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Ron and Hermione

Ron and Hermione :: Sarah Bessey

We don’t have a big yard, its about the size of a couple postage stamps, give or take a few images of the Queen. But we do have a forest just behind the ordinary chain link fence, a dense coastal forest filled with cedars and squirrels, spirea mountain ash and coyotes. Every September, a mama bear and her cub lumber through for a few weeks and we keep our tinies inside or  carefully supervise them instead of what we usually do: open the door, set the boundaries – “this house to this house, our yard and your best friend’s yard” – and let them go. We have salmonberry bushes and blackberry bushes tangled up around a little creek that runs through, we poke our hands through the thickets, braving scratches, for the first berries of the year. By August, we’ll be sick of blackberries, the jam will already be made.

We don’t live in the wilderness, just a quiet little neighbourhood of semi-detached homes on the edge of town in the valley. We’re next to a blueberry farm. We have been thinking seriously about moving this year. We got so far as to buy a house and set our moving dates but then for a few reasons, it all fell apart. Now that it’s been a few weeks since that disappointment, I’ve come to see the grace hiding in that falling apart. It’s a small thing in the scheme of things, I know, but it loomed large for our little family and was the source of much conversation. We continue to weigh our options, should we stay or should we go?

And life continues. I’m in the midst of editing the new book which is slow going in this season. I stop frequently to nurse the baby or to make lunch or to pick up the tinies from the bus stop. I have a babysitter for our preschooler two mornings a week which is an enormous help. My husband takes the three big kids to my parents’ place for the day on a Saturday now and again, giving me the house and the baby to myself as I try to put a chapter to bed. Serendipitously, two weekends ago when he did that, it was a chapter about how discussions of theology need ordinary people to be involved, how well-educated and well-read and well-travelled scholars also need us low church experiential local folks talking about how we see and experience and know God, about how theologians are hiding in every walk of life. I wrote those words at my kitchen table with the youngest of four tinies beside me, snoring. Naptime writing is urgent writing, sometimes I think it might be my best thinking. This isn’t speculation: if theology – how we think about God and then how we live that out – isn’t for all of us, then what is it even for?

Caring for small children, being a homemaker, can be repetitive and ordinary: laundry, cleaning bathtubs, long walks made twice as long by wandering and questions, grocery shopping, nursing, all of it. Life is rarely as exciting as people like for it to appear on Facebook. We go to church, we participate in leadership meetings to shape the conversations of our communities, we pray for our friends, we make meals, I write posts and articles and books about God, we wash our minivans, we set up the sprinkler for the neighbourhood kids and hand out freezies to hopeful hands, we go to work, we talk about the people we know. Sacred and beautiful, sure, I’ll say that, but also slow and daily and sometimes monotonous, too.

But even in that ordinary work, I keep trying to give shape to the new world, to the dangerous possibilities of living our lives right now as if God saved everything, as if it is all redeemed or being redeemed. If what I believe about Love doesn’t find a roost here in my regular and ordinary and unremarkable life where I learn and practice what Eugene Peterson called “the biggest nouns and verbs,” then I have no right to those words in moments of transformation and change and importance. There are chickadees perched on the railings of the deck, just for a few seconds. They fly in, perch, flinch, and depart, over and over. I like to think they’re all checking for the crumbs leftover from the weekend of eating outside. Maybe they know which house has messy eaters.

My husband and I sat outside on Saturday night, watching the sun set. It’s nearly summer solstice and the days are long. We put the tinies to bed in broad daylight and settled onto our back deck, facing the forest. The sun sank behind the house and that last golden light of the day hit the trees. In the morning, the light is cool and white and sharpening; but in the evening, it’s warm and liquid, it softens the forest.

Brian and I talked about the regular things: should we move? should we stay? We talked about the kids and about work, about the plan for the week ahead. I’m distrustful of people who always seem to be thinking of deep spiritual things, always striving and going-going-going: I think they must be horrible to live with. I think we need the humanity of laughter and Netflix and ordinary life. We poured a glass of white wine each and wrapped ourselves up in blankets. Joe is reading under the covers with a flashlight, I think tonight he’s reading James and the Giant Peach. Anne has left Babysitters Club books littered around the house, Evelynn is devoted to Robert Munsch these days, of course – that slapstick humour perfectly suits her. I secretly love when they sneak-read. Is there any reading more delicious than that sneaky after-bedtime reading when you are a child? The evenings are still cold when the darkness gathers.

We were waiting for our owls. We have two owls out back, I’m not quite sure what kind, perhaps a western screech owl. We have heard that owls mate for life. I don’t know if that’s true or legend, but every year, we see two owls in the summer nights, year after year after year. Our owls come out to hunt. We like to sit there in the near-dark and watch them, swooping down to the forest floor, returning to rest on the branches of the trees with their prizes.

We had a long discussion about what to name our owls, pairs of names are always fun to consider. Romeo and Juliet? Peanut and Butter? Antony and Cleopatra? Nip and Tuck, á la The Blue Castle? Anne and Gilbert? Elizabeth and Darcy? We settled on Ron and Hermione since, well, they are owls and so the Harry Potter books are entirely appropriate.

I don’t think we’re going to move. And it’s entirely the fault of the forest. I live in a tidy little neighbourhood of identical houses, sure, and I don’t have a yard, I get it. But we have the silence of the night and a creek, we have Ron and Hermione, we have the trees, and I don’t think I’m ready to give that up. Maybe I’ll change my mind. A trampoline and a garden would be nice.

When life can feel a bit dull and prosaic, my forest nights somehow keep me grounded in the dense amazement of being alive. I remembered an old Roald Dahl quote I read once, “And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

I believe in magic.

I believe in ordinary and repetitive and daily boring life and the way magic hides in plain sight.

I believe in church picnics and breastfeeding, I believe books matter and summer nights are for sitting outside while the sun sets. I believe in good coffee and eating berries off the bush. I believe in going for walks with children because they are so slow and perfectly inefficient. I believe our theology is formed in our lives and experiences, and I believe we need to listen to each other. I believe in working hard and loving what we do. I believe in unsupervised children and sidewalk chalk and sprinklers. I believe in kitchen tables and piles of books. I believe in windows being wide open while sun-tanned children go to sleep at a reasonable hour so that they can read under the covers with a flashlight. I believe in heavy blankets for cool summer nights and long conversations over a shared bottle of wine, I believe love lasts a lifetime even if it changes, and I believe in birdsong in the morning. I believe in owls.

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Continue Reading · canada, enough, faith, family, journey, love, marriage, moments · 38

Right now, it would be enough

Mountain lake

It’s been raining today, just a dull grey never-ending west coast drizzle. I had big plans to leave the Christmas decorations up until Epiphany this year, but I have failed miserably. Everything has been put away. I’m just so sick of the trappings and the clutter, the visual noise and the mess. The very things that delighted me three or four weeks ago began to feel suffocating. So even though it makes me a liturgical fail – after all, Christmas has technically only begun! 12 days of Christmas to celebrate! – I had my long-suffering husband haul up the storage boxes and I set to work this morning. By the time, we were finished, not only had we swept out the Christmas decor, but we had reconfigured the living room entirely, as makes sense only when one is exhausted and nearly eight months pregnant.

Christmas was lovely for us this year. All the magic, all the stories, all the gifts and the food and the laughter and the fun, the family memory making. But I confess that when Boxing Day rolled around, I felt I couldn’t bear much more merriness and warmth.

I needed to be a bit free, a bit cold, a bit wild and lonely. We loaded up the tinies in the minivan and headed for the lake. The water was gunmetal grey, still as glass, mirroring the clouds and occasional breaks in the sky. The clouds wrapped around the trees in the mountains like a thrown scarf and the remaining birds circled and landed and soared above our heads. I love the ocean, but there is nothing like a rocky northern lake for catching my breath. It became progressively colder out on the shore. The tinies played while Brian and I took turns with short solitary walks to contemplate the mountains or mortality, the lake or life altogether.

This is the part of me that always feels like it doesn’t fit in church or in with the Nice Christian Lady expectations. Because I was nearer to God there in the wind than I could be anywhere else. And I doubt still, oh, I have been in the strangest cauldron of doubt this week, stewing with my shadow self that questions everything to which I’ve given my life. I sat down beside Brian at a bench and we watched our children play together, me still heavy with the new baby arriving in a few weeks. It felt so good to be away from the noise and bustle and forced merriment of the whole Christmas thing.

low clouds

I sat there and thought about all the things I believe – sometimes they are what I choose to believe; other times, they are absolutely things I know. This story of God – the love of God – is fantastical and wonderful, too wonderful for me at times. I used to think that everyone else was completely certain all the time, that no one ever took a step back and thought, you know what, this is completely nuts, what in the world with this story. But now I know that’s not true, most of us wonder or doubt or marvel at times. Sometimes with circumstances, other times because we must.

And in that moment, I thought that even if it’s all fake, even if none of it is real, this life would be enough for me. This, as it is, it’s enough.  Life is ordinary and brilliant enough even if it never resolves in the way I think it will or should or must, its okay with me, I think. These moments make it transcendent with simple joy and generosity. My faith has shaped my life, I have no regrets, I will keep wrestling and evolving and sorting it all out, over and over again.

I was happy there on the shore with my husband and our children in the beauty that is beyond compare to me. I know there is beauty elsewhere, I see it, too, but I love beauty with a bit of an edge to it. I need the loneliness and the lines, pines instead of palm trees, jagged rocks instead of gentle hills.

I used to think that if I were really spiritually mature, I would lose the edge to my faith. But that shadow self remains, the imp in the back of my mind is an old friend by now. I find God most in that wild tang, in the sparse and open space, in the unresolved colours. Perhaps that’s why I keep wrestling with this story of God, with the unresolved Jesus, with the wind and fire and water of the Spirit: there’s an edge to the story, more than we acknowledge at times.

So today when I woke up, I knew I needed the simplicity again. I needed a few more hard edges, even in my cozy living room, I needed to sweep away the sentimentality and breathe more easily. As I write, the sun is setting out of my living room window. The rain stopped, miracle of miracles, and the clouds have parted just above the skeleton trees, a brief wash of pink and lavender behind them. Right now, it’s enough for me.

Continue Reading · enough, faith · 23

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 · 27

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 · 16

In which there is joy in enough

It seems that we always need to get through the details, the mundane daily stuff, of who is doing what and when and why before we can get to the really good heart stuff. My mother’s blue eyes are the same as my youngest daughter’s blue eyes.  She laughs too loud (so do I) and she’s an incredibly beautiful woman, even more so as she ages. Her lines are falling in pleasant places and she looks so much like her Dad, it’s uncanny sometimes. I can see the grey at her temples and the bones in her hands are tiny like a bird’s. We talked a mile a minute, cramming a lot of laughter and weirdness into a short amount of time, diving straight in.

She listened to me (Isn’t it such a gift to just be listened to?) as everything in my heart spilled out about how tired I am sometimes, about how physically and emotionally exhausting this mothering thing can be with its sheer constancy. I jumped from yammering about homeschooling and my many thoughts on true education and spirituality and then I was telling her that we kind of want to sell everything and move to Africa or India to make some sort of a difference—maybe I could be a midwife!—and have you heard about this, that and the other thing? How this person did this thing and I thought it was awesome or terrible or hurtful, and everything that I want for myself and all the time I want back and money concerns and how I kind of need a minivan because three car seats don’t fit well in our car  but if I have to drive an ugly vehicle, then I want it to be weird-ugly not boring-ugly and on and on and on.

I made a bit of a fool of myself, to be honest.

When I was little, the primary emotion in our house was joy. My mother was happy and we knew it (clap your hands!). She loved us and loved my dad and loved her life and we all knew it. We weren’t rich. We didn’t have a lot of stuff. We didn’t “change the world” and no one knew about us, but we were really, really happy together.

I looked at her and remembered her joy, and was hit by the knowledge that my own tinies perhaps wouldn’t describe me (yet) as a person of joy.

“So what did you do, Mum?”  I was really, truly asking her because I didn’t feel simple or restful or joyful. (One of her favourite things to tell me is that a woman can definitely have it all—just not all at once. Most of the time, she thinks I need to chill out.)

“How do you calm down your mind and heart of all the mundane daily things that somehow sap the energy and time when there is all this world to save, all this difference to make, all this stuff to do and become? How do you have the joy in all of this? It always feels like I’m not enough. I’m not doing enough or being enough for the tinies, for my husband, for my home, for my community, for my world, let alone for myself. I just never feel like I’m enough.”

Read the rest of this post at SheLoves Magazine...

This month, we’re talking about joy. There’s a link-up for you to add your voice.

Continue Reading · christmas, enough, family, gratitude, Mum · 0