This Gift

I wrote a cover letter last night. A fake one, a mock one, for a pre-graduation, prep-you-for-the-real-world class.

I chose a school (actually where I’ll be student teaching next semester), created a heading, found a cover letter model online to follow, and I began to write.

By the time I finished the brief letter, typing my name professionally at the bottom, I has convinced myself that I was made for a job at that school.

Of course, only God knows (literally) where He’ll take me after graduation, but I found the ease with which I wrote about the school rather comforting; maybe I can do professional things like write cover letters and apply for jobs, after all.

I convinced myself to hire me, but more than that, as I wrote those short paragraphs, I was able to articulate something that’s been sitting in my heart, looming in my head for some time.

The gift that Moody Bible Institute is.

Maybe I’ve known it all along, but this semester, sitting in classes on Romans, Apologetics, and a myriad of education classes, I’ve become yet more assured, more aware of the blessings I’ve been given.

This school is unique, a biblical, theological, practical education like none other. It took me two tries to get accepted, but to be here is to learn and grow in an environment that few others are blessed to have.

I’m being poured into, nurtured, instructed.

And it’s all so that I might turn right around and pour into someone else.

Bless someone else.

Teach someone else.

To keep what I’ve been given would be to squander it, waste it, misuse it.

So I learn now, and I study hard, and I pour my heart and life into what is before me. Because soon, the cover letter will be real, and the application will be accepted, and the job will begin, and then it’ll be my turn to pour and nurture, teach and disciple, and I want to be ready.

~ Natalia

That Outdoor Sink

Today, as I glanced at my needing-washed hair in the mirror, I remembered the same look on the faces of three young women, sweet high school girls, in Guatemala.

Five days into our seven day trip, the day’s work was long and Holy Spirit-guided in a round, winding, unpredictable way.

We’d leave the house in the morning, before breakfast, and return in the afternoon, only to leave again for the evening stretch of work, dinner, fellowship. Returning to the house- the four cinderblock rooms we were blessed to stay in- the showers were colder, the air was chilly, and their hair needed washed.

I can help, I told them. And we planned, there in the room we shared. The room under the corrugated metal roof, the room with the six beds, all of them draped with clothes, suitcases, our day-weary selves.

And then one by one, they’d join me in the dark behind the house. Outside the back door, along the wall leading to the bathroom, there stands a wide, double sink. Made of concrete, with textured ridges on the bottom for scrubbing clothes, a deep tub between the two sinks held gallons of water, ready for use.

Beyond the sink, the tiny garden lay masked in nighttime shadows. The moon above barely flicked its white light through the leaves of the scant trees above us.

Guided by the yellow light of the bedroom across the patio, and the rays escaping from the single bulb in the bathroom, the girls each pulled up a chair, one by one, and I washed their hair.

It became a pattern, a rhythm. Wetting, scrubbing, rinsing. I fumbled in the semi-darkness to open the disposable shampoo packets, and agonizing over washing the remaining bubbles from behind their ears, along their neckline.

But they sat there, each girl at a time, and we were quiet in the lull of the Guatemalan mountains, as dogs barked down the road, and the white waves of shampoo swirled lazily down the cement drain.

~Natalia

Dear Lala,

You arrived on December 1st, and your presence in our home was so much a part of my Christmas break, I realized recently that a part of my heart expects you to be there again this Christmas. I opened my iPhoto earlier today, looking for something entirely unrelated to you, but your grinning face and dark eyes shone out at me from nearly every picture in the file, and my heart got a little heavier with every image I clicked through.

We miss you, Lala.

And there’s a lot to miss, too. You might have only weighed 27 pounds on a good day, but you left your mark in our lives and hearts every day of the weeks that you were with us. I spent a lot of time at home over Christmas break, soaking in the noise and movement and rhythm inside those brick apartment walls, and I could write a book of moments from those snowy winter days, many of them including, or ever featuring, your antics.

The fleecy-soft pink footy pajamas that Aunty bought you. The ones with the red and blue puppies on them. The ones you’re wearing in the pictures from Christmas morning, your face vibrant with glee every time we let you open another gift, another book, another stuffed animal.

The way you said “take a shower” as “chake a chower”- something that Glendy and Larissa and I still say, while exchanging meaningful looks and smiles softened with the far-away look of remembering months long gone by.

The Hello Kitty blanket that you slept with, wrapped tightly around your tiny body, and the way your Spanish and English blended every time you asked for your “kitty-cobija” before bed.

The time you sat on the counter while I washed dishes, our conversation bending between Spanish and English as the suds soaked into my apron and you took advantage of your temporary height to touch the knick-knacks that Aunty keeps on the windowsill, out of little hand reach.

The way your turned the nickname “Lala” into a mutual term of affection between you and I. For every time that I blew kisses, waved goodbye as I stood in my boots next to the front door, you returned my call of “Bye, Lala, I’ll see you later!” with a call of your own: “Bye, Lala! See you later!” And so we bid each other goodbye, said goodnight, greeted one another. Both of us Lala, by your own design.

The way you called play-doh “tomato” and the long, riotous laughter you brought us when Glendy tried to teach you otherwise. I have that conversation on video, Lala. You’re sitting in the high chair, wearing the velvet leopard-print outfit that you always thought was pajamas. You’re in the middle of devouring a plate of pasta with red sauce, and Glendy is sitting across the table from you, beyond the camera’s view. She leads you through the syllables, one at a time, while you repeat:

Her: Lala, can you say ‘play’?
You: play
Her: ‘doh’
You: doh
Her: ‘Play-doh’
You: TOMATO!

And then you’re smiling with success, your little hand still gripping your pasta-d fork, and in the background, we shake with laughter.

I’ve other videos, too. Just a few, thirty-second clips of conversations with you. I adored, was fascinated by, the way your little lips moved when you spoke; puckering out ever so slightly, to match your unique voice, faint preschool-lisp. I treasure those videos, watch them occasionally on my phone.

There’s a lot to remember, Lala. Some long nights, of course. Some three-year-old cry-outs, doubtless. But a lot of good, too.

I don’t know, of course, where you are, who’s with you, what you’re thinking and learning, right now. But I do know that you are loved, you and valued, and you are prayed for, so prayed for.

And for now, that is what I can do.

I miss you, Lala.

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~Natalia

A Little Less Denial

I’ve returned to my room at school, my miniature home, after six days away.

We’re in the back half of the semester now.

All around me, there are hints of next semester;

enrollment, housing intention surveys, plans.

I’ll be here for none of that,

but I’m here now

and I think, in the weeks and the days to come,

I’ll allow myself- force myself- to sink a little deeper into the future that’s coming so very soon.

Maybe I’ll live a little less in denial

that my time at Moody is ending, my days in this school will be up in the blink of an eye.

And a part of recognizing this time is living in this time-

living days like I mean it,

(because I do)

pouring into relationships like they still matter,

(because they do)

and walking, enjoying, savoring, the time I have,

all the while waiting, preparing, dreaming,

about what comes next.

~Natalia

Back and Coming Again

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Elementary Education and Bible Secondary Education class of 2015. Photo taken in Hampshire, Illinois, where, unlike the city, the leaves change color in the fall, and it is gorgeous.

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Snapped a selfie in the choir room in the moments before our walks down the aisle.

It’s been a handful of days since I was here, I know.

Moody’s Missions Conference began last Tuesday night, kicking off with an evening of multi-cultural and multi-lingual preaching and worship. The night ended with a praise-dance-party, to the soundtrack of cheering, and the organized chaos of hundreds of students moving, worshipping, celebrating.

Wednesday meant saying goodbye to my last Missions Conference as an undergrad student and joining my fellow future teachers for a two-day education conference in the far suburbs. We dressed as teachers, relished time spent together, and learned from teachers, leaders, and professionals whose careers are years beyond our own, and whose wisdom we note on scrap paper, in notebooks, store away in mental notes and memories.

Friday brought a wedding on the horizon, as Kat prepared to so “I Do
with Fred. There was rehearsal, dinner, preparations, conversations, planning, organizing, decorating, and a heavy dose of conversation and catching up with old friends in between.

Saturday, wedding day, brought all the excitement and action you might imagine, and a wonderful reception to boot.

And now it’s Sunday night, nearly 1am, and I’m nodding, fighting sleep, even as I write.

So I will leave for now, but I’m back and I’m here and you’ll hear from me in the coming days, I bet.

~Natalia

Unexpected

And what would you say you’re learning, thinking about, now? She asks, her voice the gentle, bright lilt I’ve grown accustomed to in the weeks since school began. We’re gathered, there in the lounge. Fifteen girls strong, and I’ve just finished telling the story of my life, tracking movements of the world, of my days, of God’s grace and sovereignty, through the events that string together to form my life.

I’ve finished now, and she’s sitting there on the couch next to me, and she asks and I smile, nod; it’s one thing to tell the past, but it’s another to learn from the present, and I had a feeling she would ask.

I pause, just for a moment. My eyes settle on the apple cider- now cold- that swirls in the cup in my hands, and I catch the gaze of the girls sitting around this warm circle as I look up at her once more.

Unexpected, I tell her. Then, as if reminding myself, agreeing with my own statement, I say it again, feeling myself nod, ever so slightly.

It’s been a semester of the unexpected, I say.

I didn’t expect for my classes to be so very time consuming, didn’t expect weekends of budgeting time by the hour, and daily checklists, and the all-too-familiar breath-holding rush of finishing an assignment twelve minutes before it’s due.

I didn’t expect late nights sitting in the hallway, typing study questions, class notes, essays, to the soundtrack of a squeaky bathroom door, under the glow of a too-white overhead light that never turns off.

There’s something unexpected about my friendships, too; something awe-striking, wonderful about the hearts I live with, eat with, study with, talk with. I’ve wanted, worked for, enjoyed, relished friendships this semester like I never have before. The God who created my heart also holds my heart, my life moving in the direction He leads, and I’ve watched, marveling at His hand, as friendships both old and new have grown on this downtown campus. It’s a privilege, a blessing, I say, to be able to grow with, laugh with, share life with the souls I’m surrounded by, here at this school.

Unexpected challenges, unsolicited blessings. And every time I pause in awe at a wonderful relationship I didn’t ask for; or stop to reflect upon the ways I have grown, been stretched, pulled outside of myself and my desires and my worries and my weakness; or step into my room after a long day of classes and studying and conversations and learning; every time I take a moment to sit, to be still, to recount the unexpected ways of this semester, I’m so thankful.

Thankful and awed, because in every new thing, and in every old thing made new, in every challenge and blessing and gift and lesson, God is working to weave threads that I did not know existed into a brilliant tapestry. He brings the moments that are small and the conversations that are short and the challenges that are many, and together, they make a whole: one account of my life, just as I told those sweet girls. But it is not just my life; this is the story of His plan and His wonder and His grace.

And the unexpecteds in my life are the certainties in His plan, and so I trust and I follow, and many days, I savor these unexpected wonders.

~Natalia

Dear Mothers of the El,

I have headphones on, of course. And you’re right, usually I’m listening to music.

Loud music, more often than not.

But sometimes, when I see you step on the train, little ones in tow, on your hip, I turn my music off.

It’s partly because I’m curious, I suppose. Not many children ride the cta, at least not during the hours of my commute, and so see a child, or maybe even two, swinging their short legs in the space between seat and floor, always catches my eye.

I’m curious, yes, but also empathetic. Just like all those around us in this florescent-lit train car, you’ve a story that stretches well beyond the tiny clues and haphazard guesses I can venture as I sit across the aisle from you.

You and your little ones are coming from somewhere, going to somewhere, and as I listen to snippets of the words you share with your children, I find myself cheering for you. I feel my heart softening, a smile fighting to spread across my lips.

When you get on the train and I recognize your cropped hair, small frame, long coat from a late-night train ride last week, but then my eyes land on the child stepping beside you, her jeans tucked into worn boots, I want to greet you, smile at you, even though you don’t know me.

As she tells you about the time her grandpa let her taste coffee, and you sip your own drink (it’s espresso, you tell your daughter) and strategize about how you might tackle all the tasks awaiting you at home, I support you, I want to encourage you, even though we’ve never spoken.

When you step off the train into the dark, and her little steps echo yours down the concrete steps to the street below, I wish you well, even as your jackets disappear from view and the train I’m still on pulls out of the station once more.

When you get on the train downtown, and your child’s screams shatter the hum of silence that rush-hour commuters always seem to create, I watch for a moment as the seats on either side of you vacate.

We pass two stops, and then I move, sitting there between a woman with headphones on, identical to my own, and the screaming, flailing infant draped across your arm. I catch your gaze as I sit, and offer a smile, as if with one friendly nod of my head I could tell you that we don’t judge you, aren’t angry with you, don’t hold you responsible for the noise of the tiny, opinionated human in your lap.

When the train rushes through stops, moving on the express track out of the city, and you rub the child’s belly, pat her back, whisper to her, and she quiets, becomes still, I want to tell you that you’re patient, gentle, brave. You’re doing what you do well, and the baby, now laying quietly against your chest, her eyes roaming the packed train car, she knows you love her.

I want to say these things, and more, too, but I don’t know you and I don’t quite know how, so I nod, smile, sometimes speak, a little, and I hope you know that I am rooting for you, hoping for you, cheering for you, and praying for you, too.

~Natalia

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