Outside Chapel

The weather app says 7 degree when I wake up. Windchill -15. But it’s 7:17am, Thursday morning almost March, and outside, the city skyline I’ve come to call my own shines with the brilliant white light of a strong sun in frigid temperatures.

There are tunnels at this school, tracing the outline of the Plaza; underground tiled, concrete pathways connecting dorms, dining room, offices, classrooms. 8:30am class, we’re done at 9:50, trickling out of the fourth floor room, slowly joining the stream of students making their way to chapel.

Bookbags on shoulders, IDs on lanyards swinging around necks, in our hands, three of us wish professor goodbye, step down the stairs together. But they’re braving the cold; we part ways at the ground floor. I pull open the door that leads down further, into the tunnels, as they push through the front door, the icy wind blasting past them, fighting to get inside even as they fight to get out.

I step down the stairs, leaving the cold air behind me, slowly swallowed by the heat of the building, the tunnels. Downstairs, it’s a left, right, left, to the stairs that take me back up, to the chapel, and in these moments before 10am, movement on campus is synchronized. Passing the long windows that line that cozy, chaotic, underground dining room, the hallways around me begin to echo with the sounds of shoes on tile, voices bouncing off white-painted walls.

Turning the last corner, the stairwell up is narrow and steep, and I wait a moment, hold the door for the pair behind me. We step up, single file, legs reaching two steps long sometimes, gripping the cold metal banister. Pushing through the door at the top of the stairs, a guy in front of me suddenly stops, his keys, clipped to his bookbag, have snagged on the doorknob, yanking him back, and temporarily halting our line. He bends, works to unhook himself. Behind him, around him, students step through the door, meld seamlessly into the flow of people moving down the wide wall, into the chapel.

I step around him just as he frees himself from the door, and we’re all moving forward, one body, many, many parts, towards the yellow wooden doors that lead into the chapel. But they’re small doors- inconvenient, maybe- and our progress stutters to a halt under the sign that read Torrey-Gray Auditorium. We’re almost there, yet not quite in.

I’m standing, waiting, thinking about everything and yet nothing of consequence, when I feel a tugging on my bookbag, then hear a zipper. It flashes through my mind that someone is opening my bookbag, but there’s nothing to steal, other than a notebook, a highlighter I got for free and four pens, and besides: this is Moody. Rather, I realize that my bookbag was probably not completely zipped, and that someone in this standing throng of the people I live and study with has zipped it for me.

Thank you, I say to no one in particular, smiling at the space in front of me. After a moment, though, I’m curious, and to keep my back turned feels rude, in a way. But turning, the face behind me is blank, eyebrows slightly raised at my sudden movement. I’m about to turn back around, take another slow step towards that narrow chapel door, when there movement to my right and I know who’s zipped my bookbag. Smile, shake hands, names exchanged, a pause. Then, as suddenly as we stopped, the hallway begins to move, almost as one, and I’m through the door, taking the balcony steps two at a time, on my way to those red flip-down seats.

But not before Thank You again, and Have a good day, Nice to meet you. Because this place has taught me many things- doctrine and theology and teaching methods and how to write a paper and how to read with music going while sending an email and holding a conversation. But it has also taught me about kindness and gentleness and having a smile in your eyes and a laugh more ready than an argument, and zipping someone’s bookbag in the crowded, busy moment outside chapel.

~Natalia

Logistically Speaking

Logistically speaking, it was a late night in Mancelona, August days just before I went back to school. Freshman year behind me, I was days away from a new school year, days away from Sophomore, and 12am around that Northern Michigan dining table, I said “education.” Majoring in Children’s Ministry, there was something vague, something missing, and I’d formulated a plan, a way to fill the missing pieces I knew I’d been called to, and knew I needed to find.

So I told the Mother and Favorite Alice, sitting there sipping their hot drinks, relaxed against the tall chair backs, that I was thinking about getting a master’s degree in education, after I’d finished my undergrad. I was opposite the table from them, thin red word puzzle book on the table in front of me, and I glanced down, unsure what to say, what to think, as they listened to my life plan, newly hatched.

Dark hair, bright eyes alike, they listened, nodded, and maybe there was a glance exchanged, while I was not looking, and then someone- maybe the Mother, maybe Alice- said study education now.

Logistically speaking, I was sitting outside the Education department office a week later, on the second day of school.

Logistically speaking, I was an Elementary Education major before Thanksgiving. Interviewed by the program director, legs crossed in the arm-chair of her office, working hard to articulate the passion I’d felt, yet struggled to define, for years. A capped major with a limit for every school year, El. Ed students apply to the major their sophomore year; share their conviction, calling, plans, strengths, weaknesses. The Roommate slept, mere feet away, and I sat at my hard desk chair until 2am, typing those answers, my excitement building with each lengthening paragraph.

Logistically speaking, we had Classroom Methods and Management in the corner classroom last spring. The big one with windows along two walls; wide, tall, long windows that showed snow in the early months, budding green trees as the weeks ticked towards spring, summer. Logistically speaking, I shocked myself there in that class, sitting under the same adviser in whose office I had shifted nervously the semester prior.

This is unreal, I used to think. I’m going to be a teacher? I’d wonder to myself, marveling at my own audacity, to think I could accomplish such a daunting feat as become a teacher. And I wrote practice lesson plans and gave presentations and read books that might have been a little dry and books that made my heart pound with exhilaration to get into a classroom someday. And I began to learn how to teach.

Logistically speaking, there are two practical classroom requirements. One during junior year, the other, senior year. Junior year is the two weeks that form Moody’s spring break. Two weeks in an elementary school classroom of our choosing. Two weeks of observing and teaching and interacting and practicing and learning. Senior year is an entire semester- January to May- student teaching, once again in a classroom, at a school that we’ve chosen; where we’ve been lead.

Logistically speaking, the Mother found, months ago, a small school in California, barely a mile from the home I grew up visiting, the home where my grandparents still live. Logistically speaking, Fall Break 2013 in California, emails passed between adviser, principal, myself, and last October, I spent a day in that little school. Observing, meeting, touring, watching, learning. Christian school with a passion for the LORD and for children and for God-honoring education, with a faculty that feels like family.

Logistically speaking, March 10- and all the way to March 22- I’ll be at that school again. Second grade classroom, again watching, observing, teaching, growing. Here at Moody, I’m a junior with only one semester left after this one. Four education classes right now, I live and breathe teaching methods, reading fluency lectures, phonics instruction, and social studies planning. I’m learning how to teach mini lessons and build and implement a classroom management plan, and how everything can and should be differentiated and the value of reading and the even greater value of a student who is an image-bearer of Christ; which is to say, every student.

Logistically speaking, I pulled a notebook out during class today. One of my little book. Opened to a page and wrote that feeling again; the feeling of shock, and of something else. Me? A teacher? Will that happen for real? I paused, for a second, trying to identify the feeling. Then, pen to paper: Doubt.

Doubt? I wrote, Doubt of what? Of what I am called to do? Of God’s design in bringing me here? God’s wisdom in doing so? God’s power to accomplish His goals? God’s faithfulness? His strength? His sovereignty?

No, wrote, I might doubt my own ability- rightly so- but it’s not Him I doubt, not at all. Logistically speaking, He’s completely in control. And I’m so grateful and rather nervous and very, very excited.

~Natalia

Ocean Watching

We drive in three cars, west, towards the ocean, then south, along the ocean. The white SUV leads the way. There’s a sticker on the back windshield, bottom left corner. Three happy stick figures, outlined in white against the black glass. Boy, girl, boy; their family. But we’re three cars driving now, and we traded a girl from theirs for a boy from ours, and there are three boys- cousins, brothers- in that SUV.

Minivan in the middle, we’re grandparents and parents, aunt and daughter, nieces, cousins. That SUV is all boys, one aunt. We’re all girls, one grandpa; Papa, we call him. Behind, third, last place, there’s another SUV, but a smaller one. Matching girls in coordinating pink booster seats, parents in front seat, passenger seat. We’re all going the same place, but third place, caboose, drives last and arrives last, sees last.

See the rolling hills on either side of the road, the blue above, streaked with soft, thin white clouds. See the ocean, later, as it slowly stretches into view. See the beautiful and the bright.

But they don’t see the turkey.

It’s two lanes, two way, and the sun is bright, yellow-white on the fields and trees that line the highway. Middle car, middle row, we’re leaning forward in our seats, Grandma in the front leaning back, meeting in the middle to chat. I’m leaning, my eyes unfocused, half-watching the grey road that stretches far in front of us. But then there’s a flash of movement, the white SUV swerves suddenly, slightly, and now we’re all watching the road. There’s a turkey there, in the space between us and them. Half flying, half running, we’re yards away and moving fast. Papa slows, swerves, the turkey flaps, hangs in the air in front of us. We lean forward, hearts pounding with adrenaline. I brace myself, hands gripping the side of my seat, waiting for the impact of plump bird on minivan.

We miss the bird. Barely.

Gasping, laughing too fast, too exuberant, the way you do after something was nearly very bad, we shriek, exclaim over our almost- bird collision. We pull out phones from where they had been temporarily forgotten on laps, in pockets, and we text. In front, the white SUV, the guys, they’re relief-laughing, too; they saw the whole thing. Behind, I text the mother, capital letters and emojis spelling the nervous energy that’s still pounding through my veins, but she’s confused, didn’t see.

We almost died, I tell her. WE ALMOST HIT A TURKEY.

She’s nonchalant, soaking up the sun, letting the Californian coast soak her up, and I let my phone slide to my lap again. I watch the ocean come into view, deep blue and green alternating in long lines that run along the coast; yellow-gold rocks jutting towards the sky at odd intervals along the sand.

We drive, still, and soon the ocean fades from view temporarily, and we’re in the midst of oceanside city traffic, and my eyes wander over the cars that surround us. Families, couples, individuals. Professional, elderly, tourists, locals. I’m watching them all and seeing not nearly enough, and then we’re snaking past the aquarium, past Cannery Row, rolling slowly between those two SUVs. We’re on the coast. The ocean moves gently, slowly, in soft waves that crash against the rocks, pull sand back with them with every beat.

It takes time to park; three vehicles on a busy, beautiful Saturday are not easily stowed, but then we’re climbing out of the van, stretching arms, breathing deep of the wild, teasing ocean wind that whips our hair out of place and seems to bring the joy and excitement of the ocean along with it. There’s a rock wall stretching along the street, overlooking the ocean. Beyond, yards below, is the sand and the rocks and the waves. Leaning over, the boys are there already, long legs, tennis shoes scaling the huge rocks.

Furthest away, where the rocks drop to the ocean, they’re standing still. Watching. They watch the line where blue sky meets blue water. They watch the clouds skirt and bump across the blue above, moved by the same wind that tangles our hair, tugs at our sweatshirts. They watch the waves roll, gathering momentum, height, as they rush closer and closer to the shore. They watch the ocean, and for a moment, we stand there above the water, between cars, bustling street and the deep, rolling ocean, and we watch them.

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~Natalia

Bullet Point Post: The Phone

• It’s been approximately seven years (read: a lengthy time frame whose exact duration I cannot recall) since my last Bullet Point Post and it’s almost 1am on Thursday night (Friday morning) and I thought to myself, You know what? I’m going to write a Bullet Point Post.

• That was actually the paraphrased, edited version of what I thought to myself because my normal thought process is much more like a labrador in a washing machine. Write on the blog (spin, spin, spin), what do I need to accomplish tomorrow (agitate cycle), Instagram! (rinse cycle), when is the first time I get to eat tomorrow? (spinning again). In fact, in response to my inability to productively engage in homework or reading without interacting with some form of electronic media every couple of minutes, I have begun to consider putting myself under a kind of technology curfew during homework times, to promote focus and productivity.

• I am, however, experiencing push-back against this idea in two areas: 1) “homework time” is literally every moment that I am not in class or work or speaking with friends, family, and fellow countrymen and 2) I like my phone and my computer and I especially like the forms of social media interaction that they afford me.

• So I’ll probably not take my phone away from myself. Even though maybe I should.

• Actually, since we are on this topic, I’m going to segue (don’t even get me started on the disappointment/deep confusion I still experience over the difference in spelling and meaning between segue and Segway) into a brief monologue regarding my sleep habits. We all know that Natalia (myself. Third person reference to myself. I’m either Elmo or I’m losing it) prefers to sleep amongst enough pillows so as to make it less like the cold, lonely, alone, by myself, no one else around, sleeping experience that it actually is.

Pillow around me: good thing.
Pillow under my head: no-go.

Okay, pillows aren’t so bad. But (oh no, I’m about to indirectly prove my above-referenced phone addiction) I also used to sleep with my phone within very close arms reach, amongst the above-mentioned pillows. In fact, I slept with it either under the pillow next to (but not under) my head, or actually under my body, like some kind of hard, cold stuffed animal.

Okay, pillows and phone, still marginally normal. Here’s the odd thing, though: every night, with very rare exceptions, I would spontaneously wake up between the hours of 3am and 5am for the sole purpose of checking my phone. Because, you know, the president of the United States might have texted me during the peak hours of the night, and I would, of course, need to acknowledge such a text immediately. I say acknowledge and not respond to because, well, maybe you have the gift of coherent sleep texting, but I do not. And trust me, I’ve tried.

So the pillows and the phone and the dark of night phone checks. With every word I write I become more convinced that maybe I need to enforce phone-fasts upon myself, in order to healthfully engage in society, life, and well, you know, sleep.

• (The length of the above bullet point was making me a little anxious, so I created another one) But there is hope! Hope for a great many things, of course, but I here refer to the hope that I have of removing myself from the clutches of my iPhone and the connected entertainment it brings to me. And here’s what the hope is: I stopped sleeping with my phone next to me. Rather, it sits all night long on my desk, approximately twenty-four inches from my feet. And would you not believe it: my magical, unexplained, unsolicited 3am phone check wake ups have completely disappeared.

• I sleep all the night long now. And when I wake, after I turn my alarm off (which is of course, on my phone) I put the phone down and I do something else, read something else, think about something else (spin, spin, spin, agitate cycle, rinse, rinse, rinse).

• So I stand by the statement which I made by implication towards the beginning of these words, that it might be beneficial for my deep emotional and mental involvement with my technology be frequently (although temporarily) removed from me, in order to facilitate 8x more efficient work time, more quality conversations in person and otherwise, and much less time wasted.

• Because the thing is, really, that I’m learning every day, every hour, what it looks like to love God better and others more, and the whole of it comes down to His strength in me and His Spirit in me, and Jesus Christ Himself in me, working to make me more like Him, more able to glorify God. And if it came down to it, I want to say, want to be able to say, that I choose all of these God-glorifying, sanctifying, wonderful things over my phone, over social media, over websites and articles and news and utter irrelevance, any day.

• Because yes, it is one in the morning, and yes, I can’t really see what I’m typing because I’ve suddenly become very sleepy very quickly, but this I do know: that a phone is a small thing and my God is a very big Him, and those proportions are exactly accurate.

~Natalia

Chapel Hour Haikus

Taking chapel notes,
big letters, Scripture verses
and poems on this page.

These Tuesday mornings,
sitting all on red velvet,
Nyquist wears a suit.

Thinking about summer,
sidewalk chalk and sand castles,
every year better.

It’s Taco Tuesday
but they have changed the menu,
I really don’t mind.

There’s two pianos
and one huge organ, as well;
we live, breathe, music.

I might make a list,
things I know I need to do,
I need more paper.

Di watches my page,
leaning over to see, smiling,
these poems amuse us.

Coming down the stairs
professor who prays so strong,
he asks how I am.

One haiku a day,
what what I be thinking of
if I lived in poems?

~Natalia

p.s. For more haikus, as well as a glimpse of my life during the summer, check out the This is Summer series.

Half a Box of Cereal

I might sleep in here, she says. It’s Thursday night, almost the end of a school week heavy with late nights, homework packed in the hours between work, after-school, meetings, class.

I worked earlier in the evening, then it was Lebanese food and laughter around the dining table at home. Last summer, sweet miss B slept in the crib at the end of our big bed, Mark’s bikes, computer, life littered the front basement, and those rare dinners, everyone home- we set the table for eight.

Today, Mark’s in town again, a two-day visit, and Stevy swings by, I’m home, too, and the little ones clamber for space on Mark’s lap. And we sit there with dishes between us, the girls’ toys, plastic plates and pretend food, scattered between water glasses and place mats.

A family dinner.

But now it’s 10pm and I’m back at school, and I’ll probably do more homework- or try to- before I succumb to sleep, and Mary’s in my room, telling me she might sleep there tonight. No roommate means extra bed and I smile, nod towards the pink-quilted bed opposite my own.

Sure, that’s fine.

She disappears through the door then, and moments later I hear the sigh and click of it shutting, followed almost instantly by the heavy squeak of her own door- two down the hallway- whining open. She’ll be back in a bit, I know. Outside, night descends deeper, darker on the city. Inside, I pull sweatpants on, find the old blue sweatshirt from Goodwill- the one with the fish on it- in my closet.

I’m sleepy, but there’s reading, too, and I flip through the pages, fighting sleepiness for the opportunity- the privilege- to engage in learning. Theology reading, captivating and encouraging and so deeply true, I feel my forehead crease with the effort of keeping my eyes open, and frustration that I must fight this battle in the first place. But the pages turn and I read those words and soon, I’m putting the book back on the shelf, done.

I’ve brushed my teeth, washed my face, and am slipping- gratefully, so sleepily- under my blue flower comforter, when there’s a soft knock on my door. Before I answer, the door opens and I look up, twisting from my blanketed seat against the wall, to see Mary’s face appear in the space between door frame and thick wooden door.

Hi, she says, and I smile, return her greeting. I think I’m going to sleep in my own room tonight, she says, stepping all the way into my room, but holding the door open with a hand. Beyond her, the hallway is dim and quiet, the occasional swish and sigh of the bathroom door the only sound punctuating the midnight calm.

I nod, smile. That’s totally fine. You are always welcome. Have a good night. Love you.

She smiles, returns my goodnight wishes, and turns to go. But before she reaches the cold metal doorknob, she unfolds her arms, extending a battered box of off-brand cereal towards me. Here, she says, do you want some cereal? It’s too late, I’m too tired, to come up with a witty response to her rather whimsical midnight food offering, and there is a brief moment of silence as I try to decide if I desire the cereal.

Here, you can have this, she says, crossing the room and setting the orange box on my desk. Uhm, yea, sure, I nod, sleep-haze and uncertainty joining in a loose cloud of mild confusion in my mind.

It’s my love language, she says with a shrug and a gentle smile. Then she’s out the door and I’m left in my room, the light over the sink flickering, illuminating the half-eaten box of fake Cheerios on my desk. But with her parting words, it all makes sense. I understand, and I suddenly want the cereal very much.

Because love, appreciation, gratefulness, can be a funny, amorphous, near unrecognizable thing sometimes. But she eats two bowls of cereal in the downstairs dining room in the morning, and she buys boxes on special occasions at the Walmart Express under the train tracks, and cereal? It’s important to her. It’s a treat.

And she’s come into my room at midnight, long past the time she’d like to be in bed, and now there’s a box of cereal on my desk, and I’m falling asleep smiling because she’s right- I do feel loved.

~Natalia

Right Now I’m Tired

It’s Friday night,

and also Valentine’s Day,

and it was Day One, too, this morning, afternoon.

And Tuesday evening, Wednesday again, the clock ticks to midnight,

I sat in the upstairs window, outside the coffee shop,

and all those yellow chairs, the ones with no arm rests,

they filled and moved and emptied

with all the other people, doing homework, sharing stories,

living, loving, Moody life.

Midnight may not be so very late, but the hours are studying hours,

and last night, 10pm back to school after dinner at home,

sitting around the dining table over Pita Inn falafels,

I came back to school, pulled textbook off the shelf,

laid cold, tired, on blue flower bedspread,

found heavy eyes, even breathing, as I worked to read,

worked to stay awake.

I want to write; you know that, of course.

I want to write and share and tell and relate.

These days are so much more than the blur of class, friendship,

homework, that seems to define them.

I’m still thinking, still learning,

and most certainly still trusting God more and more with every

whisper of His will, every can’t-miss-it-this-is-the-plan-we-are-doing-this-now “happenstance” of life.

I’m still doing all those things.

And I want to tell you all about it.

And I will, I know. But maybe not all right now.

Because right now is dozing off at 11pm, laptop on crossed legs,

country music playing, unheeded, on Pandora, because it’s been awhile

since Brad Paisley and Lee Brice.

Right now is Valentine’s Dinner with Krista, The Neighbor;

7pm at a new place, standing in line, ordering salad, pasta,

twirling conversation like alfredo on forks.

Finishing with chocolate mousse, tiramisu with a side of friendship,

and we ride the bus back to school, winter wind chilling our legs,

ballet flats slipping just a little on the old, dark snow

that still litters the sidewalk.

Right now is so very much schoolwork, assignments, tasks to complete.

But March 7th is California spring break;

two weeks of second grade student teaching during the day,

grandparents, aunts, cousins in the evening, weekends.

And I’m falling asleep, eyes dry and heavy,

and Saturday is homework day; up early, working long,

but there’s fun and rest and conversation

and I’m so very blessed by all these friendships, each of these moments;

there’s not much to complain about

right now.

Except maybe, that I could write for you just a little more…
~Natalia

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