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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

In which it all locks into place

joehospital3

Sometimes your world locks into place.

When your son is complaining that his legs hurt and you roll up the legs of his jeans, fully expecting a bruised knee or a scrape to find something else entirely – red lesions and large bumps. And then you rush part of your heart to the emergency room.

When you are rocking in an old rocking chair, perhaps, creaking back and forth beside a gurney bed with a small boy perched atop, chatting like a magpie. The ceiling tiles have been replaced with plexiglass sky pictures, there are animal decals on the walls, and vitals are being taken every forty five minutes. When you wait for answers and every hour that passes takes the easy answers away.

When you watch the tests being run, when you hold your child down so that blood can be drawn, when you depend on others to bring you food, when the paediatrician made your tired boy laugh and you could have hugged him for that alone, let alone for the first answers of the long day. An odd sort of infection but complications. Perhaps it’s when you follow a child’s wheelchair into paediatrics and make phone calls with lists of overnight requirements.

But really, it was when it was time for the IV to be inserted and your child suffered so mightily, with such cries and tears and begging for relief, that was the moment when the world locked into place. Here is what matters: I want my children to be healthy. I want them to sleep well under my gaze, I want them to play and grow and laugh. I want them whole. I want to hold them close to me and rescue them. I want to take away the pain, I would take his place, I would, I would, set him free.

But the days unfold, one after another. You become thankful for the hospital in a real visceral way, like you are only thankful for food after becoming aware of its absence. You count heartbeats and vials of blood and IV bags. You count on nurses and decide that you will picket on their side the next time they want a raise. You crawl into what your son calls The Transformer Bed and you curl yourself around your child, patient together. You forget about Twitter entirely, you can’t even read a book right now, you simply want to sit in the time. Nothing else, no one else matters.

Your circle becomes very small. If you want to know who matters, who has your trust, ask yourself who you call, who you tell, who you trust with the details at this moment.

You haven’t cried yet. Just keep going, just keep going. There are things to do, you know. “How are you?” your people ask, and you keep saying you are fine. Fine. Fine, thanks.

The answers come and the risks decrease with each slow hour that passes in that tiny quarantine room with the big windows looking out on the highway. You watch old episodes of the Magic School Bus and skip meals and drink coffee. You knit round after round after round of the lace centrepiece. You marvel at your child: his laughter, his delight in small details, the way he turns everything about this ridiculous experience into a joy, the little charmer. The only time he cries is when he talks about how much he misses his sisters. You read his books out loud, make him stretch his legs every couple of hours.

Then there was the moment when your husband sent you home to sleep at last. You hadn’t slept in days, maybe that’s the reason why the sight of him there in that hospital bed beside the child you both love did you in. You kissed him heavily because here is someone who loves your child the way that you love your child. This is what love looks like: tired faces, relief, exhaustion, and still one foot in front of the other, caring for each other at the same time you care for the tinies, watching Backyardigans with your full attention.

By the last day, the threat of infection is long past, so you bring in one sister for a visit. They sit on the bed together, playing Mario Kart and roaring with laughter, happy to be together again. You take pictures with the phone, letting them make silly faces, creating videos for memories now that the fear is gone.

joehospital2

joehospital1

It’s time to escape at last: your son’s energy is at full-throttle again, his arms covered in bruises from so many needles, his legs healing nicely, his organs safe, so you sign the forms, pack the bags. As you walk past the nursing station, he says matter-of-factly “Thanks for all your hard work, guys” like he does this every week, ain’t no thing. See you later, alligators.

And then home.

This is when your world locked into place, it will begin to move again tomorrow. You’ll work again, you’ll waste time watching television, you’ll clean the washrooms, you’ll make supper, you’ll check Facebook, you’ll shout at him about the Legos all over the house. But right now, you simply sink to your knees in the living room because all of your children are at home with you and then you weep at last.

 

Continue Reading · family, Joseph, moments · 46

In which I get rid of my mobile phone (and learn a couple of things)

After yet another billing squabble with our mobile phone service provider, my husband asked me what I thought about cancelling my phone contract entirely.

And then I died dead of horror.

Okay, so not quite that bad.

But still. My phone? How will I text? How will I call people? How will I check my email when I’m out for the day? How will I find the closest coffee shop quickly? How will I get where I’m going without Maps? How will I occupy my children in church? Will anyone know I’m occasionally funny if I don’t tweet my wit?

Source: 9gag.com via Sarah on Pinterest

 

After a week of looking at our finances as well as our dreams for the future, I realised he was right: the phone needed to go. I don’t work in a traditional job, I don’t drive long distances, I really don’t use it much (or so I thought).

So sure, let’s get rid of my mobile. No big deal. I can totally do this. Right?

I’ve now been without mobile phone access for a month or so. And I’ve noticed a few things

Source: flickr.com via Sarah on Pinterest

 

I used that phone waaaaaaaay more than I thought I did. I had a hand-me-down first-generation iPhone (yes, the original ones with the round corners and no flash on the camera). I prided myself on “having boundaries” with my phone. And yet, that first week without my phone felt like withdrawal. Painful withdrawal.

I’m safer. British Columbia has a strict Hands-Free driving policy. Police will give you a ticket if you are caught with your phone in your hand while driving. And I was sure that I didn’t check my email or my messages – much – while driving. But  my most common time to want to reach for my phone after we turned off the service? While I was driving. I couldn’t believe it. (I thought I was smarter than that.) Apparently I was checking email at stop lights. I was “quickly glancing” at text messages that bonged in while barreling down the highway at 100 km/h. Once my phone was gone, my attention was more fully on the road. Or on CBC Radio (yes, I’ve got an unreasonable crush on Jian Ghomeshi, so what?)

I’m saving money. Our plan was for $50 a month, yet somehow, I always exceeded that plan to the tune of $70-80. By getting rid of our phone, we’re saving a minimum of $600 a year (but it’s probably more like $960/year). Craziness. We have some dreams about being more intentional, counter-cultural, and generous with our money so we’re doing everything we can to get the house in order as fast as possible. This is a seemingly small step that adds up over the years. I had no idea we were spending that much every month on my ability to check email while driving.

I can still use wireless access. Holla! Who knew, right? When we were close to pulling the plug on our contract, I admitted that the primary reason I love and use my phone is Instagram. I have a terrible camera in my phone but I love taking pictures throughout my day, and I love the Instagram community. I seriously contemplated hanging onto my phone for the purposes of Instagram. But then I realised, I can still use my actual phone with wireless access. It’s a bit limiting, absolutely. It takes the “insta” out of Instagram. But I still take pictures throughout my day, and then, when I’m home and on our wireless, I can upload them and still check out Instagram pics.

 

I’m not quite as rude to others. I can’t assuage my boredom at appointments. I can’t decided I’d rather be on Twitter than talking whomever is in the room. I can’t scroll through my phone in church. I can’t hold my phone like a shield at home group.

I feel less accessible. It might come across as a negative but, on the contrary, this is one of the greatest wins for me. Now, when I’m out, I’m out.  It takes away the sense of urgency for my online life. Email has to wait. Responding to comments has to wait. Tweeting has to wait. I have no idea what is happening on Twitter or in my comment sections for huge chunks of my day, and that is a great gift to enjoy.

It’s inconvenient. Totally and gloriously inconvenient. The first day I got rid of my phone, I had made plans to go to the theatre with my sister (Les Miserables, you know it). I waited and waited and waited in the theatre lobby but she never appeared. Normally, I would have texted her in two seconds. But now I waited. I went on a hunt for a pay phone  which was practically an adventure. After I found one, I deposited my quarter, dialled the number and promptly heard the operator instruct me to deposit another $3.60. I hung up. I didn’t need to talk to her that badly. Pay phones have gone up since the last time I used one, which was likely when I was 13 and calling my mother for a ride from the mall after trying on inappropriate and cheap club wear at Le Chateau. I went into the theatre, sat on the edge, and kept an eye out for her. She showed up five minutes after the movie started, apologetic and worried. She had gone to the wrong theatre by mistake, she couldn’t call me, we were both so sorry and relieved. That entire situation would not have happened if I had my phone. But on the flip side, I have become more careful about plans in advance and less prone to being late or cancelling. Without a phone, I have to honour the plans I make with people. Instead of being able to text with an “oops, I’m running late!” pseudo-apology excuse as I was prone for my lack of value on their time, I have to get my bum in gear and get there on time.

I’m both more present and more private in my moments. There isn’t another option than the present moment. I can’t decide to check out on the conversation at hand if I’m bored. I don’t get to “quickly check” my phone while at the playground. I’m looking around the world more, my head is up, my eyes are open. I noticed my surroundings, the people, my tinies, my life again. I’m listening a bit better. I haven’t had to say “I’m sorry, I missed that – what did you say?” quite as often. I actually live the moment instead of Instagramming the moment. I can’t post a status or a tweet from everywhere I am, the temptation to take a picture of my food has disappeared (and everyone said hallelujah) and I have restored a measure of privacy and secrecy I’d forgotten to appreciate or notice. It’s nice to disappear. I like my secrets. Not having a phone has restored some balance, beauty, and perspective to my life.

 

One of my favourites, Heather of the EO, is launching a new podcast called Power Down with a couple of her friends. It’s about finding the balance in online writing/social media life with our creativity and our time. Check it out.

 

 

Continue Reading · consumerism, moments, simple living · 70

In which our gentleness is evident to one first

 

We had a full house of friends the other night. It was a “serve yourself from the stove” kind of evening, and Joseph hollered and crashed dinosaurs together in the living room while the football game blared, tinies danced to music, and crumbs covered the floor. After most everyone had left and the dishwasher was roaring, I collapsed on the couch, overstimulation complete. I’d lost my temper earlier in the day with one of the tinies, and I was still stinging with it.

One young couple remained behind, intending to put their little baby down to sleep at our house so they could stay a bit longer and visit. My three were sound asleep, and the house was dark, just a few lamps lit, and I waited with my knitting in hand, enjoying the quiet while this beautiful young mama tried to put her baby to sleep. But, as any parent knows, many are the plans in a parent’s heart but often it is the baby who prevails. (“Sleep alone in an uncomfortable playpen in a strange house? No, thank you, Mumma.”)

I listened to her sing soft and slow, she has a lovely voice. I couldn’t discern a word she sang, but the sound and melody of a mama-lullaby overheard melts armour, unfurls muscle knots, exhales the lungs, and releases tension. Eventually, my friend gave up to the inevitable with good grace, carrying a bright-eyed small baby back out, and she rocked her girl slow in my old red rocking chair until the baby blinked longer between yawns and lolled back. She said something so wise while she rocked, I wanted to write it down: “Paul told us to let our gentleness be evident to all*, and I want my gentleness to be evident to our baby girl, too, even when no one is around to overhear or notice but her.”

 

*Philippians 4:5

 

Continue Reading · baby, friends, moments, parenting · 36

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