When our World Grows Small

Outside my artroom window in Portugal.

As our world becomes smaller so also can our hearts and minds—for the good, pulling us all together, and for the bad.

The good:

It was towards the end of October, 2018, two months after Bill’s retirement, when we got our first nudge towards forming a new path. During a Sunday service, two young women were sharing about missions at our church. Shannon, our church’s Global Outreach Director at FBC, was interviewing Sarah, who was part of the Campus Field Staff for Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru) at Oklahoma State University. (Sarah’s now with Cru at UCA.)

Sarah captured our attention as she shared about an upcoming mission trip to Italy. Hearing all of the work her group would be doing, that included developing relationships in the community, Sarah’s message struck us. (More in depth in The Path to Portugal.)

Fast forward several months: We moved from our view of a private lake surrounded by trees, dripping in wild wisteria, to rows of concrete apartment buildings. We exchanged Arkansas wildlife in our backyard to having sheep graze as lawnmowers on the school grounds outside our front windows. 

Towering buildings stood tall before us. And it was there we established our new home. Everything in our suburb of Lisbon was eight minutes to something—the Strada Outlet, the school where I taught. We walked to church twice on Sundays, winding through breaks between buildings, past favorite restaurants, up and down hills with children playing in tiny corner playgrounds. 

When out and about, we drove past small yards with orange and lemon trees in full bloom, and it was January. From the window where I taught high school art and its history to high school students from most every continent, I watched a man, much like in a Van Gogh painting, till his garden. I’d point out to my students his tidy garden rows and the rows of clay tile roofs beyond him—perfect examples for the first element of art—line, I’d say. I’d talk perspective later in the semester—much like today–with perspective being vital not only to art but also to our truths.

I then pointed to our tidy gardener’s neighbor to the left, adding, “This is what my brain looks like sometimes–collecting everything for another day and never knowing how to really organize it all while I collect more.”

One afternoon one gifted artist in my class happened to mention his dad worked with Cru.

“Really?” I said. “It was a young woman who worked with Cru who first sparked our interest in serving in Europe.”

“You’re from Arkansas, right? Fellowship Bible?” Cader asked. “My dad’s brother is a pastor at a Fellowship Bible Church in Northwest Arkansas.”

Once we traded names, I shared it in an email with Sarah. 

“What?” she said, “You’re kidding. His uncle is the one who told my dad [our church’s pastor] he should move from California to Arkansas!”

The expanse of our world suddenly grew smaller. Dots on countries, US states and an ocean now connected to make lines crisscrossing a world map.

A few months later, our pastors in Lisbon, asked if we could host a woman from Albania. This young woman’s visit in our new home allowed for many conversations. Brikena, whose family is Egyptian, shared how when growing up in Albania she was shunned by schoolmates because of her ethnic differences, as well as for her skin and hair color. 

One morning over breakfast she told how she came to know Christ as a preteen.

“Every summer, a missionary group from Cru visited our small town and held Vacation Bible School,” Brikena said. “My heart changed, and with each year’s return. Many of those Cru team members have remained friends and mentors throughout my high school, college years, even now.”

Brikena has matured into a beautiful gracious woman whose sensitivity to others serves her well as a pediatric nurse.

When we’re reaching out, we get to discover ways to make strong ties across the world, our country, our street. From the central Arkansas to NW Arkansas to California to Portugal and Albania.

We can add Brazil now, where Brikena’s fiancé Oliver grew up. We got to know and love Oliver from church. Brikena and Oliver got married a month ago in Albania’s and Brazil’s fullness of traditions in Brikena’s hometown.

Oliver wrote a special song for Brikena published today. It’s so catchy you’ll find yourself singing it the rest of the day. Spotify.

The negatives that can come when our world grows small

We feel what we feel

This pandemic has made a negative impact on us all by breaking up our lines of communication. After we moved from Lisbon to Chicago, it was only when Bill was in physical therapy while I was walking to grab supplies that I had contact with others. Masks on, eyes focused ahead, even in the midst of a crowd, most must have felt invisible. Many times I got lost in admiring Chicago’s skyscrapers, created by brilliant architects who had dreams to reach for the sky. Many met those dreams. 

Are we?

Family and friends couldn’t visit because of Chicago’s COVID tough restrictions. As a small town girl, I now knew no one.Yet, one always has an awareness of people walking about, driving by in cars and buses, creating noises and hubbub that come with any big city. 

Within this city section called Streeterville, I walked between thin ornamental trees with flower boxes freshly filled each season. A bit of beauty, only to be hit with reality whenever a series of sirens blared, and fire trucks, ambulances and police cars raced past me. I couldn’t help but imagine others’ traumas on the end of the line. In just seconds, one happening tipped their world. Tears flowed immediately for people I didn’t know while I stood masked at a crosswalk surrounded by strangers.

When smallness loses light,

We have to decide what we’re going to do about it.

I once read in a magazine’s Q&A column:

Q: Why do I get so emotional just watching the evening news?

A: There may be deeper issues you’ve yet to deal with.

Isn’t it those very issues that develop us to be deeper and stronger or embittered and brittle?  

We can’t ignore their power, forcing us to face our pain and what causes it. 

One of my last nights in Lisbon, preparing to get us moved back to the US, I still needed to cancel Bill’s and my two-year phone/internet contract. My Portuguese-speaking, great nighttime driver, wonderful friend Melissa came to pick me up.

Once I climbed into her car, I said, “Sorry for the delay. I could smell gas. The water heater keeps switching off, so I had to fix it again. And the freezer has a button broken off, so it beeps nonstop until I can tweak it–temporarily. And the automation on the kitchen window blinds died, so the blinds won’t let the sunlight in. It’s like since Bill’s accident, everything is suddenly not working.”

I’m typically not a complainer, but I had to share with someone all of these inconveniences.

Melissa, not even 40 yet, but so wise, said, “Well, maybe that’s to let you not feel so akin to the apartment now that you’re moving back to the States.“

She didn’t really say, “akin.” I made that up just now because it fit. She said something like that and it made sense—how we make something perfect and then it’s not, and how it was obviously time for God to move us somewhere else, for a reason we’re still hoping to find. 

Yet, we’re human, and we tend to clutch onto what we love, what was before, what has become safe.

sAt midnight on one of those last nights, I was on my knees, trying to stop the beeping in the underneath panel of the refrigerator with my favorite tool–a kitchen knife. I noticed Einstein next to me, looking into the freezer for how he could help me figure out how to fix the problem. We all need such a devoted friend.

So I had to decide to learn another layer of life, going deeper

Once moved, we received a message from our new Portugal friend, Miriam, about how she was sorry we were experiencing a dream ending. 

I thought about its impact. When a dream ends … what do you do?

I was reminded, reaching back decades those times it seemed like a dream had ended. Those events and the pain wisened me to overcome the challenges. God never failed me throughout.

So many are afraid of being judged if their lives aren’t Instagram perfect. Why is it we’ve maintain those defining walls, the ones that try to separate the broken from the unbroken?

The School of Life—Do we get extra credit in continuing education?

I believe most of us try to be informed. Yet, we simply can’t fully fathom what others are going through until we’ve actually experienced it–deaths of loved ones, cancer and health battles that now include COVID, economic struggles, hunger, prejudices and discriminations.

How often do we ache for our loved ones and can’t fix it for them? There is a powerlessness, a helplessness, but we can’t ever forget prayer and its power.

I can say in this new season, digging into a deeper level, I was guilty of not being as aware as I should have been to those who battle barriers handicapped. Now I find myself angered by all who are delivering flowers or picking up friends or food, and they park in front of buildings, blocking the one sloped curb for walkers and wheelchairs. How many times had I done that, justifying I was only going to park in a spot and run in for a second? But it ended up taking longer, blocking others from their only access. 

Meaning well must equal doing well.

Widening Perpective. Awareness.

When our mind turns inward

After we moved to Little Rock, after four moves in eight months, I had a few weeks of exhaustion. Finally in a place I could call our home, I found myself resting and restoring, then becoming numb and apathetic. My mind began roaming with grievances of others from long ago injustices.

While out on a walk one afternoon, I had a reckoning of how petty and destructive those thoughts were and how small my life was becoming because of this mindset. 

For two weeks I read Romans 8:18-39 daily, absorbing, and absorbing some more.

The flickering of the morning sun slipped through the window blinds, slits of space allowed slices of light. 

We are reckoning with our new reality. We now needed to move beyond the walls of isolation and dream again.

Light dances. 

I know that I know that I know we are loved wherever God has us.

Light alters the shapes and forms of everything it rests upon.

With it we have a new perspective. 

Light reflects more light.

And so must we. 

Quick Update on Bill

Bill is continuing with his daily exercises and works with a physical therapist twice a week. He uses his upper leg muscles to direct the lower part of his legs and feet when he exercises on the elliptical trainer and parallel bars. He’s so disciplined.

Last month he developed some blood clots in his lungs and got to spend some time at the hospital. The doctor wanted him admitted to the ICU unit, but there were no rooms because of Covid patients. The ICU team had to treat him from the ER. How I appreciate those who continually go the extra mile, who are working diligently to get us through this pandemic. 

He is strong again. He looks good and is in good spirits.

I apologize my updates are sketchy for those who ask. Bill is such a private person, and I want to respect that. However, your thoughts and prayers mean so much to us. It’s the intangibility of faith that leads us to the tangible. We get to be even more patient during delays of gratification. Trials build faith and teach us the beauty of dropping petty ways, thinking larger, and letting our world grow smaller in good ways … if we so choose.

We are a part of a weekly Zoom Bible study that connects us with individuals on the other side of the world who want to learn English through the Bible. We love their hunger to continually learn and grow, inspiring us to learn and grow.

I’m continually amazed how much I don’t know. I must make room in my garden for more.

Our new kitten, Matisse

After needing to leave Einstein in Lisbon, I missed his companionship and unconditional love. He miraculously found a great home in Portugal with a couple who love him. (Einstein’s stories one and two are here and here.)

I think we should always have a kitten in the house!

Matisse proves to be full of personality and loves us both and almost everyone who walks in the door!

When you don’t know who you are and then you do.

Beauty tip of the day: Set beauty before you.

When I had a yard, I was always cutting flowers to distribute around our house and share with others. I was missing that. Recently I received a beautiful sunflower arrangement from Amy that brightened the room and me. With the lovely vase as a keepsake needing new flowers (most of my vases are somewhere in storage or being enjoyed by others I hope), I bought a $10 bouquet at Kroger’s and divided them for enjoyment on a bookcase, my bedside table and beside my bathroom sink. A $6 bouquet of roses found its home in the kitchen. Nature’s beauty is a gift for us to breathe in and expand. Simple things make a difference.

Life tip of the day: Help mend our world.

How often have I sat in a board or committee meeting and listened to others offer bandwagon stances. Don’t get me wrong, I have my stances. But what always seemed ludicrous was how in our trying to solve a problem, those two opposite proposals had their wonderful positives and horrible negatives. Why aren’t we listening more and searching together for ways to merge positive viable solutions in our government, schools, economy, everything?

The following poem is one I have to read over and over, layer by layer, until it sinks in.

Say not the Struggle nought Availeth

BY ARTHUR HUGH CLOUGH

Say not the struggle nought availeth, 

     The labour and the wounds are vain, 

The enemy faints not, nor faileth, 

     And as things have been they remain. 

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars; 

     It may be, in yon smoke concealed, 

Your comrades chase e’en now the fliers,

     And, but for you, possess the field. 

For while the tired waves, vainly breaking 

     Seem here no painful inch to gain, 

Far back through creeks and inlets making, 

     Comes silent, flooding in, the main. 

And not by eastern windows only, 

     When daylight comes, comes in the light, 

In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly, 

     But westward, look, the land is bright.

Travel expands our world. Read a bit of our travels to Hell’s Canyon.

For this season, enjoy this article about ways to make this Thanksgiving gathering special. https://www.aymag.com/decorating-and-hosting-tips-for-thanksgiving/

8 thoughts on “When our World Grows Small

  1. Ann, I have missed your musings & heart words a great deal. We continue to pray for all your needs & for progress, and we thank God for taking care of you these past years when we were helpless to do so. We love you much.

    Like

  2. I am always blessed by your thoughts and reflections. I will set beauty before me today and lean into God’s gentle nudges of stretching and growing.
    Thanks friend!

    Like

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