You go through so much training and preparation before moving overseas. You enlist your prayer and financial partners, make your plans, say your prayers and goodbyes, and step into the life of your dreams … and it absolutely knocks the wind right out of you. Everything is exhilarating and overwhelming. And for crying out loud, on top of everything else you have a baby. I wrote this poem about ten years after those first months on the field as I reflected on the rawness of that season — the spiritual warfare, the fears, the delight, the naiveté. I found myself remembering with both gratitude and nostalgia.
The First Year
Those were the nights we had dreamed of —
lying awake on my grandmother’s quilt,
fingers and ankles intertwined around
the nursing baby, listening to her heartbeat
and the bark and hiss and whirl of the unfurling outside.
We slept deeper than dreams of home, of sisters
making their way on the far side of the world, of
safe and clean and known. Our language-blistered
minds turned three times in sunburnt cages and
flopped down, too worn to chase wild hopes.
Sometimes, deep below the surface of night, we woke up.
Peacekeepers had killed the music at their sandbagged parties,
and low horns at the marisa joints had blown themselves quiet.
Only the frogs and dogs sang then, mad symphony led
by a drunk tinker bird in the tree, clanking away on his anvil.
The ribs in our net rose and fell in a breeze we couldn’t feel
disturbing a firefly bumping about like a lost star. And those footsteps,
circling outside again and again — angel or thief, shared dream or
common flesh — we could never find them to ask which.
But we heard them move and silently wove our fringes closer.
Tonight, an old air-conditioner rattles in the room and
muffled generators roar as they keep this city of dust
breathing. My grandmother’s quilt was lost long ago.
But here with you now, on the brink of dreaming,
I remember those nights we lay spellbound,
wondering how long we would make it.