The Emerald City

It’s past 1am when we arrive, 3am Chicago time. I slept on the way, head slumped heavily on my shoulder, the middle aged men on either side of me equally unconscious. Three rows behind me, the overhead light illuminated Jonathan’s hair, his downcast eyes devouring the book in his lap.

Family, our hosts, appear shortly in the arrivals lane, and then we’re driving past the city, still vaguely luminescent in the middle of the night, and she’s telling us her plans for the long weekend and he’s explaining the carpool toll system. It’s 4am in Chicago- 2am here- and we’re pulling into their subdivision; neat, two-story houses arranged in quadrants, with a large wooden sign at the main street, bearing the area’s name.

We eat a late lunch the next day on the Sound. Owl City’s Hello Seattle plays on repeat in my head, and I trade seats with Jonathan halfway through lunch; isn’t it supposed to be dreary here? Cloudy here? Downtown Edmonds, if you can call it such, is teaming with boutiques, restaurants, little book stores that I long to explore. Moms push their babies in strollers under the dappled shade of the street-side trees, and birds from one such tree leave white splatters across the windshield of my sister-in-law’s freshly washed car.

On Saturday morning we rent kayaks, one of my favorite outdoor activities. We paddle across a corner of Lake Washington, the water clear and deep below us. The houses along the shore are massive; multimillion dollar homes that remind me of Michigan lake homes. Across the water, motor boats send wakes rolling and rocking behind them, until the little waves arrive, nearly spent, to our corner of the world. We stop along the far shore, sitting motionless in our plastic craft as a hawk circles high above us, dives once, twice, finally coming up with a fish in his mouth.

Around us, ducklings scamper awkwardly from lily pad to lily pad. Jonathan uses his paddle to bring a discarded venti Starbucks cup into our kayak. Later, we race kayaks: us versus them, and maybe they won, or maybe they started ahead, and how is this place so very beautiful, so very bright?

We drive into the city that afternoon. Chinatown for lunch- of course, every city has a Chinatown- and then we’re walking through downtown. It reminds me of San Jose, and she’s telling us about the night tour they took, telling of the underground, the secret and dark, history of the city. But I’m hardly listening because I can’t listen and look at the same time, but I dare not let a glimpse of this place escape my sight. But of course, something always escapes and I hold onto hope that it’s the ugly that I miss, not the stunning.

Pikes Place. The Ferry. Mount Rainier fat and snow-capped between the distant clouds.

After dinner, we walk up a hill, join handfuls of others pressed in little groups against a waist-high barrier. Seattle unfolds beyond, below, before our lookout point. A ferris wheel, glowing brilliantly, spins imperceptibly along the coast. Hotel names, obvious without being gaudy, shine into the darkened sky. Apartments, homes, roads, highways. Clouds, grey and wispy, hang gently along the skyline. The water, dark and invisible, stretches along the city’s coast.

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I think about the city, the state, long after we return to our own Midwest metropolis. Seattle, the surrounding area of Washington, was light. It was bright, full. Unexpected, catching me off guard with its water beauty, its ordinary, residential wonder. The mountains, so unfamiliar to me, are curious and inviting. The waterfront city of Seattle, with its subtle similarities and shocking differences to Chicago, is wild and safe, new and old, inviting and distant, all at the same time.

I’ll be back.

~Natalia

 

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This Peaceful Fall

Fall 2015 found me single, living in a garden basement apartment in Uptown, and teaching 5th grade in Logan Square. Being a first year teacher, with a class of various and occasionally overwhelming behavior and academic needs, my job kept me on my toes throughout the week. Yet I knew for sure, without a doubt, that I was in a peaceful, less complicated phase of life.

I knew it when I woke up on Saturday morning with nothing on my schedule besides any errand that might occur to me.

I knew it when I made easy meals just for myself, and let the dinner hour stretch long, as I sat on the counter with my dishes beside me, engrossed in a book.

I knew it when I stayed out late (rarely), or went to bed early (often the case), just as I pleased, every single night.

I had no man, no children, pleasant roommates, and I knew it wasn’t going to last forever.

I honestly believed that children would come into my life first. I knew, even then, that Safe Families and foster care are close to my heart, ministries I will pursue until the Lord says otherwise, and I wondered if a little one might come tumbling into my care sometime soon.

But, quite unexpectedly, it wasn’t a child, but Jonathan who appeared, first in my mind, then my test messages, then my heart. And then, in a way that was both completely unplanned, and yet obviously and unquestionably the only right thing (as God’s things often are), we were together. Talking, then dating, then engaged, and then, in a blink of an eye, and also after a lifetime of waiting, we were married.

And so I was right, during those fall months of just me, but I was also wrong. I knew that that season of life was just for a time, but I wasn’t quite sure how it would change, what the Lord was thinking of next.

I feel the same way now, two years later. I still teach, although I’ve (mercifully) come a long way in the last 24 months as an educator. I’m married, of course. Living in a rented house in the suburbs that we know we’ll vacate in the new year. I plan for my time at school, I work with my husband to maintain the house. I do laundry (because I love it) and mop the floors (because they need it).

But I know, just as I knew in my heart that a change was coming two years ago, that this season will not last forever.

Life is peaceful, right now. Busy, yes. Hectic, on some days. But there is a peace, a predictability, a warmth and a calm that I feel in my body, that rests in my heart, and I dare not fail to acknowledge it.

So I make a list on Saturday morning, taking joy in the things I might accomplish, the sun in the windows, the serenity of the house, the music playing over the kitchen speakers.

I treasure the time Jonathan and I spend together; afternoon hours between my commute home after work and his evening trip into the city to hit the Chicago music scene. We create dates when we can, as we find precious weekend hours that he’s not working. We have fun together, we talk together, we’re growing together.

I do what I have to do, and I do it well. Because I have the time, because I have the peace. Because I know that this unhurried, newly-married, suburb-living season of life will not always be, and I want to use this gift as best I might, as long as I have it.

~Natalia

Sit Right Here

Love and belonging are irreducible needs of all men, women, and children. We’re hard-wired for connection – it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The absence of love, belonging, and connection always leads to suffering.  

Brene Brown, Daring Greatly 

Amongst the pages of Daring Greatly (subtitled How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead), Brene Brown expounds upon the concept of shame; outlining both the power of shame, as well as how vulnerability and other forms of “shame resilience” work to combat shame.

My copy of the book is laced with blue ink; ballpoint parentheses and brackets around significant lines, such as the one above. Underlines tracing short phrases; curling, half-way-legible notes tucked in the space between text and binding. I read the book last spring, some six months ago, but lessons I learned, notes I wrote, ways to apply the text still come to mind; nuggets of truth rising to the surface whenever applicable.

I’m more mindful now of the language I use when correcting my students. Shame thrives when labels are placed on individuals, rather than behaviors. Is my child rude, or did he say something rude? Is she a disruption, or is she acting in a disruptive way just now? Seven hours a day, five days a week, I hold the souls of children in my hand; I dare not shame them into submission, even less into conformity to whatever my preferences happen to be.

Yet there is another kind of shame; a more furtive, perhaps self-serving variety that can wend its way into the classroom unannounced, unnoticed. It’s the shame of isolation. The shame of your mistake has made you unworthy of interaction just at this moment. 

It’s easier, of course, to send the loudest child across the room. To tuck him in a corner, or to correct him from afar. It’s easy to snap when I’m just tossing words into the air anyway.

Hush. Stop talking. Sit still. Move away from them. 

But I can feel the shame trickling in, collecting in small pools around me feet- and his- even as I scold and order, pushing him further away in my annoyance, or my eagerness to no longer be inconvenienced.

Its ineffective, too. Distance from authority, from positive peer interactions, from reconciliation, can do very little to reinstate the small noisemaker, the over-energetic learner. How can she do better when she has no more chances to even try? How can I guide her when she’s so far away that my voice must be raised just to speak to her across the crowd?

No, I’ll not send them away anymore; to the far table, to their own corner, to the back door. Instead, each correction comes with a beckon, drawing him in, motioning her closer. Come here. Come talk to me. Come sit by me. Come towards me, just as I reach out to you. I don’t give up on you, I don’t push you away. 

You’re worthy, you’re important, and just now, you’re sitting right beside me.

~Natalia