September: News, Thanks and Prayers

Hiking with my beautiful sister!

Hiking with my beautiful sister!

News and Dates:

  • September 8: Timmy begins his chaplaincy internship with the Seattle VA hospital
  • September 20: Visiting Concrete Community Bible Church

I’m Thankful For:

  • Proximity to friends and family. Between electronic options and people committed to communicating, we’ve been thankful to keep in touch fairly well over the last few years, but there’s no comparison to the face-to-face time we’ve been enjoying these last few months.
  • This home in the mountains, shared with my parents and grandmother, a place of quiet and beauty where we’ll welcome our baby girl in just over two months.
  • Financial support that allows us to take this time away, focusing on family, learning and restoration as we make plans for the future.
  • Health care here in Washington. We met with a midwife practice yesterday at the hospital where I’ll deliver Luci, and it was an incredibly encouraging visit, much like the great care we were receiving in Germany.

Please Be In Prayer For:

  • Health. I started my third trimester last week, and so far the pregnancy is going splendidly. Pray for continued good health for both me and the baby for the next few months.
  • Internship. Pray for Timmy as he begins his chaplaincy internship at the VA next week, that it’s a time of growth and a rewarding experience for him and those he serves. Pray also for safety as he commutes into Seattle three days a week.

As always, we’re incredibly thankful for your presence–through prayer, encouragement, and financial partnership–in our lives and ministry. If you have a prayer request or questions about the ministry in Germany or our year in the United States, or if you’d like to become a financial partner, please email me at kristi.dahlstrom@gmail.com.

Peace in Christ,

Kristi & Timmy

My Doorways

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”

-F. Scott Fitzgerald

Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore, Italy, Spring 2006

This quote, snatched far out of context from a tense scene of The Great Gatsby, makes its rounds every September. And while I agree, as much a lover of fall as any girl who likes sweaters, hot drinks and orange leaves, for me it would be more accurate to say “Life starts all over again when I cover the bulletin boards with a new color of paper.” Or “Life starts all over again when I spy notebooks on sale for $.50 at Office Max.” September is a beginning again, a year “fresh, with no mistakes in it,” as another fictional teacher, Anne Shirley, would have said. Whether I was opening a fresh box of home school books, unlocking a new locker at Ballard High School, or rewriting my name on the board at the front of my classroom, September has always meant that even though I got a C in pre-algebra last year, or fought with my sixth period students every day, this is a new year.

This September, for the first time in 25 years, I’m not going “back to school.” Oh, I’m learning. But instead of purchasing school supplies I’m registering for bottles and swaddling blankets. Instead of arranging desks, my husband and I are struggling to set up a second-hand bassinet, which came to us in great condition, but with no instructions. Instead of planning curriculum, preparing for my students’ first day of classes, I’m writing a birth plan, preparing for Luci’s arrival in November. It’s another kind of new year.

I interviewed for my first teaching job from this phone booth.

I interviewed for my first teaching job from this phone booth.

And in the midst of this new year, I’m feeling nostalgic. Not simply because I’m not there, swimming in the sea of details and dreams that a new school year entails, but because I became a teacher exactly ten years ago. To be precise, I started my student teaching internship at Ingraham High School a decade ago, nervous and uncertain yet armed with a vague determination to “see it through” and bolstered by a pragmatic and grace-filled mentor. Though days and years since have blended together into a two-toned mural–public and private, urban and rural, secular and Christian–those early moments are still vivid. I remember their faces and voices, those ninth graders, fourteen-year-olds from Somalia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Cambodia, who made me a teacher, those many years ago. Before them, I wasn’t sure I wanted to teach anymore. After them, I did. 150 ninth graders changed–or at least cemented–the course of my life.

Those first days of teaching, both as a student teacher and the following year when I set out on my own, are perhaps the best analogue for my heart and soul this summer. To look ahead into the mystery of parenting and all we don’t know of this silent, wriggling person inside of me, I’m looking back. Back to the evening I interviewed for my first real teaching job at Ingraham, from the pay phone by the harbor in Riomaggiore, Italy, where I’d gone on vacation from a study-abroad trip to England. I was sunburned, wearing a swimsuit under my linen pants, my hair still in braids from our day at the beach. When the line went blank, nine time zones away, I’d been offered a job. I started the call as an English major and ended it as a professional teacher.

I’d crept back to the rocks where my friends sat, watching the sunset, drinking wine and eating sun-warmed pesto on fresh Italian bread. As surely as the sun was disappearing behind those rocks ahead, I realized, this would end. Not just a perfect trip, but the whole season, a marvelously chaotic four years that had been rich in learning and light on responsibility. I didn’t know then that there would be other trips to Italy, nor did I suspect how much learning I’d keep doing forever. I thought I’d just grown up. Standing in the doorway of “real” adulthood, whatever that is, I knew it was a one-way journey. And I that was leaving a particularly pleasant room.

Sunset over the Mediterranean, Spring 2006

Sunset over the Mediterranean, Spring 2006

This summer I’m standing in another doorway. Ahead there is a baby girl, a lifelong journey as parents, and behind–now across an ocean–ten years of words in books, essays and the voice of my students. Every inch of me is thankful for this new room that awaits us, aware that at each step we’ll grow and change, that loving our little girl will require us to draw closer together and closer to Christ. I’m thankful, and…

It’s still a doorway. Not a closed door–God willing, I’ll return to teaching a year from now–but still a doorway, from a familiar room to a brand-new one. More than anything, this summer I’m remembering when teaching was the new room. Or further back, when it was college, or high school. There’s always a familiar place, where I can find my way around with my eyes closed, and a wild new one to explore.

And just as it did ten years ago, the way forward takes both courage–holding my breath and trusting that the same God who brought me this far will stick with me–and infinite gratitude. For the places I’m leaving behind, even if just for a while. For the places I’m going. For the students I’ve taught and don’t teach at the moment. And for our little girl, so close to me and still three months away.

Shorts

Wearing the shorts {and looking a bit less round than I do now}.

Wearing the shorts {and looking a bit less round than I do now}.

“The great illusion of leadership is to think that man can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there.”

Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer

It’s been a summer of changes. We’ve slept in four different time zones, moved to a zip code neither of us has lived in before, and begun the process of settling in to this year away from Germany. On top of that, I have laughed almost daily at the changing shape of my body (Or is it our body? What do you call it when you’re sharing one space with an ever-growing little person?), and seen fireflies for the first time, which I’d previously suspected were mythical, like dragons. Busy summer, indeed.

So, there are plenty of momentous transitions about which I could write here, but I’ll stick to one that is less momentous. This summer–for the first time in the last decade or so–I bought a pair of shorts.

I’m not talking about athletic shorts, which I’ll wear running (back when I went running) or hiking like everyone else. These are navy blue chinos (whatever that is), wear-around sorts of shorts. Normal shorts.

Being neither an expert in fashion nor a particularly body-image conscious person, I never gave much thought to “giving up” shorts. It wasn’t a decision, a plan. I simply stopped buying them. I had many excuses, but for the sake of brevity I’ll boil them down to the top two:

  1. There’s not a good context for me to wear shorts. I won’t wear them to school, where the length of shorts is a fierce debate, and after school it’s just not often that warm in Kandern. Shorts accomplish nothing that a skirt doesn’t do much better.
  2. I don’t like how I look in shorts. I didn’t spend much time thinking about this, except to reflect that I don’t love to showcase the space between my knees and my waist. So, no shorts.

Excuse 2, if I’m honest, was always louder than Excuse 1. I’m relatively accepting, if not downright complacent, about most parts of myself. Did it really matter if there was this one little part that I’d rather conceal? (For the record, I’d still argue that no, it didn’t matter. They’re just shorts.)

This all changed this summer, for a few reasons. First, we spent the end of June and the beginning of July in Virginia, where the +90˚ F heat and inexcusable humidity made cooler clothes a requirement, not something to be fussy about. My one pair of corduroy maternity pants weren’t going to cut it, and I was quickly growing out of my sundresses. So I bought some shorts. Maternity shorts, because second, being pregnant in summer has added a few extra degrees to the already hottest summer–on both East and West Coasts–that I can remember for a while.

The shorts are fine, and I feel fine wearing them. They’re not special–they’re still just shorts–but they’ve allowed me to stay cool in the humid South and the scorching West, and that’s plenty. Perhaps they look hilarious, but frankly my general roundness is pretty hilarious to begin with, so I’m not worried about it. I’m not sure that this relationship will last–me and shorts–but for now we’re OK. The shorts have reminded me, however, of something more important than shorts. (Remember, almost everything is more important than shorts.)

We’re all walking around, I imagine, with places we’d like to hide more often than not. I’m no exception. I know there are topics I tiptoe around, times and places about which I simply don’t write or share, preferring to keep places of brokenness and selfishness to myself. I’ve lately been challenged recently by the honesty of friends, writing and speaking with candor about their journeys through transition, singleness and loss.

For me, it’s easy to tell amusing classroom stories, or to reflect on the nature of Christ-filled community. Trickier as a missionary, far removed from communities of family, friends and supporters, to share what God is teaching me in uncertainty or homesickness. Much harder still to reveal the maddening difference between how I so often behave and who I know Christ is calling me to be.

Wearing the shorts–something I tried with more dramatic martyrdom than I’m proud of–hasn’t been terrible. I’d wager that true vulnerability, whether here or within the communities I’m privileged to live, can be not only not terrible, but actually an open door for conversation, relationship and growth.

I am called to serve out of humility and compassion, showing love because at every turn I receive it from Christ. We’re not made for facades, but rather to be what author and theologian Henri Nouwen calls “wounded healers,” present with one another in the midst of transformation, not at the end of it.  Because the transformation is ongoing, as Christ calls us to new challenges, new seasons, new homes. Some of which call for a new pair of shorts, and all of which call for the courage and compassion to be honest with those with whom I share in the journey.

August: News, Thanks and Prayers

Out for a hike with our new neighbors!

Out for a hike with our new neighbors!

News and Dates:

  • August 2 and 9: Timmy preaching at Spangdahlem Air Base Chapel
  • August 4-8: Emily Kremer, former co-worker and roommate at BFA, coming for a visit!
  • Timmy received final confirmation last month that he will be completing a Clinical Professional Education program in chaplaincy at the Veterans’ Hospital in Seattle. He’ll start in September, spending 3 days a week at the hospital working alongside the patients there.

I’m Thankful For:

  • Central Cascade Mountains, where we’ve come to live for this year. Delighted by the quietness and majesty that surround us here, reminding us of God’s creativity and love.
  • New neighbors and old friends, both of whom have filled our first weeks back in Washington with community. We’re excited to be sharing life with this great group of people this year!
  • Our daughter, Luci, whose ever-insistent kicks remind me that she’s growing and changing, a true miracle God is working in us.
  • Our 2002 Subaru, a “new to us” car that fit within our price range, allowing us to drive up and down from the mountains to the city as we need.
  • Travel safety for Timmy as he made it back to Germany to complete his days of Air Force Reserve duty for 2015. He’s partway through his time there, enjoying the chance to catch up with people he met last summer and form relationships with new airmen and community members.

Please Be In Prayer For:

  • Transition. Pray for Timmy and me as we “settle in” to new routines and relationships here in Washington. Pray that God would open doors where He sees fit, and that we would glorify Him with the ways in which we use our time.
  • Health. Pray for health for our baby girl and me as I enter my third trimester in a few weeks, and for clear communication with our new health care providers in Washington. We’ve been blessed with great insurance and a beautiful new hospital for her delivery in November, and will meet with our new doctor later in the month.
  • New Staff at BFA. Pray for the new staff as they arrive in Germany in coming weeks, for rest and courage as they begin new lives in ministry.

Lately, I have been overwhelmed with gratitude for the support and encouragement that you have shown and this ministry over the last five years. Please continue in your prayers as we enter this new chapter of our lives. If you have a prayer request or questions about ministry in Germany our our next steps, or if you’d like to become a financial partner in our ministry, email me at kristi.dahlstrom@gmail.com.

Peace in Christ,

Kristi & Timmy

Where We’ve Landed

Hiking with Timmy and my dad in the mountains  around our new home.

Hiking with Timmy and my dad in the mountains around our new home.

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.

John Muir, “The Yosemite”

After a supper of delicious hamburgers with my parents, I leave the chalet half an hour before sunset, turning right to walk up our short road towards its origin at the nearby Interstate. I walk towards a glowing mountain, Guye Peak, its rocks and trees shining in the day’s last light.

Our road isn’t a long one; tonight I’ll traverse every inch of it twice in under half an hour. Settled comfortably among fir and hemlock trees are steep tin roofs and fortified first floors, built to withstand the ten feet of snow that some winters bring to this mountain community, their long gravel driveways branching off of the main road like veins on an alder leaf. Some of the houses are inhabited year-round, and many are not. It’s the sort of place you’d expect to be lonely and quiet, solitude for better or worse.

You’d be wrong, though. Though this year will hold many things for us, some still hidden around corners we can’t foresee, I suspect that solitude won’t be one of them. By the time Luciana arrives in November, we’ll be six people and four generations in this chalet, a green-trimmed house with three bears painted cheerfully on its front. We are sharing space, coffee, the occasional box of peaches, catching rides together for errands to the nearest “big town” and the even bigger city, an hour away.

Timmy splits wood with the neighbors!

What’s more, this street itself is alive with community. Rain or shine at seven each morning, the neighbors gather with dogs and friends to walk to the mailboxes a half-mile up the road, swapping stories of the previous day and sharing plans for this one. Most of these long summer evenings see us gathering again, this time at the far end of the road, a cul-de-sac just a stone’s throw from the thundering highway, where someone has painted a pickleball court for our community amusement. There is a book club, regular movie nights and block parties. Already we’ve been invited to trivia night at the local brewery and a luau that was unfortunately postponed due to July rain.

Halfway through my walk, a car full of neighbors pulls up beside me, all of its windows rolled down. “We saw your sister today!” squeals a tiny voice from the backseat, upon which his parents eagerly tell of their trip to Seattle, which included a stop for cookies and coffee at Holly’s Danish bakery. The boys wave newly-acquired toys and tell of the wonders of the summer day, and the parents ask about Timmy’s trip to Germany and how I’m faring without him for these few weeks.

After five years in the overseas missions community, I’ve concluded that there are as many different kinds of Home Ministry Assignments as there are missionaries. Some spend twelve months traveling coast to coast, racking up the miles and the churches, sleeping in living rooms and sharing meals with far-flung friends, family, supporters and alumni. Others settle in one place, seeking the stability of school and community for their children. No two years are alike.

With Timmy’s internship at the VA hospital starting in September and a baby joining us in November, the scaffolding of our year is somewhat clearer than it was ten months ago, when we began planning for this season. There will still be surprises, we know, places where the expectation and the reality don’t line up as we thought they would. Still, we’re reminded daily that it is the grace of God and the support of many, many people that allows us this time, and grateful with each morning walk, each smile across the dinner table, to share this place with people we love.

The North Cascades

The North Cascades

Fernweh

Our Welcome Home sign at our home for the year, courtesy of two adorable neighbor boys.

Our Welcome Home sign at our home for the year, courtesy of two adorable neighbor boys.

Fernweh: (n.) an ache for distant places, the craving for travel

A few years ago, a small niche of young American women on Pinterest with some experience in German taught me a new word: Fernweh. While its antoymn Heimweh has a direct English translation–homesickness–Fernweh (pronounced FAIRN-vay) claims no English equivalent. The closest approximation, in fact, is another German word: Wanderlust, the proverbial “itchy feet” of habitual travelers. Yet because of its literal translation–“distance pain”–and the Pinterest comments from a few friends who experience this literally everywhere they are, I’ve always ascribed it a somewhat different meaning: “The ache for faraway places.” Geographical nostalgia.

Exactly one month after leaving Germany, it’s this word that I’m thinking of this morning, even as I look out of my parents’ upstairs window at slender, swaying hemlocks and hear little more than birds. I ache for faraway places. But this has been one of them for a long time, and today it’s not. I’m here.

The concept of a Home Ministry Assignment–called furlough by previous generations of missionaries–is somewhat new to me. Indeed, since the transformation from adventurous teacher to long-term missionary was a gradual one for me, the fact that I’m embarking on such an assignment at all sometimes strikes me as surprising, and amazing. A unexpected gift, both this calling and this year away, our time so far unfolds daily with surprises and opportunities.

Fun in Virginia with the Poe family!

Fun in Virginia with the Poe family!

Surprises like the necessity of driving everywhere, which I’d forgotten, or the deliciousness of Chick-fil-A, which I’d never experienced. Opportunities like being blessed with a new baby during this time away, or Timmy’s chaplaincy internship with the Seattle Veterans Hospital. I don’t know what this year will hold, exactly, except that it will be here, not there.

And I’ll miss there. I’ll miss walks through the green hills and cobbled streets, the mental gymnastics of a language not my own. More than those, I’ll miss the clever and curious young people that we’ve been fortunate to teach and serve these last five years. These longings remind me that our work there isn’t finished, that by God’s provision and with the support of many family, friends and partners we’ll be back again.

Still, the danger of the Fernweh that draws me to another home is much like the danger of nostalgia. The temptation to get lost in longing takes me away from the real goodness surrounding me both here and now. I don’t want to miss an afternoon on the lake with our dear friends in Virginia, or the sign that our neighbor boys made to welcome us to our new home in Snoqualmie Pass. I will be grateful every day, whether it is for the friendly strangers at the North Bend DMV or the long-loved faces of my siblings, gathered around a table for the first time since our wedding. There is much to love everywhere, eye-stinging beauty that takes my breath away with the reminder that I’m deeply loved by a good God.

A welcome dinner with my brother, sister-in-law, sister and her boyfriend.

A welcome dinner with my brother, sister-in-law, sister and her boyfriend.

Pray for us this year, friends. Some days I know that gratefulness will be a harder choice, when finding a used car is fraught with difficulty or we’re trying to sort out the expensive process by which German medical records become English ones. In the end, though, I’m thankful, for this home and that one, for the one we’ve just left in Virginia and the countless people who welcome us wherever we go. God has filled our life with a wealth of love and beauty, and I’m excited to see the wonders and meet the challenges that this new year will hold.

July: News, Thanks and Prayers

Timmy and one of our recent graduates, all smiles on Graduation Day!

Timmy and one of our recent graduates, all smiles on Graduation Day!

News and Dates:

  • July 13: Return to Washington State
  • For those who haven’t yet heard, we learned this month are having a baby girl! Our daughter, Luci (short for Luciana), is due mid-November, and we couldn’t be more excited!
  • Timmy will be traveling to Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany, doing his service as an Air Force Chaplain in late July and early August.

I’m Thankful For:

  • The Class of 2015, who graduated with flying colors in June, and for the few seniors who dropped by in the days afterward to help us pack and move!
  • The Poe Family, who have generously opened their home to us for the last few weeks in Virginia Beach.
  • Virginia Beach Community Chapel, which has opened its doors and heart to us during our time in Virginia Beach. So thankful for this church home!

Please Be In Prayer For:

  • Transition (and wheels). Though we’re on the North American side of the Atlantic now, we’re still very much in moving mode. We’re currently in the process of looking for a car, preferably one with all-wheel drive that will see us through a snowy winter living at Snoqualmie Pass. (Feel free to email me if you know of one for sale!)
  • Connection. Pray for us as we reconnect with friends, family and supporters here in the U.S. Pray for meaningful conversation, and that God would give us the right words with which to share our experiences in His ministry for the past five years.

Lately, I have been overwhelmed with gratitude for the support and encouragement that you have shown and this ministry over the last five years. Please continue in your prayers as we enter this new chapter of our lives. If you have a prayer request or questions about ministry in Germany our our next steps, or if you’d like to become a financial partner in our ministry, email me at kristi.dahlstrom@gmail.com.

Peace in Christ,

Kristi & Timmy

Our Villages

Timmy got to preach at Virginia Beach Community Chapel this Father’s Day.

“Raise your hand if you ever taught me in a Sunday school class,” Timmy requests on Sunday morning.

I’m sitting in the front row of a fiercely air-conditioned sanctuary, shivering while outside the temperature climbs to 90˚ F before 9:00 AM. I’m not in Germany anymore.

Where I am is Virginia Beach Community Chapel, Timmy’s home church since he was ten. It holds a special place in his heart and his story, a similar place that Bethany Community holds in mine. Today–Father’s Day–he is giving the sermon, a call to missional living lived out within the context of family and hospitality.

“Keep your hands up,” he continues. “Now, raise your hand if you ever worked with me in youth group, or came alongside me as a mentor. Or really, even just had me over to your house, ever.”

I turn around to see a forest of hands waving back, a multitude of men and women who have invested in my husband’s life.

That is missional living,” he tells them. “I’m here because you poured into me.”

It’s a powerful moment, more than a mere illustration of his point, that living missionally isn’t tied the going overseas, evangelizing or church planting that we associate with the title of “missionary.” Looking at those hands, I’m reminded of the adage that “it takes a village” to raise a child.

Aside from the fact that we’re preparing to raise a child, eventually in a literal village, this phrase has proven as true in my life as it has in Timmy’s. Even in relatively isolated parts of rural Washington–San Juan Island and the Upper Skagit Valley–my childhood was a collage of friends and mentors, people who taught me not just German words and how to play t-ball, but what it meant to love and know Jesus.

My years in Seattle were deep and rich with such relationship, mostly at Bethany Community Church, where I found Christlike models of adulthood at every step, with their hospitality and time investment guiding me towards living out my faith in a way both personal and connected to our community. I’ve had many villages.

Timmy’s sermon reminds me that even titled missionaries like myself need to remember to be missional. My heart, my mind and my front door need to be open to the young people who fill my days, as I walk a few steps ahead of them on the journey of faith that they’re choosing, or trying to choose. As I’ve written about countless times, these last five years have turned out to be about much more than teaching. They’ve been about becoming part of a village, and in turn helping to invest love and life into the young people around me.

For now, though, it’s time to revisit our own villages. It’s truly a gift to spend these weeks in the East, visiting the places and people who have made my husband the incredible man that he is. And I’m excited to arrive in Seattle in mid-July, and Skagit County in September, eager to engage with gratitude in the communities that have spurred me onward in this journey.

Full Hearts, Empty House

Our living room, all ready for its next residents.

Our living room, all ready for its next residents.

The couch and chair left on Saturday, driving away in a van to Maugenhard. The remaining armchair we kept for a few more days, taking turns sitting in the last piece of furniture in our living room. The kitchen packed away in boxes at our future apartment, we ate pre-washed lettuce and pre-cooked chicken with pre-made salad dressing, off of plastic picnic plates. Monday, someone came to take away the last of the lamps, the armchair and the coffee table, and the transformation was complete.

Still, our last night in Germany for a while is quiet but not empty, even in our echoing living room. Two students ring the doorbell after our grocery-store salad supper, so now the four of us are sitting on the floor against the living-room wall. We talk as the room goes from the bright of late evening to twilight, finally and reluctantly turning on the garish overhead lights when it’s too dark to see each others’ faces. Recent graduates, they tell us stories from the past few days and years, and speculate about the future. College will take them–along with most of their classmates–an ocean away from our quiet village, but they’re savoring every moment here, living fully even into the pain of goodbyes as their hometown empties of familiar faces.

It’s a fitting last night for us, I think later. Not the fanfare of graduation, or even the glowing beauty of a walk through the vineyards or forests. Those things are truly spectacular gifts, moments that we’re privileged to enjoy in Kandern. In our darkening living room is community, discipleship, friendship, years of mentorship between my husband and these students, hours I spent with them in the classroom on the intricacies of reading and writing in English. It is simple and quiet, this evening, but profoundly good.

Twelve hours later we’ll close the door behind us on our first house, this first season of our life together. We leave for a year in America, which I’ll be writing about in the coming months, a year that will bring beauty, learning and adventures of its own. But for now, I’m thankful for this last season, for the comma that is this next chapter, and for all that lies ahead, known and unknown. Our house in Kandern may be empty, but we leave with hearts full of love and memories, eager to return again.

 

Bigger Places

Our valedictorian speaks to BFA's Class of 2015.

Our valedictorian speaks to BFA’s Class of 2015.

“There are bigger places out there than Kandern…. And thank the Lord for that.”

BFA 2015 Valedictorian

Talisman headshot, circa 2002. Photo: Courtney Irby

Talisman headshot, circa 2002. Photo: Courtney Irby

The morning of graduation day at Black Forest Academy, I received a message from a  former BFA student. “Did you go to Ballard high?” he had written beneath a picture of my alma mater. After confirming that yes, this was my high school, I had a few seconds of nostalgia. Like, 9 seconds. I thought of a day when the staff of the Ballard Talisman newspaper posed next to that sign in Brady Bunch-style photos. (See photo left. You are welcome.) It was a bright spring day my senior year, so bright that I had to wear sunglasses because my prescribed angle put me smiling directly into the sun. With middle-parted hair, sunglasses and silver hoop earrings, I gave a demure smile to the top left, even as my bright future lay in stunning non-mystery just three miles southeast of that point.

Then I moved on, leaving that day behind for the many that came after. I was more mesmerized, honestly, by the delightful twists of fate and design that have led one of my students from this high school in Germany–a student who is now studying what I studied at the university where I attended–to be having dinner across the street from Ballard High School. The world is big and small, I thought.

Hours later I sit near the back of BFA’s auditorium, already hot on a day that promises to break 30˚ C, and squinting again. This time I’m trying to make out the face of a young woman in my small group, this year’s valedictorian, as she confesses guilelessly that speechmaking stresses her out and that her billowing robe makes her “feel like Voldemort.”

I often cry at graduation, and this year is no different. I’m proud of these students, whose names and talents and handwriting I’ve come to know, and eager to see what they’ll make of life beyond the narrow borders of our little town. Four years ago, when I played viola in the Seussical pit orchestra, I watched many of these students as ninth graders, animated onstage and a little clumsy off of it. They are and aren’t those same people this morning. It’s hard to see them go, but we, their teachers, knew this would happen. We hoped it would happen, even. Maybe not as soon as it’s seemed, but this triumphant crowd of robed graduates was the goal.

Now they’re ready, primed for adventure beyond the blue doors of Black Forest Academy. As I scan their faces, so tiny against the wave of blue, I try to imagine them in six months. Making friends, signing up for lab time, going to get slurpees at 7-Eleven at midnight. Or in ten years, finding jobs, homes, and families or continuing in their wandering. Just as I was unable to see a decade ahead when I was seventeen, that day I peered into the sun outside of Ballard High School, I can’t quite imagine their futures. Surely they’ll be as different as mine was from what I expected, and I pray that they’ll be just as beautiful.

“There are bigger places out there than Kandern,” our valedictorian is saying. “Bigger than Holzen, Wittlingen or Marzell, bigger than Schleingen. Even bigger than Basel. And thank the Lord for that.” The reminder is as much for the rest of us as the graduates themselves, I realize. They know that the world is enormous. Though I traveled just three miles from Ballard High to Seattle Pacific, all of them have already come much farther, just to be here in the first place. They’ve always existed far beyond our borders, and my daydreaming takes me to their other homes, to India and Dubai and Russia, places that are already part of their wide worlds. Now they’re traveling again, either back to where they’ve come from or onward, for brand-new shores.

Our valedictorian finishes by encouraging her classmates to serve and love Christ wherever they find themselves, in whatever they do, and that’s my prayer also. Whether in college or working at Canadian Tire, at Capernwray Hall or on a ship sailing around the world, I pray that our students would seek Christ in new ways, and discover more deeply what it means to love him, wherever he takes them.

I’ll drive by Ballard High in a month or so, and doubtless then it will bring more memories with it than this morning’s photograph unearthed. But so will SPU and Bethany Community Church. So will Oak Tree Starbucks and Ingraham High School. And so does BFA, every day, pleasantly haunting this small town with all the people who have called it home, if only for a little while. High school was grand, a place of growth, community and discovery. But as our valedictorian reminded us, I thank God often that it was only one of many such places for me, and that growth, community and discovery never end as we follow Christ throughout our lives.