Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Angel Armies


It was summer and the screen door was the only barrier between me and the evening.  I sat at my desk beside the door so I could see outside while I wrote a class paper.  The yard outside was dark as the streetlight hid behind the towering trees that lined the property between my little cottage and the parking lot beside. 


** Photo Cred: D. Boyte 


Crickets and distant traffic played a quiet song as city life battled nature.

I wrote.  I don’t know what I was writing or for which class.  I was feeling settled and safe.  The cottage was small, but quaint.  My belongings stacked up upon themselves around me.

I loved that the church was across the street.  The church where I volunteered, where I worshiped God, where I connected to people.  I felt less alone. 

I saw a bright light make its way across the lawn and I stood.  It was an odd angle and seemed as though it searched my yard.  I saw a car moving slowly down the street.  Ah, just a car turning the corner.  Back to work. 

Bloomington is a big-small suburb rich with diversity.  I liked it. I hadn’t been there long, only a couple of weeks, but I liked it.  I liked going to Starbucks and hearing several languages.  I liked walking to the grocery store without fear.  I liked that families played at the park and walked along side streets together. 

I heard a “whoosh” and thought I saw a dog run past the open door.  It was frighteningly close.  Instinctively, I jumped up and closed the door.

Before I could lock it I heard a shouting voice from the back of the cottage, the side of the parking lot, the darkest place in the yard. 

“Let me see your hands!  I have a gun.  I’ll shoot.”

“I ain’t got nothin’.”

“I said let me see your hands.  Drop the knife.  I have a gun.  I will shoot you.”

I moved cautiously to the middle of the cottage not sure where the safest place to avoid a stray bullet would be.  I wasn’t even sure where they were or why they were there or who they were. 

“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” I heard my own voice whispering.

Red and blue lights lit the other side of the cottage, the street side, and I realized I was definitely not alone.  Carefully I opened a piece of the blind and looked out.  The street was lined with police cars and officers standing at attention.  Some with guns drawn. 

“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”

Just outside of the back door I heard a rustle and more angry voices, though I don’t recall what they said.  Emerging from the short walk between the garage and cottage two officers escorted a third man.  Wild hair, messy clothes, slumped shoulders.

I was too stunned to feel afraid or angry or sad.  I watched as they took him to the car, closed the doors, exchanged information and cleared the space.

In retrospect, I find it interesting that no one checked on the cottage inhabitants.  How did they know I was safe?  It almost felt like a dream or a movie or a book with me as the reality scene actress. 

At one point before the exit of the crew the Assistant Pastor, who lived across the street, called me.  

“Kris?  Everything ok over there?”

“Yes.  Inside is ok.  I have no idea what’s happening out there.”

“Ok.  Let me know if you need anything.”

“Thanks.  I will keep you posted.”

No shade on him or his wife for not waiting until the hullabaloo quieted before they crossed the street to check in person.  I sure wouldn’t go out there!

Though this happened many summers ago, I was reminded of it the other day.  I heard a line from a song about the God of Angel Armies being always close.  I wonder how many times I have been minding my own business, doing my own thing, unaware of danger around me because I am surrounded by unseen caretakers. 

There are times I could almost feel the shield.

The time when Kellie and I walked down a late, dark street on our way home and were met by a line of leering, drunken men.  We simply sidestepped them and kept walking as if we didn’t see them.  What stopped them?  Or should I ask what did they see that stopped them?

Accidents avoided, credit cards not stolen, purses recovered untouched… how many times was I obliviously living my daily, scattered life while I was surrounded and protected from harm? 

I’m not trying to be mystic or super spiritual or tell you to look for signs of halos and swords.  I’m just saying that there was a night when I was clearly in danger and I didn’t know it because Someone had sent someone to find someone who meant harm. 

Just in case you were wondering, the bad guy had stabbed someone about a block away from my quiet door step.  He hid in an alcove beneath my window and would have been safe in his darkness had it not been for a K-9 unit dispatched.  The German Shepherd was not fooled by the hiding place and lead the rest of his crew straight to the fugitive.  This story could have ended so many other ways, but God had other plans. 

I believe that God really does care about those details of our lives and He really does send angels to protect us.  Sometimes He even lets us glimpse them. 


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Hidden Cost of Missionary Work


There is a hidden cost of missions work that is overlooked.

Yes, it’s expensive to buy plane tickets, food and daily supplies, lodging, transportation.  Those are all budget items that are fairly easy to plan for.  We take our savings or retirement or offerings and sparingly apply them to stretch across the months, or years, we are abroad.  Those are expected expenses and we do our best to be wise.

There is the obvious emotional expense of unfilled heart time.  You know, the deposits made into our lives by those we love while we do everyday life with them.  When you’re abroad, you are not holding your grandchildren when they scrape their knee.  You’re not kissing away the sad days when a dog is lost or a friend moves away.  You’re not listening to the saxophone rehearsal, the reading practice, the math drills.  They can video you in, but it isn’t the same.  Your arms are empty and your heart is drained.  You are glad they are happy and healthy and living well without you, but your arms ache for them. 

Your peers, friends and family, don’t always quite understand why you’re gone, and that’s an emotional drain.  Some of them resent that you aren’t there to help with the life chores.  Someone else has to take mom to the doctor and call you with results.  You can’t be available to babysit or rideshare or decorate.

You pray they have found a new mother figure, a new best friend, a new co-problem solver so they are not facing the problems of life alone. 

You call to catch up and realize you have no idea who is married to whom and when the baby shower will be or what the garden looks like this year.  You realize that moments are slipping away in your time clock which can’t be re-stocked.

It’s hard to communicate what you are seeing and hearing every day.  The market buzz, the language difficulties, the smells of every day life.  You talk about baking banana bread and hoping that you have figured out what the notches on your oven mean.  They smile but can’t understand. 

If you’re really blessed you find a community that becomes a family to you on the field.  You commiserate with them in the morning after the long walk to work.  You hold their babies and plan their birthday parties.  You laugh with them about the awkward language exchanges in a grocery store or metro.  You find familiarity in struggles.  They may be from completely different parts of the world.  Their language base will not be yours, their history will be unknown to you. Yet, you find yourself walking beside them as if you are intrinsically connected.

They are living the same sensations and challenges.  They “get it” without explanation.

All of that is difficult, but not the hardest thing.  The hardest thing is after you’re home.  You return!  Yay!  Everyone rejoices!  There are greeting hugs and special dinners and welcomes of all kinds.  Then day turns to week to month to year.  You realize that your heart is in two places. 

You wonder how your friends over there are managing life. Are they still continuing the things you tried to teach them?  Did they pray today?  Are they reading their Bible?  Is anyone confusing them with a different message of God’s love?  Are they studying?  Are they working together to be better?

The handprints of the expat family members are deep within your memory.  You are glad to be with your family and friends, again, but you miss the others constantly.  You wonder how they are re-settling in their new life.  You pray they have found a new mother figure, a new best friend, a new co-problem solver so they are not facing the strangeness alone. 

You feel guilty for wanting to be back on the field after having missed so many moments with everyone.  You try to swoop back into the common paths, pick up where you left off. 

But you’re different.  You say weird things like, “pass the smetana” and then realize that no one at the table knows what that is.  You stand in a grocery aisle ten times the size of the one you had become comfortable with and feel overwhelmed.  You tear up when someone says the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag while everyone else repeats with boredom.  You watch the news with new insight and have new opinions that no one cares about. 

You try to share it.  That’s not always wise.  “In Russia we….,”  “When I was there …,” You see the glazed eyes of the listener and then the kids tell you it sounds like you’re bragging.  You realize they were busy living a different life which filled your spot in their path.  Meanwhile, your experiences pushed them out and they resent it. 


There is the real cost.  The shaping and pruning which happened while you were being stretched into a useful vessel for the work of God has made you different.  Your family and friends don’t want a new you – they liked the old one well enough. 

Why would someone pay all of those expenses?  Why would someone give up life-moments to go somewhere far away and face untold challenges?  Why would someone cash out retirement and savings to live like a pauper during – and after – a missions trip?  Is it worth it?

Each individual has their own answer to those questions.  For me, I see my life as a gift from God.  I know the failures I have amassed, the foolishness that I walked into full of purpose only to find my life at risk, my money gone, my need for a grace-full Savior to get me out of a mess.  My every day is a present.  I don’t deserve it.  I look at the full, good life of my family.  They live surrounded by goodness and hardly notice.  They are healthy, strong, creative Christians.  I know those are gifts from God and I owe God in return.  Not only my family, but also my abilities.  If I am able to teach and love, it’s only because God has shown me how.  Statistically, that’s not how I should have turned out. 

But God… in His goodness has made me who I am.

When He opened the opportunity, I was compelled to go.  I could not say no.  Not to Moscow, not to Milwaukee, not to wherever He sends me next. 

Is it worth it?  It is.  When I look back at all of the details of my life, when I consider the experiences and the sharing and the praying and the blessings … in spite of the cost … I would do it again.  I am richer for it.  I have learned to hold my memories in boxes.  There is an American box full of fireworks and coffee sipping.  There is a Russian box full of walking and laughter.   There are boxes full of brilliant, rich friendships. 

Life is full of complications wherever you are.  You may as well go where God sends you.  Live fully.  Don’t be afraid to do what is at the end of your hands to do.  Don’t be disappointed when a door closes.  Trust the Author and Finisher of your faith to know what is best. 

In the end, you will find a blessed life with full pages. 

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Easter - Death and Life


I must always consider this season greater than others.  I see rainy, sunny, cold, snowy, sunny Sundays in my Easter history.  It’s always in Spring – the season I dislike more than any other.  Spring has taken so much from me. Mocked me with its motto of new life by taking those who I love the most.  Taunting me with bright skies as it clogged the air, making breathing for this asthmatic simply painful.

For God to come to me over and again so personally in Spring is always a surprise.  

It was Easter season at a Lutheran Church when He spoke very clearly to me, “take up your cross and follow Me.”  I have no idea if anyone else heard Him, but I did.  I can still see the austere arched ceiling, hear the creak of the wooden pews, smell the 100-year old stale air.  Feel the pull of a Force I struggled to understand. 

It echoed the words of yesteryears when I, as a very young girl in Catechism class, went through the Stations of the Cross.  I recall standing before Simon wishing I could have been there.  I vowed I would have done the same. I wanted to be Veronica wiping the face of Jesus, caring for Him.  Easter promises never forgotten. 

Another year, another difficult season in my life, I made my way to church to honor Him for Easter Mass.  I remember the rain, the crowd, what I wore.  Alone in the crowd, the service did nothing to fill my emptiness.  I stood on the steps outside waiting for my ride and considered the fresh cleanness of the air.  Wondering if God could give my life some cleanness, some freshness.  Was I too deeply entrenched in sin that I couldn’t be forgiven anymore?

Through that year, He worked on my life and my heart.  Turning everything I knew upside down.  Conflicts, problems, situations compounded as I struggled to make sense of my life.  My survivor skills were in high gear that year.  Again and again I felt Him reaching for me until finally He compelled me to take a chance on Him.  Lay down my life.  Shift my paradigms.  Face the fear of rejection.  He showed me I needed to die for Him to breathe new life into me. 

A kind voice, a simple message, a clear direction.  Repent – die.  Be baptized – buried.  Be filled with the Spirit of God – born again. 

Simple, but profoundly life changing.  To this day, 32 years later, I can’t explain to someone what happened or how.  It’s my experience alone.  I can retell the story.  I can write about it, talk about it, draw about it.  But there are no words or pictures that can really describe the girl who went into the water and the one who came out.  Not perfect, but new. 

Now, so many Springs later, I still see the joy of life He has given.  Never breaking His word, never leaving me.  There have been dark and difficult days when it was hard to see how I would ever make my way through.  Poverty of love, money, abundance of heartache and lack of peace days. 

Never has He forsaken me, though I deserved to be left behind.  Never has He let go of me, even when I tried to pull myself away. 

The slightest whisper, the smallest gesture, the minimalist plea – He has heard.  Never turning himself away from me.    

Spring.  Easter.  Death and life all twisted together.  Thanks, God.  I am so grateful.  

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Quick Notes

Yes, I know I need to be writing more.  Yes, I realize there are people who benefit from my rambly words.  I'm sorry, really, that I don't stop still often enough.  But life is very full and rich and deep and I'm only now coming to terms with this season.

Back in Milwaukee.  Teaching amazing and brilliant students.  Working with a top-notch, class act staff of educators.  Part of a church community that is totally next level.  I am floundering in blessings.

I'll be speaking tonight at a Singles group and then Tuesday evening at a Mom's group.  I really just am beginning to realize that I'm old enough, experienced, enough to have something worth sharing.  Some things that will help someone else overcome a tough season.

As I was preparing today, I realized it is the anniversary week of my dad's death.  So many miles have been walked since then. So many very hard and very good days have been lived.  I do miss him.  Truly.

In his honor, I share again the most popular piece of my writing:  Daddy's Hands.  I hope that it will encourage you to tend the bridges in your life, hold someone's hand and forgive.

Here is the link :  Daddy's Hands

If you enjoyed this piece, you might also be interested in my books, The Book of Pages About Crossing Bridges  and A Friend Named Jesus.  They can be found on Amazon.com by following these links:

A Friend Named Jesus     The Book of Pages 

Thanks for reading.
God bless!
Kris

Monday, August 14, 2017

NYC Memories





Sitting here in front of my keyboard avoiding the words that are all piled up in my head. 

And then.

There is no time to do anything else except write.

Adjectives and adverbs crowd the air fighting for expression.

And so.  Let me tell you about my journey into the past this summer.

My friends asked me if I wanted to join them as they toured pieces of the east coast.  We had talked of it as a distraction many, many months ago while we were all in Moscow.  Time passed.  Life beckoned.  Finally, two were in Moscow, one in Virginia and I in Milwaukee.  Still, the dreamy idea floated above us as a thread unbroken pulling us to share our love of travel, history and culture.

I’m not sure which of us was more excited and amazed as the travel details came together.   New York City, Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and a side drive to Appleton and Thorp for good measure.  It would be epic!

But I think each city needs its own blog post.  They were much too full to cram into one story. 

First.  New York City.

She welcomed us with open arms.  Hot, sticky, crowded, friendly, generous, laughing New York City.  We went up Freedom Tower, down Wall Street, into The Met, around Time Square and on the Staten Island Ferry.  We made new friends at every turn.


There were many memorable conversations, but one which makes me smile immediately happened as we walked Manhattan looking for breakfast.  We thought perhaps TGIFriday’s was open since the door was open and it was almost lunch time.  No.  They were not.  We continued to a sandwich board up the street, but nothing seemed interesting on the menu.  We mumbled amongst ourselves trying to decide on a plan.

A man in chef’s apparel approached us.  “You lookin’ for a breakfast place?  I know a place.  You go to the corner and then take a left to the next corner.  It’s called Georgie’s.  Best breakfast in New York.  You’re gonna love it.  It’s my friend owns it.  It’s a great spot.  This way to the corner and then left.  Georgie’s.”

He was absolutely right.  Great breakfast.  Decent prices.  Great service.  America on a plate. 

We found a Trump building and stood before the girl who challenged the Bull on Wall Street.  We laughed at the antics of children in the splash pad at Battery Park and discussed the rich stories of settlers there. 

I could hear the whispers of history loudest, however, as we walked a side street toward Freedom Tower.  I saw the Calatrava beckoning at the base of the skyscraper and felt the wind chill my bones. 

I’m not sure what the others were doing or seeing or thinking.  I was lost in reverie as we approached. 

My mind’s eye went immediately back to the first time I was at this site.  The gaping wound in the ground, the scarred buildings surrounding, the twisted metal cross standing firm.  The dust still seemed to permeate the air.  And the sadness!  Oh, the deep sadness on my friend’s face as he spoke of the tragedy and its devastating aftershocks.  That day so many years ago, I stood beside my sister as we tried to process what this might mean for our country. 

I wished for her to walk with me again to this site.  I knew she would understand this wave of emotion in my heart as I stood looking into the black granite pools.  Names of the lives shattered line the granite as water pours forever into the base.  To me it looks like a million tears seeping into oblivion.

A poem began writing itself in my mind as I slowly walked past.  Where were you the day America cried?  Its words spilling from my heart into my own ears and marking my heart. 

I can’t express to you how deeply moved I was standing there. 

Sadness gave way to American patriotism as I looked up into the monolith of Freedom Tower.  Like a giant fist thrust into the sky and into the faces of our enemies, she taunts.  We took the Freedom tour from the basement to the top watching the history of the city on a panorama in the elevator.  Incredible, beautiful, majestic, awesome, inspiring. 

Tangible proof that out of the ashes we rise.

There were other great events in New York City.  Great in their impressions upon me. 

The Met, for example.  What an immensely beautiful and amazing place!  A quick stop in a series of several stops in one long, marathon day.  I stood amazed at the clean, white lines within and without. 
I caught a quiet moment one day to jot notes and pour out some of the words absorbed from the people of New York City.  Sitting at a deli window, I watched lives stream past me.  Rich, poor, busy, slow, young, old all scurrying somewhere important as I, from my fish bowl, observed.

It was Tuesday evening when the comparison started to form in my mind.  I was sitting in a theater on Broadway watching Cats.  It’s whimsical funniness holding me in a grip of amazement.  I loved the music and the personalities and the costumes and the set and the lights!  Wow!  All of the pomposity faded, however, when Grizabella began the first note of “Memories”. 

The tale she sang of a future haunted by the present resonated with me.  She begged to be noticed, to be loved, to be sought after as she had been once.  Humbled, thrown aside, and humiliated she begged the morning to wait until hope returned.  Then it happened!  She found herself standing at the brink of dawn in a new day, a new life, restored.
I heard myself in her voice.  I saw my past and present reflected in her words.
The first time I traveled to New York City my life was perched on a precipice of change.  I was unsure of every step and without any form of confidence.  Critical voices had twisted my self-image into a heap of fear.  I begged God to help me out of the abyss, and He did. 

Now, many years later, I view my future from a much different perspective.  It was impossible for me to walk the streets of NYC without seeing younger me darting in the shadows. 

I laugh at her fears now.  Each of them have been addressed, renounced, walked upon.  Afraid of getting lost?  I’ve traveled internationally alone.  Afraid to be poor?  I have gained, lost, gained, lost and found I need very little to be happy.  Afraid my reputation will be ruined?  I have made my own name.

Well, not me, really.  Not without the help of God and many, many friends.

A sense of strength grew in me in New York City on this trip.  A sense of identity.  Able to speak my own thoughts.  Able to identify my own ideas.  Able to make my own way. 

Just as I see the twisted metal cross imprinted in my memories as a sign of His presence in the middle of our nation’s tragedy, I hear the strains of “Memories” lifting my eyes away from yesterday and towards tomorrow.

“If you touch me, you’ll understand what happiness is.  Look a new day has begun.” 



Friday, June 30, 2017

Flying Time


Funny how time flies.  They say it’s when you’re having fun and it moves faster as we age.  Does that mean we have more fun as we get older?  Or do we somehow learn to treasure each moment for the jewel that it is once we learn how quickly the sparkle fades?

I’m a writer who hasn’t written much of anything for almost a full year.  My words and my time have been wrapped up, tangled up, caught up and filled up with teaching.  A new curriculum.  A new system.  A new set of colleagues. 

And readjusting. 

In the last ten years I should have become accustomed to change as it has been the only constant.  From Milwaukee to Minneapolis to Thorp to Moscow and back to Milwaukee.  From legal secretary to teacher and back around again.  I’ve added age, pounds and a degree to my status.

In all these ten years, I never expected to live in Milwaukee again.  Yet, here I am.

I thought it would be easier because so much was familiar.  Teaching Middle School is where I have the broadest experience.  My apartment is within a few miles of where I spent the first 40 years of my life.  The church I attend is filled with acquaintances I’ve known for years.  The language is English!

And yet, so much had changed in my ten years hiatus that nothing was the same except the street signs.

On occasion, I pulled the strings of my history in an attempt to find my bass line.   It was like walking into a familiar old building whose stone steps and hard wood rails hold your imprint.  Standing outside you look at its fa├žade and you know it.  You remember when the rain changed the color from white to grey.  You see the dip of a thousand hands which have smoothed the finish on the rail.  You climb the steps, pull the heavy wooden door, peer inside the familiar, cool entry only to find someone has taken the day guard station and replaced it with an electronic check-in system.  You look to the left, but the news stand is gone.  Where is the gum?  The water?  The Grebe’s sandwiches?  Instead, there is only an empty space.

While I was away, time kept moving people and things - rearranging, renovating, reinventing the common spaces.

 Of course, I knew this would happen.  I expected it.  I tried to imagine what I might see.  I had visited Milwaukee during those years, but it’s different to live somewhere.  Visitors see only the party make-up, not the morning face. 

I didn’t expect it to take me so long to settle back in and find my way around.  I lost my voice and couldn’t make my pen work right.  It kept me from writing. I needed to find new words to say the old things. 

First, it was my work.  I expected words to fall from my heart as they always had before.  Instead, I found a new Kris sitting at an old table with nothing to say.  My heart was poured out a hundred times a week to students whose parched lives drained me.

Second, it was my place.  I struggled to find familiar spaces to get my bearings.  Instead, I tired of hearing myself say, “I remember when this was that.”  My memories had flown away in the lake breeze and no one was there to notice. 

I’m not exactly sure why God has brought me back to this place at this time, except to do this work.  I have lost two close friends suddenly this year.  Women whose lives were integral to the success of others. Women whose families have a gaping hole in their absence.  Taken without warning or planning.  Everyone was healthy and happy and good one day, and the next found a new chapter being written.

All of these experiences this year have lead me to believe I have some responsibility, some work, some thing I must do.  I feel the weight of it.  I pray I don’t disappoint God in its achievement.  I long to be home with Jesus and yet…. Some weighty chapter holds my feet to the line.

Love lavishly.  Seize the day.  Be the change you wish to see.  More than Facebook status phrases for me.  It’s my current life description as the clock ticks.  What’s yours? 



Saturday, March 11, 2017

Another First Year


Sitting still to write is just not my thing these days.  The seasons are flying past in a blur!

My days are longer now than they have ever been and filled with constant, constant, constant teaching.  And learning.  Paradigm shifting is giving me mental vertigo.


But it’s good.

It makes me feel very alive.  Enjoying the deep richness of the sun when it shines.  Drinking in the quiet evenings when the crisp air makes the stars twinkle more brightly. 

I love being on the front row in the Learner’s Audience!  Watching a new concept, a new confidence, a new ability blossom is a teacher’s true reward. 

God is good.

I also find myself working to not compare and contrast the last First Year to this.  I know that retrospect makes everything rosier.

“Remember walking the beautiful promenade of Red Square?  The brilliance of a million lights decorating GUM Department Store?  The proud stateliness of The Kremlin?  The stunning colors of St. Basil’s?  Drinking coffee at Double B?  Dinner at Le Paine?  Gorky Park with all of it’s chaos?”  Flashes through my mind on the dreary days.  And always surrounded with laughter and conversation because I never went there alone.

Easy to forget the thick dusty, dirty air.  The crowds of pushing people.  The undercarriage of uncertainty in everything spoken.  The absolute weariness of Moscow life with its long days, short nights and energy draining activity.

America seems so much simpler. 

I remember telling someone last spring that one of the first things I was going to do was to get in my car, drive to a grocery store, buy as many things as I could with $100, put all the bags in my car and drive home. 

Ah!  Such a simple, mundane task in America!  An impossible feat in Moscow!  Not only did I never have the ruble equivalent of $100 to spend on groceries, but to carry them home!  I don’t have enough arms or strength to manage that task.  Oy!  And who is buying all those bags?  Bags aren’t free, you know! 

The irony is that American grocery stores with their aisles and aisles of choices overwhelm me now.  Who buys all that stuff?  I prefer to go to the little Italian vegetable market around the corner from my home.  I walk there.  It’s only about 10 minutes away.  I bring my own bag.  Fill it up with what I can carry – mostly fresh vegetables and bread - which usually lasts a week or so. 

I didn’t expect Russia to leave such a deep mark in my lifestyle.

Another funny thing is where I go when I want to walk just for the sake of it.  Milwaukee has a lovely downtown area.  Skyscrapers mix with old architecture declaring a storied past.  There are shops and restaurants and coffee shops galore!  French?  Italian?  Cuban?  It’s there.  Not so different than a Moscow neighborhood.  Smaller, yes, but still diverse and interesting.

Where do I go?  The lakefront.  Long, stretches of paths with few interruptions and miles and miles of open, clear water and air.  Expansive emptiness.  Complete contrast to Moscow’s miles of high rise apartments and congested traffic.

The school where I am teaching appears to be a complete opposite to that which I left behind.  Moscow’s elite ambassador/business children compared to Milwaukee’s urban youth.  Many children who have every gadget and fashion accessory they want compared to some children from homes without enough of anything to go around. 

Yet, the children are the same.  They hunger for attention, affirmation, affection.  They search for ways to have someone notice their value.  They shine at unexpected moments sharing grace and compassion when we least expect it. 

They listen to the same music, read the same books, laugh at the same jokes.  They are, after all, just kids trying to find their place in the world.  And I am just a teacher trying to help them spread their wings.

I am hopeful this first year will really be as lovely in retrospect as my first year in Moscow.  I hope I remember only the new friends I have met and the laughter shared.

The frustrations with my limitations, the self-doubts created by my failures, the growing pains – those things I will put in the same box with the other hard First Year memories.  I will take them out only to remind myself that I am not alone.  It’s like that poem Footprints.  In those difficult “I-Can’t-Do-This!” days the strength of my Jesus is made perfect.  He is carrying me and helping me to be the best possible version of myself.  Through Him, I can do all things.  Through His grace, I can manage the heartaches. Through Him I can see the negative actions with eyes of love. 

This First Year is almost over. 

What do I remember most so far?  The chapel service when the Spirit of God moved in and grace filled the air and all of the students felt it.  The book discussions where their imaginations took them beyond their neighborhood and into another world.  The art work which surprised them and blessed the school.  The writing!  Oh, the writing!  The evolution and growth and expansion of ideas and perceptions. 

How I love to unpack their words. 

Spring is in the air and summer is beckoning.  But not so fast, please.  There is more learning to happen this First Year.