I wanted him to ask me but he didn’t. So I asked him. Our church Valentine banquet took place on February 13, 1984. A very special time for my husband, Mike and me, it was our first date. For the past 33 years we have celebrated that very special occasion which ignited our life-long commitment of love. Flowers and candy always mark this occasion and a lovely restaurant dinner. It is one of the happiest of all our life celebrations.
Other than the occasional mission trip, church conference or quick weekend trips, we haven’t spent much time apart. That’s why I was a bit surprised when he willingly supported my three-month adventure in Bethlehem last year, volunteering at an English immersion school. It was a dream come true and I had worked hard to get there. I attended classes and completed a graduate certificate in TESOL. I sent countless emails trying to connect with a school who needed a volunteer. I went to conferences and made as many connections as I could. My dream was becoming a reality and Mike was supporting me all along the way. He accompanied me on the trip and stayed for three weeks. It was hard to say goodbye to him, but I was so thrilled to be living my dream.
On a beautiful, warm Saturday in Bethlehem I awoke and raised the window blinds, the view took my breath away as it did every morning. I had an appointment with a friend for an Arabic lesson. Having completed my grocery shopping on Friday, I washed a load of laundry and hung it to dry. I was ready to go and decided not to call a taxi because the day was so lovely. I would walk. It was not a short walk but definitely worth it to pass through the market area and be shoulder to shoulder with the people I have come to love. I was prepared for the long trek. Wearing my backpack and walking shoes, I stopped in a local shop to pick up a notebook for my Arabic studies. I stopped to take pictures at the Christmas Lutheran Church.
Christmas Lutheran Church
Christmas Lutheran Church
I remember breathing in deeply and saying prayer of thankfulness for this opportunity that just a short time ago I could only imagine in my wildest dreams. I took careful steps, I had fallen in Jerusalem just two weeks ago and I certainly did not want to repeat that.
Not since that first date so long ago (and the births of my three children) had something pulled this firmly on my heartstrings. It’s still a bit of a mystery to me why I am completely captivated by this place. While I insist it is the people, others have suggested that I must be drawn to the birthplace of Jesus for spiritual reasons. Maybe it’s true, but the Palestinian people, both individually and collectively, with their rich and beautiful culture, have captured my heart in a way that is both new and mysterious to me.
The Omar mosque came into view and I was in familiar territory. A quick walk through Manger Square and down the hill, and I would reach my destination. Passing through a taxi stand, I could see the front door of my friends’ house. I stepped gingerly, carefully off the curb. My left ankle did not hold the weight of my body. Instead, it gave. I tried to catch my balance with my right foot, that ankle gave also. I found myself on the pavement, dazed and confused. I remember every minute of this whole ordeal. I have played it over and over in my mind. I cannot come up with a reason for this fall.
Both my ankles were injured and because of the many stairs, my time at the school would soon have to end. So very grateful to my friends who cared for me during that time and with a brand new cast on my left foot, I waited in the car as we picked up crutches and ran errands on the way back to the school. As I waited, a deep loneliness crept up inside me. My friend Grace returned to the car with a Valentine gift. It had been prearranged by Mike. The date was February 13
Today, it doesn’t seem possible that a year has passed. I weep as I remember every detail. I’ve been irritable lately and withdrawn.
In a 2011 article for Psychology Today, the Anniversary Effect, Deborah Serani defines the phenomena as “unique set of unsettling feelings, thoughts or memories that occur on the anniversary of a significant experience.” Sometimes we experience traumatic events along with others, like deaths of loved ones or natural disasters or acts of terror like 9-11. But for me, this is a deeply personal event connected to a profound and personal loss that is difficult even for those closest to me to understand. A sense of loneliness settles into my heart.
My faith in God speaks to me about redemption. I believe that bad things happen in the world, obviously. And God is not out there preventing these bad things from happening, obviously again. Nor is God out there causing bad things to happen. But when something bad does happen, I believe good that subsequently happens as a result is the work of God, a redemption of the negative situation.
Something bad happened to me and it had an intense effect on my life. I don’t know the cause of it. I don’t understand why I fell. There was no reason for me to have an accident like that. I was wearing solid shoes, I was being careful. It just happened. Some have suggested a spiritual attack. I don’t know. I just know it happened and it was traumatic. Besides the physical pain that still shows up now and then, for months after the fall I suffered flashback memories every time I went down steps and especially curbs. I experienced anxiety if I didn’t have a railing to hold.
During my recovery I sought out ways to cope. The accident was personal and my coping strategies have been highly personal as well. I have developed a deeper level of creativity. Art is important. Not only creating my own art, but my appreciation of art and beauty is more intense. I have also developed a better understanding of how difficult but important it is to accept help from others and how humbling it is when you are forced into a situation where you have to be served by others. I believe that it is what Jesus was trying to teach the disciples when he asked them to allow him to wash their feet. It is difficult and taxing emotionally as well as physically, but humility is a quality that provides better perspective, helps you see and accept others. I also had the opportunity to live in the West Bank in a Palestinian community. I was immersed in the culture and language and I was with people who loved and cared for me. I learned that in the past I had only a very distant and faint viewpoint on this complex area of the world, and I was able to drill all the way down to families and neighborhoods who, like all families and neighborhoods want to live in peace and provide healthy and happy homes for their children. It gave me a much deeper connection, not only to Palestinians, but to people in all parts of the world. And my wider worldview helps to shape my beliefs, thoughts and views about those people. I believe these positive consequences of a negative experience is how God works in our lives.
Anniversaries can be a time for reflection on happy times and celebrations. They can also mark some very difficult times in our lives. This anniversary is different than any before. Quite painful in some ways, it’s also filled with many happy memories. Mike and I will celebrate this year with an even deeper and richer understanding of love than ever before. And while there most certainly will be more traumatic experiences our lives and subsequent paths to redemption. Tonight we will celebrate together with a few dozen of our closest friends, at our church Valentine banquet.