disappears, bringing grey, darkening sky over the farm, David and I return to the chapel. My fingers are not strong enough, adept enough, to use the lighter from the dollar store, so he uses that, kneeling over the LORD candles, the chapel slowly coming to life in the flickering orange light.

I use matches, crouching over the candles that shape the aisle. Slowly, they sputter to warmth, and I can feel the heat in my fingertips, my face as I lean there, work.

And all the while, David and I talk. It’s been eight years since we both participated in WOW Camp for the first time, and longer than that since we fought over Star Wars facts, played dodgeball in the church gym. As students, other leaders, gather quietly outside, ready to worship, pray, share, we laugh quietly over memories, stories both infamous and fondly recounted.

And the chapel glows red, orange, in the changing candle light, and it’s warm inside still, beginning to chill outside. And it’s quiet and still, softly conversational, as we set up, prepare. And enjoy the peace.

~Natalia

Life Right Now {#53}

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She crawled

slushed

marched

skipped

jumped

ran

slid

all the way home

through the snow.

~Natalia

That Will Be Good

It’s a long story, of course, because all things are, but here’s the short of it: I don’t have a roommate. Two beds, two dressers, two sides of a double dorm room, and there’s one me in this square room.

Nelle says, you’ve grown so much. And I know I have. This time last year you’d be asking to sleep in other rooms if your roommate was gone for a night. Not anymore… she says. I felt silly, sitting there in the dining room as she said it, but it’s true; sleeping alone, in a room all my own, is both foreign and uncomfortable to me.

The Jen, who remains in Texas and yet who I begged to move back when it was discovered that I would have no roommate, commented on the irony of my situation. Me of all people, me who for so long lived in fear of alone, terror of nights by myself, me living in a room alone, all semester long.

God is ironic like that. But He’s also wise.

We had a conversation, God and I, just a few nights ago. In a duel effort to avoid excessive amounts of time in my solitary room while at the same time revitalizing study habits that went sadly slack last semester, I packed my bookbag and ventured to the coffee shop here on campus. But I don’t do coffee and maybe I’m not cool enough to study inside that windowed second-floor cafe; I walked around the perimeter, then settled in a chair in the hallway outside the cafe. As close as I could be without actually braving it, stepping inside.

I’ll work myself up to that.

I was supposed to be working on a bibliography, and I did, some. But I opened another Word document, began typing away, and found my heart engaged, conversing, with One much bigger and wiser, more all-knowing than myself.

Living alone is weird, I began.

Why is it weird?

It’s making me lonely, for one.

Why are you lonely?

Well, I feel like everyone is with someone and everyone has someone to converse with, except me. I guess I just don’t want people to look at me and assume that I am alone, or that I’m some kind of outsider.

So, it’s a pride thing?

Maybe it is.

So this is a growing time, huh?

I’d like to think that all times are growing times, really.

That’s a Sunday School answer and you know it. Are you telling me that you grew last semester?

Well… No. You’re right. I didn’t, really. Is that why you’ve planned things this way, then? So that I can grow?

Well, this is all for my glory, you know that- but your growth does bring me glory.

Alright.

Are you still lonely?

Well, yes, I am.

But do you trust me?

That’s something that I did learn last semester- that you are true to your promises; you never break your word.

So you trust me?

Yes, I do.

That is all then, child.

Is it, though? I take you at your word, which I truly do, and then I leave it there? I just trust you? What about being lonely and thinking about my future and where I’ll student teach and if I’ll pass this research writing class?

You make things harder than they really are. You complicate things.

Yes, I’m sure I do.

And the most basic, the most straightforward, that to which I have called you, is to trust me. Do you know why that is?

Yes, I do now. It’s because you take the burden. Trusting you is the answer because in doing so, I don’t have to worry about anything anymore. You’ve taken the burden from me. All I do is trust you.

And that will be good.

~Natalia

Took It All Down

Written in Spring 2013

We play this game, Mia and I. The swing set is in the corner of this pristine backyard, close to the flat wooden fence that’s covered in vines. The vines are the neighbor’s, I suppose. They’ve grown up and over and are leaking down over these flat wooden boards, and we’ve taken them captive now. We swing and the old play set creaks and groans because we’ve long outgrown slide and sandbox and our feet hit the wood chips when we try the monkey bars. We’re too big. But we swing and we play this game.

The rules are simple, really. One leaf, one little slip on this vine of green, is marked with the Sharpie Mia’s borrowed from the kitchen drawer. You’ve got three tries, three attempts, to grab the marked leaf. Three swings on this old swing set. That’s the premise. That’s the game. We added more rules as we grew older. Now there are points and scores and stipulations we’ve incorporated into this backyard swing set game. And the dog across the fence barks because he can hear us yelling and laughing, and our feet swing high over the fence with every leaf-grabbing attempt, and the other cousins, the other kids, they’re somewhere else. They’re too old for the swing set. We’re all too old for the swing set.

But the swing set is gone now. Just a year ago they took it all apart like they put it all together when Mia wore my hand me down dress, bare preschool feet on hot backyard patio. They took it all down and gave it to someone else, someone not too old for a backyard swing set. And years before, when Mia was an angel-eyed toddler that I tried so hard to hold in my child arms, our great grandmother passed away. And we went to the little house, the little house that suddenly felt too big. We all went, and my mother and my grandparents worked, while I played alone in the back room.

They gave me a box of old cards. A shoe box of greeting cards that my great-grandmother had received. They saved the best ones, the near and the dear ones. And the other cards, well, they gave them to me. Eight years old, I sat on the sharp green carpet in that screened-in patio and I played with those cards. Cut them, colored them, organized them, created with them. And out in the living room, the bedroom, the kitchen, the mother and the grandparents, they took it all down. They packed and cleaned and boxed, and they took that little house right apart.

~Natalia

Back Then When: It Snowed

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January 2009.

~Natalia

Diamonds

No school for a third day; Monday feels like Saturday.

A double room, yet only one occupant, my mornings are as quiet as I make them.

Sometimes, it’s Spotify and The General is on repeat and I have a Luke Bryan station on Pandora.

Sometimes, like this morning, it’s quiet in the hall and quiet in the room, and I sit in bed, pull books, notebooks, pens onto my lap; study there.

Later, it’s brunch in the dining room and one line is eggs, sausage, the other pork nuggets.

Such an odd meal, I think, but good, too, and I can’t resist, every time.

Even at the table, as I dip my meat in sweet and sour sauce, we are few;
six in the conversation, three on either side of the long table.

Around the room, in that cozy underground dining room, other tables have other conversations, over eggs and pork nuggets.

It’s a quiet morning on this Monday.

Later, after hours of reading, silent, alone but not lonely, I pull boots on, shrug sweatshirt shoulders into my coat, ride the elevator downstairs.

Crossing the street, I look up, to the east.

Michigan Avenue, the Hancock, and on the other side of the highrises, the towers, the spires, I know there’s a lake.

It’s grey and damp outside and there is no sun glinting off the buildings that surround me.

I think as I cross the street that the grey sky and the buildings, the dirty snow, frozen crusty and black: it’s all so real life.

Nothing is painted over, glossed to shine.

The unfortunate and the ugly and the dreary are right in plain view, to be seen, unashamed.

There’s no deception in this scene, and I find that oddly comforting.

Later, after more reading, Mar and I ride the elevator back into the basement, step into the dining room once again.

This time, now, it’s humming with voices, the clank of silverware, plates, dishes being washed in the back.

We’re had most of the day to be quiet, to enjoy, to study and play and sleep and rest and explore and go, and now the dining room is full, busy.

And Di arrives and we stand in line- a rare occurrence- for chicken patties. I spoon Di a bowl of chicken noodle soup because her hands are full.

Our table is busier now, too. More voices, more noise, more stories, more dishes, and we stay there a little while, talking and eating and refilling water cups; prolonging our stay.

Later still, it’s 9pm and the sun has long since set. The grey of the day has descended lower, bits of white sky falling silent across the city.

It’s snowing.

I’m alone in the Plaza, for a moment.

I’ve heard of lying on the ground, watching the snow come down, and it’s too wet, puddled, on the concrete, but I stand there amongst the school buildings, my face towards the sky.

The flakes are small, tiny white specks falling out of a black night, and I’m caught, transfixed, watching them fall, landing on my face, in my eyes, all around me.

Meet with people in the Arch, we walk north, to another’s apartment, and the snow is collecting in little drifts along the sidewalk.

This morning, the world was stark, grey, pokey in its reality; unveiled.

Now, tonight, what was rough, dark, ugly, has been covered in a layer of dazzling white.

It softens, eases, makes the world gentle.

Later, walking home, there are snow angels and cold fingers and we walk through a haphazard snowball fight in the Plaza.

And it’s warm and quiet inside, upstairs, in my room once more. And I stand in the window, watch the sky continue to fall, soft white covering everything.

And days ago, someone took a picture of the snow, said diamonds, and standing there in the window, the night is quiet, and I watch the city fill with diamonds.

~Natalia

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