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In praise of

In praise of : Sarah Bessey

Listen to me lift my voice.

In praise of early mornings (oh, so early) because I wake up to a quiet house and I slowly work my way upstairs with Maggie in my arms. Of quietly shutting bedroom doors in a futile effort to keep tinies sleeping in and, oh, sing for that first cup of tea. In praise of babies rolling on the rug, scootching and stretching, and growing before our eyes. In praise of children who wake up warm, stumbling down the hall, looking for me.

In praise of a morning off from church in favour of, well, a rest: a rest from running around and going and showing up on time. In praise of quietly reading Scripture at the kitchen table with crumbs under my feet and of listening to my children sing their songs to Jesus when they think I’m not listening. In praise of ten thousand reasons and forevermore. In praise of taking a breath to stand outside and say hello to God.

In praise of loose leaf tea and the perfect mug. Of cold water and fresh food. Of hot showers and white sheets. In praise of deep breaths and slow kisses, of long hold-on-to-me hugs, of children draped on my lap begging for slow back scratches with my fingernails while watching television. In praise of Barbies on the floor and Legos under the bed, of full laundry baskets and towels on hooks, of books laid open and dog-eared decorating magazines.

In praise of sandwiches and oranges, of take-out pizza. In praise of still feeling the relief of pressing send on the email with the latest round of edits on my book, oh, that felt good.

In praise of a husband, working so hard for such long hours, who is finally home for a whole day. Of having two hours to go out alone by myself for the first time in forever. In praise of actually going inside to sit a coffeeshop with a book in my purse, I remember when I used to be the woman who did this, I never do this anymore, now I’m here sipping a flat white in a vintage coffee mug, reading a book in the daylight.

In praise of driving alone with the windows down, the dark stone clouds rising up to reveal the light at last. Of used bookstores and store credit and just one more book: and another.

In praise of a quiet house with tinies playing outside and a baby taking her naps as God and her mother intended, of street hockey and texts from friends, of refusing to do a single thing that could be construed as productive. In praise of knitting a few rounds on a never-ending emerald green sweater while watching two whole episodes of Gilmore Girls, of how my son calls that show “The Fast-Talker Girl Show.”

In praise of wide open windows and green trees, of rain soaked ground and early bedtimes for everyone, of full bookshelves and white jammies with the little feet for the baby, of smudged glasses sliding down a boy’s nose and ringlets and a pixie who can’t stop plotting and a baby who takes us all in. In praise of it all, life as it slows for one day at least, of finding the exhale.

In praise of a Sabbath, hallelujah, offer your thanks.

Continue Reading · family, gratitude · 23

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

A Summer of Sorta Awesome straight ahead

Sorta Awesome

One of my favourite podcasts is Sorta Awesome with Megan Tietz. It’s my go-to podcast when I’m cleaning the house or folding laundry or cooking. Each week, Megan and a guest host each share their fun finds or experiences as their “awesome of the week” and then they answer listener questions.

It sounds rather simple but the magic is that it feels like a couple of girlfriends just chatting on the front porch. Granted, I’m actual real life friends with Megan – and two of her three guest hosts – but it’s just a light, delightful, girlfriends kind of show that I kind of need sometimes. I can be a bit over-serious (who me?) and and I can’t tell you how much I enjoy a breezy podcast with a couple of girlfriends just sharing the awesome things they come across in life.

So that brings me to today’s post! Yesterday’s episode with Megan and Kelly Gordon (another dear friend of mine) featured their Awesome for the Summer. They both shared five things they find awesome about summer. (I can vouch for Kelly’s Turkey Cajun Burgers.)

I wrote down all of their suggestions and just for fun, I’ve decided to share my awesome of the summer, too. I have precious little awesome feelings for summer: I don’t like being hot and I’m more cardigans than shorts in my temperament but whatever. Summer, as most mothers know, is a bit of a love-hate relationship: yay for sunshine and lazy days, boo for keeping bored kids entertained. We need all the help we can get.

My Awesome of the Summer

1. The Summer Fun List. We aren’t a family that gets to do a big getaway or summer holidays. We do stay-cation every single summer. So every year, at the beginning of summer, we write out a list of the things we want to do over the summer and we call it our Summer Fun List. We write things like “swim in the lake” or “set up a lemonade stand” or “roast marshmallows” or “catch butterflies.” And then all summer long, we just cross them off. Whenever we’re bored, there is always something to grab off the list to do together. And then by the end of summer, we don’t feel like we wasted the days.

2. The Reading Challenge. A lot of local libraries do this for the kids in the community but it wouldn’t be that hard to replicate for your own family. At the beginning of the summer, the tinies get a booklet of spaces to fill out. They read every day and at the end of the week, when they go to the library, they get stickers for every day they have read. At the end of summer, if they have seven full weeks of reading, then they get a medal and there is a big party to celebrate. It’s a great way to get everyone reading over the summer – and yes, Garfield counts. If you’re looking for good kid books, I’ve listed a few here.

3. A glass of white wine while sitting outside at the end of the day. My favourite wine for the summer is the Mission Hill Five Vineyards (which is a wine label using sustainably sourced fruit in the Okanagan) white wines, particularly the Chardonnay. But if you do like something sweet, their Rosé is pretty fantastic. It’s usually about $15 and it’s perfect for those summer nights out on the back deck while the sun sets – at 10 o’clock at night! P.S. Best summer poets: Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry. They’ll make you feel like the earth is as holy as church and pair beautifully with that glass of white wine.

4. Eating fresh produce from roadside stands. I’m a sucker for summer fruit but I’m not a gardener. (Our yard isn’t big enough for a garden anyway.) Instead, I hit the roadside stands for raspberries or peaches, tomatoes or corn, cherries or blueberries. Keeping a bit of cash on hand in the summer and when you see a roadside stand, for the love, stop and get sun-warmed fresh fruit and veg.

5. Potato packs. This is a trick I got from my mum and we do this almost every time we grill in the summer. Spray a square of tin foil about 10″ long. Into the middle, put bite-sized chunks of potato and sliced onions. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (I often use Lowry’s Seasoning Salt) and then wrap them up into a little packet. Throw them on the grill and in about 2o or 30 minutes, they are perfectly cooked. I also like to cut red peppers in half, pull out the seeds, and toss them on the grill, too. Really, eating outside should be it’s own whole Awesome thing.

 

And a few ideas that I want to add to our Summer Fun List:

Come on over to the Sorta Awesome Facebook group to share your awesome for the summer, too.

 

Continue Reading · family, seasons · 5

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

Palms

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It’s Palm Sunday, I remembered only this morning. This season of Lent has passed me by, seasons do that sometimes. My baby girl is three weeks old today and so we did what we do, we took her to church.

By the time we dashed into the school gym through the pouring rain, everyone dressed with their teeth brushed, I was fully expecting someone to meet us at the door with a medal. “Here! You made it! Congratulations!” So I became ridiculous and greeted every other mother with a babe in arms with dead-serious props: “You made it, good for you! Good for us! Look at us, we’re doing it!”

I never really want to go to church. I just don’t. I’d rather stay home in my jammies and have a lazy Sunday. I like podcasts and books. I have a lot of weirdness about the Church as a whole, too: questions and accusations or frustrations, perhaps. I’m just built that way, some of us are. And I will choose quiet over crowds any day. But every Sunday that I push through that, I never regret it, I’m always to glad I actually got ready and put my children in the car and we went to church to remember that we are the church. I am always so thankful that I went – so thankful for the chance to pray for a friend and for familiar faces, for singing and teenagers in buffalo check shirts, for Sunday school and loud kids, for the way we stand to read the Scriptures in declaration over each other.

I think someday when I am old, I will conjure up the sight of us in the fourth or fifth row on the right hand side just to see us on these imperfect Sundays. I’ll see my gigantic husband delicately twirling our three-year-old in the aisle as she dances to the hymns and the anthems alike. I’ll see him lifting her easily up into his arms, how her flowered dress hung over his plaid-shirted arm and she stuck her chubby arms up in the sky like all the grown-ups around her, singing “hall-le-lu-yay!” and how she leaned out of his arms three times to kiss me SMACK right on the lips and then grin. I’ll see myself swaying with a sleeping baby at my breast, rhythmically patting her bum with my left hand, my right holding the hand of a tall and sensitive six-year-old boy who sings along to the songs. I’ll see my eldest daughter with her BFF colouring at our feet, turning the provided picture of a leper rejoicing into a couple of chicks with carefully designed clothes on and black crayon eyelashes, praising God. I’ll see how we were back and forth up the aisles at least three times with someone who needs to pee or nurse. I’ll see our friends and the folding chairs, all familiar, how I sang out over my life with my palms wide open.

And I’ll fall in love with my life from that distance, over and over, because I will love the sight of us, distracting and distracted and yet somehow doing it, the thick of our life together. I will see myself singing the words of the Psalms into my babies’ hair, I’ll see how we touched each of them, rubbing their backs, brushing their hair off their foreheads, holding their hands, loving them is just as much a part of our worship as anything else.

Hosanna in the highest. We’re not a liturgical church but I’m a liturgical woman. I always long for liturgy on the big days like this, I want the big church-y words and communion and prayers, the same every year. But my people are the school-gym dwellers, the flag-wavers, the “God has a word for you” ones and so I stay, I’ll always stay.

I spent much of the sermon in the mothers’ nursing room. I used to wonder why I bothered going to church when so much of my time was spent in the hallways with a fussy baby or toddler. But then I realised that this is part of church, too, the way that we talk in the halls, the way we sit on scratchy old couches in the staff room of the elementary school nursing without covers on, the way we sway while we talk. If I came to church just for the sermons, I would have left long ago.

But I admit that sometimes I go to church just to sing. I love to sing. I’m not a snob either. I have friends who poo-poo anything that’s not a deeply and rightly theological hymn, not me. I love the hymns and I love the big hairy worship anthems, I love singing Jesus-is-my-boyfriend songs and Scripture songs, I love simplistic choruses and I love when they play the piano and tell us to just pray to ourselves and the way that the melodies of our own mouths rise up, I’ll sing in the tongues I received as an eight-year-old.

Great is thy faithfulness, our Father and our friend.

It was a wonderful sermon this morning. Brian heard the whole thing, lucky duck, and he said that sermons like that remind him why he’s given his life to this, why we believe, why it matters. Maybe that’s what good teaching does, it gives us language for our minds for what our hearts already know or suspect.

This is what we heard: There is nothing against us or in us that can stop us from clinging to Jesus, from turning to redemption, over and over, turning again and again. And whatever happened on the cross, however we impose meaning and narrative and metaphors onto it, however we try to explain or understand it, this is the truest truth of it all: it was enough. The cross was enough and is enough, we are only responding to the abundance of redemption.

Hand me a palm branch, the King is coming.

 

photo via lightstock. used with permission.

Continue Reading · church, community, faith, family · 33