Bumpy Bus-ride Thoughts

A couple months ago, I was in another country and all the roads in the town were dirt roads and it was rainy season, so as I stepped out of the truck into squelchy red clay, I warned a fellow passenger, “Step lightly.” He chuckled that this situation is ridiculous chuckle and asked me, “Is that your motto?” Funny thing was, it’s something I had been thinking about a lot. Since summer, even. I felt like I was jumping from place to place, community to community. And it’s really tempting to just avoid investing when you know you won’t be someplace for very long. But, “As a dancer,” I told him, “It’s actually really important to bend your knees every time you land.” And if Gordon College has taught me anything it’s the value of being present–be here now. And I’ve always been proud of my ability to be in the moment. I thought it was my superpower.

I’ve been abroad for over three months now, but this past week, I got hit with my first wave of homesickness, and a nice bout of food-sickness to go with it. At first, I thought to myself, well, the stomach is the seat of emotions, and I was just really feeling the longing for home, for friends, for something familiar and comfortable. And I was. But I was also feeling my intestines protesting to whatever it was I ate or drank. This is probably TMI, but it’s going somewhere, I promise. So I took some Imodium, which allowed me to travel and function like I needed to. But as my stomach started to bloat, I was more and more aware of all the things I was “holding in” and holding onto: words left unsaid, bitterness, anger, and an ache for my communities at Gordon and back home.

On the 5th day of illness, I was talking to a woman who had been traveling back and forth for a few years now, who was about to embark on yet another  season abroad. And she seemed to be aching in the same way I was–for a home and a community where she could finally plant herself and not have to say goodbye again. She mentioned the importance of decorating her room wherever she was. “Making new friends” was a piece of advice she repeated but I recognized solemn, almost bitter, undertones in the phrase. She told me about her family’s Christmas tradition of writing poems for each other, but not knowing what to write anymore because she hadn’t seen them in a year. She hadn’t really had enough time in one place to form a Christian community, either. This week, I really resonated with this woman. I can’t do this long-term, I thought to myself.

The feeling hit a climax on the 5th and final hour of my bus-ride back. We started taking switchbacks through hills and I was weather-beaten, exhausted, and nauseous. And I thought about transition. How it does exist. There will be times when, other than a nice sunset and some mountain views, the majority of the ride will be spent gritting my teeth and praying my way through. Times when I won’t be content in the moment so much as in the hope that it’ll be over soon. And that’s ok. Because faith, hope–these are Jesus-sanctioned, future-oriented joys. Twice this weekend I read:

Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland … to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself, that they may proclaim my praise.

Isaiah 43:16-21

We won’t be wandering in the desert forever, friends. Maybe some of you thrive on the nomad life, but I’ve learned I have a longing for a home, for a community I don’t have to say goodbye to. I’ve always said that it’s not really about the people, but God Who is constant is loving me through the people he puts in my life, for however short a time. And I stand by that. But I also know there’s probably a lot more transition ahead of me, and the challenge is in loving God back by investing in the people and the places I’m in. He’ll provide the streams, no doubt. But do I trust Him enough to grow where I’m planted, to bloom, knowing I’m going to be uprooted again? Do you?

Below are some consecutive vignette-like poems I wrote on that bumpy-bus ride. Not all the details will make sense without context, but maybe you can relate to the feelings behind them.

Exhaust Fumes

We’re all a bit battered and jostled and tousled,

Covered in dust,

Stickers and stamps and sewn-on tags too,

A couple minor tears but not terribly bruised,

Infused with the smell of the fumes

And exhausted.


Hang Dry

Pants damp

Stretched shoes

Everything else kind of is too,

From hanging it all on the line.

Old wine skin, new wine.

I keep asking for more time.


What am I Saying?

When we get there

Why do I keep saying we?

I guess there’s Christina

…but then it’s just me.

When we get there it’ll all be better, ok.

Ok? Grass always greener?

I’m scared to say.


I Forget Her Name

Poems are hard to write in English.

And I haven’t seen my siblings all year.

Tu me manques means you are missing from me,

And I haven’t had time to put pieces in here.



“We’re close.”

That’s what always gets me through.

There’s that we again–

That’s right–

It’s me and You.


May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13


…because there’s nothing else to do in North Dakota

This is how I end a lot of stories about my time at SIL, partly jokingly. Being without a vehicle on an empty campus in the middle of nowhere certainly leads to a lot of creative methods of having fun. I’d like to share with you some of the things I did outside of class this summer to show you how SIL students aren’t afraid to think outside of the box and that even nerds have a high capacity for creative slacking.

Push-up Club

Yes, you heard right. Every night at 9:15pm, anywhere from 5-30 people would drop what they were doing, come to the lounge on my floor, drop to the floor, and give it their all for the entirety of an inspirational song. Eye of the Tiger, Final Countdown, Chariots of Fire, and other classics boomed through the hall, interrupting the homework of many, while our unofficial club pumped our pectorals and crunched our numbers. My friend Janelle, I believe, was the one to start the push-up club, or at least to make it into what it soon became. We started adding our numbers together and came up with group goals. She’d shout, “Everyone do FIVE MORE and we’ll make it to a thousand tonight!” Lessons learned: physical activity is good for the brain, team goals enhance community bonds, and it’s all in the music.

Poetry Nights

On Thursday nights, Graham and Sarah (the cutest, young, hip, married, linguist couple) started a poetry reading club. People would come with books, computers, or smart phones and sit in a circle and read our favorite poems. Silly ones and serious ones, and even some of our own work. Eventually, this night morphed into a poetry writing session as well. We were all dying for a creative outlet and as linguists we delight in the power of words. So once again, someone would set a soundtrack, (this time something a bit more soothing), and for the length of the song, we would write. To switch things up a bit, we took on the challenge of writing a poem to fit a poem title written by someone else. My friend Doug wrote about our process, compiled our poems, and published the work, titled Poems from a Bucket, so you can read all about it for yourself (and you can read our poems!). Check it out.

Swing Dance Club

My friend Becca and I actually started this one ourselves. On Saturdays we taught some basic Swing and danced for about an hour. I had the privilege of dancing with the program director, Dr. Bickford, and had the amazing experience of dancing with a girl named Shay. She’s deaf and she’s from Burma. So she speaks Myanmar Sign Language and I had previously had no real interaction with her other than a smile on the elevator. Several SIL students and faculty know some ASL and a handful were also learning Myanmar Sign from her, but I was at a total loss. But the one thing we had in common was the love of dance. I had to come up with ways to explain things visually, which was challenging but so exciting. And it sure helped that Swing is a partner dance, because she was able to feel the unique rhythm of Swing without being able to hear the 3/3 time of the music—and she had a better sense of rhythm than a lot of hearing people I’ve tried to dance with before. Shay also taught me some Burmese traditional dances and it just so cool being able to connect and share our cultures and have fun without being able to speak each other’s languages.

Volleybal Tournament

As a non-competitive, non-athletic individual, I did not take part in this particular activity, but I did sit on the sidelines and cheer on my friends, enjoying the golden hour outdoors and the company of the other spectators. All ages played in this very serious but very friendly competition of seven teams (they were named after the seven dwarves) with a game or two almost every night of the week.

Skit Nights

There were three of these throughout the summer. The first was hosted by returning students, the second by first year students, and the third by the staff and faculty. When our turn to host came around, I was right in my element. We put together a team of organizers and actors and writers and stage hands and techies and basically put on a full production in the form of an awards show. The full recording is below, but as a warning, it’s full of linguistics references and SIL inside jokes, so while it will give you a good idea of the night and a taste of the community, you won’t think it’s funny.

Work Assignments

To keep the cost of the program low, every student is assigned to some sort of job helping out with childcare, cleaning the building, security, etc. I cleaned the childcare area with the same team of people every night of the week and it was a great excuse to take a break from intellectual work and bond with people.

Campus and Downtown

The campus of UND is big and beautiful and there are plenty of places to study and hang and get coffee; there’s a playground and a park. We had a program cook-out with food and games. Grand Forks is on the river-border to Minnesota. On the fourth of July we sat by the river and watched fireworks and on my friend’s 21st birthday, we put together a scavenger hunt with stations and clues both on campus and downtown Grand Forks. One weekend, three of my girl friends made the three-hour drive to Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada and enjoyed a farmer’s market, thai food, and the incredible friendliness of Canadians. Grand forks also has farmer’s markets on Saturdays, good pizza, and cute coffee-shops.

…And when there’s nothing else to do, you can always run outside in the rain, go for a joy ride on the long, straight, empty roads, write letters or make phone calls, take a nap in a hammock, go out gazing at shooting stars and Northern lights, or you know, watch Netflix.