I had intended to put this post up before Christmas, but I suppose with the busy-ness of November and December it just didn't happen. So, this is what our fall semester here looked like. Rather than writing a long synopsis of what it all is, I added a caption to each photo. Just hover your mouse over the pictures for those captions. l'm planning to do a "Christmas in Manitoba" post very soon. :)
On most days, I’d say life is great. Really, it is, beyond my wildest dreams. And those who know me well know that my smile is real. Years of sports have taught me to focus on the next play, not the last one, but when I’m not happy, don’t worry, I won’t smile at you. It’s the Doug Barkman guarantee. Add to that, our twisted expectation as Christians that the healthy sojourner struggles not. So, when I look at my life – my work, my friends, my home, and my family – and see ridiculous blessings, I can only assume that the tears inside me are counterfeit. The joy is based on real things; the pain must be a lie.
The reality is that I have, in the last six months or so, been repeatedly brought to the edge of tears, and tried my best to stoically claw my way back to safety. Not always. Christal knows. Some of my colleagues know. It’s a dirty secret, that sometimes situations hurt, deeply, and there’s not much we can do about it. I’ve cried with parents of students, rarely shedding a tear. I have hurt with friends, and my stupid imagination has put me into the emotional sidecar of other peoples’ pain.
And yet, here I am, tears crying to be freed, listening to All Sons & Daughters’ Oh How I Need You on loop. This time it’s for a new friend, his wife, their son, and their daughter. Their heartache, a word too callous to encapsulate this grief. Not that these salty driblets do anyone any kind of good. It’s not that I see it as a sign of weakness, and I’m not fishing for someone to tell me it’s okay to cry. I’ll be the boss of my tears, thank you very much. But in this moment, I’m forced into retrospection and see that in only a short span, I’ve been faced with a greater number of emotionally-demanding situations than in previous years combined. My life is really wonderful, yes, and my heart still breaks for these situations. Every one.
To be clear, I’m okay with the heartbreak. I just need a good cry, that’s all. I really don’t want to stop bleeding for these situations, because it feeds my understanding. It hurts for them, so why shouldn’t it hurt at least a bit for me? I guess what I really need is a good rainstorm to camouflage my borrowed tears, or an abandoned warehouse in which to dance off the emotional overstock. It may not always come at the time of pain; the visible Doug doesn’t have tear stains on his cheeks. That works for me. When I’m in the middle of a situation, stoic is a pretty natural resting-face. It’s when I step away, with the right people, that I feel safe enough to finally say, I’m broken right now, for this situation or for that.
Oh How I Need You. And maybe to chop up some onions in a dust storm.
A new school year has begun and I've started a new role as Alumni Relations Coordinator. Sounds fancy. ;) At one of our first staff meetings, we talked about why we're here. It was a great reminder to me of what BFA supports. Among our student body, we have 59 different countries represented. Parents working in all these different places sending their kids to us, to care for and educate. Our staff are working with them to teach them how to succeed emotionally, spiritually, virtually, and socially when they leave this place. We're enabling their parents to continue the work they've been called by God to do. We've been so blessed to have a number of BFA grads, who were both in the boarding program and home students, return as staff and talk warmly of their time here. They've expressed how this place becomes such an important part of who they are. This year, there are at least four new staff who are BFA grads. Their stories are my favourite, because we hear about how the school has impacted their life. They are proud to have been a part of this school, and they carry that badge with honour.
BFA has been doing this for 60 years now! We're looking forward to continuing to be a part of BFA as they/we strive to give students the best learning and home-away-from-home experience we can!
Why is it that no matter how often we say "time flies" we're always surprised when time flies? I was thinking today that it's already been a year since our visit to Manitoba, and almost a year since we returned to Germany. Time flies. In some ways, of course, it feels like we were just there. We were just with our families. We just saw our friends. We just celebrated my parents' 50th. Time doesn't just fly. It zooms!
The past year has been filled with ups and downs, as most years are. Though we ourselves have very little to complain about. From afar, we have definitely felt the hurts of others. We've prayed for you and we've thought of you often. We've rejoiced with you, too, and we're so thankful for the times of rejoicing.
Right now we are in a period of rejoicing over another year of school successfully being completed, and what has been a restful summer break (so far)! For our holidays this year, we've been going to the Kandern pool. It has been wonderful. A five minute drive has us at this sweet little oasis. We can get away from the heat for as little or as long as we want. We're bound to see at least a couple of friends there because Kandern summers are all about cooling off at the pool. :) While Doug has continued to work throughout the month of July, it's been a bit more relaxed than usual. He has played lots of Yahtzee!, Scrabble, Lego and gone swimming with the kids. We even found time for a date before the kids got out of school (which was July 1!). We've also spent a little time at the dentist this summer. Nadia's teeth appear to need a lot of work, which is a surprise seeing as she doesn't eat a lot of sweet stuff, and really does prefer veggies (even over most fruit!) to snack on. :( We're looking at alternatives to fillings and crowns. Please pray for her teeth! And, pray that when we go to the dentist, she'll feel at ease. She's always very uptight and worried about pain, which makes the idea of having so much work done even less appealing.
I took a bike ride with my neighbour friend last week. We rode from our street to Weil am Rhein and back (about 50kms). Now I'd like a gel seat for Christmas. ;) We enjoyed both a coffee break and an ice cream break along the way.
This week, I joined three other women on a 27 km walk along the Westweg which is a walking trial through the Black Forest that starts in Basel and ends 285 kms north in Pforzheim. It was a beautiful walk that took us up to the highest peak in the Black Forest - a mountain called Feldberg. I could hardly walk by the time I got home. But it was worth the pain!
And, now it's time to get the school supplies in order (Keegan is so excited about starting at the Middle School), think about Keegan's birthday, and prepare for the start of our fourth year at BFA. The new staff are starting to arrive already. In fact, their orientation begins next week. We're excited to see who is joining the BFA team, and we will gather together with them in two weeks for the All Staff Conference. Before you know it, it'll be Christmas. Because... time zooms! :D
Every year the fourth graders go away on a retreat for a couple of nights. It's a "last hurrah!" before they move on to fifth grade. This year they went to a Christian retreat centre up in the Black Forest. The kids had such a great time! They were hoping for some warmer weather at the end of April, but instead they got snow! This ended up being so much fun for all of them. They went sledding, built snowmen and other snow creatures, I think there might even have been a snowball fight or two. This is the last year where the kids will be in a bilingual school setting. All of the English students are heading off to BFA's middle school, and the German students are continuing on in different German schools. It's a bit sad to think they won't see each other very much anymore! It has been such a fabulous experience for Keegan - it's something that he will never forget.
We've just finished up a three-week visit with Doug's parents. We had been looking forward to their time here since they told us they would like to come and visit last fall. It's hard to believe that the visit is over, and so is most of March! They arrived almost one week before BFA hosted the International Christian Educators Conference (ICEC), and before the kids were finished with school. It was so special to have them here for the circus performance the kids at CSK put on the Friday before spring break started. Since January, the kids have been working on different aspects of circus performance. Keegan was in the clown group, and Nadia was in the pigeon training group. Sadly, the pigeons were deemed too old and uncooperative so she was placed in the hula hoop group instead. The idea behind this circus training is that it will encourage the kids to step out of their comfort zones and try something new. I think it worked! Nadia was very against the whole idea because she was scared that they would make her do something she didn't want to - like the splits. :D We (together with her teachers) gave her permission to sit on the sidelines and make her decision after seeing what these sessions were like. She came home after the first day very excited about taking part in it!
Len and Faye being here allowed Doug and I to attend ICEC to whatever degree we wanted/needed to! I enjoyed a couple of workshops (as did Doug) in addition to the main sessions all staff were expected to attend. We had some fabulous speakers, one of whom had been a roommate of Doug's brother when he taught in Kenya, and also knows my cousin and her husband who taught at the same school. The world seems to grow continually smaller! Our attending the conference gave Grandma and Grandpa some special alone time with the kids, which they all enjoyed thoroughly by playing games, and going on a picnic. Following the conference, Doug's parents went to visit some other friends for a couple of days, and then we all headed off to Munich together for six days. We took the train there (a nice, stress-free journey on which nobody got sick!) and used the subway to get around the city once we arrived. Some of the highlights were the Deutsches Museum, the sights around the Marienplatz, an aquarium called Sea Life, the 1972 Olympic Park, and Doug and his dad also visited the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. We really enjoyed the hustle of the city, but WOW, did it feel so good to get back to "our Germany" (as Nadia called it).
Upon our return, we geared up for Easter celebrations. We enjoyed an evening service at the English church in Kandern on Good Friday as well as the morning service there on Sunday, had our egg hunt on Saturday afternoon when it was sunny and warm, and enjoyed a big meal together on Sunday evening followed by a short stroll through our neighbourhood.
Poof! Three weeks over, just like that. Doug's parents returned to Canada yesterday, on an uneventful set of flights (as far as we know!). We're so thankful that they could come and see us again and look forward to our next visit!
Earlier this month the kids enjoyed Theatre Week! It was a week of learning lines for different plays and creating sets to go along with them. Each grade worked on one or more plays to present to the rest of the school and they also had times when parents could come to enjoy all that they'd worked on. This year, both of our kids were mice! But not in the same play. The kids are asked to help find costumes for themselves as well. We weren't highly creative over here! Keegan and Nadia both dressed in gray and put on some mouse ears that they borrowed from friends. Then I painted on a little black nose and some whiskers. Keegan even had a tail to complete his mousey look. :) It was really fun to see how into their plays they were, and how much fun all of the kids had working together. What a fun way to spend a week of school!
Keegan's class presented a number of different plays based on fables. He was part of "The Lion & the Mouse". The story is about a mouse who gets caught by a lion because he is running on the lion and wakes him up. The mouse begs the lion to let him go because he could be of help to the lion one day. The lion wonders how a mouse could ever help a lion? He finds the mouse's logic quite funny and decides to let him go. Shortly after, the lion lands in a hunter's trap. The mouse happens to walk by and chews the ropes to set the lion free. "Wasn't I right?" says the mouse. The moral of the story: you're never too small to help.
Nadia's class put on two different plays. She was the mouse for "The Mitten". It's a Ukrainian folktale in which a Baba knits a pair of mittens for her grandson. He really wants white mittens, much to his Baba's dismay. She is sure that if he drops one in the snow he'll never be able to find it because it'll blend in. He does end up dropping it, and then along come various animals who view this mitten as a cozy spot to stay warm on a cold winter day. Nadia was the last little critter to climb into the mitten (which was a white bed sheet) and her line was "Darf ich auf deine Nase sitzen, Bär?" (Can I sit on your nose, bear?) When she climbed in, her whiskers made the bear sneeze and all of the animals flew out of the mitten. The boy found it soon after it emptied and proudly brought it home to show his grandma. Still in tact, but a little stretched out.
I was proud of both kids for bravely going up and doing their part!
At the end of that week, there were basketball games at BFA. Nadia and I went to hang out on Friday night. She and her friend have matching robes and were incredibly excited to wear them to the basketball games together. Funny girls!
A very Happy New Year to you! We have had a fantastic 2015. We've experienced good health, jobs we enjoy, serving at a school we love in a community we feel at home in. We were able to return to Canada for a visit after two years away from the people and places we called home for so many years. Our hearts are full and thankful for the way that God has provided for us through our support system back in North America.
We spent our Christmas vacation at home. We never went further than half an hour from our house during the break. We had initially thought we'd do some day trips to nearby castles, but it just never happened! Instead, Monopoly was played, movies were watched, books were read, and time was spent playing outside. After our very busy summer in Manitoba, I think the rest we got over the break was exactly what we needed. We've come into 2016 feeling refreshed! We hope your new year is off to a good start, too!