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

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I Know Why You Work

Eighty little swimmers, maybe more.

They’ve all just swam, participated in that annual fundraising event,

and now they’ve walked,

a wiggling line that only looks single file if you squint,

around the pool.

The food table is laden with pizza, snacks, treats.

They’ll eat, soon.

But for now they all stand, line swaying, living,

and wait for their turn to fill plates, choose desserts, chug Gatorade.

I’m at the front of the line, directing who goes, when they go, where they go.

Send a couple kids, pause.

Wait.

Three, four more allowed to advance, then wait again.

In those waiting times, we talk.

They all know my name- we all know each other on this family team.

Some of them, old-timers, returners, have known me for years.

I’ve ridden in their cars to meets.

I’ve heard about her school events and seen his scraped knees

and comforted when her mom was out of town and nobody seemed to care

how much she missed her.

I know these little athletes.

So we stand in the line and we talk.

There’s never a dull moment, never a lull, as they come;

each new heart to step to the front of the line brings a new story,

a new question,

a new exclamation, for me.

Two girls, fourth grade, they’ve both been around a year or two

and I know them well, can joke easily with them,

my hands on their cap-topped heads, comfortable.

We talk about coaching and teaching and swimming and then

it’s their turn to eat.

But first, before they go, there’s another little one behind these girls.

Nine years old, skinny, he wears a purple team cap,

a tuft of red-brown hair sticking out the front.

His front teeth are recently grown,

and he has a habit of crossing his hands,

holding them, a shield, almost, in front of his mouth.

I know why you coach, he interjects, hands hovering in front of pink lips.

I lean down, hand on his head, wait.

Oh yeah, how come? I ask. He wants me to ask, wants to tell me.

Because you love it! He exclaims, chuckling as he steps forward in line.

And he’s right, of course. I’d not be there, be working and loving

and teaching and coaching and smiling

if I didn’t love it.

But there’s a deeper, wider,

more intentionally and intensely wonderful layer, too.

Because God is a sovereign God and a wise God

and a wonderfully creative God,

and He gives jobs and supplies work and places employment,

which are, of course, all very good things.

But better, wider, sweeter, is that He gives joy

to a job that’s also a calling.

And He gives peace to a task that can be chaotic.

And He provides challenge and acceptance and belonging and happiness

to a job that He’s using

to train me to teach and to love and to work and to bend and to laugh,

and hopefully, that He’s using to bring joy to others, also.

~Natalia

What’s Now

Sitting in the Admissions Office, waiting to give a tour. I always do the same thing in those quiet moments before tours and information and questions and answers; sit on that grey couch, crack open one of the old Moody Arch yearbooks scattered across the coffee table, page through.

I’m paging through a commemorative book of Moody’s 125th Anniversary when the door behind me opens, a fellow Admissions ambassador steps in, settles onto the couch opposite me. Then how was your weekend, he’s feeling sick, there’s something going around. Everyone’s under the weather, it seems.

Then: there are only a few more weeks of the semester, he says.

Of course, the days are ticking down. I know that. There’s a calendar on the wall by my desk and I cross off assignment as the hours go and the pages turn and it doesn’t feel like the time is going fast, really. But he said just a couple more weeks; until Thanksgiving, until Finals, until Christmas. And suddenly, I felt guilty, worried.

What have I done with this semester?

What have I learned?

How have I changed?

How have I grown, gotten better?

How have I made these weeks matter, used the time to leave a mark that says This matters, this is good, this changed?

This fall semester, my third of the kind, has been unlike any other. Fall 2011, my first months at Moody, brought with it everything new. New school and new room and new roommate and new friends and new classes and new teachers and new homework and new food and new schedule.

Last fall, 2012, began weeks after a summer-long relationship ended, leaving me shaken, confused, and sensitively emotional at all the times I wished I wasn’t. I needed the rhythm of class, work, homework, to keep me moving and keep my mind away from re-thinking, re-wondering, re-hurting. I look back on last fall, and there is good there, of course. Late night skyping with friends states away. Hours spent in the library, reading, writing, kicking my legs under the desk in silent energy, silent focus, silent emotion. I also look back and see fear and uncertainty and the mundane of a trip to the mail room torn apart by an unexpected encounter, tears tracing down my cheeks in a near-empty classroom while I eeked out a plea to a kind listening professor that I just wanted life to be normal again.

And in time, it was. But last fall was a semester full of very good moments superimposed over moments of sad and hurt and frustrated, rolled together for a wide, varied, scattered, deep, growing kind of semester.

This fall? I don’t know, really. It feels different. Feels like I’ve wasted time- too much of it. Feels like I have not done much work, although I’ve not missed an assignment, always turned pages, papers, books, in with the date on the front: on time.

This fall is work, of course; I love that swim coach job, and the coworker friendships, little athlete blessings it’s brought with it. There’s a youth group, too; all those high school students I so love, the same hearts who I have watched work, learn, grow, change, through WOW Camp over the past years.

Maybe I’m making excuses, though.

Making excuses for a semester that’s moving towards ending, a semester which feels like a spot on the screen, moving fast, whipping me by, all the while I wait for something bigger, something better, to arrive. Maybe that’s why it’s felt like an odd fall; maybe every day that I go through, counting the hours until the next day, has added up to nine weeks of skimming through days that seem unsettled, weird, straining towards what’s new, hoping desperately that new is better.

But maybe in all those nine weeks, I missed the good- the best, even- in each of those days.

But there still are five weeks here- maybe six, depending on how I count- and I think now, now that we’re ticking down, I’ll take these days, these hours, these moments, and live them well, live them full, live them joyful, joyous, because what’s next can only be as good as what I’m making of what’s now.

~Natalia

Moving

We’re here again on Saturday night,

home again for family and dinner

and friends and a movie.

And last night was downtown,

Michigan Avenue, dressed up, dessert.

And tomorrow will be a swim meet,

working with those little athletes again,

and youth group, my favorite Sunday night time.

And you, well, you’re having adventures, too- even if they don’t feel like adventures.

And you, well, you’re learning things about God and faith and growth and letting go, too- even if it feels hard and fake and chaotic.

And we all move on paths that are woven, intersected, with God and with each other and with intentionality.

Moving in school weeks and weekends and are full and somehow not, all at the same time. Moving in family and home and dishes and a baby running shirtless and another who lost a tooth.

And we all- you and me- He keeps us all moving.

~Natalia

New Year’s Resolutions…

I’ve never really made New Year’s Resolutions. That resolutions are eventually broken, discarded, forgotten has stuck with me more than the purpose and excitement of creating resolutions, and I’ve rather avoided them. When pressed, I said I hadn’t thought about it, that I needed to give it more consideration.

And that’s true.

But a little more questioning; do I have any ideas? And suddenly, I’ve created a list.

I’ll get my life together, which is mostly for humor because let’s be honest: a life put together doesn’t actually exist, and even if it did, I’d be the last one to figure that out. And I’ll make this semester better than last year’s spring semester. And I’ll read more books and maybe visit Pennsylvania again and Mexico most definitely, and I’ve been thinking about New York City for a while now.

And there’s lists and goals and I can see why people make resolutions. But it takes a breath and a thought to wander wide of God’s plan, and a blink more and I’m running myself full speed on my own way, my own power, my own resolutions.

But I’ve tried that before and I know falling hard. I know trying my hardest, giving my very best, running on empty to get this right because I know I can do this.

But I wasn’t made to do this by myself. I wasn’t made to create plans, to right my path, to master the realm I live in. I was made for the purpose of following Him. Loving Him. Glorifying Him. His intentionality far outweighs anything I could ever imagine, ever fathom, and He put me in this year, this place, this now for a reason.

And sure, I have resolutions. Or maybe goals is a better way to describe them. But they’re not my purpose. My purpose is to follow Him, and He’s the undercurrent, the rock, the strength behind my every step. In His power, I’ll glorify Him. But it doesn’t just stop there. His purpose is where I’m supposed to be, but it’s also the best place to be. I don’t get it, and I don’t get Him, at least not completely.

But I do trust Him. I trust His will to be right, and His heart to be perfect. I trust His grace to hold fast, and His words to be true. I trust Him to teach me and I trust Him to lead me.

And it’s not really a resolution, because it’s only His power in me that makes anything right, but this is exactly how I want to start my new year, in the hand of the God who’s brought me this far, and won’t leave me stranded.

~Natalia

I Wish

I thought this evening, sitting in bed and my mind wandering to what I would blog about, that it would be nice, for once, to blog about how I finally got my life together.

Mentally constructing the first words, first lines of a post, I wondered what it would be like to write about how I accomplished everything I needed to do. How I stayed on top of relationships, my walk with the Lord, and other extracurriculars. I daydreamed for a moment about what it would look like, practically, to have it all in line and get it all done.

My dream lasted a moment, maybe a little longer, and I came back to reality. Because I know in my heart that there will never be a day when I completely have it all together, get it all done, perform well in every area of my life.

I will never achieve perfection in relationships, balancing time surrounded by friends and time alone with precision. I’ll never hit the perfect balance that exists between drinking in the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, and pouring that out into the lives of those around me.

I can get on top of homework, and generally strive to do so, but a planner full of pink high light marks, full of accomplished tasks, too often means a heart full of half-prayed prayers and relationships that I haven’t nearly poured my all into.

I’ll most likely never hit the balance just right. Never be able to consistently hold to the magic rhythm, the perfect schedule of life that automatically means that I have it all under control.

And I suppose I’m okay with that.

I have to be okay with that.

And not only that, but I have a reason to be okay with it.

I’ve told myself and I’ve told you, and the line is sometimes blurred between who I’m telling, who I’m reminding. When I sit up late during the last weeks of the school year and tell you that God is faithful, God provides, God knows best, I’m not just telling you, I’m reminding me.

I’m reminding myself of the truths I’ve been taught. The wisdom I’ve seen. The grace I’ve experienced.

And tonight, when I tell you about my perpetual inability to be exactly as put together as I’d like to be, it’s not because I’m angry or complaining. Just because I’ll never be just as good as I’d like to be doesn’t mean I’m quitting everything.

I can’t quit everything.

Can’t quit because God, the same God who speaks into my heart and life, the same God who quite intentionally put me at Moody, on this floor, in this place, because that God is just as real and powerful as He’s ever been.

He’s just as good and wise and great and gracious as He’s ever been. And if the lesson I’m confronted with in every area of my life, the lesson of my own insufficiency, is pushing me more and more into His arms, more and more to rely completely on Him, then I trust Him to do that.

I trust Him to truly know what’s best, what’s right, what’s stretching me to become more and more like Him everyday.

I trust Him for that. I trust Him. I trust Him.

But sometimes I just wish I could really be on top of everything.

~Natalia

Thread Unwound

There’s a certain feeling. A reaching, searching feeling in my head and my heart. I know what I’m reading. I know what words she just said. I know the straight and true meaning of the words my ears just heard, but there’s something else. I know there is.

There’s another meaning, a greater significance, to what was said, what was written. Maybe not for everyone; maybe this double meaning, this hint of something so much deeper, is only for me. Maybe the connection that I feel stirring within me is a connection only I’d make just now.

But it doesn’t occur to me right away. Instead, I’m left mentally searching, casting about for what exactly I’m thinking, what it is exactly that pokes my heart. I’m reaching, the fingers of my mind and heart stretched as far as they can, trying to put the pieces together.

I know there’s something there, but it’s just out of reach. I’m almost there, I’ve almost clicked the pieces into place, I’m almost able to sit back and marvel at the way God has tied these strands of my life together, the lessons He’s teaching me, but I’m not quite there.

And then, slowly, things begin to come into focus. I’ve grabbed firm hold of a single thread of this lesson, this grand scheme of growing, and I’m not letting go. Slowly but surely, I’m following the thread. Upside down and twisted, I’m slowly unwinding the jumble of life, sorting out what the lesson is. Listening intently to the whispers amidst the roar of day-to-day, I think I’m beginning to understand.

She asked me first, and asking her occurred to me, to my shame, as a bit of an afterthought. What about you? I texted back, Anything I can pray for you?

She responded honestly and thanked me for my support, for carrying her burdens, in this metaphorical and spiritual way. I read her text with a mix of surprise and sudden contentment, tinged with a sweet warmth.

Days, hours later, I returned to her text. I had prayed, repeatedly, for her request, and meant each word with all my heart. I truly, truly yearned for her petition to be answered, and I thought about it frequently.

And, as I thought about it, I felt the stretching, the wondering. I began to cast about for an answer. Why was I so affected by her request, why did her honesty in sharing so touch me, why was I so adamant that God hear me, that God touch her life? There must be a why.

My mind and heart searched, flipping through thoughts, feelings, emotions. Sorting out the why from the what from the who. I knew there was a reason, and I struggled to find it, unweaving the threads of my thoughts until I could tell the yellow from the red from the green.

It’s honesty and vulnerability and trust. It’s prayer and God and sovereignty. And I’m straining to grasp the connection between them all. There’s trusting God to answer, yes, but there’s more. There’s trusting God to use her words to me, her sharing, to grow both of us. It was a simple question I asked, and one that is answered flippantly too very much. But there was something else in her words. Something I didn’t catch at first.

There’s an intentionality there that I almost missed. Almost, but not quite. A quiet, soft, deep intentionality that I just barely caught a glimpse of.

An intentionality, a choice, a determination, to use her answer, her words, her texting conversation with me to build. Build intentionality. Build friendship with me. Build trust in Him.

An intentionality that I almost missed. But caught.

~Natalia

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