Rainy Saturday

Yesterday was so full of tears, but I think it’s good and healthy to grieve the loss of a loved one. In a way, I’ve been grieving already for the last four years. Because of that, I didn’t think it would be all that hard when the last goodbye finally came—but it was. It is so hard to think of things happening and not being able to talk to my mom about them.

I will continue to post memories of my mom as they come to mind. Here’s another one: my mom always looked classy and elegant. She mostly wore neutral colors or very muted ones. I used to kid her that her palette consisted entirely of taupe, beige, and gray, with maybe a little bit of ivory to spice things up. I, however, was a child of Africa and I adored bright colors when I was young. The brighter the better.

When I was thirteen, I needed some new dresses for school, and of course my mom made all my clothes, so she took me fabric shopping at the nearest Indian fabric store. On previous forays she had given me limited choices, as in, “You can pick this one or that one.” This time, she gave me whole tables of fabric to choose from.

My eye was immediately drawn to some floral fabric. The background was black, and the hand-sized flowers were neon pink, neon yellow and neon orange, with plenty of neon green foliage. I’m telling you, it was eye-searing. “That one,” I said. Mom shot me a look of absolute incredulity and urged me to consider all my other options—which I did.

I still wanted the bright bright flowers. My sweet mother said, “You realize, that if we buy this fabric and I make you a dress from it, you will have to wear it. In public.” Of course I realized it. I was looking forward to it!

She made the dress, no doubt averting her eyes whenever possible. She couldn’t get over the fact that I actually planned to wear it. When I went back to school, I encountered an unintended consequence of owning the brightest garment on the planet. Our headmaster, an avid amateur photographer, was always calling kids over to pose in his photos, and he definitely preferred kids wearing bright clothes. If you were wearing a red shirt or dress you were guaranteed to star in the day’s photos. Well, my amazing neon dress trumped everything. On days when I wore that dress, I was called to be in all the photos. Somewhere I bet his grandson Larry has some of those old photos or slides!

I loved that dress. I wish I had a photo of it.

Today was overcast and then rainy, so not a great day to work in my garden. I had plenty of other stuff to do, of course. I’m so behind on all my school stuff. Walter headed out to do his landscape jobs but was defeated by the rain. He’ll have to go back and finish tomorrow.

Lucy and Tanner spent some time painting a picture together.

I will have to get a photo of the finished product. It’s very pretty!

The rain cleared out and we caught a glimpse of the sun before it set. I enjoyed my sunset walk in the cooler weather.

Some flowers that my husband’s crew planted on campus recently.


A Belated Summation

Until two and a half years ago, my only exposure to class reunions was occasional episodes of TV shows that depicted class reunions. I’m sure you’ve seen some of those episodes. I found them horrifying. They mostly featured aging characters who were trying to look youthful while bragging about their accomplishments, getting drunk, and flirting with former classmates. Depending on the show, there might also be a murder. The reunions all seemed to be short events lasting one evening, and were a prime example of what I refer to as “introvert hell.”

Not that I expected my high school classmates to act like that—but even so, I waited forty years to dip my toe in. Those of you who’ve been with me for a while may remember my report on my 40th year class reunion back in June of 2017. That was the first high school reunion I’d ever attended (I’ve been to two grade school reunions), and I was terrified. I was so afraid of so many things, to the point where I actually drove past the entrance to the property and continued on for a couple of miles before getting a grip on myself.

This time was quite different. First of all, I was dependent on others for transportation, so there could be no chickening out. Julie had cleverly invited me to help with the pre-reunion cooking, so once I arrived at her house the die was cast, as it were. Secondly, despite considerable anxiety ahead of time, I knew going in that it was silly for me to even have any anxiety, because my class is nothing like those TV classes. My class, to be honest, is the kind of supportive community that so many people long for and aspire to in our disconnected world.

For example—I was not able to detect a single person dressing to impress the rest of us, let alone rubbing our noses in their career success, although some members are certainly very successful. There were no insults or veiled put-downs—just a little gentle and friendly teasing. I heard no arguments about politics, although we as a group no doubt land on both extremes and everywhere in between. No one had to be asked to help in the kitchen with cooking or cleaning chores. People just showed up and pitched in to help. When someone mentioned a difficulty, everyone in earshot jumped in with offers of help.

Conversations I participated in or overheard were rarely of the “small talk” variety. When you’ve known someone for over forty years, what’s the point of small talk? We jumped right into talking about the things that matter to us. Admittedly, this is a pretty standard MK trait, and one that I adore. If you only see someone once every few years, why waste time talking about inconsequential stuff? I’d rather jump right in to finding out what’s really going on with my friends. We participated in some fun activities together, but the best part was really just enjoying each other’s company.

Now I realize my high school experience probably differed quite a bit from yours. Boarding school is not the norm here. Boarding school puts you in a position of forced intimacy with a host of other people you might otherwise never even talk to. And because you’ve all been separated from your families, your classmates become your surrogate family. You not only attend classes with them—you also have all your meals together, go to Sunday School and church together, sleep in the same dormitory, and attend all the same social events.

What this means, twenty or thirty or forty years down the road, is that these same people understand you on a level that no one else can, because they shared that rather intense experience of growing up with you. I have many wonderful friends that I’ve made as an adult—but there are huge parts of me I can’t share with them because they have no frame of reference for my childhood in Africa. My boarding school friends (from both primary and secondary school) are different. I don’t ever have to explain myself to them. Conversations are so easy. We may have ended up in different destinations, but on some level we came from the same place and that fact has to a large extent made us who we are.

What I’m trying to say is that maintaining relationships with my grade school and high school friends has been by far one of the most satisfying aspects of my adult life. Sure, sometimes it seems like I’m the one putting forth most of the effort—but that’s okay, as long as my friends are still glad to hear from me. Those efforts have been very well spent.

What concerns me as I talk to other people is the discovery that lifelong relationships like mine are no longer the norm. Almost everyone I talk to is a little mystified by my efforts to go to reunions (out of state!) and stay in touch with childhood friends. I can’t tell you how many times someone has said to me, “I’m not in touch with anyone from high school. Or college. I have no idea what happened to my best friend from school.”

That saddens me. You may not have gone to boarding school and therefore may not have developed the intense relationships such an environment tends to produce. However, everyone grew up somewhere, with someone. And those people, whether classmates or neighborhood friends or cousins surely know you in a way that others do not and never will. I believe there’s a great deal of value in maintaining youthful friendships, even while making new friends at every stage of life. Therefore I challenge you to track down one of your childhood or teenage buddies that you haven’t heard from in years. Maybe they aren’t interested in reconnecting, and if that’s true—well, what a shame. But if they are interested, think of what delight may be just around the corner. What have you got to lose?

A Gleeful Gathering

Don’t worry, there will be a hymn later on. But I thought I’d throw in a quick post about yesterday since we got home too late for me to want to post last night.

Yesterday after lunch my husband and I took off for Dallas, where we had been invited to have supper with my friend Joanna and her family—and quite a few other people too. In the trunk was a cooler full of salad fixings that were already chopped and bagged and ready to assemble.

The occasion for this festive dinner was the visit of an old classmate of mine, who was in town with his family and staying with Joanna (who also went to the same school). I had not seen Mickey since we were sixteen, if I remember correctly. Also in attendance were my dear friends Don and Gwen and Peter and Cindy.

What makes this so amazing is just that it is so unlikely. Consider: Sakeji, the school we went to was (and is) in a rural corner of Zambia. I was the only one of last night’s class reunion who actually “graduated” from ninth grade—back in 1973. What are the odds that all these years later, five members of that grade school class would be in the same house in Dallas?

It was so much fun catching up with Mickey (the others I see on a fairly regular basis). And I was struck once again by the realization that gatherings like this bring me more joy in this season of my life than almost anything else. Even though I am still grieving the loss of my friend, I was able to set that aside for a few hours to enjoy the company of lifelong friends. So many stories. So much laughter. I feel so sorry for people who haven’t stayed in touch with their childhood or high school friends. Lifelong relationships are such a priceless treasure. It’s worth making the effort to maintain them.


Sakeji Hymn

Since today (August 5) is the 51st anniversary of the day I first arrived at boarding school in 1967, I thought today’s hymn should be the school hymn. I tear up every time I hear or sing it. I feel I should explain that the words were written when the school was strictly for the children of missionaries. That has not been true for a long time now.



by Julyan Hoyte


Come children of Sakeji

Lift up your voice and sing

To praise our God and Father,

Our Lord and Heav’nly King.

His love has kept and blessed us

Right onward from our birth;

His power created for us

This rich and wondrous earth.


We praise Thee, Lord, for water

Rained from Thy clouds on high;

It falls on bush and village

Refreshing land so dry.

It fills our lovely river

And floods our bathing pool

Renewing, cleansing, brightening

And blessing all our School.


We thank Thee for our founders,

Our teachers, helpers, friends,

And for their love reflecting

Thy love that never ends.

As they so freely gave us

Their strength from youth to age,

Oh make us always worthy

Our splendid heritage.


Lord hear us for our parents

And bless their work for Thee.

Help them to build Thy churches

Devoted, true and free.

Oh guard them, guide them, help them

To toil with heart and hands

And spread the name of Jesus

Through Africa’s wide lands.


Again, O Heave’nly Father,

Accept our prayer and praise

For each one sharing with us

Our full and glad school days.

So as the years roll onwards

And we full stature see,

Lord bind us all more closely

One family with Thee.




Less Light in My World

Yesterday, soon after getting on the road, I received a notification that the world had lost a truly outstanding person, and someone who was very influential in my life. Miss Joan Hoyte died on Tuesday, just days before her ninety-fourth birthday. I am so sad now, not just because she is gone, but because I never made it back to the UK to visit her, as I have wanted to do for years.

Why was a British nonagenarian so important to me? Well . . . she was the school nurse at my boarding school in Zambia. But that doesn’t actually tell you anything, does it?

Here is what I wrote about her in my memoir, This Rich & Wondrous Earth (which was dedicated to her and one other staff member):

Miss Hoyte was the school nurse, and worked in the kitchen too, but she was so much more than that.  For one thing, she was a former pupil, which seemed incredible to us.  It was hard for us to imagine her ever being a little girl, but we loved it when she told us stories about her days as a schoolgirl at Sakeji in the 1930’s.  Not counting a few years absence for further education, Miss Hoyte had spent virtually her entire life at Sakeji, and as I write this she is there still though not actively working at the school.

Miss Hoyte was all business and efficiency and she did not suffer fools gladly, or even at all.  Though her hair was prematurely gray, she had the strength and energy of a woman half her age and she had no patience with children who demonstrated laziness, foolishness, or self-pity.  She was scrupulously fair, never showed favoritism, and had a wonderful sense of humor.  Miss Hoyte was so energetic and vigorous that just catching sight of her made me feel as if I simply had to jump up and start doing something useful.  Although I never felt particularly close to her as a child, I had tremendous admiration and respect for her, which have grown over the years.  I have never heard anyone speak ill of her and I have never observed her to say or do anything that she might regret or be ashamed of afterwards.  I loved it when we would ask her why she had never married, and she would answer, “Well, I always thought I would get married and have a big family, but instead I came here and had an even bigger family!”

Miss Hoyte was the one who meted out my favorite and least favorite punishments at school. The favorite one was when I was banished to sleep in the storeroom for a whole week! And the least favorite was when I was forbidden to talk to my best friend for a month.

One of the things I truly appreciated about Miss Hoyte was her fairness. She was also very kind, in a brusque, no-nonsense way. It’s like she didn’t want people to realize what a softy she really was. I didn’t fully understand her value until I was an adult though. In the early 1990s, my husband and I were missionaries in Zambia. We had the opportunity to visit Sakeji (the school) to celebrate the retirement of one of the other teachers from my day.

Miss Hoyte had already retired—but her retirement home was right on the school campus where she could still be involved in children’s lives. Having lived in Zambia all her life, she had no interest in leaving as long as she could be healthy and active. And boy, was she active. Even in her seventies, she put most young people to shame!

She invited us over to her cottage and did such a lovely job of entertaining our children. She kept insisting that I call her “Joan,” but this is something I just could not do after so many years of respectfully calling her “Miss Hoyte.”

She instantly became something of a fairy godmother to our young children. We talked her into visiting us at our mission station a few weeks later with a couple of her friends. After a lifetime in Zambia, she had never been to that station before. I was so happy to have her. I obsessed over the food because I wanted to prove I was a good cook! We didn’t have anything fancy in our remote location, but I do remember working hard to make some good guava purée to serve with porridge in the morning, and I was so gratified when she commented on how delicious it was.

When she arrived for her visit, she brought all kinds of little goodies for the kids—from balloons to candy. They adored her—and so did I. As an adult, I realized what a genuine treasure she was. She was everything I aspired to be.

We kept in touch with occasional letters after I returned to the USA. I was thrilled to be able to return to Zambia in 2000 to celebrate the school’s 75th anniversary. She was still there, and I managed to squeeze in a lovely visit with her down at the river.

Eventually her seemingly boundless energy and health failed her, and she was forced to move to the UK. When I published my memoir and dedicated it to her, I sent her a copy. Then I waited on pins and needles to see what her reaction would be. She wrote me a lovely letter telling me how much she had enjoyed it. More importantly, she validated my efforts by telling me that my portrayal of the school and its staff was very accurate. Whew! I would so have hated to disappoint her.

As the years sped by, she had more than one stroke and in her last letter to me she complained that she had become slow and stupid. Slow, maybe—but never stupid. How I longed to make the trip to England to see her one last time. But alas, it was not to be. The time is gone and I will never again see those bright blue eyes sparkling back at me.

Here is a photo of her as a young woman:

Miss Hoyte

When it was shown at the reunion in 2000, someone yelled, “Miss Hoyte, you were a real looker!”  Yes she was. And here is a photo I took of her in 1993, entertaining our friends’ kids:

8 Joan Hoyte 1993

Note the vase with flame lilies in the background. She loved Zambia’s national flower! I stole this photo from Facebook of her returning from a trip to gather flame lilies.

Miss Hoyte with Flame Lilies

I’m so glad that I grow flame lilies in my garden, and that they are in bloom right now. I cut some this afternoon in Miss Hoyte’s memory.

6-14-18 flame lilies for Miss Hoyte

She was one of a kind—the kind you feel so fortunate to have known. She will be missed by hundreds of former students all over the world.


Fifty years ago, my life changed forever. That summer, my family left the city of Detroit and relocated to a mission station near Kasempa, Zambia. I had just turned eight. Two days after arriving and moving into our tiny turquoise house at Mukinge, my mother and I climbed into a crowded van and I was on my way to boarding school. The date was August 5, 1967. (Even at the age of eight, I knew it was a momentous date.)

For the next eighteen weeks, I lived in a dorm room with fourteen other girls. I did everything else with those same girls–went to school, ate meals, went to church, played games, and even learned to garden. Sakeji School shaped the person I became in so many ways. I spent more time there than I did at home, and as a result Sakeji was the place I thought of as “home” in Zambia.

I know some of you associate boarding school with misery and abuse—and there certainly was plenty of both at times during my years at Sakeji. But the reality is that I loved my school. I loved the way it smelled. I loved every building (well, except maybe the outhouse and the changing hut down by the river). I loved the rain and the sun and the mangoes and the gigantic glowing moon at night. Most of all, I loved to learn, and I crammed knowledge into my brain as fast as I could. I spent all my free time reading and even read in bed by moonlight. If you want to know what my life there was like, you should read my book about it:

This Rich & Wondrous Earth

But today, I just wanted to acknowledge the influence this school had on my life on this, the fiftieth anniversary of my arrival there. It made me who I am. It gave me lifelong friends that are more like siblings. It enriched my life in so many ways, and I am grateful.

My last year at the school (Form I/9th grade) was the happiest of my childhood. I reveled in every moment of it. Graduation plunged me into a deep depression that plagued me for many years afterward. It was almost like all my siblings had died, because all my classmates went elsewhere (together) and I stayed at home to do school for the next year and a half. I had to learn the hard lesson of looking forward instead of back.

Today, the school is still in operation, though it has changed so much as to be almost unrecognizable to former students of my vintage. Still, it has been a source of great delight for me to know my daughter Lina is teaching and living in buildings I once frequented, is seeing the same moon and the same river and the same airstrip, and hearing the same birds at night. Wish I could pop over there and spend a couple weeks of her vacation with her this month!

Here’s a Google Earth view of the school:

Sakeji with labels

Birthday Memories

Sorry for my silence the last two days. On Thursday night I was heading for bed until I remembered I needed to mix and bag a new batch of chai mix in order to be ready for Friday. By the time I was done it was past my bedtime!

Last night I was on my way home from Dallas, watching a spectacular lightning show the whole way. Again, by the time I got home it was well past my bedtime and in fact it was already my birthday.

My daughter Lina says there are two kinds of people in this world: celebrators and non-celebrators. Like my mother, I am a celebrator married to a non-celebrator. As a kid, the birthdays that involved some sort of celebration were the ones that stood out–except for the ones that stood out for other reasons!

My eleventh birthday began a string of memorable birthdays. The day I turned eleven, we were camped in a crowded campground in the Netherlands. The plan was to celebrate my birthday by spending the day at a nearby amusement park. Instead, we huddled in our tent and played board games while the rain came down in buckets all day long. The trip to the park could not be rescheduled and we never went.

My twelfth birthday involved a broken arm, absent parents, and a grumpy grandparent. My thirteenth birthday was celebrated aboard a Greek freighter in New York harbor, right before we set sail to return to Africa. My fourteenth birthday I think may have taken place while camping on vacation. My fifteenth birthday was spent in solitude, listening to show tunes on my parents’ reel-to-reel tape player, and my sixteenth birthday was a little surreal because I spent the day with two total strangers. They were very kind, but they really didn’t know me at all.

I mention these earlier birthdays because my seventeenth birthday was such a sharp contrast. I may have written about it before, but if so it was quite a few years ago, before I switched to WordPress.

My seventeenth birthday was my first birthday away from home and family. Although I had gone to boarding school for years, my birthday had always fallen in the long dry season (winter) vacation when I was at home with my family. Now, as a junior in high school, I went to a school which used the “trimester” system, so my birthday fell during the third and final term of the school year.

I went to bed the night before my birthday quite sure that no one at school even knew it was my birthday and that I wouldn’t even get a “Happy Birthday” greeting from anyone. (I was not the type to go around telling people that my birthday was approaching.)

On the stroke of midnight, I was woken up by the sensation of something touching my chest. I opened my eyes to see a cupcake sitting on my chest. I could see it because it was topped with a lighted candle, which also illuminated the grinning faces of several of my friends in the senior class who had tiptoed in and gathered around my bed. They whisper-sang Happy Birthday to me to avoid disturbing my roommate, and insisted that I blow out the candle and eat the cupcake instantly.

That one thing would have made my day. I was so tickled. Yet in the morning when the rising bell went off, my roommate Beth puffed into the room with a breakfast tray for me. It was a tradition in our dorm that you made breakfast in bed for your roommate on her birthday, but I hadn’t thought Beth knew it was my birthday. (Maybe she hadn’t been as asleep as she appeared to be at midnight!) The breakfasts weren’t fancy, because we didn’t have access to fancy food, but it was a thoughtful tradition and in fact this is what led, many years later, to our family tradition of breakfast in bed on your birthday.

Warmed inside by these tokens of my friends’ affection, I slid into my seat for my first class of the day, which was English. Our English teacher, Miss Platt, of course had access to our information, so to my horror she announced to the class that it was my birthday and they all burst into a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday to You. While they were still singing, a boy from the senior English class next door dashed into our classroom, laid a piping hot pancake on my desk, said, “Happy Birthday, Linda!” and dashed out again.

I had no idea what the protocol was for dealing with a pancake which was delivered to one in the middle of a class, so I just stared at it in disbelief. “Don’t just look at it,” said Miss Platt. “Go ahead and eat it!” What else could I do? I ate it while my classmates snickered.

That afternoon I was invited for tea to the principal’s home. I thought nothing of it because my friend Lynnae and I went there every week to have tea and plan the Sunday School lesson with the principal’s wife. The toddler 3-5 year old class was held at her house every week and three of us had to entertain the kids for two full hours, so planning was essential.

This time Mrs. Entwistle had made a special birthday tea, including a whole chocolate cake which she insisted that I take back to the dorm to share with my friends. Full of joy, I headed back to my room, to find a beautiful angel food cake sitting on my desk. Worried that I’d be cakeless on my birthday, my mother had sent money and instructions to my friend Pam, who had made me my favorite kind of cake.

Staggered by all this generosity, I was further surprised when yet another whole cake arrived courtesy of my dorm mother (who would later also provide me with a lovely birthday dinner). I had three cakes on my desk, and although I offered it to all and sundry, I didn’t have many takers. What to do with all that cake?

Someone suggested that I call over to the boys’ dorm and let them know I had cake. By now it was evening. My roommate Beth was already in her pajamas and doing homework on her bed, but the lounge downstairs was still open, so if I could get a couple of guys to come over, I could take some cake down to them and they could share it in their dorm.

I made the call (each dorm had only one phone). The phone was answered by Steve, a boy in my class. I asked if he was interested in some cake, and he said, “We’ll be right over.” I waited to hear someone call me from the lounge, but the call never came. Instead, two heads suddenly appeared in the window of our second-story room. (Our windows had two panels that opened, and no screens.) One of them belonged to Steve, and the other one to his friend Jim. They had climbed up some pipes to reach our window.

Poor Beth ran screaming from the room, yelling down the hallway that there were men in our room. (Not technically true—it was only their heads.) The boys soon realized they had made a grave error in their calculations. They wanted cake, but they could not hold on to cake and also climb back down the pipes. So they climbed back down to the ground and then instructed me to throw the cake down. Picture me tossing half a chocolate cake out the window and having it be caught bare-handed by a teenage boy. Having tossed each boy half a cake, I watched them swagger off, covered in icing. By the time Beth returned with witnesses to prove our room had been invaded, there was no sign of any boys.

Best. Birthday. Ever. (When you’re seventeen, at least.)

Reunited and It Feels So Good

Last Friday, I did one of the most courageous things I’ve ever done. I got in my car and drove from Tennessee to Kentucky to see people I hadn’t seen in forty years. I was absolutely terrified. My hands were shaking on the steering wheel. Every moment during that drive, I considered chickening out. I wanted to chicken out.

I had known this would happen, had known I would look for any excuse to back away. So I cleverly made it harder on myself by promising to contribute cookies and breakfast casserole and chai to the reunion. (I genuinely wanted to help out, but I’m being very honest when I tell you that it was also a sort of insurance policy. It’s one thing to let myself down, but I am very unlikely to let anyone else down if I can avoid it.)

When I reached the ranch where the reunion was held, I drove right past the entrance. I thought maybe I would just drive all the way into town and buy the groceries I needed, and then go back and face my classmates.

I got a few miles down the road before getting a grip. I turned around and went back to the ranch gate, and this time I went in. I drove all the way to the lodge and parked my car. I got out and walked into the building, believing in my heart of hearts that I was walking into extreme emotional danger.

As I stood palpitating inside the door, looking into a room filled with my former classmates, my friend Sally came forward to greet me. She was soon followed by others, and my fear began to drain away. It was replaced by incredulous joy at getting to be with this particular group of people for the first time in forty years. I had a wonderful time for the rest of the weekend.

This, of course, does not answer the question I know many of you have, which is: Why on earth was I so terrified? What was I afraid of?

I would really love to not answer those questions. I hate exposing the real me to the entire internet, and I rarely do it—but it has occurred to me that somewhere, sometime, someone might benefit from knowing what went on inside me on this specific occasion.

First, though, I have to explain a thing or two about being an MK (missionary kid) and going to boarding school. It’s not like “normal” life here in the US. Your classmates are your only social group. They’re the people you draw your friends from, go to church with, play games with, study with, and socialize with (and if you’re like me, they’re also the people you get in trouble with and get punished with). They live in your dorm with you, eat all your meals with you, and of course also go to classes with you. In short, they quite quickly become your adopted family.

Because of this, friendships tend to be deep and long-lasting. Remember, I also went to boarding school for elementary school, and am still close to many of my friends from those years.

This reunion, however, was a reunion of my high school class. I went to Rift Valley Academy (RVA) for my junior year and half of my senior year. It was a very intense time for me, coming on the heels of eighteen months when I had studied at home in almost total isolation. I wanted to be friends with everybody in the world. (I know. I’m an introvert. But even for me, there is such a thing as too much solitude.)

I do not wish to discuss my experience at that school. It was deeply colored by pain, anguish, and betrayal. There are good reasons I have not written a second memoir detailing my experiences there. However, at the same time I was experiencing so much misery, my life was also filled with joy and delight at being around people again and having the opportunity to make new friends. I threw myself into relationships with an enthusiasm that I have not matched since. I made some mistakes. I was, after all, a teenager whose head was full of immaturity and stupidity. Still, I loved my friends with an intensity born from my months of extreme loneliness.

So why did I then avoid them for the next forty years? My excuses were legion, and some of them were lies I told myself. For the first decade or two, I honestly thought I could not emotionally survive the experience of seeing my high school friends again, and it was very helpful that I also could not afford to attend any of those early reunions. It’s not that I didn’t want to see my friends. I desperately wanted to see them and connect with them again—but I was afraid all the wrong memories would come back and I’d be a quivering basket case after the first few hours. I feared that I’d be asked questions I didn’t want to answer, or that people would judge me unfairly, not knowing the reasons behind some of the things I did. In short, I was a coward.

I wish I could say that was the worst of it, but it wasn’t. There was a much bigger sin that came into play as the years went by, compounding my cowardice—and that was the sin of pride. I did not want my classmates to know how fat I was, how very mediocre in my achievements. I thought the day would come when I’d look svelte and glamorous and be a bestselling author, and then I’d turn up at a reunion and not be ashamed of myself. It never occurred to me that I was judging myself much more harshly than my friends do.

For four decades—forty freaking years!—I let fear, stupidity, and pride keep me from staying connected with people I cared deeply about. I had opportunities from time to time to meet up with one or more of them, and I wriggled out. If I had not been such a spineless coward, I daresay I could have figured out a way to attend at least one reunion before now.

So what happened when I gathered up every last molecule of courage I still possess and walked into that group of people? Instead of finding myself in danger, I found myself in a place of safety; a sensation that is very rare for me. My classmates shared details of their lives with the rest of us, knowing that they’d be met with acceptance and encouragement. I did not see a single instance of someone being judged, as I had always feared I would be. Believe it or not, not one person came up to me and said, “Boy, are you a big fat disappointment.” Everyone just seemed glad that I was there. There are parts of my life that I do not share here or with any of my local friends, but I felt quite sure I could have shared them with that group had I wanted to. We all shared some experiences that tend to make us empathetic and compassionate toward each other.

I had feared that going to the reunion, seeing all those people again, would be like knowingly drinking a glass of deadly poison. Maybe it would have been—35 years ago, but I doubt it. After forty long years, I found that the misery and bitterness of the past had evaporated away, leaving only the sweet clear wine of joy.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is what so many others have said in different ways and about different things: don’t wait. Don’t wait till you look skinny and fabulous before you let someone take your picture. Don’t wait till you have achieved some cherished goal before you reunite with old friends who just want to enjoy your company. And most of all, when you do meet up with old friends, be a safe place for them. All they really need from you is your love and acceptance—and your presence.

Group Shot 1


Double the Enjoyment

I’m going to take a stroll down memory lane here, to explain to you how I came to possess one of my favorite treasures. In 1993, we moved to Zambia for what we hoped would be years of missionary service, but which ended up being just for 18 months.

Upon our arrival, we inherited a few barrels of possessions that had been left behind by family friends. One of the barrels was full of old books, some of which were real treasures, like an original version of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales–rather horrific compared to the sanitized versions I had heard as a kid! There was also a little book that caught my interest. It was a travel book about various journeys the author had undertaken in his homeland of Great Britain. Having been raised in a former British colony, I am an unapologetic anglophile, so I settled in for some enjoyable reading.

It was a charmingly dated account, written in the 1930s as I recall. My problem was that most of the places he wrote about were unfamiliar to me, and not big enough to be included on your average map of Britain. I hate not being able to picture where things are, so when a British friend of mine was getting ready to go for a brief visit home, I gave her some money and asked her to please buy a detailed map of Britain for me.

She exceeded my expectations by bringing me this:

3-23-17 atlas

A nice thick road atlas of Britain, with individual pages on a scale of 3 miles to 1 inch! I was so, so happy! I got out my little travel book and searched out all the places on the map. My enjoyment of the book was increased immeasurably once I had the map to refer to. I have referred to my treasured road atlas many times in the intervening years. I keep it where I can easily access it. So helpful if you read classic British literature.

Which brings me to this week. A couple of days ago, I started reading Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson, about the travels he went on throughout Britain before moving back to the USA in the mid-90s. Once again, I hauled out my atlas and have been following his travels with great interest on my detailed maps. To my amusement, many of the place names he uses are totally made up–but they’re no stranger than some of the actual place names. For instance, a quick glance over a couple of pages yielded the following places: Herodsfoot, Spriddles, Boohay, Ipplepen, Dippertown, Quoditch, Clapworthy, and Lower Sharpnose Point.

Yes, I know I could probably look up the places in the book on Google Maps–but I really prefer the real atlas. I can follow his travels from town to town and see what route he must have taken. Having my atlas is adding tremendously to my enjoyment of this book.

Of course, it’s not as if I did nothing but read all day. Jasper and I continued our floundering with geometry. This afternoon I took Lucy out to get her birthday present–a new pair of jeans. And this evening Jasper and I went to the bee meeting for the first time in months because the speakers were a couple that I know slightly. The husband has designed and manufactured an absolutely brilliant beehive stand that keeps ants out of your hive. If you keep bees, you should check them out:

DefyAnt Stands

Also, Walter fixed the van.

Staying Alive

We all have songs that are special to us, that bring back a certain time in our lives, a person, or maybe a special event. Today’s hymn is special to me because it kept me alive during a period of time when I did not want to live. It was one of the hymns I listened to over and over on the night I was planning to kill myself at the age of 17. Once I had made the decision to not go down that road, I made it irrevocably.

However, I did not magically acquire the will to live. I was sent away from everything and everyone I loved and put into an environment that I found stifling and unbearably lonely. I was dealing with so much grief and loss and no one ever said to me, “You are suffering from severe clinical depression and you need help.” I woke up sad every morning and went to bed sad every night. But this hymn was what kept me doing it. When my roommates were out of the room, I would sing this hymn with tears streaming down my face. I had to believe that God would not let me go—and He didn’t. The day came when I was able to smile again. Eventually, I had days when I woke up actually looking forward to something. I didn’t need to sing this hymn to myself quite so often.

Fast forward a few decades, to a few years ago when my father-in-law died. My husband and his siblings were going through the papers my father-in-law had left with instructions for his funeral. There was a list of hymns he suggested, and they were discussing which ones they should use. Some hymns had a star beside them. This particular hymn had three stars. I campaigned to have it included, and it was. My father-in-law was a very formal, distant man in many ways, but after he died I found that he loved this hymn as I did. That made me feel closer to him than anything else had.

I figured the chords yesterday and we sang it in church today. I love the tune and the words. It still makes me cry. Every time.

O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go

by George Matheson

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.