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October’s Lady

It’s the cliche of the season, I know, but I have to agree with Anne Shirley: I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.

It’s no secret to anyone who reads here that I am not a woman who was made for hot summers. Not only am I a west coast Canadian, most at home caught between the ocean and the mountains, I am Canadian by way of the northern tip isles of Scotland and the grey middles of England. I’m freckled and pale. My ancestors made it clear: I was made for cardigans and moccasins, for cool evenings and the bite in the air.

Yet I’m not much for the big rituals of autumn; for instance, the epic outings with perfectly staged photos. I think they’re lovely, they’re just not my focus, I guess. We’re not into Halloween and you won’t ever catch me doing more for dress-up than stopping at the pop-up-shop in town and stuffing three $10 costumes that will suffice for the school costume parade into the shopping cart. I’m not pinning gold-dipped pumpkins and, much as I enjoy crafting, I don’t have much time for it these days so there aren’t any homemade wreaths. Sure, we’ll do the pumpkin patch thing and the apple orchard, no doubt, and we’ll trot around the neighbourhood in mass-produced costumes that shouldn’t be left near an open flame gathering candy in last year’s Halloween buckets like we do every year but those aren’t the moments of October I savour. Not really.

For me, the gift of October is in the light of the days, the last gracious light of this turn around the sun. It’s the golden glow of our moments as they fade away into the cool darkness, earlier and earlier. It’s the smell of dead leaves after a soaking rain. It’s standing outside in the changing woods, still, watching the leaves pirouette down in sheets during a gust of wind. It’s the vibrant colours – bright gold of the aspens, the red of oak and maple trees lining the boulevards and the playgrounds, the orange of beech, even the maroon of the overlooked ones. Perhaps it’s because these colours stand in perfect relief again the deep blue of the afternoon light. The blue of a sun-filled autumn afternoon – now there’s the argument for the restoration of creation.

Crisp mornings, sharp like a tart apple, wake me up from the stupor of summer. The air crackles with ideas and renewal, this should be the true start of the year, we come alive again.

It’s the way we gather in the autumn, too. Today in fact, our tables are set. We make the turkeys the way that our mothers made their turkeys, thumb through cookbooks with dog-eared pages, bake our goodies off of recipe cards made translucent with buttery fingers over the years. I like to consider myself a pretty good cook but I met my Waterloo in pie crust: it keeps me humble. So I buy my pies, proud in my common sense.

It’s the sound of children outside, and the old games that never seem to go away – tag, hide and seek, freeze tag. It’s school days and backpacks filled with Roald Dahl books and packed peanut-free lunches.

October’s true delights are in the small homebody rituals though. Lighting candles, full pots of tea with steam curling upwards from the new autumn blends from David’s Tea in old pots covered with hand knit tea cosies, comfort baking, pots of soup, draped scarves around our necks, revisiting the novels we have read a dozen times already just because we know we love them, sweaters on my knitting needles and old movies on rainy afternoons, dark and slow mornings, red lipstick stains on coffee mugs.

homebodies

Print by Be Small Studios. Available here.

I’ve learned one secret of happiness, perhaps – be easily pleased. I’m easily pleased by small things, by lovely things, by beautiful things, ridiculous and simple things perhaps, but I’m happy in these days and so it’s enough.

October feels like a woman who knows her age and rests comfortable in that knowledge, like the woman I want to be someday. Bearing her years like a crown, beautiful but in her own beauty not the borrowed or contrived beauty of past seasons, wise and patient, crisp and alive, a bit tart but restful. October feels kind and strong in equal measure.

 

Continue Reading · abundant life, enough · 24

In which it snows in the morning

Every day do something that won't compute :: Sarah Bessey

Wake up to a brighter bedroom, the snow has been falling outside all night. Take a lazy look around the room, look at the life it is reflecting back to you: a sturdy homemade bed; tangled and worn white sheets; a man with a beard is sleeping, his hand still resting on your spine; bright yellow baby rainboots tossed in a corner; piles of books. Stretch the length of your life.

The tinies will come clumping down the hall soon, their voices filled with wonder: “Mum! It snowed!” That man you kissed last night will roll out of the bed because Sundays are your day to sleep in, a deal’s a deal, you do Saturdays. But you both know you won’t go back to sleep – you never do. Watch him head upstairs to the ministry of coffee and Bubble Guppies on Netflix.

Get out of the bed and go to the window, look out into the forest. The snow is still falling, thick and lazy, almost predictably. Open the window for a few moments, just to smell it. Crawl back into your bed, pull up the covers, and grab a book. Once a week, you get to read first thing when you wake up and so here is a stack of Wendell Berry and Flannery O’Connor and Luci Shaw, practice the resistance of reading of good books.

When you go upstairs in an hour, make a pot of tea. No solitary mugs will do for a snowy Sunday, get out the big sturdy brown pot and your mother’s discarded delicate white teacups, the ones with blue and silver flowers on the rim. Hug your babies, good morning, good morning, yes, I see you. Listen to the dishwasher chug, everything is brighter and slower when it snows.

Church is cancelled, you’re pretty sure everyone is relieved for a day off anyway, an excuse to stay in their jammies, watch movies, work puzzles, roll in the snow, read novels. The more judicious might catch up on housework, pay the bills online, answer emails: the kindred spirits will make a bit of room for delicious indolence.

Decide to do something real today, then bake a loaf of bread. Yeast, flour, water, salt – simple is good for the soul and the belly. Guide small hands into kneading properly, let everything rise in its time.

Scratch a few lines into a journal. Write a bit but try not get frustrated because you are interrupted seven times in fifteen minutes. Read a psalm. Pray in the shower. Listen as you go through your day. Clean the kitchen. Bath a baby. Make the beds. Use the good dishes for a lunch of plain soup. Scatter children’s books around the house like bait. Put on lipstick. Flirt in the kitchen in quiet saucy voices. Comfort tired children, prescribe naps and quilts with seriousness. Promise a movie later on. Later when the snow settles, you’ll go for a walk in the dim, into the in-between for a conversation with yourself, you’ll be so relieved to be away from them all for a few moments but yearning to return to them all by the end of the block.

Watch the snow fall in the ordinary beauty of a Sabbath spent practicing what makes you feel most fully human.

 

Continue Reading · abundant life, enough, family, gratitude, love, marriage · 15

In which I will become more undignified

I was a pretty terrible friend to someone I love very much recently. When I was finally called out for it, I was immediately defensive and an argument ensued while my husband sneaked around carefully closing the windows lest the neighbours hear me peeling the paint off the walls with my screeching. I reacted like a wounded animal when I was the one who had wounded my friend – it was steadily my fault. The snot was flying and nearly an hour later, I was repenting and sobbing with remorse. We followed the argument all the way down to redemption and forgiveness, and we emerged battle worn and exhausted and reconciled. If it had been up to me, I would have never had that undignified argument (hello, I’m an INFJ, nice to meet you, I hate conflict) and that important friendship would have been lost in my attempt to preserve dignity.

Thank God for friends who nail your dignity to the wall and crawl into your mess and failures to haul you out, kicking and hollering, to the light. It’s not always dignified to fight for a real relationship but it’s always good. Dignity would have lost me the real goodness of a friend. Instead, in the very human act of puffy eyes and hiccuping, of confessions and confrontations, I found God all over again and I was restored to a very real and very holy friendship, to a life without the protective armour.

Hey, happy-clappy folks, do you remember that song we used to love called “Undignified”? We used to sing it and jump around and wave our hands because it was a song about the passage of Scripture when David dances wildly before the Lord and his wife shames him for it but he retorts that he’ll become even more undignified in his worship. So we sang about how we were going to dance like David danced; we were going to become even more undignified than this. And then we’d clap our hands and stomp our feet and whirl with abandon.

I loved that song. (I have been trying to write through the complexity of reconciling and reclaiming my charismatic upbringing, and how I am both progressive and pentecostal in my sensibilities but I’m not doing a good job at it. Someday perhaps.)

Anyway, I was thinking about that word “undignified” after that come-to-Jesus moment a few weeks ago, and realised that I’ve almost always found God most in my undignified moments – by dancing ridiculously, by telling secrets, by being willing to be foolish, by taking chances, by working hard, by engaging in the mess and weirdness of family life, all of it.

I used to have an idea in my head of what Someone Who Is Holy looked like: sedate, thin, beautiful, ethereal, just a mite austere. Of course a posh British accent is the true mark of holiness to a gauche Canadian like me. Someone Who Is Holy has children who don’t fuss, they probably love to listen to classical music. Someone Who Is Holy isn’t pacing down the grocery store aisle with three tinies hanging off the cart and coupons in her purse, she isn’t running the dryer again to “fluff” the clothes that have sat in there too long, she isn’t snorting while she laughs at television shows on Netflix, she isn’t on her hands and knees wiping up someone else’s vomit, she isn’t locking the bedroom door and throwing a saucy look of promise at her husband because clearly good sex isn’t included in the holiness life, she doesn’t sweat, she doesn’t turn on cartoons for three-minutes-of-peace-for-the-love. She is above such things. Someone Who Is Holy walks in beauty, like the night, no doubt, perpetually calm and serene, clean and aloof, beautiful and wise.

No, instead, I’ve found God in the daily scrum and commitment, the discipline and noise, of a family and a community and my own womanhood.

I’ve found God to be most present, I’ve heard the Holy Spirit most clearly, I’ve felt the peace of Christ most, when I stop thinking that these indignities and frustrations or failings, are getting in the way of my Real Life. The Real Life is the undignified life and the Real Life is the classroom for holiness anyway. If you can’t find God while you’re changing diapers or serving food or hanging out with your friends, you won’t find Him at the worship service or the spiritual retreat or the regimented daily quiet times or the mission field.

I believe God hides in plain sight in your right now life, if you have the guts to taste and see, confront and wrestle and rest.

I’m not so worried about holiness anymore, to be honest anyway. I’ve given up on false demarcations between the sacred and the secular in my life, the Kingdom is so close it’s breathing beside us now. I can’t confuse an unbothered and uninterrupted life with a peaceful life anymore – that luxury disappeared with three babies in four and a half years, with work and bills and longings for justice and the news cycle and neighbourhood kids ringing my doorbell, and public school.

Holiness can be found in washing soiled bedsheets and clipping fingernails while singing songs to distract worried toddlers. Holiness for me was found in the mess and labour of giving birth, in birthday parties and community pools, in the battling sweetness of breastfeeding, in the repetition of cleaning, in the step of faith it took to go back to church again, in the hours of chatting that have to precede the real heart-to-heart talks, in the yelling at my kids sometimes, in the crying in restaurants with broken hearted friends, in the uncomfortable silences at our bible study when we’re all weighing whether or not to say what we really think, in the arguments inherent to staying in love with each other, in the unwelcome number on the scale, in the sounding out of vowels during bedtime book reading, in the dust and stink and heat of a tent city in Port au Prince, in the beauty of a soccer game in the Haitian dust, in the listening to someone else’s story, in the telling of my own brokenness, in the repentance, in the secret telling and the secret keeping, in the suffering and the mourning, in the late nights tending sick babies, in confronting fears, in the all of a life.

Love doesn’t afford much dignity. All of life flames with God, yes, and God is blazing out in the indignities of a life.

By God’s grace, I will become more undignified than this. 

 

 

Continue Reading · abundant life, community, faith, family, fearless, journey, Light · 38

In which I catch a glimpse of heaven

We drove through the mountains in the snow, holding hands over the gear shift. It was an iron-grey day, a cold swirl of a day, and as we crossed the river coming down from the north, a bald eagle swooped down and low right beside our car. As we reached the other side, the eagle lowered one wing, and arched away, benediction rising. We drove to the base of the mountains, past a herd of bison to the log-stacked lodge. Each sentinel pine on the mountain weighed with snow, slender and distinct, there was just a hint of pink to the sky.

There were pine cones and simple jar candles lining the aisle, holly boughs with crimson berries and burlap laid out, paper hearts hanging from bare branches. At the altar the words “Rise to a better story” prophesy in the blue snow light.

It was a gathering of nations there in the snow. First bridesmaids in cream and gold saris, then Tina appeared in her bridal scarlet and emerald and gold sari, jewels through the part of her hair resting on her forehead. Kupa and his friends, his brothers, from Zambia, from America, from Hong Kong, stood at the front, and Kupa’s eyes were not satisfied with seeing, it’s a good idea to watch the groom’s face for that moment when his bride appears, that look will make you believe in love all over again.

We sang praises to God, we cried, we clapped, we fell more in love, each of us, remembering our own wedding days. When the pastor charged them to be faithful and true, love and honour, and they vowed until death do us part, husbands and wives were catching eyes and smiling. Kupa and Tina got down on their knees and washed each other’s parents bare feet with their own hands, speaking blessing and honour and gratitude to their new mama and papa each. South-Indian Christian traditions enriched the traditional English Christian ceremony: sari draped by Kupa, gold cross tied, seven strands woven, and their vows.

When they were pronounced husband and wife, we nearly lifted the roof off with our cheers. India through Dubai to Canada, Zambia through America, and they found each other, and now we’re all here, drinking wine, and laughing, eating, and celebrating with tears in our eyes, every voice a unique accent of its own.

We all agree that this is what the world should look like – a wedding supper, a global family, saris and dashikis, head coverings and hipsters, good food, thumping music, dancing, tears, and the kind of love that works and breathes and shows up.

These are the sacred moments. And the community gathered to say we see you, we affirm you, we’re with you, and may God give you lots of babies, too. Here we all are in the Canadian west, a big crazy family usually scattered across the earth. The dirt on our shoes was from nearly every continent, but we are family by birth and blood and choice tonight.

We were stomping our feet and whistling loud, kissing and hollering out for more kisses, and then we were also sneaking outside to lean over the railings, men draping coats over women while our breath formed in the darkness, all to watch the moon rise in at Christmas.

Driving home, we agreed, yawning, feet aching, yes, right there, that may have been a glimpse of heaven.

 

Continue Reading · abundant life, friends, journey, love, marriage, moments · 10