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In which I radically stay put

When I was younger, I thought I’d like to move east. I went to university in the United States, but I still looked at the admissions requirements for Queens, for McGill, for the big Canadian schools. And then, when I thought about my life after school, about how writers must live, how a writer must create, the places where writers go, I thought of New York City walk-ups, of Montreal cobblestones and the longed-for perfecting of my French accent, I thought of London flats, of Paris lofts, I thought of big cities, and crowded streets, old architecture, late nights, I thought of moving back east.

I never did any of those things. Now, all of these years later, I’ve never even visited most of those places.

There is something addictive about change, about moving. We made several significant moves when I was a kid, back in the days before Facebook, before email, before kids were allowed to use the phone for long-distance phone calls. When you moved, in those days, you moved, you were gone, perhaps for a few years there might be Christmas cards with the awkwardly cheerful family newsletters, but unless you were family, we lost touch with you.

And I liked it. I liked reinventing myself, even at 12, I liked being able to start over as the person I knew I was becoming, instead of having to plod along as the person that I wasn’t yet. And when I moved to the States for university, at 18, I shook the dust of Calgary from my feet, I never looked back. And again and again and again, I remained the new girl, the new-in-town one, the expert box-packer, the one without a past that could be verified or known except by my own admissions, always certain I’d be happier somewhere else. My solution for discomfort: let’s move.

Of course I didn’t move to New York or Montreal. How could I breathe there? The older I get, the less appeal these places have for me, I long only for where I am right now. I can’t imagine breathing well in the east, I need the place where I am, I need these mountains, I need the ocean now, I need the cold lake water, I need rocky shores. How could I write a single sentence without the silhouette of a pine tree in the setting sun? The years go by and I become more and more aware of my pioneer lineage, I understand the pull west better, I feel suffocated without a bit of a space, without an early morning walk beside the yarrow patch, I need the north, and I need the west in a way that veers towards the mystical, which is just fine to a Holy Spirit adoring tongue talker like me. The pull of it all is somewhere under my skin, and I am always drawn to the open air.

Maybe this need for space, for the western edges, is why I don’t like the rules and restrictions of most modern religion, why I kick back against labels and boxes and demarcations, the wind feels too good on my face for that business of churching.

My husband is a gardener and a farmer, a hard worker, by his family roots. He is the homesteader to my pioneer, now we’re on the edge of the continent together, and the roots are going down here in the thin rocky soil for us both. He dreams not of big cities and moving boxes and sexy locations around the world, he dreams of homesteads, of now-grown-tinies coming home to him in his big garden, of roots deeper than a desert mesquite (has anyone yet preached a sermon on the metaphor of how deserts have the plants with the deepest roots?).

The scrabbling nervousness, the claustrophobic feeling of being known, that I am so familiar with, the urge to pack and move and start over and over and over, rises up now and then for me, still. I want to sell the house, and move somewhere else, anywhere else. But I’m alone in that need, and, to be honest, I wonder if I have somehow been running away, if I have been using moving and going as a cover for my fears of staying put, my fears of being known.

When Brian was in seminary, we were introduced to the phrase “theology of place” – meaning that our faith, our Christianity, our life on The Way, is embodied in the neighbourhood and the community where we live. It means that we believe we are called to the place where we are living, and then we shop, we live, we move, we eat, with an incarnational awareness, an embodiment of Christ in the neighbourhood like we’re here, in this place, in this moment, on purpose. We don’t live out the hope of the incarnation in a pod, or a ghetto of other Christians, we live out the hope of glory, the Christ-in-us reality, in a real place, with real people, and it’s not always sexy to stay put, is it?

I feel drawn to the phrase, the theology of place, because it was so different than most of what we had been taught in the Evangelical Hero Complex. We were always taught to forsake all for the Gospel and GO. No one ever mentioned the holy work of staying once in a while. No one really talked about how the places where we live matter to our spiritual formation, how we are shaped by our communities, by the act of roots, our geography, by our families, by our neighbourhoods, by the complex web of connections and history that emerge by staying.

And this place is shaping me, absolutely, the grey and rainy winters, the fields of berries and corn instead of the wheat of my childhood, the mountains, the rivers. I’m shaped by this place, as Luci Shaw wrote about poets, the slender antennae of awareness is always combing the world, and I am shaped by the people here, by their stories, by our becoming-shared histories, what I pick up here matters for my work, my voice, my faith, my family, perhaps it’s not so prideful in this context, to say that it matters for the world.

The radical act of staying is shaping me. We’ve been in this town for nearly three years now. And only just now do I feel the community, only just now do I go to the store and see friends, do I gather at church meetings and services and anticipate conversations with friends, only now am I seeing the holy work of showing up, of praying out loud for real friends in real life. Only now am I living my faith out, in a real way, as an embodiment of the Gospel in a real place in a real context with real people.

In western Canada, we joke around that we rag-tag Christians can play Six Degrees of Separation in two degrees or less; we either know you or we know someone who knows you. Now there is no escaping from your past or from your present, from your parents, you work out your salvation in the context of people that know you.

Staying put, being known, engaging in life with people just as imperfect and weird as me, is changing me to be more like the Jesus I love so wildly. It’s a different kind of fearless, the fearless of no masks, of being known, the fearlessness of engaging in community slow and steady and whole-hearted, the fearless of hard conversations that only come after two years of surface conversations.

The theology of the place is as much about art and life as it is about spirituality and the real unsexy daily work of living, as anything else. As I get older, I am drawn more and more to the simplicity of the teachings of Jesus, the daily examples of Galilee that peppered his teaching, how everything from catching fish to baking bread as a sign and a foretaste of the ways of Christ and his Kingdom.

I like that. I like to think that everything from the gathering of the berries to the raising of my tinies to the feeding of the hungry to the advocating for my local community’s needs is a sacrament, and a foretaste, that we embody the Gospel by our roots, too, by our transforming love, by our unhurried community development, by our friendships, by our casseroles, and our wanderings.

I used to live the Gospel beautifully in my own head, I thought about it all the time. But the radical act of staying put, the theology of place, is teaching me, the over-thinker, that thinking isn’t the same thing as doing, my intentions and beliefs and pontificating about community matters not one iota if I am not engaged in living out the reality of it.

I can believe a lot of things, I have been convinced of many a good and theological thing in my life (and a few that weren’t so good), but if that belief or thought, however correct or properly foot-nooted, isn’t being lived out in the context of my real-walking-around-life right now, well, so what?

 

Continue Reading · brian, church, community, faith, fearless, friends, jesus, journey, missional, missional living, moving, simple living, social justice, work · 51

In which it’s the morning hours

 

 

Every morning, I remain awake after Joe wakes up to use the washroom at 5 AM, and I watch the trees outside of our window. I listen to the water running in the creek at the bottom of the hill. I feel the house creak and breathe a bit, and I am awake while all of those that I love best sleep unaware.

I always feel like I’m praying in those moments, like some part of my marrow is singing a quiet hymn that belongs in a country church.  Thanksgiving, another old church word, breathes in and out with the leaves turning in the rain drops falling, kelly green side up, dull green underside up, back and forth, waving and dancing, good morning, good morning, good morning. Today, I carefully dressed in the early light. Brian sprawled, tinies breathing in their bed, and I crept down the stairs, silently freezing in terror every time the steps creaked.

I drove to the coffee shop, through the rain, and they were playing “No Diggity, No Doubt” or whatever that song is really called. I used to listen to it when I was in high school. I dated a boy for 3 years that was a hip-hop/rap artist, and I mark my high school years by Lauryn Hill, for some reason it always makes people laugh to realise that I know all the words to Gangster’s Paradise. So I chuckled when I heard that song, I remembered driving down Deerfoot Trail in Calgary in my dad’s car, speeding towards curfew, holding hands over the console, listening to someone rap and sing that entire song out loud as practice for a someday-stage, and it made me feel very tender towards those weird high school years, very tender towards my old self, all of our old selves. I still knew all of the words.

I have my coffee now, and the shop is quiet. If it wasn’t pouring rain, I’d likely be out for a solitary ramble. I like to walk in the mornings, by myself. Sometimes I listen to CBC Radio 1 and go for a drive, because I get very attached to my morning news shows and I like to drive alone. I will be one of thse old ladies, knitting by the radio, listening to “my stories” and talking about Stuart McLean like he’s my neighbour.

Everything seems more possible in the morning. People seem more beautiful to me, memories lose their sting, yesterday’s passions find their rightful place, the words flow a bit more easily, I don’t feel so confused and worn out and tired. I feel awake and alive, thrumming with life and hope and, yes, art. The night hours are for poetry, for books, for conversation and quiet and friends, for love making, and for cleaning up the supper dishes. The day time hours are the work hours, the wipe-up-the-floor-for-the-thousandth-time hours, the diapers and laundry and nursing and working and cleaning and cooking and feeding and schooling, and the laughter hours.  Those are the hours of a childhood happening, right before my eyes, of butterfly watching and scraped foreheads and babies toddling in the back of the church because they won’t sit still for two minutes together.

So these morning hours always feel like my own hours, whether I’m lying in bed, wide awake, watching the trees, or whether I’m sitting at a coffee shop table on a holiday Monday, alone, watching the rain fall and listening to old songs from the 90s. The Cranberries just started to sing.

In the night hours, when the tinies have gone to sleep, I want to write poetry or read books. But in the mornings, I want to write about the gloriousness of the mundane life, the wonder of all of us walking each other home for another day, the holiness of how we all save each other, every day, we are sacred in our daily rhythms, this is the life we’re living and it’s right now, and so put the coffee on, there is grace for all of us, there is something holy in just waking up to start all over again, new.

Continue Reading · abundant life, enough, faith, family, gratitude, journey, moments, parenting, prayer, simple living · 26

In which I want to turn my life upside down (as usual)

Every two years, I get the itch to turn my life upside down.

This is that time.

So this feeling, it’s familiar to me – and those that love me, bless their long-suffering hearts – now. I kick against my life, wondering if it’s enough, if I’m enough, if God is enough, if our life looks the way God would desire for us.

I wonder if, at the end of my life, when I’m retelling my old stories, will they be good stories to tell, good stories to hear?  I am yearning for more than a mortgage I’ll never pay off and faithful church attendance and tinies that grow up to behave well in public and pay their taxes. I’m pacing around my house liked a caged thing, it all feels like too-too much, and it doesn’t help that I just finished “7: A Mutiny Against Excess” by Jen Hatmaker, no, that woman has not helped me one bit. I am spending the week with Tsh of Simple Mom fame’s “Organized Simplicity: Clutter Free Intentional Living” and I’ve filled three pages of lined notebook paper with my goals and hopes and intentions.

I want to paint the walls white and have a yard sale, I want to move, I want to burn something down and start over. I want a farm, I want to make soap. I want to start a commune, an intentional living community and I want a quiet house. I want to downsize and I’m stalking rural fixer-uppers in Washington State and the BC interior. I want a backyard garden and a tire swing, tinies with dirty hands at the end of the day. I want to homeschool forever and I want to send them all to boarding school so I can write in peace for one blessed moment. I want a baby and I want to adopt and I am so done having babies. I want to downsize and I want to organise, I want to swear off buying anything for a year, I want to go paperless, buy local, learn how to make a quilt. I want to pay off this damn school debt and then give away half our money. I’m sick of cleaning this house. I want to write my book and I have the wickedest case of writer’s block and I want every girl that needs Mercy to find the giver of mercy, and I don’t want to miss a minute of my life. I want to abandon my online life, delete Facebook, but first I want you to see this cute picture I took of my baby standing up, and like the proverbial tree in the forest, will you know I exist if I don’t tweet about things I”m reading and thinking and doing? I want to lose weight – yes, me, the “you’re beautiful, no matter what” girl needs to lose some serious weight – I need to practice some radical self-care, to take a walk, to eat vegetables instead of popcorn for supper, I need to slow down. I need my husband and it’s now 10 days until he’s back with our family. I feel like I want to take a month off together after that, a month just to deep clean my house, figure out our budget, our new dreams, our lives. Who are we again? And why are we here?

This feeling arrives like clockwork by now and, if I were my family or my friends, I would roll my eyes at my own angsty self. But it’s real and true: I get this sense of holy discontent, and then usually we do something about it. We move. We change jobs. We start something, we end something. It helps. We are very practised at upending our lives and living at sixes-and-sevens while you rebuild can be a bit addictive.

But this time I’m learning to lean into it. This time, I know, I sense, that I need to sit here, in the tension of what I think I want and see if it is truly what God wants for us. Instead of feeling the discomfort and just doing something different, I want to feel the discomfort and explore it, its roots, where it comes from.  And then wait on God to move, to speak, to breathe. 

And then, God-willing, I’ll be faithful to God’s heartbeat for the world – and for us.

This is difficult.

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Continue Reading · books, faith, journey, simple living, social justice · 80