If you are joining from Amber Haines’ place this morning, welcome. I’m so happy to see you!
Amber Haines was one of the first writers I ever read online. Her words brought tears, revisited me in hushed moments, got swirled up on my insides. The way Amber expressed simple and complex truths of God, creation and humanity stirred a desire for more.
Though I still want to string salty, edgy, hard, beautiful words like Amber Haines when I grow up, I’ve realized these years later that I can only ever write like me. That said, the opportunity to be featured on my Southern sister’s blog this morning is a true honor.
Amber wrote a book released last summer called Wild in the Hollow. I checked the mail with anticipation for days and gave way to full rejoicing when it arrived just in time. Sick in bed on a girlfriend getaway, I read it in a day. Wild in the Hollow is Amber’s story of homesickness, longing, brokenness and the ragged way home. It is lyrical and deep and memorable.
In her book, Amber recounts a conversation with a man named Monk in Port-au-Prince, Haiti:
“There’s no way to know what Monk had endured, because he kept a smile, but I asked him, ‘What is the thing you want most for your life?’ His response still has me reeling. He said, ‘I want for nothing, and I want for everything.’ He wanted better for Haiti. He wanted healing in relationships, but he explained that there wasn’t a thing he didn’t have in Christ. He walked a life of contentment on the tension between already but not yet. He looked like Jesus.” (Wild in the Hollow, p.160)
Since I read these words, they’ve been so caught up in my own understanding that I didn’t even recall I’d read them first in Amber’s book. How true that I want for nothing and everything, that I am walking the tension between the already and not yet, that I long for home while it already resides within me.
This morning, I share a part of my story with my grandmother. The walk of a little girl and an old woman. A walk of love.
My 86-year-old grandmother lives in an adult foster home within two miles of my mama. Grandma receives frequent visits, gets her nails painted, works puzzles with her caregivers, goes to lunch, listens to books, watches the birds that gather at the feeders and on the swollen river out the expansive windows. From her sporty wheelchair, Grandma exercises her legs and arms, her fingers, her voice…
Some months ago, I took Grandma for a walk on River Road. As I pushed her wheelchair, I told her about my girls’ latest activities and the puppy we’d be getting soon. I talked about the change of seasons, pointed to scurrying squirrels and fluttering chickadees.
As is often the case, she was quiet.
The air was nipping cold, and I stopped frequently to check on her – wrapped her scarf around her face like a muffler, held her gloved hands in mine to warm them.
At times, Grams moved her feet from the crossbar and used her legs to help walk the wheelchair. We veered off to let a car pass, and I asked if she wanted to try walking.
“Yes,” she mouthed, nodding her head slowly up and down…
I sit by the Christmas tree – a ragged little miracle. The front lacks appropriate branches, and so the white goat on wheels lilts strongly toward the center, as do the handprint snowmen and jack-in-the-box. The wooden cranberry garlands hold on the best they can.
We picked our eight-foot tall noble fir from Mike’s Tree Farm this year, just as we’ve done every Christmas for the last 14. On the final leg of a five-hour road trip from our family’s Thanksgiving in Southern Oregon, it was our earliest foray and nearly our most disastrous. Mike (of Mike’s Tree Farm) and his family have always kept on the porch a coffee can for our $10 a tree payment, as well as a few bow saws. Saws, as it turns out, are very important when it comes to tree cutting.
The screen door doesn’t fit in its casing when it swells with November rain, so it slacks open. Every minute, every thirty seconds, a change in air catches the door, and it taps. Wooden door against porch railing. Tap. Tap-tap. Tap.
Normally, repetitious sounds rattle my nerves, but this morning, I find it comforting — this drum beat refrain like a heartbeat.
A vase of white-centered mums sit in front of me in a gaping-mouthed vase. Orange bread crumbs and mandarin orange strings from this morning’s breakfast sit in a happy pile next to me, gathered together, but not tossed.
Outside the crows caw across hundred year old trees. Overhead the dining room chandelier buzzes like it always does.
I’m not just light. I’m electricity. Don’t you see? Don’t you hear?
We escaped from the throes of lice this week — the third time the girls have caught it at school in the last 13 months.
I take that back. We did not escape lice. There is no escaping lice once they’ve made their way onto your head and into your life. There is only enduring the process, doing the next needed thing to eradicate the horrid creatures.
The nit picking. The cleaning.
The laundry piles. The quarantine room. The freezing of hair brushes. The rotating series of bed covers. The bare, vacuumed couches. The nightly hair oiling. The morning showering and combing. So much combing.
It’s a Groundhog Day style- anxiety-producing, micro view within the macro destruction of a house torn apart.
(Your head is itching right now, isn’t it?)
At the very beginning of this week’s Operation: Rid the House of the Louse, I read words to the effect of, Notice the small things because the small things are really the big things.
Back in the spring, a rectangular card arrived in my mailbox. A distinctive font scrolled across an ombre watercolor wash of blue and at the top three words: The Open Door. I held the invitation to join a small group of women from around the country — speakers, writers, authors, artists, ministry leaders; the only commonality our faith in Jesus and call as bearers of hope.
As I read the invitation and explanation of the vision, as I held the small bronzed key that accompanied it, I shook my head. Why me?
I most certainly am not a superstar blogger with my beginner WordPress blog (and all the best intentions to update it). I’ve only just begun speaking. My primary ministries are in my home, our school and with women over coffee, story and prayer. My freelance writing career hasn’t yet gotten off the ground. My name has never graced a book cover. Really, my primary vocational nudge seems to be Love People. Why me?
And yet, because of my journey to stand firm on a rock of confidence that doesn’t turn like shadows, because of my desire to live fearless, because of the tremendous faithfulness of the Spirit who shows me one next step after another and another, I said yes. I walked through that open door and chose to keep believing I belonged.
Not like one belongs to a secret society or insiders’ club, but the way one allows Love’s eyes to lock with her own, to watch the mouth that forms the words, beloved, and to nod, Yes. Yes, I am.
Really, it’s a lie when we compliment after passed years, say someone is exactly the same. I suppose what we’re wanting to say is that the essence of you — the unique spark of you — is intact. The one we recognized then, the one we see now.
“Come here,” I said, pulling you from the bed and onto the floor where I sat. You cried as I stroked your long bangs and wisps of hair from your forehead.
“But I don’t want to be seven tomorrow,” you said. “I want to stay six. I’m not ready to be older.”
You know your mama well, so I probably don’t need to tell you that the tears ran down my face then, too, because I’m not ready either, and I want to seal this moment in chunks of amber beneath a stopped clock. Make an agreement that we will both stay just how old we are now, vow to sit this way again — you tracing the outline of my arms while I memorize the shape of your cheeks.
I read of longing and desire from bed, covered in the quilt I brought from home and a rightly heavy down comforter.
The walls are yellow like sun, and I am sick. Not the worst sick I’ve been in my life, but sick that looks weak and tired in the eye, feels the cold burning in lungs. The kind that is relieved that curtains are pulled shut.
I am here at this vacation house with my girlfriends who are going for walks and hikes and talking in the sunshine, and all I want to do is be still and read in this bed. This is not normal for me.
I do hope to be better before it’s time to go, so I can play with them, too. These women are some of my favorites, you know? And I look forward to these times all year. I really do.
I am sad about it, and I am content. I’ve read that you can’t experience gratitude and sadness at the same time (or something to that effect), but I’ve not found that to be true.
The fussy toddler wears poop
right close to his bottom –
you can tell he has for a while.
Hot unwashed bodies carry
unique scents like pepper, fermenting fruit,
soaked and dried again towels.
Final days have ways
of making a person think extra long
about things like this.
The press of pungent humanity is
much easier to romanticize
when riding the number 8 is choice
for a time and not grocery shopping,
Walking downtown streets to the law office
for my last Tuesday,
I see that young man again, just a kid
with a skateboard,
face bleeding drugs at the
same corner by the Square where
the man with the dog propped his sign
that said “Feed my human.”
There’s a piece of glass
in my foot from walking barefoot
in our basement storage.
I thought I got it all,
but today I lilt to the left
in my wedges,
remnants reminding me of
how we’re all limping.
I exit the elevator onto
the 8th floor and the
sticky thick of shared spaces,
mingling smells of
yesterday’s food and perfume,
corridors only vaguely connecting
here to there
before air conditioning cuts
with its comforts.
I squeeze those I love, laugh freely and cry more than most. I'm a detail collector, big picture thinker, nature lover, book savorer, passionate lover of people and God. I am learning to embrace the great mystery, live in the questions, take risks and speak unafraid. I believe in pain redeemed and hope where it has no business, and I'm so grateful you've come to unwrap some messy and glory-filled stories with me.
to the life right where you are. Whether delightful or downright disaster, each moment presents the opportunity to stumble through half awake or slow down to truly see. I want to live AWAKE.