The Autumn Breeze

Why, hello there! Time seems to have slipped out from beneath me and I look over my shoulder and it’s October 5th. No, wait. 6th. Good grief. Around here the breeze has turned in from the north bringing the slight chill of autumn that we’ve all been waiting for. I’ve thrown open the windows to circulate the recycled air from the summer out of our house and have invited the outside to come in. A welcomed cleansing. But wouldn’t you know it that the time of year when I like to start roasting vegetables and bake hearty breads that my oven would break? I know, I know. Does autumn really come when ovens are broken? It surely does. I’m actually not in a rush to buy a new one. We’re in a stage of life where I’m not working and money is very tight so we’re trying to fix things where it’s possible instead of tossing and buying. Rejecting capitalism and materialism by force rather than by romantic idealism. Living the dream. Ah, but anyways. I’m adapting. The stove top still works, so instead of biscuits from the oven with our vegetable and barley soup last night I hand rolled a few parsley dumplings and plopped them into the pot. What a delicious treat they were. Our bellies were full and the breeze was wonderfully cool.

Last night after supper, after Ruby was tucked into her crib and the boys were showered, the four of us settled into mine and Jason’s bed with a few books while we laid around telling stories and tickling feet. Wouldn’t you know that Myles read to us The Giving Tree in its entirety, without whining or complaining, but with a legitimate desire to read and finish it. I teared up, not from the old stump giving its dearest friend the only thing left that it had to offer, but from listening to my son read. What a long journey this has been for us all. This moment has come at a sweet time for our family. As you know from my last post over a week ago, I went around the house in a fit of being fed up and unplugged all of the electronics. I’m a bit confused because the boys actually haven’t asked to watch TV or play Minecraft but only a couple of times. I’m wondering if it was actually us who pushed all of the technology on them for one reason or another. What a revelation that has been. If I hadn’t have unplugged the TVs, I wonder if we all would have spent the evening together in bed talking and reading together. A memory that wouldn’t have existed. Honestly, the children have been better behaved over all. They’re not as grouchy. They play independently without any prompting from me or Jason. And we’re spending such better time together. Playing legos, building toothpick and marshmallow structures, reading books, playing games, sitting and talking. And Myles isn’t struggling with homework and reading these days. I’m well aware that correlation doesn’t imply causation. But if the shoe fits and the sun rises…

So, here we are. Broke and happy. Content with a broken oven and reading children. As embarrassed as I often get about our finances and the choices that we’ve made to get us here (graduate school for both of us, heaps of student loan debt, poor financial planning, and me not working) I don’t count it as a failure. Something about the shifting breeze has settled a contentment in our small house. Sediments of rest and peace have dusted the earth. Financial security and upward mobility have lost its grasp and drifted away. I’d also say that my desires to be thin again, trendy, and less grey have gone with it as well. Contentment. What a sweet gift. I hope you all are feeling the change of season wherever you are and that it pushes in a peace past your understanding, as well. Until next time.

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When You Accidently Expose Yourself For Who You Really Are

When was the last time that you had one of those embarrassing moments where you did something wrong or acted in a way that exposed a part of yourself that you’d rather not have other people see? Perhaps you acted rudely, or said something mean to someone publically, or acted selfishly when you didn’t get your way, or you spoke too quickly and revealed that you are jealous. There are endless ways that this can manifest itself and it almost always leaves a pit of despair and desperation inside of us. We then conjure up ways to defend ourselves, make our reputations right again, shift the blame, gloss over the wrong that we have done, and do anything we can to take the blame and attention off of ourselves. If you’re anything like me, this happens far more than you’d like to admit.

But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if when you were found guilty, caught in a corner, completely in the wrong, that instead of talking and impressing your way out, you could just confessapologize? ask for forgiveness? All while knowing that you are already loved and forgiven.

This weekend, my husband went on a surfing trip with some of his friends to the Outer Banks. I can already see the smirks on some of the ladies’ faces reading this. You know what’s coming next. I was awful to him about it. I didn’t want him to go without me, leaving me home alone for the second weekend in a row with all of our kids. After the long, hot, tiring summer with all three of our young children, all I wanted was a weekend away with him. No fighting and whining kids. No cutting chicken into little bite sized pieces before every meal. Some personal space to breathe and be alone with my love. I was so jealous of his friends, that they got to spend the time away with him that I wanted so badly. And I let him know it through my passive aggression: on facebook, in texts, and in person before he left.

Naturally, when he came back home he was hurt. I had acted like a child and forced him to not have a good time on his trip from worrying about me. And there it was. I was backed into a corner with nowhere to run or hide. I had hurt him in front of his friends and had done wrong. My very first reaction was to throw blame back into his face. But we both knew that he had done nothing wrong. I was jealous and hurt that I couldn’t go along, so I punished him. Seeing the hurt on his face caused me to pause and stop running the solutions to my problem of having hurt him. And I told him how sorry I was for hurting him, for being so selfish. A death to myself. My body almost wanted to physically run away from admitting that I had done wrong and asking him to forgive me. And do you know what he did? He forgave me. He told me that I am always his. There is not much else in this world that draws me to love my husband more than when he forgives me or asks me for forgiveness. In those tender moments of honesty and grace, where wrongs are forgiven without a record being kept, I am captivated to him.

Oh, to be loved and forgiven.

Our Origins

And we pray, not for new
earth or heaven,
but to be quiet in heart, and in eye clear.
What we need is here.

-Wendell Berry


If you could hear the silence that I’m sitting in. Still. Soft. I almost forgot that such quiet exists. The boys are at school today. Their first day back. It was an emotional morning for all of us, one that only months of being so close together can bring, where we all wanted to be apart but still near. Owen was worried that he’d be lonely at school. Myles was worried that he’d get picked on while riding the bus. I worried that they’d get homesick. But here I am. In the quiet. Ruby is napping. My mind can wonder; I wonder how they’re doing.

here i am. I am in Virginia. The place where I was made and have made myself in the world. I see the creek out of my window that pulls out and pushes in slow over its muddy banks and up to the top of the bulkhead. My sons walk outside and down the sidewalk towards their bus stop, readying to push out with the distant tide that will take them to their own here. I hope their here is here. With me. Where my sighs breathe out of the ground, in and out with the tide. Washing words on the muddy banks of our home and belonging, the songs of the osprey, who calls out in a voice over glassy water, perched high in its pine towards the east, words that fly to the banks of their origin.

 

Child Like Bones

Lying in his bed, my son grabs at his
shin trying to stretch out the pain
that we tell him is from growing.
I keep from him that it will only get
worse with age, growing brittle and
hard, cracking under sadness, grinding
at the joints. Folded up
down the center as a piece of construction
paper ready to be snipped into a finished shape
and opened to the world, his bones are
limber and flexible, still ready to spring back
into the shape of the womb. Round back curved
over at the hips, forehead to knees, heels to
butt, is a seven year old fetus on the top bunk
scared of growing up. And how can I blame him?
A world created between the threshold of heaven and hell
how do you sell that kind of real estate to a child?
For every baby thrown in a dumpster there is a kind
and charitable person feeding the poor, so buy today
with 0% financing, though I hide the fine print.
What kind of a home breaks you from the inside
when it is on the outside? A ghost haunting
your bones, rattling them as you grow, cold
fingers around bent joints, soft tendons,
knocking around empty corridors
where shoulders meet ribs. This
world is as valuable as the youth
who will inherit it then gobble it up
for themselves, just as those
before them. But I tell the
aching, growing boy that
this world is his and he
can make it beautiful
if only he remembers
his aching bones
as a child.

Longing For Home

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If you drive the long stretch of route 58 west from the low marshes of Virginia, the ground begins to plump and swell towards the the old and bushy Appalachian mountains and the water slowly shifts and drains down into the Mississippi River basin as a spout into the gulf. When the briars become more tangled and lichen spatters across bark and rocks as wrinkled age spots, you have come to the imagined Virginia/Tennessee line. There are no valleys here, only hollows and slanted front porches that overlook gardens grown in brown clay and cows that meander through crooked wooded trails.

We arrived there in our mini-van and always stick out as the city folk among Jason’s extended family. Every year we visit and ever year we become more and more removed from life that is there’s. It’s a natural generational shift when a family moves away from their land and marries outsiders. We come back as observers. Visitors. We wander around the fields. Sit on the porches. Hug and chat and are amazed out how much the children have grown and the elders have weakened. But we aren’t there when the fields need to be plowed and medicine needs to be administered. We aren’t there during the daily moments of meals and bills, seeds and watering. So we soak in as much of each other as we can in sweltering air and cool breezes and we try to make up for lost time by talking for long hours, throw water balloons, build fires, make new memories, help to clean dishes and trim bushes. The compressed time does fill the empty spaces of a separated family, at least for a moment.

We make this journey every year to visit Jason’s aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, but this trip, for me, was long and difficult. The hotel room was dark and lonely. And you can only eat so many continental breakfasts before you begin to stare at your bagel wondering when the Lord is going to return. My spirit longed to be home. The people who I’m with daily, who see my children slowly creep up through their jeans, they were all home hurting. Being away from home and from my people isolated me to the point of extreme grief. All I wanted to do was talk about it, to pray and grieve with human bodies and hearts. Suppressing my trouble and grief over the deaths of the innocent made me feel less human. Our screens have created a sort of dual reality; what we read and type into digital space is not what we communicate in our physical space. But it’s always right under the surface. We’re all thinking about what the person next to us said or shared on Facebook but we don’t mention it to them while we’re sitting in the grass watching our children fly paper airplanes. We’re too busy filling our empty spaces with each other to talk about grief and pain and murder. That eats at my mind. It makes my spirit weary. And I wanted to go home.

What was it about Alton Sterling’s, Philando Castile’s, and the five police officer’s deaths last week that shattered our collective hearts? What is different this time? Have you noticed the air shift? The ground tilt? When we drove back home into our driveway yesterday evening we rushed inside and ate a quick dinner, changed our clothes, combed our hair, piled back into our van, and drove to church for a special service of lament, confession, and worship. When I sat in the pew, immediately the broken chasm between the digital, the physical and the spiritual broke wide open and I wept with my people. We prayed, we sang, and we cried out to the Lord in our grief and our fear. We individually stood up and confessed our racism, our indifference, our pride, our arrogance, and our retreat from humility and grace. Our pastor, through his own tears and anguish, offered the filled sanctuary words of our Lord’s grace. And our hearts lifted in joy and hope through our grief and sorrow. It’s what my heart needed. I needed to be home with my people, my church, my community, and I needed to grieve with them. I needed to go to the Lord with them. I needed my heart to be healed with them.

While I love my husband’s extended family, their homes, and their land, I’m just so glad to be home. I belong here. The people know me. I know them. We grieve, look towards hope, and march together towards justice. All to the glory of our Lord.

An Uncontrollable Life

Walking to the bus stop yesterday morning with all three of my children we talked about bugs and the blooming hibiscus that Myles described as looking like purple plums with tongues. He has a burgeoning love for poetry and I just love looking at and describing the world in creative and beautiful ways with him. It’s the last week of school and we’re all anxious for it to be over, so we walked slow to the bus stop through the thick humid air. None of the children have their book bags with them anymore. They’re just going to school to watch Disney movies for a few hours, run around on the playground equipment while their teachers fan themselves in the shade, and spend their last days joking around with their friends.

We arrived to the bus stop at the same moment as Xavier and his mom. Xavier is a little kindergartener, the same as my Owen, who lives 2 blocks away from us and he ran in circles and smiled with the other kids, oblivious to his mom’s crying. I asked her if she was okay and she said “No. I’m really down this morning. My little nephew was killed last night in a shooting.” My first response was oh my god. i’m so sorry. This isn’t news that I hear in my circle of neighbors and friends very often. The last time I received this kind of news was two years ago when a woman in my church shot and killed her 7 year old daughter and then herself at their home while her husband was at work and her older daughter was at summer camp. It rattled our community to the core.

But the gun violence that found its way into my neighbor’s life is something very, very different. When I asked her how old he was his life flooded out from inside of her:

He was 17 but he lived an uncontrollable life. He wouldn’t listen to us and there was nothing we could do. He was just out of control and we’re all just so sad. We saw this happening but I just still can’t believe it.

When the bus pulled up all of the little kids lined up and piled up the steps. Xavier was full of smiles and waved back to his mom and she just stood there staring at him. Her eyebrows furrowed and new tears filled her eyes and she watched him. On the bus, the kids poked their heads out of the windows and waved their goodbyes and there she stood. Eyes staring. Tears streaming. Watching her 5 year old drive away from her.

Her watchful, crying eyes haunt me this morning. I keep picturing her happy, smiling son waving at her. And she stands there. Tall. Strong. Staring. Crying. There was so much worry, fear and sadness locked on her face. There is a knowing in the creases of her eyes that I don’t have. Her understanding of our city, our people, and our communities are etched much more sharply and deeply into her body than mine, and so she looks at her son in a way that I will never be able to or have to look at my own. When she sees her son, does she see the statistics? Does she see the images of her nephew holding guns? Does she see handcuffs, crime tape, and police cars?  Does she see the bullet holes in cars and hats laying in the street? What does she see? Because I see a smiling, waving child. When I look at my sons I see them making silly, innocent poems and chasing fireflies. And then I feel almost foolish. The lens and view that I have of my city is so small and so naive. I read the posts on NextDoor by my neighbors about black boys on bikes that might be casing the neighborhood, car break-ins, burglaries, muggings, and people feeding raccoons and they are just like me. They see our city from a vantage point that doesn’t see their sons and daughters as a statistic. Our special little children write poems and go to swim lessons and we never worry that one day they might have a gun in their pocket and end up as a hat in the street. We worry that those are the kids that will harm us and ours.

And I cry. Because I’m so naive. Because my city is not how I know it and see it. Because there are mothers who can’t wave back at their children. Because how do we control uncontrollable lives? I’m sitting here in my whiteness, the skin that I was born in, the skin that protects me and my children from statistics and crime tape, and I want to help, I want to say and do anything to help Xavier’s mom wave at him. To keep him innocent and smiling. To keep the guns out of his pocket. To keep him writing poetry about the blooming hibiscus. And still I cry because I can’t. I can only hug his mom. I can only cry with her and walk next to her. Invite them over for dinner. Be their neighbor. What else can I do?  This city is not mine. It is ours. And our city needs us to not be afraid of our black children and their parents and their schools. It needs to us sit with them and eat with them and learn with them and not be afraid of the guns. It needs us to love each other and talk to each other. And so, I’ll write. I’m writing to you. How will you love our city and the people in it?

These are images of my kids, Don Demetrius Jr., the 17 year old shot and killed on Sunday night, children at the PB Young school garden, and our city where we all live. So many images of hopes, dreams, and violence that shape our communities in so many different ways. How do we confront them in meaningful and purposeful ways? How do we live together in love and not in fear? They’re all our children.

Orlando Rising

In the garden, I sit and watch my hens peck and scratch at the dirt looking for worms and bugs. A breakfast to turn their yolks a bright rich orange. Leaning against a fence post, the leaves in the tree above shade my face. A cool shadow protecting against sun rays and heat. Cucumber vines curl as tendrils around wire and wood, climbing up a ladder of grace, yellow flowers opening up to bees. Deathly is the bloom that pushes out fruit toward ripening in time, falling to the ground alone, rotting, nourishing its grave. A staccato of rain on the earth, bullets piercing the ground, into a stream of blood of homage and sorrow. Surrounded by sleep, the earth is a tomb but cannot keep bones resting. The motion of earth’s turn toward blooming and dying, heavy seeds sit as headstones marking resurrection, moving death towards new life in the sun’s heat. I imagine you free of weapons and hates and the enmity of beasts where mortality does not weigh heavy on your blood-soaked roots and men renew their abuse with their bullets and fears. Birth of rising, the morning lights a brightness on the world perfect as breath. A luminous gathering. Newly risen, a green vine, a yellow flower, in the sun. Grown out of death’s deep darkness from brown earth, in a lighted country, waking to a new freedom that cannot be taken by man.

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