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I woke up this morning and my body felt different. It is changing. I am running three to four times a week, trying something new and challenging my body. And I’m growing stronger, changing shape and composition.
As a gymnast for 15 years I exercised great discipline, learned intense mental focus and a singular commitment to the sport and my goals. Through gymnastics I developed great physical abilities and discovered the amazing capacity my body. But… each skill, trick and routine was an attempt to force my body to do things that I was mentally afraid of or that felt impossible to do. I trained, cajoled and pushed my body to do things it couldn’t do naturally – splits, over splits, jumping, twisting.
Running can also be difficult and painful. Running the hills of Malawi and Nashville is grueling and exhausting. But there are also moments that are rhythmic and fluid. There are entire stretches where one finds a groove, the mind can totally relax as the body does its thing. A runner’s high is that moment of unity. Where the perfectly executed floor routine or dismount is always a triumph of mind over matter. The mind must always be alert and controlling the body to keep it poised over the four-inch balance beam or tight in the midst of a twist.
Then there is yoga. One practice last week after three years and I loved it. The results of yoga and gymnastics are often similar – increased flexibility and greater strength. But the methods are radically different. In yoga practice I am supposed to listen to my body, stopping if I need, avoiding certain poses. In gymnastics I worked to ignore discomfort and push through pain in order to achieve and excel. I find when I listen to my body it responds over time – almost gratefully – with greater agility and even greater peace and clarity of mind.
As a gymnast, setting goals, pushing and achieving, the results were often beautiful, skilled and exhilarating. But often at a physical price and sometimes an emotional one. Always de-valuing the present moment in favor of the end goal.
I still want to be healthy, fit and attractive. But now I’m trying to listen to my body first and wait for the results. I walk when I can’t run. When I can’t do a pose that everyone else in the room can do I have to be okay with that.
I’m focused on the process rather than a perceived perfection that I need to attain. And I feel my body changing even though I’m no longer a gymnast.
“The Lord said to Abram, ‘Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you.” Genesis 12:1
In 2009 we received an email from Rev. Daniel Mhone quoting this scripture. In response to our request to come and serve in Malawi he told us to come to the land that God had showed us. And so we went.
Last month as we prepared to leave Malawi, I returned to the 12th chapter of Genesis hoping that Abram and Sarai’s story would shed some light on what lay in store for us now. And I found that they were constantly on the move.
Once they arrived in Canaan, the Lord appeared to Abram again and said, “I give this land to your descendants.” So Abram built an altar… and then he moved on. He traveled to the mountains east of Bethel, built an altar and worshiped the Lord. And then he set out again, “making and breaking camp as he went”.
If I had read this chapter more carefully in 2009, my enthusiasm might have been a bit dampened. And I wonder if Daniel knew what he was encouraging us to do when he wrote. Because we have been worshiping and making and breaking camp ever since.
Less than two weeks ago we broke camp in Malawi with tears and were welcomed in Nashville with such love and compassion.
And now I can’t help but wonder if God sees this as another camp…
Well I reckon this is it. Right now, it’s 5:30AM. I’m in the sitting room warming up next to a blazing fire with my cup of Mzuzu coffee. The jeans I hope to wear to Nashville are laid out in front of the fire drying. In the distance I can hear the morning rooster roll call. It’s probably 40 degrees outside which means its damn cold inside with no heating. It’s been really cold lately and dreary — good weather to match the mood of departure.
What words do I have at this moment? None. A few moments ago, I just started crying. Tears feel like unexpressed words that have concentrated and condensed. So I cried. I cried to God for protection and safe travel home. I cried for the friends and family in whose lives we now leave a gap. They are so grateful for our presence and touched deeply by our leaving. I cried for the kids who are the best example of how to let an experience like this wash over and permeate life. I can only hope now that the seeds planted will grow and be harvested for years to come. I cried for our friends and family back home who are so excited to see us. Their love, support, and anticipation is what gives me strength to put one foot in front of another. I cried for Wilson who thinks of me as a father but in reality is more a brother. It was easy not to worry about him when he was on our payroll. I cried for my Malawian mother, Lucy Kandioni, who wailed at our departure last week. It was the kind of wailing you only hear at funerals here, and I wonder if there is a reason for that. The increased frequency of her illnesses and general weakness worry me that she may be close to her final journey home. I cried for Daniel who serves tirelessly a church institution that gives little back. I would have cherished a few final moments together yesterday and today, but it wasn’t to be. I cried for my marriage which has been tested, stretched, deepened, and strengthened by and through these past two years. If you want to get to know your spouse, live and work with them daily for two years. Not many marriages are designed for this type of dynamic but ours is. And I am very fortunate to have that gift.
Most of all, I cried for Malawi – for all the things known and unknown that I will miss; for the people who can always smile “no matter no what”; for the intensity of the light, sounds, and smells; and most of all for the people who are not poor except that we label them so.
All the lattes in the world can’t compare to the sound of Wilson whistling and laughing in the morning.
over the past six months I have written fewer and fewer blogs. the time and experiences have touched me in such deep places, troubling me in ways that I can only hope is the Holy Spirit stirring within me but I can’t sort out the rhyme or reason. sometimes interactions make me so angry. sometimes so sad. sometimes the joy is greater than anything I could have imagined. sometimes the experiences make me want to book a flight home immediately. sometimes I never want to leave this place. and sometimes the things that I want to write about reveal too much about confidences and relationships and emotions of those I love.
and tonite there are depths of emotion that I cannot give voice to. there are relationships that cannot be defined. there is growth and change that has been so painful and important for me and my family.
there are not enough words to describe what this call to Malawi means to me. and yet all words are inadequate.
Yesterday morning as church ended, Pastor Kaunda told the congregation that next Sunday will be our family’s last Sunday at Galilea UMC. He invited me up to say a few words.
When I got to the front and turned around to face the congregation no words would come. My eyes filled with tears and I just stood there staring at the faces I love. After what felt like a couple minutes, I turned to Kaunda and said, “I can’t.” He put his hand on my shoulder and said I could sit down.
That’s all I can say about that.