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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Seeds

I shift in my seat, leaning against the high plush back of the worn swivel chair. Across the room, she’s tucked into one of the twin orange arm chairs. The white board, draped in Christmas lights, the day’s goals and final assignments still scrawled across it, spans the wall between us.

She appeared in the doorway not long after dismissal, stepping purposefully, peacefully into the classroom, her voice heard easily in the rare quiet. For several long minutes, I sat at my desk, half-heartedly typing an email, while she spoke. A kind of multitasking, I suppose.

But soon, the tiny screen has been folded down, its pure glow now limited to illuminating its own keyboard, while I gaze across the room, listening intently.

See, this is the kind of music that you should be listening to, always are listening to, she says as she catches the faint strains of the Disney soundtrack I’ve put on Pandora. I laugh, nodding. It’s pretty much classical and movie scores during the day, I tell her, but I break it up with some Disney in the afternoons. 

She tells me she’s begun a preaching internship, at her church. This is not remotely surprising to me, given the plethora of mini-sermons I’ve been treated to since meeting her, and I tell her this. She sits, silent for a moment, and I wait, watching her.

I know the movements she makes. The hand raise before a joke, before sarcasm. The pause, the intensity sliding into her gaze before a bold statement. The finger raised, pointing at me, calling me back to me, before a particularly relatable statement.

You’re in a different place now than you were then, she says, as the conversation weaves comparisons between this day, this week, this lesson, and the shape and flow of my life barely 10 months ago.

I’d not considered that point before- not truly- and I tilt my head, letting the comparison, the contrast, sink in. You’re right, I tell her after a moment. I’ve moved, of course. Switched schools, taken a full-time job, in the past months. But she’s not referring to locale or employment; we both know that.

I think then about the woman- the girl?- who hurtled through life all those months ago. I think about the battles I fought, the struggles I faced, the choices I made, and as I mentally run through the days, weeks, emotions, feelings of a year ago, I see last year’s self turned so inward.

I made big choices: relationships, jobs, living situation, and I look back to the hours that I spent shrinking into my own heart, my own head. Like a vacuum with no air output, I pulled my worry, my concern, my very surroundings into the chaotic, spinning fortress inside me. And there I agonized. There I stayed.

Your compassion is so evident, she says. I see it all the time. I nod, hesitant to pick up, to hold, the kindness she’s laid before me.

She speaks again, and I cross my legs, lean elbow on knee, chin in palm. The theme to Hercules plays quietly from my computer, creating soft undertones of equal parts whimsical and heroic.

You’re right, I tell her, slowly nodding my agreement. I have changed a lot, matured a lot, these past months. She rocks her head sideways, eye brows raised momentarily, the plain look of I told you so. 

I’m much more at peace,  I observe, my eyes wandering to the string of cheerful lights hanging above her head.

She agrees then; her hum of assent firm, settled. The conversation continues; winding, tracing, ebbing, flowing.

We speak the sovereignty of God. We trace lines of conversation, of memories, stories, questions, long down the trail of thought. Our conversation moves to a table in a bustling, cozy restaurant not far from school. There are pauses, thoughts, sudden bursts of excitement. We agree, we challenge. Once, I shrug, almost subconsciously. As if the weight of the words we’ve collected, savored, might simply slip of my back, dissolve into the floor like something imagined, something vague or misty.

But conversations, like friendships, and maturity, and the grace to grow yet more, are not easily dismissed, or forgotten.

Rather, they are seeds of so many things. Seeds of joy. Of hope. Of grace. Of learning. Watered with honesty and conviction, blossoming under the gentle care of time.

Because with words, with time, with dinner on a rainy Friday night in a big city- we’re always sowing seeds.

~Natalie

 

This is Where I Want to Be

It’s been a rather quiet several months on here, at Leadmewhere.com. It’s not been an accident, really. And truly, there has been much to live. January, February, March brought student teaching in a 4th grade class in the north suburbs; 19 students, one beloved cooperating teacher, and long hours of planning, preparing, and reflecting.

As March faded into April, the pace of life become near-frantic and uncertainty, deadlines and decisions flew past, one after the other with barely a moment to rest. I agonized over writing cover letters for jobs that didn’t seem quite the right fit. I interviewed for a job that would only last two months. A relationship ended. I got the two-month job, becoming a full-time kindergarten teacher only three days after ending my student teaching. I moved out of the home of the pair of professors who taught and mentored me for years, and welcomed me with open arms into their home for the duration of my student teaching.

I remember what I wore on April 20th, my first day teaching kindergarten in the city, but many of the other details of that day- and the ones that followed- have slipped away, melting, blending together to form the eight weeks that I spent eating, sleeping, breathing- even dreaming- the care and education of 13 little children. Their struggles, voices, accomplishments, and futures consumed me, and I didn’t stop until June 10th, when those tiny people graduated from kindergarten.

I breathed, then, and even took a roadtrip to Ohio, in which I listened to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in the car, spent four days with the Jen and her sweet family, and attended a wedding to which I was not invited. Once back, I dived once more, for another year, into the planning, the preparation, the excitement of WOW Camp.

Family trips to Michigan are the order of the day in August, and it was 2am when Stevy and I finally rolled into the garage last night.

Now it’s the middle of August, and I’ve three weeks until school- and my career as a 5th grade teacher- officially begins, but I was at school today, and I know that there is work to be done, lessons to be planned, a room to be set up, even now.

There’s been so much, and there will always be so much, because this is life and it’s not meant to be spent simply willing the hours to pass. I’m doing and I’m going and I’m learning and I’m living, and really, it has been good.

But this page, the hundreds of posts I have written, are here because in the living, in the learning, I also want to remember. I see scenes that sear my heart with their beauty, and capture my imagination with what has happened, what might happen, and I want to remember that. I live moments, experiences, days, that overwhelm me with their significance, even in the mundane, and I want to capture that, record that, write that all down. And this, here, is where I do that. And I never want that to stop.

So yes, I know it’s been sparse. I know the words have been few here. But the moments have been so very many, and I treasure the opportunity to write, even though what I say is so small when compared to what I see, what I hear, what I live. And I know that it will not always happen, I will not always find the time. But when I can, when the lights dim and the hour is late and it’s quiet all around, this is the place I want to be. This writing, this remembering, this celebrating and savoring, is what I want to be doing.

~Natalia

Even the Bathrooms

April, 2012. Eight months into my undergraduate career and I’m feeling spontaneous, flippant, perhaps vaguely overtired by and underconcerned about the outcome of my semester. Riding the El for hours each week, commuting to and from that beloved poolside job, I stop one night, on the walk from city stop to city school, and step into Walgreens. Ten minutes later, I’m down $11 and carry a bag containing one box of semipermanent hair dye, swinging from my hand all the way up the street, up the elevator, to my room.

Two days later, late on Friday night, after another afternoon spent pacing the pool deck, dodging splashes, cheering on Friday Fun Day relays, Mary dyes my hair in the bathroom down the hall from our adjacent rooms.

We take a selfie first, a kind of Before Picture. Except there is no After, and the flash from my phone goes off, reflecting oddly off the bathroom mirror, and it takes five tries before we’re both looking, both smiling, both content with our expressions.

She dyes my hair, and late that night, I post that selfie on Instagram.

The next morning, Saturday, my homework-in-bed, no-breakfast-early-to-lunch day, there’s a notification on my phone, a comment on last night’s picture from a friend who graduated this very school several years before, when my own dreams of attending Moody were middle school fantasies.

Ah, those bathrooms, she says, I remember them well! I have many treasured memories from my time at Moody! She exclaims.

The comment makes me smile, and I pause for a moment, phone tossed haphazardly onto the bedspread beside me, and imagine the treasured memories that I will make, in the years and months to come. I wonder who my treasured friends will be, I hear the question echo vaguely, not even fully articulated, in the back of my mind. I wonder what we will do, what we will look back on as our own precious memories, the intangible and unrepeatable moments that define our time at college.

I wonder, and it never occurs to me, sitting there in my room, the heavy scent of hair dye still thick around me, that I am living those moment, with those treasured people, right then.

Now, August 2015, I still have red hair, but it’s only the ends and this look cost me 85 cents of Kool-Aid powder and a pot of boiling water. Now, I haven’t lived in a dorm in nearly eight months, and the hours that I spend on public transportation have significantly decreased. Now, I have a Moody Bible Institute diploma in a school-issued cover, and no papers to write, nor reading assignments to check off of my to-do calendar. Now, my neighbors are families, my phone is the primary way in which I communicate with Mary, and no one bangs on the wall of my room when I laugh too loud after 11pm.

And I miss it all.

And I know now, I see now, that those were the treasured memories.

The three times Mary and I dyed each other’s hair, sitting on one of the mismatched chairs we dragged from the kitchen down the hall, old towel around shoulders, looking up intermittently as the door swished open and closed.

Showering in those shadowy showers, risking scalding with every clink of the pipes, every near-unnoticed change in water pressure potentially signaling the impending loss of valuable skin cells. Yes, it burned, yes, I stormed out of the bathroom more than once when my preferred shower had been taken, but even that room, with the odd rock-patterned floor, the green tinted tile bricks, the ever-running toilets- even that bathroom holds a wealth of moments, all its own.

Running in on my way to class, backpack dumped on the flat carpet outside the door, just to check my outfit in the full length mirror next to the sink.

Getting ready in the early morning light in front of that same mirror- when the hour was just too early to justify bumping and shuffling around the room with a roommate mere feet away.

Early morning, late night, and everything in between, that bathroom down the hall is a part of the vast array of moments, places and memories that fold, that weave, that meld together to create the Moody that I treasure, the years that I cherish, the relationships that I’m still overwhelmed with gratitude to have.

~Natalia

Day As Well

On the weeks that fly by,

and the evenings that arrive before I’m ready,

so that 6pm might as well be 11pm,

and then it’s nearly midnight and I’m not really sure what there’s time to do.

It’s on those nights that I sometimes decide not to write.

Not to write here.

But it’s 4pm and I’m sitting in Barnes and Noble,

watching cars drive too-fast through the intersection below,

and I’m writing, now.

It’s almost the end of 2014

(although I wrote 2015 just now, in that line above)

and it occurred to me on Sunday,

sitting under the pale white light of a church morning sky,

to wonder what it is that I’ll remember 2014 for.

Of course, my first thought was the my Little Book-

the increasingly battered miniature notebook

I’ve carted around in my bookbag, my purse, my suitcase,

these past nearly-12 months.

I could check there, of course.

To remind myself.

But there’s a part of my mind that knows, of course,

that I might just as well give a moment,

or maybe several moments,

to consider, to reflect upon,

what I made of this past year, and what it made of me,

and what I’d like to come of the next.

Maybe I’ll do that, here in the next days and weeks.

I realized today, suddenly and rather joltingly, that my student teaching

begins in one week from today.

January 5th.

Of course, I’ll not begin teaching for some days after that,

but a first is a first, and to just have a week feels rather abruptly short.

But really, a year is one week, just over and again,

and they all build on one another,

and I think that in this middle week-

these seven days that span the end of a year,

the beginning of another,

the end of Christmas break,

the beginning of student teaching,

the end, the end, the beginning, again a beginning,

I think I’ll make the same choices today- these days-

that I’d like to make all the other days, as well.

Because I’m not moving through these to get to the others;

each day and each week has 24 hours of value and depth,

decisions that will be made,

memories that will take shape.

And so, this Monday, December 29th,

while the grey clouds settle deeper over the shadowed buildings,

and the people move and stand

and read and shop

and lose and breathe,

I go and I live

and this day, this beginning day, this middle day, this ending day,

could also be a very good day, as well.

~Natalia

Just Here Remembering

I’ve been here for awhile. Sitting on my bed, the lumpy purple throw pillow behind me becoming progressively flatter as I sink deeper into the school-issued mattress. I wonder, as I watch the cursor blink in the empty cavern of the WordPress box, what I will miss about this school when I leave. I sit, breathing the residence hall scent of clean laundry, ramen, and twenty-four different brands of perfume, and feel my mind wander, tracing the threads of routines, classes, and friendships through the past three and a half years.

Gazing with unfocused eyes out the window at the towering buildings across the street, their black windows outlined against the orange-gray background of light pollution, I follow the path my heart and mind trace. I think about the minutes between classes, the rhythmic clock ticks between the 50 and the hour. I think about the conversations I had even this morning between classes; words exchanged with friends as I shrugged my bookbag onto my shoulders, head-jerking my ponytail from its perpetual entrapment under the bag’s thick straps. I think about the settled feeling of familiarity that there is even in those moments between classes. Every week, every day, every hour. Finish the class, pack up the bag, take those steps through the door, down the hall. Moving from learning to learning between friends, beside friends, behind friends.

I think about the lunch routine. Moody’s dining room has a Twitter account- 2000 followers who check in every morning, noon, and night to see what delicacy they’ll be serving us next. Sitting in Romans on Monday, I pull my phone from the bookbag propped haphazardly under my seat, swipe through internet tabs to the food service page. Popcorn chicken and Mac n Cheese! Chicken noodle soup! Tortilla pie! I read to Sara, sitting next to me, her own bookbag drooping rather pathetically against my chair. And in those moments before class begins, the professor at the front of the class looks up from his powerpoint preparation, eyebrows raised, mouth furrowed quizzically, uncertainly. Are you ordering a meal? And I laugh and shake my head, waving my phone in explanation. And he nods, chuckling, as the clock ticks to 11am: the beginning of class.

I think about slipping quite obtrusively into a meeting just this evening. Twenty underclassmen of my own major gathered under the tutelage of the woman whose influence is seeping into every aspect of the education program here at Moody. I’ve interrupted, I know, and I’m about to wait in the hallway once more, but before I can tell her so, she’s there next to me, arm around me, both of us standing between forty eyes and the door I’ve just closed behind me. She introduces me and I feel my cheeks, my neck prickle with the heat of recognition, even as my heart swells with her kind words. I nod, smile, thank her, then slip back into the hallway to wait.

And not twenty minutes later, I’m back in the room, now empty of its underclassmen visitors. And even as she nods in approval of the project I’ve asked her input on, I feel again the shift, an ever-so-slight change in the winds of my footing, my place, my role. She packs her bag and I swing mine back over my shoulder and when the elevator’s dumped us onto the ground floor, we’re engrossed in an impassioned conversation on teaching, curriculum development, and books she knows I’d love, books we both can’t wait to read. And outside in the cold, she steps to the street and I move towards the dorms, my arms wrapped around themselves against the cold, and my parting words declare that I’ll come back to Moody- I’ll work to improve this major, teaching the things we both know need taught.

And we laugh, of course, because it was mostly a joke. But there’s a part that’s serious, a part of me that is passionate about this school and the students and the learning that fill its walls. And I guess, in the end, there are hundreds of things I’ll miss about being here, come December when I roll away, but who knows, who’s really the one to tell, if I won’t yet return to this downtown college?

Of course, God knows, God will say. But that’ll be in His time, in His way. And for now, I’m just here remembering.

~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

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