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Pansies

Pansies :: Sarah Bessey

We were driving to Edmonton because my Granny was dying and we wanted to say good bye.

So we drove all day from the west coast, heading towards Edmonton. I forget sometimes how big and unpopulated Canada really is because I am a city girl, born and raised and forever amen. But when we hit the highways north and we drive for hours and hours without seeing a gas station, surrounded only by trees and silence, it sinks in. There is wide open space on the other side of our comfortable orbits.

We ate at an old Husky station with an attached restaurant, I had an open face roast beef sandwich and I still think about it, it was so regular and good. The sign said “Last Gas or Food for 200 kms” or something like that so we filled up on gas and cheezies and pop, all the essentials because I was five months pregnant. It was my fourth pregnancy but for the first time, it seemed that we were really going to bring home a baby this time so Brian and I were giddy and young and hopeful at our core as we drove with my sister and her husband and her dog through the mountains as they began to appear out of the distance.

The family was gathering at the old hospital to be together. My uncles were driving in, my parents had flown ahead of us, my auntie and her girls and their families were already there. We came from the east and the west and the north. She was dying, there were only days left, and we were coming to bear witness, to sit the vigil, to tell stories, to hold each other as much as hold her.

The early days of April in British Columbia are filled with flowers and beauty, green growth and warm days. As we drove north east into Alberta, the green receded and the temperature dropped steadily. But there were small hints of spring here and there – buds on trees, crocuses in the ditches, and at that Husky station there were bedding plants for sale even though it was way too soon for planting – that’s what May long weekend is for, after all. I stood in front of the too-early flower display and called my husband over, “Look, pansies,” I said because purple pansies with gold hearts are my Granny’s favourite flower, they’re her icon, and we were driving to her. We climbed back in the Chevy and kept going, clicking off kilometres through the hours. I carried the sight of those flowers with me.

Years ago, when my grandfather was still alive and they lived in a trailer park community just outside of Regina, there was a playground of old tractor tires at the end of the dirt road and I can still smell it, the mix of hot melting rubber in the Saskatchewan heat and the faint smell of urine from within them because little boys would pee in them, everyone knew that. The faint rumble from the highway across the fields and the dull hot buzz of grasshoppers. We would pick dandelions from the fields and play in the blinding sunshine, turning brown as beans. We ran home, dusty, to drink out of the hose and the grown-ups sat in the living room visiting. We would eat humbug candy or licorice all-sorts out of my grandpa’s candy dish. He smelled like rum and coke with cigarettes and the smell is still a comfort to me because I had never known this tall man with a gravelled voice as anything but laconic and loving. Granny always had purple pansies in the flower beds or the pots, the royal purple ones with a darker purple hue near the centre and then the fleck of gold right at the heart. They were beautiful but ordinary, everyone’s granny had pansies.

It strikes me as an odd flower to choose as your icon. After all, most people love roses or daisies, even sweet peas for their beautiful sweet smell or lilacs for their heavy beauty or wild roses for their untamed beauty. But this ordinary bedding plan, a basic beauty easily available at Canadian Tire, was her favourite and we all knew it so we loved it, too.

We spent a couple of days at the hospital with our family. We visited and even laughed, we lifted her oxygen mask to kiss her before replacing it carefully. I sat in the corner of the room, watching my mother and her sister hold vigil, each of them holding her hands, but holding each other’s eyes. Fifteen years ago, they had done this holy work for their father. There’s an unspoken liturgy to dying, it’s the work of the people. Someone had brought a pot of pansies and it sat on the window sill right beside them. The room was old and small, the chairs were scratchy, the window faced only the early spring streets of Edmonton with winter’s left behind gravel piled in the gutters.

She died on April 9, she loved deeply and was loved deeply in return, what more could we say about a life? My cousin tattooed the image of pansies onto her skin soon after that. In August of that year, I gave birth to our first daughter.

Five years later, on April 9th, I gave birth to Evelynn Joan in our living room. She looks a lot like my Granny to me somehow: I think it’s the shape of their faces and their smiles, but maybe it’s something more in the heart or spirit, who knows. Evelynn has my mother’s eyes and her golden brown hair but with my father’s curls. She reminds some people of Brian but other people swear she looks like me. She’s a patchwork quilt of love, like we all are, I guess – it’s what makes us feel immortal.

Evie won’t ever know my Granny but we tell her stories like we tell stories of my father’s parents and we spin the yarn of their family stories so that they feel like they belong, like they know their place in the story, so they know it didn’t start with them, it won’t end with them, and there is a kind of love that doesn’t show up in the movies.

As poet Nayyirah Waheed said, “My mother was my first country, the first place I ever lived.” Every year on April 9th, there is an undercurrent of bittersweet because we are celebrating a small girl who has no concept of death or sorrow or suffering – as it should be. And yet I know my mother misses her mother: when something happens, silly or small or monumental, she still thinks, “I can’t wait to tell mum about this!” and then she remembers. Death sinks into our lives, it slowly becomes accepted reality but we always carry a homesickness for the ones we have loved, the ones who created us in a million ways. She calls her sister to talk about their mum; my sister and I call her to tell her we remember and that we will always remember.

Evelynn turned four years old last week. My mother took her to Build-a-Bear for a fun morning; Maggie Love and I tagged along. For her celebration, we had a cake with pink icing and sprinkles, she brought cupcakes to her preschool friends, we decorated the house with Frozen birthday banners and pink-blue-white balloons. Her favourite meal is sandwiches so we had cold-meat buns for her birthday feast. My sister’s family gave her a new bathing suit for the summer fun ahead and a stuffie. We got her a scooter for playing outside with all the kids. The house was filled with the noise of children from outside – they all ran out right after the party to play. After the party, my mother bathed our new baby gently and slowly, I call it Granny’s Ministry of Bathtime. I carried around a cold cup of tea and picked up bits of wrapping paper from the floor, my sister’s girls played fairies, my husband stood in the garage with my father talking about the real estate market right now.

It’s all so regular, so ordinary, so beautiful.

And sitting on the mantle there was one last gift from my mother for my little middle daughter: an ordinary pot of purple pansies.

 

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Continue Reading · death, Evelynn, family · 21

In which the Kingdom of God is also a small family leading worship

 

Every Sunday, during Advent, one family gets up at the beginning of the church service to read the devotional, text, and prayer. This Sunday’s candle was Love, and it was our turn. So I carefully dressed Evelynn in her older sister’s hand-me-down Christmas dress, but the older two couldn’t be bothered: fashionista Anne wanted to wear harem pants and a lotus dress, pragmatic Joseph preferred his red hockey t-shirt.

Initially, I handed Brian the full reading and text we were given without thought. Probably I would stand, beatifically, madonna-like, no doubt, surrounded by my children, behind him, supportive.

This up-front-stuff is the part of worship that The Daddy does, I defaulted, without thinking, slipping into my old pastor-wife groove. It was my husband who said, “No, this is Advent, and it’s church, and we’re a family: we’re all in this. Together.” (Usually, he’s the one reminding me that those old ways don’t fit a Jesus-shaped life, not anymore.)

.Of course, Anne was thrilled. There is no timidity or fear in her, she dances through church. One day, a friend of mine came over to me, with tears in her eyes, and said, “I know it might be odd but I need to tell that I think I heard a word from God about Anne. I was watching her dance, and somehow, in my heart, I heard Jesus say, “I love to watch her dance for me. It makes me so happy.”

Isn’t Jesus happy when children are happy in his Presence?

Now, all on her own, Anne often goes into a quiet room, turns on praise music, and spins and dances, just her and (I imagine, I wouldn’t be surprised) an Audience of One, dancing with her even. (I cried when my friend told me that Jesus was happy about Anne’s dancing. I tucked another moment into my own heart, Mary-like, we know what it is to ponder and remember for the rest of a life.)

Joseph is my singer, my worshipper. He memorizes the words to songs, and is always singing under his breath. I didn’t realize how easily songs came to him until I heard him singing to himself all the time, just working on puzzles, singing all the songs I sing. He loves to sit in the very front of church, but I’m a back-row soul so we usually clash about where to sit in church. Every once in a while, we end up in the very front, and he watches and learns, and he wants me to hold him close during worship, so I sing the words right into his ears (and Brian chases Evelynn back and forth across the gym because, have mercy, that child never sits still). He told me, in his Cookie-Monster boy-voice, that he wants to sing songs always, and someday, that will be him making up songs and playing the guitar. His favourite song, his top-of-the-lungs-gracious-that-is-loud-bellowing-song,  is Matt Redman’s Bless the Lord, Oh My Soul. And he means every word of it.

So Anne ran on stage, and I followed in her confident wake, sedate, the matriarch of this little tribe. Brian handed the microphone to Anne, and my girl, she read it strong: “This morning we light the second candle and we remember Love.”

The sound of her girlish voice through the speakers, rang out, in bell-ringing-clear proclaiming.

Brian sat down on the stage beside her and Joe, and he read, in his midwest man voice, “In a manger on that incredible night Love was born. Mary held Love in her arms. The shepherds from the fields came to worship Love. Years later, Wisemen would come to bring gifts to the King Love. Here was Love born to us. Love grew and touched those who could not be touched. Love forgave those who would not be forgiven. Love listened to those who had no one to listen to them. Love prayed for those who did not love him. Love gave life to those who were caught in the grasp of death. Love willingly died so that our sins were removed, forgiven, and so we could be face to face with God.”

Anne took the microphone again, and prayed, “May we be teachable to love like Jesus himself.”

Then I took the microphone and began to read the Scriptures. I had Evelynn balanced on my cocked hip, and I wasn’t nervous. For once in my life, holding a microphone, I wasn’t nervous. My daughters, my husband, my son, were all here with me, there was no need to fear because this, this was communal worship: not a performance.

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love,” I read from 1 John.

Then Evelynn grabbed the mic out of my hand and hollered “LOVE!” into it, bursting out laughing at the sound of her own loud voice. I laughed, too, relieved, and joked that we were raising a preacher in this one. (Seriously, this girl.)

“Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.”

I handed the microphone to Brian, thinking we were done, but Joseph took his Dad’s arm, pulled it down to his wide mouth, and solemnly said, “A-men” in benediction. I lit the candles with a fireplace clicker thing, we walked back to our seats to sit amongst our friends.

I think the Kingdom of God looks like children, men, and women in worship together. We wait in the darkness together, so we worship together. Aren’t we all a picture of the restored life in the full light of day, how this new life means all are welcome?

So that the Kingdom of God is yeast and seed, and also a slender little girl, dancing for Jesus alone, and one little boy, singing songs, and one little family leading worship for the community, and one more candle burning, on a lampstand, lighting the whole room. It’s Angels on a hillside with common shepherds, and Kings in stables, and virgins having babies. It’s the uneducated Galileans as ambassadors for God, and murderous Pharisees as great apostles, it’s Mary Magdalene charged with announcing the resurrection, and little children as our examples.

So my children lead worship right alongside of the grown-ups, and their mama reads Scripture right alongside of the men, and their dad is the one who willingly gave up his own time in the lead, for the joy of giving his most-loved-ones a chance to worship out loud, too.

Isn’t it beautiful, all together? Isn’t it beautiful when young and old, male and female, rich and poor, broken and beautiful, all gather for Emmanuel, God with us?

Come, Lord Jesus, among us, and until you do, I have a little girl who wants to dance, and a boy who wants to sing, and a baby who wants to preach, a husband with a leader’s mind and a servant’s posture and a heart after God, and me, I am learning to be not afraid but to speak truth in love.

It’s just a small incarnational moment, hardly worth noticing for most of the world, but for me, this was a metaphor moment of life in the Kingdom, life in the glorious truth of worship in spirit and truth, Jesus-shaped leadership as servanthood, and so our family’s lighting of another candle within community, with their affirmation and prayers and participation, pushed back just a bit more of the darkness, and then we scattered back out again.

 

 

Continue Reading · advent, Anne, brian, christmas, church, community, Evelynn, faith, family, Joseph, women · 34

In which he wouldn’t do anything different (neither would I)

I can’t seem to bring myself to church more than three weeks in a row. On the fourth week, I wake up, and think, yeah, I’m so not going. I like to take Sundays off now and then from church, and I’m not sure that it’s as holy as recognising that the Lord made Sabbath for us, not the other way around, or if it’s because I’m just tired out from a full week of people-stuff, and I just want to go all pseudo-hermit, have a bit of worship that looks like soul-care. Even though I’m a proper church-goer, a provider of covered dishes, I don’t have an illusions about myself, I know I still like a bit of room, so I make that room for my own self, no one else will do that for me, I’ve learned.

I spent the morning in my kitchen with Evie while Brian took the older two to the garden and Home Depot. I turned on the soundtrack of Midnight in Paris, and I made a roast chicken and summer garden veggies for my friend – she just had the sweetest little baby girl. Sometimes the only ministry I can manage is the ministry of good food.

Then I gave my own family waffles and sausage for supper because I was tired out from all the healthy cooking. I hoped I wasn’t a big old metaphor for putting ministry first, but I was comforted by the knowledge that Joe would eat his body weight in sausage if I let him, and really, it’s just what they like, and honestly, who cares?

Evelynn sat on the floor while I cooked and danced and sang a bit off-key, she was banging pots and pans, and I kind of laughed because, you know, I always use that metaphor for calling others to freedom and wholeness, that image of myself standing in a field, calling everyone outside with kitchenware, truly appeals to me but, hey, did you know, that’s actually really noisy and obnoxious in your own kitchen? She’s a table top climber, she’s a for-the-fun-of-it shrieker, she’s a go-getter, a boundary-pusher, a look-you-in-the-eyes-right-while-you-are-saying-no-darling-and-do-it-anyway girl. I am always running with her, my mother thinks she’s a three-year-old trapped in a 16-month-olds body, and sometimes, when I see that intelligent and saucy look in her eyes, I’m inclined to agree. And then fast and pray about those pre-teen years, Lordhavemercy.

Brian spent the afternoon on a project with Joe. He has a big fold out work bench that he made for himself a month or two ago. It’s the project that I mentioned here in this [love looks like] post. (Brian is quite tall; the very first thing everyone says when they meet him is: “Wow. You’re tall.” So all the benches and counters and sinks are at least a foot too short for him.) He built this workbench that comes up to my shoulders, and it folds back into the wall like a murphy bed. Joe adores it, and so on Sunday, Brian made a little one, absolutely identical, for Joe. I couldn’t tell who was having more fun, Brian or Joe, but they were working together, making their own kind of art, Anne riding her bike, exploring, and I’ve noticed my tinies just like to be with us, it doesn’t matter what we’re doing, they just like to be there, and there is no greater longing of their hearts than to help, let me help, let me be a part of it all.

People keep asking me about my book writing. I have nothing to say other than: yeah, I better get on that, eh?

Then I made blueberry crisp. And organized the closet.

A few weeks ago, Brian lead a baby dedication in our friend’s backyard. It was so beautiful and regular, just a gathering of their friends and family, the many littles running around, swinging on the tree swings, while the adults visited and stood around. Back when Brian was a pastor, he would fold his Bible in half and stuff it in his back pocket, so that he always had it with him, and when he loped up to the stage to preach, he just reached around for his Bible and opened it up. I watched him in the backyard, with our friends, my sister was there, too, and he prayed, welcomed everyone, then he easily pulled that creased Bible out of his back pocket, an easy movement I hadn’t seen him perform in seven years, and some part of my heart didn’t fit in my chest any more, it was good – and sad – to see. He blessed that wee new girl, and her family, and it was that moment when the quiet unassuming one is revealed as their true identity in the movie, he’s still a pastor, still a teacher, even after all of the deconstruction and pulling apart and rebuilding of our faith, and our understanding of church and go-go-go-programs on the premise of compounds and build-it-they-will-come, coupled with a new understanding of vocation and ministry,  even with his business acumen, and the new normal life in the secular marketplace. But I can’t deny it, who ever could? He’s meant for this work, he’s a pastor, a teacher, a spiritual director, and there was something so good about seeing him in that role, in that office, for just a few moments in the backyard. Something good, and  yet it made me sad.

I mentioned this to him that night, I said, “Don’t you miss it? What do you think? Should we make it more of a priority to pursue some official kind of ministry life again?” And so, for the millionth time, we talked it through, and we yelled at each other, then: ssshhhhhh! the tinies are sleeping! and eventually, he was laying stretched out on the couch, his arm flung over his eyes, we needed to go to bed by now.

“I miss it, sure, Sarah, and I yearn for it, and I hope I do it for the rest of my life, someday, but today was today, and it was wonderful. I built a work bench with my son, and I wouldn’t do it anything different,” he said. “If all I ever do right in my life is love those kids down the hall, I’m satisfied, can’t you see?

And what can you do then, but go to bed together, it is enough, and this is glorious, and I brushed my teeth, he opened the windows wide, we like fresh air, and I kissed him kissed him kissed him under the red Ikea duvet.

 

Continue Reading · abundant life, brian, church, church planting, community, enough, Evelynn, faith, friends, Joseph, journey, marriage, parenting, rest, work · 31

In which this is saving my life right now

I re-read a book recently, and the author wrote about how she was supposed to speak at an event, and when she asked which topic they would like to here her expound upon, they said, well, just tell us what is saving your life right now.

I could write big long theological treatise about the saving powers of my trees out back and the sound of the creek and the Psalms and ordinary radicals and the Gospel in real life with the real Church. Maybe a paragraph about accepting the gift of Sabbath, avoiding anything that starts with the internal monologue of “should” or “ought to” or “must.” A bit about learning to write a book, contracts, publishers, and a new tattoo I’m planning on.

I’d tell you about church shifts and theological conversations, about hope and mercy and a shrinking world, a flattening hierarchy, a wild gorgeous family of God. a sisterhood, perhaps something about boldness and fearlessness and goodness, shaken, not stirred.

I could tell you about recipe cards turned translucent from buttery fingers, and my homemade pizza, and then I’d tell you about constant prayer, about Twitter, open windows, clean sheets. I’d tell you about how I read way too late into the night, always novels, and pay for it in the morning but it’s totally worth it.

Perhaps a few pages about the tinies, and their wonder, their antics, their stories, their tragedies, about bead necklaces and sloppy kisses, hugged knees, dirty floors, sand in the bottom of the bathtub.  I’d tell you about having friends in my house, and plates of food, about drained tea cups and wine glasses tucked under kitchen chairs, and raucous laughter that wakes up the baby. I could write about friends and enemies, about thinkers, philosophers and poets, I could write about baby board books and Bibles and a french press. I’d tell you about this song, and how I sing it loud, and I cry every damn time. Then maybe I would spend a few paragraphs on the art of kissing.

But today, this is the one that is saving me, all over again, giving me a soul-picture of Abba and this daily life.  So yes, this moment, the one in the picture there, is saving me, when she smells like sunscreen and pool water, her eyes so heavy with taking in the sunshine, and she’s warm with the exhaustion of a good day, soft baby curls to poke my finger through, wearing her golden hair like a ring.

And she lays across me, we’re together again, my pulse slows down, and her lashes fan out on her cheeks, and she nurses and we sit in the silence of the end of the day.  I’m giving something to someone, every day, every day, every day.

Let me be singing when the evening comes.

So, now I’m curious: what is saving your life right now?

 

Continue Reading · enough, Evelynn, faith, family · 63

In which this is the sacred everyday

 

My youngest child is 14 months old. And she has never, not once, slept through the night.

In case you’re interested, that is roughly 426 nights, straight, of broken sleep for me. Give or take a few.

My first child slept 12 hours through the night from early infancy. My second child was a bit more of a challenge because we lived across the street from a busy urban fire station, but eventually, he, too, became a twelve-hour sleeper. We put our tinies to bed at 7 o’clock, and did not hear from them until the next morning. I waxed philosophic, contemplated writing a baby sleep book to share my wisdom.

Enter Evelynn.

Evelynn is healthy. She hardly ever cries. She has never had a bout with colic. She is happy and delightful. She is secure. She is loved. She is a good eater. She naps consistently and well.

And she does not sleep at night.

For a long time, exhausted and sick with longing for my bed, I tried every trick and tactic to help her sleep through the night. I grappled with my ideals, finally tried out the things I always swore I would never allow, but nothing ever worked. She was up, every hour or two, every night, every night, every night.

This was what she needed, clearly, and so I began to wonder, after several months, if maybe, just maybe, God had something here, for me, too?

Grace of God, will you be here for me in this?

Read the rest of this post at Micha Boyett’s swanky new Patheos blog (you may remember her as Mama::Monk).

This is my contribution to her vital series on finding the sacred in our everyday life.

 

Continue Reading · baby, breastfeeding, Evelynn, faith, family, Guest Post, love, moments, parenting · 8