February 28, 2011

“For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” -George Eliot, Middlemarch

Last night, we saw the Academy Awards broadcast to over 33 million viewers.

Last week, Denison hosted a Holocaust survivor who spoke to a room packed full of students.

I’ve been thinking about the juxtaposition of these two events. Movie stars with household names making millions of dollars to entertain us, and then this man who lived through one of the most horrific events in human history with tenacity and resilience, quietly unnoticed except on rare occasions like this. Most people’s lives fall into that latter category.

Two summers ago, I spent months researching and writing the story of an ordinary woman named Hulda Stumpf. Born in Pennsylvania, she attended college in New York, and then moved to Indiana where she taught shorthand for several years. Hulda’s story was not really the kind that people make movies about.

When she was 39, her life took an unexpected turn after she heard and understood the gospel of Jesus Christ for the first time and realized that following Jesus wasn’t about being a moral church person but rather about living in relationship with God. Three months later, Hulda applied to be a missionary and moved to Kijabe, Kenya where she worked for 22 years as a secretary to the local mission director. Alongside her administrative tasks, Hulda volunteered at a girl’s home where young women took refuge from abusive situations and the practice of female circumcision. She probably would have continued her life in this ordinary way, but in the anger against missionary opposition to female circumcision, Hulda was attacked and martyred in January 1930.

Hulda’s story, however, did not end with her death. A man I interviewed in Kijabe who was born in the 1930s and knew of Hulda told me: “Even though she was killed for helping many girls, that work didn’t end when she died. The girls kept coming, and other teachers continued her work. A lot of people in Kijabe moved to other places in the country and this good work spread. This work was so good, that even today we are thankful for what she and others did… Hulda’s work is still remembered.”

I visited the foundation of Hulda’s house two years ago, and took away a small piece of red stone from it. This sits on my desk here at school as a reminder of a woman who very few people know- an ordinary secretary who moved to Africa at age 40 and eventually gave up her life in obedience to Christ.

Hulda’s tombstone reads “Faithful Unto Death,” and I can’t help thinking what a beautiful inscription that is. When I look at that faded etching, I feel a desire to live a courageous and faithful life, secure in the love of my Savior, with no need for other applause. And one day when I finally arrive home, I too will hear those sweet, sweet words: “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

-70 days


Life in a Box

February 27, 2011

I’m lying on my floor, staring at the ceiling, half-pretending to play my harmonica and thinking about my life, when a questions pops into my head: if I had one medium-sized cardboard box to put my most treasured possessions in, what would I keep?

This question isn’t totally random as I’ve been thinking about the grip that things have on my life and how I want to be free of that. I realize that so much of the security I try to build for myself is duct-taped together by possessions.  What I mean is: owning things makes me feel safe and rooted. I don’t think there is anything at all wrong with owning things, but it’s a balancing act. So what if I had to narrow it down?

Off of the top of my head, here are a few things that would make the list:

(1) My high-school Bible. Mostly because of all the margin notes accumulated over the years.

(2) Mt Longonot picture. My Dad painted this scene and gave it to me as my highschool graduation gift. My room doesn’t feel like home unless it is on display and I love that everyday, I still get to see Mt. Longonot as I head off to class.

(3) My “Rejoice” mug. The tradition is that when you leave the house you get to pick a mug to take with you. This one, to be perfectly honest is a little ugly. It has a background of red with white polka dots and the script “Rejoice!” on the front, but I’ve had so many cups of chai from this mug and just holding it reminds me of sitting on the porch back home eating Nice biscuits and chatting with Tata & Musa.

(4) My pink converses. These have gone everywhere with me and represent my travel experiences: Nairobi, London, Saskatoon, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Raleigh, Birmingham, Columbus, Washington DC… everywhere.

(5) The green Mt Kenya hat. It reminds me of that special trip and I have definitely worn it everywhere- even to bed.

(6) Rugby hoodie. With my name and number on the back, a reminder of my black eyes, a few trys, and everything else that made up my rugby experience.

(7) Africa necklace. My favorite -and usually only- piece of jewelry. A gift from my parents, it is a simple, silver outline of Africa.

(8) Abigail and the Red M&M. Abigail is my one doll and has been there through every transition and upheaval of my life. The Red M&M is a stuffed animal and when I lived at home, Mom and I would take turns hiding it for one another. Now that I’m at college, he mostly stays on my bed, only occasionally making a trek through the mail.

(9) Red dirt- a small, corked glass bottle of red dirt from home.

(10) Blue Kitengela glass vase- a beautiful gift from my Mom to start my own Kitengela collection.

(11) Scrapbooks, photos, journals, letters. All irreplaceable.

Of course I realize my life couldn’t possibly fit in a box, because it’s all just stuff and- thank you Jesus- my life is far more than stuff. Still, piling these things up on the floor somehow adds a little perspective. Interesting…

What would you put in your box?

-71 days


February 25, 2011

I can imagine that professors sometimes go home to their families and laugh about the things we students said in class. But professors themselves are not exempt from making memorable or bizarre comments. Like when my history professor casually refers to a 30 page research paper as a “short paper.”

Here are two of my favorite professorisms from this week:

My linguistics professor on students who nominalize Spanish gerunds- “That’s just like a punch in my ear.”

My Arabic professor- “Each of you has a place in my heart and my heart is pumping. That’s why I have a high blood pressure.”

-73 days

A Walk Across the Quad

February 24, 2011

One of my favorite things about Denison University is the fact that because of its small size, it is nearly impossible for me to walk across campus without running into at least one person I know.

A friend and I were once walking across the academic quad and took turns saying hi to all the passers-by. We came to the conclusion that probably between the two of us we know the majority of people on campus.

Today, I left my room about ten minutes before 19th Century Music and was not concerned about the time because even at a relatively slow pace it takes me only about eight minutes to walk to the other side of the school and I am a pretty speedy walker.

When I entered Gilpatrick for my seminar, I was surprised to hear my professor already starting the discussion. I hurried in and took my seat, pulled out my notebook and glanced up at the clock to see it was five minutes after 3:00. I was puzzled how I could have been late for class until I mentally reviewed my walk:

Leave dorm. Nod at a few acquaintances. Wave to a friend going into the dining hall. Almost arrive at academic quad but run into teammate. Stop and chat about practice. Hurry on, passing through student union. Run into classmate and make plans for evening study group. Continue on outdoors, meet another friend who slept through earlier class and needs homework. Pass on this information. See two more friends and briefly exchange greetings.  Continue on until arriving at class.

Hmm… I think I know what put a dent in my punctuality.

-74 days

Childhood Revisited

February 23, 2011

Tonight I got my floor together for some cinnamon rolls and a chance to color pictures. It’s amazing how relaxing it is to color and I personally think that every college student should keep a coloring book handy in a nearby drawer.

Along with that, at a recent rugby practice, our captains threw a curve into our normal conditioning by dividing us into teams for the playground game of “Sharks and Minnows” followed by an intense competition of indoor soccer.

It reminded me of how many recess hours I spent playing American Eagle, Four Square, Knockout, Evy Ivy Over, Hopscotch, Cops & Robbers, and Kick the Can. Or experimenting with clunky wooden stilts, coming up with new signals for teeter-totter tag, and building forts in the big woodpile behind Downing Hall.

The funny thing is that now I can’t even remember most of the rules for all those games. I just remember the sheer joy of tearing around full speed on a playground, and coming in red-faced and panting at the sound of our old brass bell.

Being able to feel the smooth wax of a blue crayon in my hand or to lose my breath playing a game of tag with my  teammates brought me back to those days and reminded me that sometimes I need to allow myself to make time for the simple pleasures of life.

-75 days


February 21, 2011

In general, I do not like change.

But there is this other part that sneaks up on me, itching for motion, for new scenery, or just to hit the road again. At the present moment, this part has the upper hand.

And so to quiet the restlessness I allow myself to indulge in an activity I call pre-packing. This is not the same as actual packing, but rather means taking care of those little tasks that can get done ahead of time before the frenzy of real packing begins.

This involves activities like:

  • sorting files of old papers and documents
  • visualizing which items will go together in which trunk
  • purging closet and drawers of clothing I never wear and in all likelihood will never wear again
  • making the four mental piles of storage, trash, give away, and pack.

Of course the actual “tear-down” of my room won’t begin until late April, but I find it oddly comforting  and productive to begin getting things in order.

To me it’s like periodically making sure my passport isn’t expired- it soothes the transition itch.

-77 days

Yes, I work at the Library

February 20, 2011

But I am only human.

No, I don’t know when the book you need for your research paper due this week will be returned, and no, I can’t tell you who has it out.

No, I don’t actually happen to know the professor’s name that you have forgotten.

No, I don’t know where your study group is meeting.

No, I don’t know what you’re talking about when you say:  “You know that book by that bestselling author? The one with the blue cover? I think it started with an M.”

And, no, I don’t know why the printer is not working.

Thank you, and have a nice day.

-78 days