The Pulse of Community

There’s a miniature binder that we pass at church, every week. They give titles, special names to all such things, and ours is called the Community Binder, in which are recorded names of attendees; names, addresses, and contact information for visitors.

They’ve had our contact information for years, decades.

But every week, between the music and the preaching, the praising and the learning, we take a moment and we pass those little black binders. It used to be my job, when my own feet barely reached the floor, and bike-fall scabbed knees stuck out under my Sunday dresses. Now, the little sisters take turns, gripping that black pen and writing our last name in the space provided.

Recording our presence, our participation, week in, week out.

Today, we were just two, there in the pew at the front of the balcony, and I wrote 1/3 of the family after our last name, because it’s true: only El Papa and I were there.

The two adults attending church should probably get up! Tam called at 9:05 this morning, standing in the space between bathroom and bedrooms to serve as human alarm clock. And while the sisters moved about, cough, cough, coughing, and blowing their way through a second tissue box in as many days, we prepared for our morning, for our day.

Barely an hour later, I stand in the kitchen, haphazardly spreading chunks of butter on a toasted mini-bagel. I’m watching the butter melt, watching it seep into the craggy pores of crusty white dough, when I slowly become aware of the sounds behind me.

In El Papa’s office, tucked between dining room and kitchen, someone’s turned on the live stream of this morning’s church service. The first service is ending, and I am vaguely aware of the benediction being spoken as I wrestle more cold butter shavings onto my still-dry bagel. Besides me, El Papa pours his coffee. In the front room, the pair of littler ones cough, play, read; their voices punctuating and shaping the morning.

And then suddenly, a new sound catches my ear, holds me frozen where I am. On screen, in the office, the service has officially ended, the mingling has begun. Music, a worship song sung by a familiar voice, plays in the far background, chords and tune still recognizable.

But that’s not what’s caught me, what’s pulled me in.

Rather, it’s the sound running over the music, the sound moving and boiling, mixing and covering, that I’m listening to, standing in the kitchen while butter melts in yellow puddles on my cooling bagel.

It’s voices.

I can hear the community. I can’t make out words, of course, but I’m captivated by the rhythm, the rise and fall, of a hundred people talking, sharing, laughing, speaking. It sounds so unified, so whole, all those people making all that noise. As each indistinguishable voice folds together with all the others, all I can imagine is the names on those Community Binders, all those individual recordings, notes, scrawled titles, mixing and mingling, swirling into the unity called the Church and the Body and Fellowship.

And it’s repeated over and over again; before each service, after it once more, in smaller groups, throughout the week. Because community like that is living, breathing, noisy, and that heartbeat of fellowship, it just keeps pulsing, like the swirl of conversation I can hear, right there in the Sunday morning kitchen.

~Natalia

Florida Days 



It’s not like this is a normal thing we do. 

We go to Michigan, really. 

California, on special occasions. 

But now, this week, we’re in Florida, and so far, it’s been absolutely wonderful. 

Sunday brought 16 hours at Magic Kingdom, truly and honestly the happiest place on earth.

Today, we’re south, settling into a little rental condo while somewhere nearby, the ocean beats shells against Florida coastline.

And tomorrow, we’ll be there, watching waves wash over sand, over shells, over feet, all under the hot Florida sun. 

~Natalia 

I’m Pretty Sure

Sitting in the back,

he’s antsy.

Moving extraneously;

exaggerated arm swings,

rocking his chair,

leaning all the way over his desk,

head hanging off the edge.

I would almost let that go, honestly.

There’s a certain amount of freedom that comes with sitting in the back.

But he’s calling out, too,

inserting his voice into conversations I’m having with his peers,

answering questions not intended for him.

Calling out, talking out, distracting.

For a period, an entire subject, we go back and forth.

I remind, he rights himself.

I nag, he corrects himself.

I repeat, he listens.

For the moment, for a second, and then he’s fallen apart all over again.

We’re transitioning into our next subject

when I find myself walking quietly between desks, towards his seat.

He’s looking down, ashamed, when I’ve finally arrived.

He knows he’s struggling.

I lean down, right there in front of his desk,

hear myself whisper to him.

What do you need?

He looks down, eyelashes on cheeks, but I know he’s listening to me.

Do you need to move?

He remains motionless.

Do you need help?

His hands are crossed, under his chin, where he leans.

Do you need my attention?

He has my attention now, of course.

Do you need me to tell you I love you?

I pause, watch him blink, watch him consider what I know he’s heard.

Because I do, I say, before swiping my hand over his soft hair,

and returning once more to the front of the room.

And something in those words has reassured him,

has helped him,

has put him back on the right track.

And honestly, I can’t say those words came from me;

they certainly weren’t my first response.

But I do love that child- I love all of them-

and I’m pretty sure that right then,

that was the Holy Spirit working

to calm my heart,

to encourage his,

and to set us, together, back on the road

to learning and growing

more like Him,

even over math worksheets

and the conjugation of verbs.

~Natalia

The Bread Maker

I don’t want to forget,

10pm, standing at the kitchen island,

in this house on the corner

in this little town miles outside of the city.

Too hot for fleece sweats, warm night air blows through the screen panel in the back door.

Outside, in the driveway, my shoes lie discarded in the passenger seat;

with weather like this, shoes are the first thing to go.

There are other cars in the driveway, too.

Cars of the five voices, five visitors, who’ve filled the living room,

the dining room,

the nook,

this evening.

Five guys and one professor, and their intricate board games,

their strategy cards and rules books littering the tables.

Standing at the island, my computer before me,

the sounds of the evening surround me, gently encompass me.

Games, good natured trash talk wafts through the kitchen.

Across from me, next to the back door, the bread maker sits atop the counter.

Quiet now, it cycles through the phases of baking, sometimes resting, silent, other times beating the bread, kneading the dough so violently that all I hear is the hard thump, thump, thump, and the slight rocking of the machine against the cabinets.

The mother of the house, herself a professor, is here in the kitchen, too.

She’s washing dishes, cleaning the kitchen, organizing.

We’re not usually up this late, but it’s a special night, with spring floating through the windows,

and we’re savoring the cozy bustle, the welcoming pulse, of the action in the house.

I’m googling facts, compiling a St. Patrick worksheet,

when someone mentions the troll song,

that repetitive, obnoxiously catchy beat connected to the internet troll phenomenon.

And then the professor’s there in the nook, gaming cards spread before him,

singing the song I’d barely managed to forget since its last mention,

and there in the kitchen, we know what pay back looks like,

and let’s be honest, it’s a rare soul who doesn’t know the words,

so then we’re two in the kitchen, working our way through Let It Go,

building to the crescendo,

arms flung across the island,

dragging the syllables long.

And of course, we’re only adding to the hum of the house on that late Monday night,

but all that motion and life, it just swirls together,

sinking, blending into the soundtrack of an evening of games and work,

cleaning and singing,

washing dishes and eating snacks,

while the bread maker beats its mechanical pulse,

and outside,

the snow just keeps melting, melting, melting,

as spring comes closer, step by slow, relishing, delicious step.

~Natalia

Life Right Now {#65}



These weekends home, 

With the brother at school, 

It’s more often than not

Three girls in the backseat, in the living rooms, out and about, 

And these kids, these sisters- 

I’m so head over heels for them, 

And they’re so very fun, 

I savor it all. 

~Natalia 

Unfathomable Fields

Yes, I love the city- you know that about me.

I’ve been captivated by the unique beauty of all those people,

and all that movement,

and all the sweeping, churning life of the city for years.

But I do have to tell you,

really for the sake of being honest,

that I’m kind of starting to love the rural space I’ve inhabited

for the past two months, too.

It started slowly, in January.

Awed by the white frost glistening in the early morning light,

entire trees, vast fields, all christened with the pristine white crystals.

A literal winter wonderland,

and I could barely keep my eyes on the road.

Now, as the snow (gloriously) has melted,

I can see the earth, the grass, the land, for what it is.

And on evenings like this one,

driving west once more, 12 hours after commuting the opposite way,

the sinking orange sun lights the rolling fields,

illuminating grass, dirt, hill,

in rich, brilliant light that hangs close to the ground,

permeating everything,

soaking the land, just beginning to taste spring,

in its gentle, persistent light.

And then, unmistakably then,

I start to love this open space,

these rural roads

with the tumble-down barns that dot the landscape,

and the unfathomably deep color that bathes it all,

more than I ever thought I would.

~Natalia

One and Only

I call him my One and Only, the boy with the dark hair, the clear blue eyes. Of course, there are nine other boys in the class, but he’s the One and Only him. It started weeks ago, when the afternoons dragged long, and I lost his attention in the hours after recess. Sitting there in the second row, he moved, he talked, and I brought him back, again and over again.

But really, there’s more to teaching, more to life and relationship and loving, than nagging.

One day, all those weeks ago, as the January afternoon sun began to settle, already preparing to sink, and I knew his mind was wandering, stretching, escaping beyond the realm of academic learning, I called his name.

He looked up, and I knew what he was expecting. A reminder. Do this, please sit up, what are you doing, where should you be?

But not this time. No, I stopped next to his desk, asked him, in voice raised- teacher voice so all could hear- if he knew that he is the One and Only him. Do you know that, child? I asked. You are the only one, and we get to have you in our class. I stopped then, letting the truth sink in, and watched his face change, ever to slightly, as he processed what I’d said.

And the name stuck. Of course, many of them have nicknames- I’m a nickname kind of teacher, and that is his, and I admit, sometimes I say it just to see that shy smile creep across his face, just to watch his eyes light up, just a bit.

He’s president of the class this week; quite a good one, in fact. Sits at the big desk in the back, oversees classroom proceedings with justice and kindness, makes decisions that I’d rather avoid, such as Hannah-is-not-here-can-I-have-her-spot-in-line and she-forgot-to-finish-the-math-problem-can-she-have-grace-to-finish-it-before-we-grade-it?

And two days ago, when the Bible class conversation turned to stories, and how God changes lives- even lives barely a decade long- he sat in his presidential swivel chair, and he listened.

And yesterday, I told those 18 hearts just a tiny bit of my own testimony, before reminding them of the work that I know God is doing in each of their hearts. And then I set them loose, to reflect, to think, and to write down their own testimonies, their own stories.

And that boy, my One and Only, he wrote. He wrote and he wrote, because this one? He knew his story.

And this morning, in teacher devotions, it’s time for prayer requests, and the boy’s father, himself a teacher, he raises his hand, says he has a praise. Because his boy, his fourth grade son, his blue-eyed little boy, they’ve been praying for him. Praying for him to know his story, praying for him to own the faith he’s been taught, and last night, that One and Only boy, he went home with testimony in hand, exuberant to tell his daddy his story, how he knows Jesus has saved him.

And that boy? Now he wants to be baptized.

And sitting there in devotions, hearing how the Holy Spirit shapes and builds and guides in ways I can’t even imagine, I just cried.

Because this boy has a story, has a faith, has a relationship, and in these short months, I got to watch it grow. And that is breathtaking.

~Natalia

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