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How To Build A Life (on mornings in the new place)

April 5, 2015

Wake early, and earlier still. There still won’t be time enough. But measure out the three heaping scoops of coffee, fill the coffee pot to the 10 cup line, and flip the switch from ‘off’ to ‘on’. Try not to lament the use of a coffee maker, try not to feel guilty in the secret pleasure of the coffee brewing so easily. Answer a few texts and marvel at the ease of communication with wi-fi and an iPhone. Write an email to the one whose routines you know so well.

Wrap up in the green fleece blanket, slip on slippers and throw on the long black sweats. It’s chilly, at 5:10 am. Turn the key in the lock of the front door, and again in the lock of the black metal gate, slide the dead bolts and cringe at the noise. Unlock the morning, step out into the still-dark. The chair with the brown cushion, the one brought from home, is waiting. Fold hands around the warm mug of coffee, sit still, and wait for the light.

Once upon a time, a sunrise was an explosion of color and glory. Now, the sky lightens in inches, and morning slips in practically in secret. Nevertheless, morning has yet to fail in its ever-faithful arrival. I know no other way to tell this story.

Whisper the ‘let my soul rise’, and the ‘glory-be’s’. Hold fast to the comfort of words spoken across borders and languages. Bring back a wandering mind, the one going through the unending to-do list of the day, the one fretting over the arguing children, the less-than sweet 5 year old. Ask for forgiveness for the lack of joy, the failure of small kindnesses. Promise to do better, to try harder: know the utter absurdity of promises like those.

Read a Psalm (The Lord bends down: this, goodness and mercy, is nearly incomprehensible), an excerpt from Buechner, a passage from The Message. By now the sky has lightened enough to see the road, so it is time to go. Pull on the running shoes, the broken-down ones from the sister across the ocean. Zip the iPhone into a back pocket, take ridiculous joy in the app that will count kilometers and track pace. It’s been years since something like 5 miles has been run, and there is satisfaction in the legs that grow less tired, the miles slowly accumulating underfoot.

There are newer shoes in the closet. They see the trail, too. I love the new shoes, every time I slip them on. But some days, only the old shoes will do–the ones worn before me, the ones wearing clear through. I know no other way to tell this story.

Go straight up the hill leaving the compound. Don’t forget to look up, to see if Kili is looming. She’s not, now that the rains have come. Mt. Meru, too, is shrouded in clouds, and the whole sky is gray. It’ll sprinkle before returning home, and puddles will form in the ruts of the track. Watch for the slippery spots, pick a track through the mud. Wonder how one can simultaneously quite abhor the rain and yet feel something akin to enchantment about running in it. Wonder if maybe that is just a little bit of grace.

Arrive home, and linger at the door before going in. But the little ones can hear the foot-fall, and the day beckons un-gently: breakfast, and milk at the door. The floor needs to be swept and there are two new babies of the four-legged variety who have joined the chaos. Hours tumble into each other before it’s yet 8 am: the change in pace of life is as much culture shock as crossing an ocean. Somehow, a new rhythm is being composed, but that rhythm sure has an awful lot of staccato to it.

My brother told me when you leave a sacred place, you learn to experience joy in moments rather than as an all-consuming way of being. This is true, I think, and I’m okay with it, I think. I guess I just need to be better at finding the moments. I know no other way to tell this story.

Tell me I could say this all in one word, and I’ll say I know. Tell me this is just transition and I’ll say I hate that word. Tell me transition is, by definition, a passing through and I’ll say Yes, but I don’t feel like going anywhere. Tell me there’s a poem you love about this: about

how the vivacity of what was is married
to the vitality of what will be*

and I’ll say Okay. You got me.

It turns out a life is built in the living. Which isn’t as simple as it sounds.

*Lines Written In The Growing Days Of Darkness, Mary Oliver

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Karen Vander Sluis permalink
    April 6, 2015 5:40 am

    Hi there. Merle and I moved alot with the family. Some were very difficult because one of us or both didn’t want to go. We found new things to enjoy and made new friends. It made us stronger when we went through changes (sometimes). Remember you are not doing this alone. God gives what we need and is always close by. Prayers from others and you yourself give you strength and peace. Karen

  2. Laura permalink
    April 9, 2015 5:15 pm

    Loved this. Thanks for continuing to be open about your process. Your writing always causes me to contemplate… I think you’re right that life is built in the living. Because life on earth for all people IS transition. It’s one long transition from the temporary, temporal, deceptive NOW to the everlasting, substantial, unshakable ALWAYS. For some, that ALWAYS is eternal separation. For others, it’s eternal consummation. Jesus-followers are pilgrims and sojourners in these fleshly tents. I don’t think we were ever meant to ever feel completely at home! Maybe a way to describe the process of moving to a new place is the picture of a snow globe, or one of those oil and water science experiments… or maybe washing a bowl of rice… Everything gets shaken up, chaff rises to the top, the water gets cloudy. And you keep adding water and stirring it up and pouring out the dirty water until everything is clean and settled. It’s the unsettling and resettling that is so jarring. But for us, each time we’ve moved, God has removed more chaff, made us trust Him in the haziness, cleaned out some dirt, and helped everything settle back better than before… Continuing to pray for your current resettling as you look forward to the Time when painful transitions are over forever!!!

    <3, laura

  3. Ashley (Clark) Ransom permalink
    September 20, 2015 1:57 pm

    I just found your blog recently through a link someone posted, and though you aren’t writing here any more, I’ve really loved reading through your posts. My family and I serve in a big Asian city (very different from rural Africa, but still…). Just now, as I came back here to read some, I realized that I think I know your husband’s grandparents very, very well. Are they Ray and Effie? They have been friends of my grandma since they were young and just getting ready to go on the field, and I still see Effie occasionally when we are back in East TN for visits. I think I probably must have met your in-laws, too, at some point. Anyway, if you are writing elsewhere now, I would love to read it. If not, thanks for sharing a bit of yourself in this place.

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