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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Hallelujah for the morning (or, how I pray)
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  • Nicole Chase

    <3

  • Beautiful.

  • I started crying at the preciousness of naming the owls. And I’ve also realized that I *have* just been thinking going-going-going, even when I watch Netflix or read. That has torn some of the magic away I so loved growing up and reading Harry Potter, the Secret Garden, etc. This was such a refreshing post; thank you!

  • melanie

    Thank you, Sarah.

  • Ashley Moman

    This is utterly perfect. Thank you for sharing your words with us.

  • I recently decided that I’m probably not going to move either. I live in a one bedroom apartment (I’m pretty sure I could be featured in a Tiny House documentary) with my cat and my dog (Fred Weasley). I live in a city. A loud, dirty city with traffic and street dogs and very little green. My puppy is learning this – don’t pee on the tile, do pee on the cement, because the poor little thing rarely sees grass.

    What we lack in space in the apartment (which is just two rooms and a bathroom with no outside space or laundry space) we make up for in roof access. As far as I know the three other people who live in my building don’t use the roof. Fred and I go up there daily. I like to sit up there in the morning and just look at the city. This morning I sat up there and started Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets for the umpteenth time. It’s not pretty up there on the roof and there’s very little green (just a baby bonsai tree a student gave me) but in the morning it’s still and the birds chirp and the street dogs bark and the roosters (yes roosters) cock-a-doodle-doo.

    I used to dream about moving to the mountains. About getting my animals and me a house with a yard for goodness sakes. With some grass! I’d dream about looking out the door to see MOUNTAINS and nothing but green. I’d dream about the smell of trees and the sound of the wind through the leaves. But the past few days I’ve been sitting up on my roof dreaming about making this place more home. I’m dreaming about getting a small pool for Fred and I to cool off in and I’m dreaming about making compost in a large container. I’m dreaming about getting a projector for movie nights in the cool night air of the rooftop. I’m dreaming about plants and lights and maybe a table and chairs!

    I love my little apartment. It’s cute and it fits all my stuff and it has hot water (not a given in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic). It’s directly across from the school where I teach and I know and trust the apartment manager and night guard. But it’s the roof that’s pulling me to stay. The rare quiet and alone moments that I’m finding up there in this loud, dirty city. And you know what? The mountains will always be there and there will always be a home for me there when I decide I need more green. For now, I think we’ll stay.

    • Loved reading this, Suzanne. Your apartment sounds like a wonderful home – and LOVE the image of you and Fred up on the roof!

  • Katie

    tears in my eyes; this is beautiful! I believe in these things too; thanks for the reminder, I needed this today.

  • Wendy Beauvais

    Such beautiful beautiful writing! It hurts! 🙂

  • Jory Micah

    I SO needed this today! I have been so ready for God to doing something exciting in my life! Ready for dreams to come true or for a “defining moment!” I think this is good, but I was starting to let it take away my peace and joy for today since it is not yet happening. Waiting is hard. Thanks for relating. This is a beautiful post Sarah! 🙂

  • It must be in the air. I wrote something similar. God works these things like a thread of connection. I love how He does that.

  • Meghan

    I’m so grateful for your writing. In this season away from a church building and finding that my church family isn’t as present in my absence, I have found such worship and such depth of love and grace and the constant hum of the Lord in making a late breakfast on Sunday mornings and so many other things. And I always feel that deep constant life-giving hum in your words and I’m so grateful for them. Thank you so much for sharing your gifts. I wish I could explain how deeply they impact me and how special it is for me to read your posts. Thank you thank you thank you. I pray for you and your family and I adore that your tinies are sneak reading. It’s the very best 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Meghan – that makes my day! xo

  • Beautiful writing as always, Sarah. I live in a very suburban area and have never seen owls in my trees. But last week, one in the tree just outside my window woke me in the wee hours. Now I know there is magic in that tree!

  • Katrina

    Thank you for this. So needed right now, in the busyness and chaos of life with 3 –soon to be 4– small children. There is so much going-going-going of our life right now… even in the mundane of preschool drop off, grocery shopping, dinner making…but also busyness in the worries of life–of job uncertainty, of house additions (we have also looked at moving as well!). But we have a balcony overlooking the “wild lands”–a never to be developed grassland in our big city, where coyotes, porcupines, deer, and yes, even owls, go to explore. And we explore with the kids too, and sit on our balcony and hear the wind and the trees. We need more times with owls and less dwelling on the busyness, and your post is that reminder for me today.

  • Natalie Albertson

    This is just lovely.

  • Sarah, I love your beautiful poetic writing, and your simple, yet intimate theology…I long for this too. I believe our theology is formed in our lives and experiences too. This is so beautiful, thank you so much.

  • Kelly Buddenhagen

    Sarah, I could have written this. Stay or go, breastfeeding and sandwich-making, four small kiddos and a life that seems to sometimes teeter on the mundane but is truly rich in the eternal and extraordinary. Thank you for these words that give voice to my soul.

    And the owl names – perfect!

  • This is beautiful, Sarah. Birds are such bringers of peace to my life. I wrote about the birds — and girls — near my house recently, too. http://tenthousandplaces.org/2015/06/09/birdsong-and-girlsong/

  • Ya know Sarah, a border between us and we are living these parallel lives of being wife, mama, daughter, sister and friend. I am struck by no matter what title is by our name, it’s the people who know us, the rhythms we walk in daily where we are known.

    I would love to share our backyard with you. The chickadees visit us while the Robin made a nest in the wysteria, and the baby opossum wandering our backyard. I feel like a wanderer trying to find myself, when I realize I find me in my kitchen, in the “nipple” kisses of Caprice and life outside. Thank you Sarah.

  • Nicola

    Thank you for sharing this – you are so gifted to articulate the things I struggle to find words for. I always save these blog posts for baby’s naptime when the eldest is at school so I can read and reread and enjoy a little pause in my day.

  • I so appreciated this, Sarah, ’cause I’m smack dab in the middle of a great big move. Your thoughts about the sacredness and beauty of life’s dailyness have given a bit of an anchor. I am grateful …

  • Nisha Varghese

    Thank you for reminding me to practice love in the sweet mundanes

  • Thank you so much for these beautiful words. Thank you for reminding me of the beautiful in the everyday and the seemingly ordinary which of course, a lot of the time, isn’t really ordinary – its magical). I’m in a season of loneliness and infertility and being alone in our house that should be filled be tinies quite alot. This helped me remember to be grateful for my present moment, instead of belittling it, or wishing for something else. Like my favorite write L’Engle, your writing always brings me back to what’s important, and helps me breathe a little bit deeper – thank you so much Sarah!

  • pastordt

    There is no one quite like you out here, my friend. LOVELY. And we ARE moving. After almost two years of dithering, looking, wondering, thinking out loud, we are downsizing, both house and lot. On August 10th, we’ll leave this lovely retreat space that God provided when we came here for me to pastor 18 years ago. We’ll leave our view of the foothills, our red-tailed hawks and bunnies in the yard, the occasional coyote sighting and the sounds of owls in the distance. It has been home, it has been salvation in many ways. Our son and his wife and daughters will move in here and lease from us – this place is perfect for their growing family, right up the block from the girls’ school and closer to the hospital for our son when he’s on call. We’ll move to a different hill, five minutes away, with a killer view out over our beautiful city, with just a peek at the harbor way off to the right. Cozier, a little funkier, and just what we need. When the timing is right, you’ll move. that’s how it happens. In the ordinary living of life, the house will appear and you’ll fly there. In the meantime, keep on believing in the beauty of your life. And keep on writing that beauty down for us to sigh over. Thank you.

  • Love love love this! I believe in magic too, especially in the magic of the ordinary. And I think you chose the best names for the owls. 🙂

    My husband and I made the decision not to move. When we first bought our 1200 sq foot home six years ago, we thought for sure we’d be moving within five years–I mean, that size of house is considered small, right? Good for a starter, but not for forever, yada yada… But then we got to know our neighbours, we had our two girls, we tamed the tiny backyard, and we learned that being content with what we have opens up all kinds of possibilities. I still sometimes look at the big houses with the big yards and feel a twinge of envy, but then I sit on my front porch and chat over tea with a neighbour who’s so much more than a neighbour, and I remember why we decided to stay.

    Blessings to you, Sarah, and thank you so much for this!

  • Olivia Butz

    “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?”

    Yes! Amen! Absolutely.

  • The most beautiful thing I’ve read in, well, months maybe. I’m so glad you still squeeze time for the blog every now and again because we need these reminders. Those of us knee deep in boxes and Legos and mud everywhere and ordinary deadlines. We need to remember that this is, and of course, has always been the stuff of miracle and wonder.

  • When he wrote about his divorce, I tried to tell Micah J. Murray that God ordains marriage to last one’s lifetime, but he publicly heaped scorn upon me, as he deleted my comment that was simply edifying excerpts from David Platt’s excellent book entitled Counter Culture. Proverbs is filled with verses about the wise man willingly receiving instruction while the fool scorns the one delivering the wisdom.

  • Rose

    I thought of this song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0UW2PlgFkA as I was reading your post. I know it’s not quite what you’re getting at but it reminded me of it.

  • Virginia Davis

    “I believe our theology is formed in our lives and experiences, and I believe we need to listen to each other.” So so needed to hear that. It seems that I’m constantly battling doubt about my position as a layperson amidst so many theologians that I admire greatly (and am secretly very jealous of). I ask myself, “What do I have to say about God when people so much more intelligent than me are already talking?” Or I think, “Once I go to seminary/[insert spiritual opportunity here], I’ll be able to participate in shaping contemporary faith.” But then I experience God in such a real way that those doubts tend to do nothing more than inhibit my longing to share that experience. Your thoughts are so encouraging, reminding us that we don’t need the “theology” of the academic realm to embrace the “theology” of our small backyards and big decisions. Thank you.

  • Gosh I love this. Thank you.

  • Pauline Villwock

    I read this sitting in the shade of the big walnut tree I used to climb on in my parents’ backyard, while my little one naps and I am breastfeeding the littler one. And I so wholeheartedly agree. Your writing is definitely one of those pieces of magic in my life, amongst many others, it is. Thank you for that.

  • Becca

    Such an inspiration to keep on loving daily, boring life. I love all of your blogs so much!

  • BritW

    This was just…magic.

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  • fiona lynne

    I love this. x