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Sunset

Sunset :: Sarah Bessey

I was very happy in our white townhouse at the bottom of the hill forest, next to the blueberry farms. After living at a busy intersection in the city, across the street from a fire station, at first the silence of that place was a heavy velvet. For six years, we basked in the home we created there, raising a quartet of blue-eyed babies. I confess it was with a heavy heart that I packed up, wondering if we had made the right decision to sell, to buy, to move our lives up the hill. What could be better on the other side? This is what we know, this is what we love, we have been happy here.

That first night in our new home, I watched the sun set out of the front window over the tops of the trees of the neighbourhood.

And I realized for the first time that I hadn’t seen the sun set in six years.

For six years, I have lived at the bottom of the hill, tucked away from the sight of the sun setting in the west. For six years, I sort of forgot about the sunset, busy with babies who go to bed early, with the life we had, with books to read, with friends to call. I simply closed the blinds when it became dark, seeing a bit of light behind the trees so that they became a dark lace before me and it was enough beauty then.

Every day now in our blue-grey house, I slide the blinds to the top of the window, all the way up, and then I wait for this moment. I stand in the front room like the call to prayer has been issued, greedy for the colour and the end. I had forgotten how glorious it is to watch the day end, how could I have forgotten? how the indigo clouds sweep long and low across the horizon and the saturated heavy colour of fire and salmon and nectarines soak into the sky, how the pine trees turn black against them in the silhouette I know better than the freckles on my own face, how it changes and deepens as the night wears on until I’m standing alone in the dark, just a glow of a day remaining and the stars appearing, small galaxies burning so far away.

I think sometimes that this is the story I’ll always tell – I had something precious once, I lost it or I left it or I forgot it or I threw it away or I disdained it or I journeyed far from it, and then I returned wiser and saner and better, as T.S. Eliot said, returned in order to know what I had in the beginning for the first time. We’re all circling around the same stories, we all come home eventually even if we didn’t realise just how far we had wandered until we were home again with new eyes.

For six years, I forgot about the sunset. And now I have remembered.

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Continue Reading · abundant life, moments · 24

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

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

In which I dive into the water

Start small, I told myself. Go easy, start with the small things that make you afraid. We’ll get to the other stuff later, maybe someday.

And then yesterday, months, years, a lifetime, and today, into this new life without fear, I found myself in a room full of women, women I had never met in real life, and I loved them, right to Oklahoma and California and Maryland and between. When I saw them, sitting in an airport bar, real, I just had to stand there, watching them, because, God, women that breathe goodness are just so beautiful. (And they’re funny as hell.) (And they had a table full of empty glassware.) (And we’re loud.)

The ordination of the daily life rhythms together, showers, pajamas, faces scrubbed of make-up. We stayed up too late, woke up too early, ate good food, and I laughed until my face hurt. And we cried, and read Scripture and spoke truth until we were the redeemed, walking on holy roads, and I wanted to take up the lute, sing of how the scorched desert becomes the cool oasis.

I washed a lot of dishes, one after another after a counter-full-other, and listened. I could sit, rabbinical-pupil-style, at the feet of the women of God. How did I get here?

Thank you, Ancient One, for spiders and webs swinging in the breeze. Thank you for the sound of frogs singing, the sight of egrets swooping over lake water. Thank you for hammocks and the gift of time, and the small steps one after another, until I looked up and I could not believe where God had brought me, carried me, danced me, straight to joy.

I moved out to the dock, yesterday, in my bathing suit (it was the black one, the elastic is all shot to hell), contemplating an act of boldness, but I sprawled down, arms flung over my head, feet in the water. I thought about jumping in, I needed to jump in, but the water was dark and unfamiliar and so I sat, for a long time, alone in the quiet, and it was enough for me. A friend came, and we talked, and I went back inside, put my black clothes back on.

Moments later, I started small, all over again, by walking over to the dock. Wine glasses rested on the saturated wood dock, and we laughed, took pictures of the sunset, and I saw Megan looking longingly at the water, pulled towards and holding back, sitting on the edge. So I took off my glasses, surrounded by yet another church, I was braver than I was alone, and this was for us all.

I dove into the water, head first, still in my clothes. I surfaced to screams of delight and “Watch this cannon ball!” and “Here I come!” and  then the dark water was full of women flinging themselves off and in, forward, bras and smart phones left on the dock.

 

I floated, toes up, head back, the sun setting above us, and Amber kept imploring us to remember this, to mark the moment, to look at the salmon pink sky, but dragonflies the size of hub caps kept buzzing into our hair, Joy was a free-spirit mermaid with seaweed coloured hair, we surfaced on the beach, dripping and free and cool, streaming with unfamiliar water, feet of mud and clay.

If someone would have walked into the water, calling out for Jesus, I would have baptised her, myself,  right then and there. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, we went under together, and came out, laughing, in another newness of life. Jesus did not come to make bad people into good people, Kelly told us (her voice is so low and musical), he came to bring the dead to life.

This morning, I sat on the damp dock, again, and a small group of us prayed and prayed and prayed. My coffee grew cold in my cup, there is still more – always more – time ahead, and I smell like lake water. I started small, and always, as always, it was enough for God to work the ordinary, extraordinary, miracle.

Photo by Kelly Sauer

Continue Reading · faith, fearless, friends, gratitude, journey, moments, women · 20

In which I am surprised by friendship

I can’t remember ever being away from the tinies for a whole day, but I drove to Idelette‘s house, with local peaches riding shotgun in their cardboard basket; the tomatoes, raspberry ice cream, baguette, and honey in my backseat, between the door and my laptop, a few papers and books stuffed in for good measure. It was a day for friendship, a day I had set aside for writing, for dreaming, for scheming with my heart-friends, on each other’s behalf. Kelley flew in from Burundi via Arizona, just for us, just for this, Tina was there, too.

In true introvert fashion, I was already regretting it. What if it’s awful? I’d rather stay home. Oh, man, they’re going to discover I’m just me, always just plain old weird me. Plus it’s hard to give up a day of your weekend for non-family people, let be real here. But Brian was supportive, shooed me out the door, the tinies gleeful at the prospect of a day with their dad all to themselves.

My friends opened the door, bleary-eyed from the late night of talking previous, and the first thing they did was open a bottle of sparkling apple juice, pour them into fancy champagne glasses and toast my good book fortune, they cheered me on, and we all cried a bit, I think.

(It’s nice to be with people that celebrate with you.)

Idelette’s house is just the right kind of chaos and homecoming, the kid-stuff scattered amongst the stunning artwork, just a glorious mish-mash of everything that makes her so true, it’s the house of passionate creativity and real-life family. There were pictures of women, every tribe, every tongue, on every wall, and so it felt like everyone here in the world was there with us, somehow, and a gigantic canvas on the stairs said: There is no such thing as small change, and the famous red couch at Idelette’s was worn out and comfortable, especially with Kelley sprawled on it, twisting her hair unconcernedly when she really got talking about the theology of adoption and Lord, yes, that woman can preach and teach in a living room beside a piano better than some preachers I’ve seen in thousand-dollar suits on a television show. Tina snapped a few pictures, and let me tell you, she’s probably the most beautiful person I’ve ever met in real life, ever, and we jumped from weddings to babies to travelling to inappropriate theology to publishing to prayer, and back again.

(It’s nice to be with people that are all over the same map with you.)

 

So we made coffee, and we talked about book writing, about stories that yearn to be told. We spoke a lot of truth to each other: here is what I see in you, I think this is the story underneath the story you’re talking about, have you ever considered doing it differently? And we cried a bit, we marvelled at the wisdom, we laughed and laughed and laughed, and it was revealed at long-last that I have a potty-mouth.

(It’s nice to be with people that don’t make you censor yourself.)

We ate leftovers for lunch, leftovers from Tina’s mother’s immigrant kitchen, and I may have groaned out loud, it was so good. We ate the raspberry ice cream in cunning blue bowls, and we talked about SheLoves Magazine, about community development and the big, audacious dreams. We laughed at our own ridiculousness, but it couldn’t be denied, we all want to love the world. I heard more of their intersecting stories, and when Idelette was done talking about her book, about her passions, I wanted to see her on every stage of every slick Christian conference, to bring some mama-truth, to preach the Gospel of Being With Each Other, but then I kind of had to shrug because part of Idelette’s power is that she’s outside of that system, outside of that church-marketing world, too busy living the truth of it to package it. We sat in that living room for nearly 7 hours straight, and it passed as quickly as an hour at a playground for a five year old.

(It’s nice to be with schemers and dreamers outside the fence lines. It’s nice to be with people of freedom and truth and love.)

I drove home, and I nursed the baby, kissed the tinies, put on my blue dress and my high heels. I waited on a bench outside of a bookstore, and I remembered being so lonely for friends, I couldn’t see straight. I remembered the seasons of my life when I felt completely crazy, like no one was caring about the things that moved me, like no one was questioning what I was questioning, like no one wanted a friendship that went deeper than “Oh, my God! Your hair is so cute! Let’s talk about potty training techniques!” So I was distrustful of women, suspect of motives, an island of hurt feelings and isolation. I kind of grinned at the sneaky goodness of God, the kind that tiptoes up behind you, because without a lot of fanfare, because in a rather haphazard and organic way, I have found my tribe. I’ve found my people without the striving and organizing, without the Official Sanctioned Church Programs, nope, we just all came into each other’s lives, right at the time when we were meant to be there, we stayed open to finding each other, a part of me was always watching for the hints of my people, and so when I found them, I recognised them, I did. It still happens, kindred spirits aren’t as rare as I used to think.

(It’s nice to be with people that feel like old friends from the very start.)

We went to a little bistro next to the river, sat outside drinking girly bevvies, and talked quiet about all of the other stuff, the stuff of sitting under the stars and secrets. I could listen to Kelley, and Idelette, and Tina talk all day. They have fascinating stories, the stories that leave me breathless with awe at my God, awe at the goodness of life in The Way, I needed to catch my breath a time or two, it was real. Pinch, pinch, pinch, Kelley, don’t mind me, I just want to make sure you’re real, maybe I can be more like you.

(It’s nice to be with people that challenge you, people that call out to a deeper and truer life in you, in complete humility and wisdom.)

And then there was that moment that rose up, I call them my Invitation Moments, the moments when you can sense an invitation from each other to go just a bit deeper, a bit more real, a bit more honest, and you can decide to stay where you are (and that’s fine) or you can take the risk of secrets-in-the-open, the risk of mask-removal. And, we all took it, one after another, mask after nice Christian lady mask, and I told my secrets, too.

Then there was that Between Moment. You know, that moment, a sacred moment in friendship, the pause between. It’s the time between the heart-cracking-open, the time between the secret-now-told, and the reaction. It’s the time when what you said is sitting out there, above all of you, floating there, and you wait for someone to say something, what are we all going to do with this truth? you wonder.

Sometimes that time is terrifying, other times it’s reassuring, it is always sacred.

(It’s nice to be with people that sit in that space with you.)

And here is the moment when friendship is sealed: they reach out for those words, those secrets, and treat it with such tender care, with such beauty and welcome and kindness, that you exhale a breath you’ve held for decades, and think, yeah, yeah, I did it, and you feel knit together, woven and spun. It’s in that moment that you move from friends to sister-friends.

(It’s nice to be with people that weep with you, rejoice with you, and show up in the big holy ways for the Between Moments.)

I drove home on the backroads, savouring it all. It’s not too often that this introvert comes home from full day of talking, scheming, laughter, and friendship feeling energized. (I’ll be honest, I usually go into a mild coma, and self-medicate with comfort reading or Pinterest, after even just an afternoon of this kind of thing.) But instead I felt heart-full, energized.

Alone in my minivan, out in the darkness, driving along the river, but it didn’t bother me.

I had left goodness behind me, but there was goodness ahead, you can navigate the darkness for a while if you know there’s a home, waiting, at the end of the road.

Instagram photo of Kelley and Tina on the couch was by Idelette

Photo of Kelley & Idelette from earlier this year in Burundi together was taken by Tina Francis.  

Continue Reading · abundant life, community, faith, fearless, friends, gratitude, journey, moments, SheLoves, women · 51