My People

I was sweating. All the windows were open and the fans were on, but I was still as hot as I could be. The stove was cranked to the max and I was urging the second pot to come to a boil. ‘Did I read the recipe correctly? Is there something I had left out?’ I asked myself my mental checklist questions. I scanned the kitchen: the salads were topped, the bread was cut, the snacks were out. But something had vanished.

Just a few moments before the room had been bustling. People were laughing and asking what they could do to help. The refrigerator and cupboards were opened and closed again as each item taken out found its spot. The air had been heavy with the sound of chatter. But now everything was quiet and the kitchen was empty but for me and the meal. Finally, both were ready.

I turned the corner into the living room to invite everyone to come to eat and was struck by what I saw. I won’t soon forget that scene.

Eighteen adults were crowded onto two couches, a recliner, and a love seat. Their bodies were crammed into the small spaces while their arms rested on, under, and around each other. For some, their legs fought to keep their balance, and for others their legs did their best to stay out of anyone else’s way. Their eyes were fixed on Carolyn and their minds were fixed on the events of their first day in Palestine. Coming from their hearts was a seemingly palpable spirit of comfort and joy, of love and compassion. But what struck me most of all was the familiarity of their faces. They were the faces of my friends, the faces of my church family, the faces of my supporters and the faces of my encouragers.  And these faces were lighting up my living room.

I took a moment to take it in and to seal the image in my mind and in my heart. And then I took my place with them, with “my people.” I scooted in and squished myself between, happy and finally at home in the midst of them.

Mr. Encourager

It was Friday morning, the day for my long run, and I had let myself sleep in. Usually a few of us meet at 4:45 am and head to Jerusalem, where we’ve found a “relatively” flat route, and put in double-digit miles before the hot sun comes up. But I had hit the snooze and sent an “I’m sorry, I can’t do it today” message to the group. Fortunately, (or unfortunately), accountability lives within. By 7 am I had parked my car and stretched my legs. I took off alone to complete the 12 miles, happy to be setting my own pace, but missing the company of the others.

For me, the first mile is always the most difficult- it’s harder than the uphill sixth mile and even harder than the tenth mile when my legs are tired and my knees hurt. During that first mile a battle rages in my mind. It screams at me that I can’t breathe, that the distance is too long, that walking is just as effective as running. Continue reading

Ready

I stood in front of the group of Seniors and even though their faces were bright and cheery, warm and welcoming, I had a horrendous feeling in the pit of my stomach. They looked at me excitedly and all started talking at once. I listened harder and urged them to slow down and talk one at a time. I couldn’t understand a word of what they were saying. The strangely familiar feeling of uneasiness grew inside me.

A girl at the back of the classroom yelled at me insistently, but I still couldn’t make out her words. Uneasiness turned to frustration and the students spoke louder and moved closer. Something within me caused me to look down and check what I was wearing. I looked up again to find an unfamiliar face directly in front of mine.

“TEACH US!” he demanded, over-articulating the two words finally spoken in English. He shoved an American History book into my hands. I grabbed for my phone and turned my back for some privacy as I tried to figure out this mess.

As I turned I found the Sophomore class piled onto my couch in my living room. “When are you going to unpack?” they said in creepy unison. “It’s going to be cold soon; I hope you brought enough sweaters.”

I started to sweat. Frustration turned to shear dread. I wasn’t prepared.

“We’re going to get three meters of ice today. We’re all going to be stuck here. I hope you have something for us to do.”

“I’m not ready,” I whispered to myself. “I’m not ready!” I exclaimed to my students.

Just as the words left my lips, the door burst open and Nic, with a huge, helpful smile on his face, ran toward me with a pickaxe. “I’ll save us!” he yelled.

With that, my eyes popped open. The first school dream.

These last seven weeks have been jam-packed with friends and festivals, coffee dates and cookouts. My heart has been refilled through encouraging words from people I love and loving embraces from friends I have missed. I have skied on Lake Cumberland and played on the beach at Lake Erie. I have driven long country roads with my windows down and have run through the city burning in the heat. I have eaten well, and it has been glorious. My time here has been great, but not every minute of it.

Too many times conversations have been cut short, and the time to go has come too fast. I’ve had to say “I can’t make it” or “getting together won’t work” many more times than I would have liked. Those moments were the worst; that is when the struggle was the hardest. Seven weeks together to make up ten months apart has been impossible, but we’ve done our best.

As I pack my bags and plop them on the scale, I want all of you to know that I am taking much more with me than can be weighed in pounds or checked by airport security. Whether we had the opportunity to lay eyes on each other or not; whether we shared a meal, a laugh, a hug, or not; whether we had enough time together or not, you have given me exactly what I needed to be able to go back: I’m filled with your love and support, encouragement and understanding. I’m empowered to know I’m not going back alone. I thank you for that.

So bring on those back-to-school dreams and let’s do another year! I’m ready.

Thankful

Hands covered in flour and holding my mouth just right, trying to roll the sticky dough into pretty crescents the way my mom always does, I wondered if in a few hours one of my sisters would be doing the same.

The messages started dinging in from the volunteer group. More than twenty other Americans will gather around the table later today, each bringing to this new family a piece of their own tradition. This is the family that I have been knitted into as we have laughed and struggled, prayed and discovered together over the past four months. Continue reading