five morning vignettes

Morning 1:

Bram calls from his room. “Mama!”
Me: “Yes, Bug?”
Bram: “Come here; I am lonely!”
Me: “Come to me, Baby. Your brother is asleep on my arm.”
Bram, after some silence: “Do you remember the tablets??”
Me: “Um, Moses’s tablets? Yes…”
Bram: “They say not to fight.”
Me: “They say to listen to your parents.”
Bram: “They also say to be kind.”
I go to him, smiling. We share the sweetest snuggle.
When Lou wakes up and stumbles in twenty minutes later, Bram looks up at him and says, “I got mama out of bed with the ten commandments.”

Morning 2:

I wake up to the feel of hard, cold metal hitting my head. It is Lou. He is hitting me over the head with the old-fashioned Winnie the Pooh alarm clock I bought for him. The irony of this is not immediately clear to me. As I rub my pounding head, he says sweetly, “Good morning, mama!”

Morning 3:

Bram calls from his room. “Mama!”
Me: “Yes, Bug?”
Bram: “Nothing. I just wanted to be sure of you.”
I go to him.

Morning 4:

Lou is laying behind me. He begins to trace his fingers up and down my back and side to side, in the shape of a cross. He says, “I am giving you a blessing.” Then he whispers, “The Universe Dances.”

Morning 5:

Bram comes in to my room in the early morning and crawls into bed.
After a minute, he asks: “Mama, when is your birthday?”
I say, “July 10th.”
He says, “Okay, what is your favorite animal?”
I think for a minute and say, “Maybe wolves? I like the way they are in community together.”
He says, “Okay. So for your birthday, I’m going to ask Pomo to help me buy you some wolf shorts. Black, fuzzy ones. Does that sound nice?”
“Yes, Bug. Fuzzy wolf shorts sound like the nicest.”

 

my life goes on in endless song

I always imagined this space to be primarily about witness. Witness of lives unfolding; a record of a journey; a set of journeys running alongside one another for whatever time was permitted.

I still imagine it to be so, though it was once a record of marriage. It was once about trying to make new life, the struggles of that hard work. It was always about God, for me at least, but it was once about God from outside institutions devoted to the holy.

Life changes, it does.

And yet the idea of forsaking this space, of casting it aside, feels wrong. Inaccurate somehow. Like a lie. We are not a series of stops and starts, but one long purple line, as Harold might draw it.

This place is witness. We are still breaking into blossom. We break; we blossom. We are not permitted the latter without the former, so our prayer must be always to return to the latter. To see it. To receive it with whatever gratitude we can muster.

Bram turned five more than a month ago now, which is a thing of great beauty. Lou will turn three later this month. J has what we call a nest, which is only a handful of blocks away from the home I thought we’d share for the rest of our lives.

The nights I spend without the boys are the darkest I’ve ever known. They are, as one friend said, the shadow of the valley of death. The house is an empty chamber. It feels like nothingness, as do I. Like air void even of oxygen. Nothing can make up for their absence: no person, no strong drink. I have come to expect the waves of panic and despair. They come and go as they will, and I am required merely to weather them.

I have never been without a partner, not for more than a few months. Not in my whole adult life. And not without J for a decade, which is, it turns out, a long time. And so, though the temptation is there to fill this space with the certainty of someone new – someone solid enough to anchor me, someone beloved – I am called away from that impulse. The call is painful, and yet it is clear. I listen. I wait. Not now.

Today is Ash Wednesday, and my thoughts are with our beloved sons. And with their sister, whose ashes are held in a tiny, pretty urn in the same room where – in the grey light of this late winter day – they will receive ashes on their foreheads.

I’m thinking too about how little I understand time: my dad gone four years now, J having moved on, and my children growing at a speed that leaves me dizzy. The losses mount and startle, but the gifts are relentless and just as surprising.

I am facing this Ash Wednesday as a mama, and a minister, and a breakable human. I am grieving, and I am standing still. My God is a slaughtered lamb, and the demands of that truth are weighty, and exhausting, and worthy of the time they require.

I plan to write here as part of my Lenten discipline. I have stories to tell, and I will do my best to tell them.

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this call

I’ve updated this space about my wicked sweet kiddos, and about our finding-sure-ground-again marriage. But I haven’t written much about this new work, which is not so new anymore, I guess.

When I think back two years to that first time we walked through the wide, old door and into the nave, I am flooded with sense memories. I remember the smell: melted candle wax and wood polish and autumn air. I remember the feeling of wrapping Lou in the back of the church during a hymn, his tiny body pressed tightly against me while he fussed: expanding lungs against tiny expanding lungs, heartbeat against heartbeat. I remember pacing the narthex until he finally fell asleep, and then wanting to go back in, but being unable to stop crying. The sensation was of release. Relief. Lightness that by necessity meant tears. I remember Bram’s toddler-voice during the homily: “Jesus Christ?! ‘Go Tell it on the Mountain’ has a Jesus Christ!” I remember the awkwardness of that first time at the altar, and the longing to go back, which hit me at once. I also remember the shyness of my longing: how desperately I wanted to be invisible, and yet also never to leave. To be held and yet left entirely alone. Like I had come home, but no one else would think I belonged there. That one took quite awhile to shake.

But when I remember that first day – how it felt – I see and feel other things too, things that weren’t part of the physical experience. This gorgeous downtown church feels, in my memory, like a simple, tiny chapel in the middle of some vast green countryside. I have the inexplicable impression of a wooden porch and creaky doors, of the smell of wet timber and pine needles. Of the warmth of radiator heat. Of having received real bread and not the small round wafers we use. Of not crying at all. Of not feeling out of place. Of a room with fifteen people instead of a hundred and fifty.

When I think of the start of my work in ministry, this is the day I recall. Not the day I was baptized (accepting a hand knit shawl as a symbol of our shared work), and not the day I sat at my desk for the first time, dizzyingly overwhelmed. Not then, but this first day and the open doors and the landscape behind me: both city streets and pastoral hills. All those years of feeling like I couldn’t find a point of entry were of service. As unlikely and naïve and providential as it must sound, a thirty-five year Advent season – waiting, wanting – was just right. Right enough to make me smile now. I don’t think I ever could have been casually religious, and it is a kind of suffering to try to imagine knowing this was here and not being a part of it. I was only ever built for immersion, and immersion wouldn’t have been right before now. For me, faith requires the offering of faith. Means serving as a conduit. I was called that first day at the rail. The families under my care. Their marriages and their struggles and their joys. Their longing and despair and peace. Their children’s ashes in our columbarium, which I visit and pray with, though none of them know about that. The welcome heaviness of loving them, and worrying over them, and taking seriously the privilege of it all.

I feel about parishioners differently than I’ve felt about people before. A different way, I mean. Differently than I felt about students. Differently than I felt about people I served alongside. Even parishioners who leave: whose work takes them elsewhere, so that I wait for e-mails and updates to know how they’re doing. So that I feel lightness and joy when I see their faces again. There’s a different thing my heart does. It is a unique kind of loving people, being a part of their work with God. It is soft and warm. It asks for investment, commitment, love, detachment, and connection. It asks for presence.

I’ll preach in this old church for the first time October 16th. I got to preach in a small chapel at a Benedictine monastery over the summer, but this will be different: hundreds of people, and home. Because my mom and wife are generous souls, I’ll wear a lace alb, which is feminine and flowy and also a kind of homecoming. And I’ll be standing about four feet from that place I first knelt to receive. Maybe I’ll also still be in that countryside chapel. But in the meantime, I’ll read widely and deeply and try not to give in to the sense that I’m wildly behind. The timeline I’d have chosen for myself would never have yielded offerings this sweet.

unchurched

I’m currently preparing for the sacrament of confirmation, which I hope to receive in January. Amusingly, I recently restructured our confirmation formation process, which now makes me the first person moving through a structure I built myself, and have yet to witness. If it isn’t a rich and pleasurable experience, I have only myself to blame. ;) This post is by no means a spiritual autobiography, but it is way in to that work: a brief examination of some sweet ways that kid-me found God.

Though I was what church folk call “unchurched,” it’s no effort at all to see the groundwork of the religious life I now adore shimmering throughout my childhood. I already needed all this back then, and the Spirit: she’s a damn good guide.

Prayer: We didn’t seem to pray. Not at the dinner table and not with much structure elsewhere. At least not with any regularity. I remember a song my dad used to sing about a father who sees his daughter praying at night. The image of her kneeling in her darkened room was so vibrant to me in its foreignness. We didn’t pray in any formal way, but oh how our prayers found voice. A whole chorus of voices: Kris Kristofferson. Leonard Cohen. Willie, and Johnny, and June. Bob Dylan and Carole King and Harry Chapin. John Prine and Rosanne Cash and all the storytellers. All the truth tellers. They lamented and longed and witnessed and hoped in ways I recognize now everyday in the Hebrew Bible. In the Gospels. Make me an angel that will fly from Montgomery; make me a poster of an old rodeo; just give me one thing, that I can hold onto. To believe in this livin’ is just a hard way to go. We sang off-key along with tapes on old decks. Together and alone. Whenever we needed it (and we knew when we needed it, and we needed it all the time). When I think about the pleasure I get now from prayer – the warmth that spreads from just below my throat – I know that we prayed back then. We did, we just never called it that.

All the company of heaven: There is a good bit of loneliness to my early memories, but there’s also a whole lot of community. I think of this sometimes during Eucharistic Prayers: joining our voices with angels and archangels. I look around and feel the presence of those long gone, of those around me, and of those yet to come. That’s something liturgy does. But I remember tapping into it as a child too, and not in a nave. The repetitive comings and goings throughout a community that was ours. The Cigar Factory for breakfast, the lock-up to bail people out of jail, where the cops would bring me something sweet. The music shop and the dress shops; the old curvy roads that bordered the lakes. Everyone knew us and we knew them. Coming and going: something bigger than us. Community. Not of God in any deliberate sense, but of one another, which feels to me now to be pretty much the same thing. The smiles and the kindnesses we’d pay, the kindnesses we’d receive. There was a boldness to the way we lived that suggested we were connected to it all. It was loud and communal, and that was nice.

The bread and the wine: The table. Only then it wasn’t one table: it was hundreds. And it wasn’t a sacrament, but it was an offering. Unconsecrated, but not unholy. Restaurants throughout our city. Tables and waiters and rituals we knew. Food we appreciated with enthusiasm and gratitude. Food we bought for others without reservation. Take, eat. Giving and receiving. No prayer, but thanks, which is prayer. Not the body and blood, but something that filled us and changed us nevertheless. Restaurants were our church. Eating was communal and ritualistic. It fed us far beyond the literal sense.

Churches: This is such a funny part to me now: the parade of churches. To my knowledge both of my parents always believed in God. My dad left the church out of shame; I think my mom felt let down by it. Or if I’m really looking at this, I guess I think it let them both down. Anyway, we went sometimes. A scattering of memories, we went. We shook hands. We sat with bulletins and waited. And then we heard the thing that cheapened it all. The thing that put women in their place, or talked about the sins of the abortionist or the homosexual. The prostitute. The vengeful God. The stuff that my mother could never abide. I can’t get a beat on whether it was five times or fifty, but I know in a bodily way the sense of walking down a center aisle and out a big set of doors – my small hand held in my mom’s grownup one – in the middle of some preacher or another’s bad sermon. There’s not much to my feminism (or for that matter my theology) that can’t be tied back to that side of my mom: it was fearless. When I went with me dad, it was different. Still the searching, still the trying, but then this quiet from him. I wish I could talk with him about God now.

So that’s a start. More, probably, to come; thanks for reading. I hope it’s a good, good day where you are.

an invitation to rest

This is something I wrote a few weeks ago for a blog I now keep for my work. I have other posts in mind for this space: an update on these not.still.tiny humans; a relatively honest account of marriage at ten years of togetherness and two preschool-aged kiddos; a little about the explosively gorgeous (for the human that is me) work of ministry; and an attempt at explaining why it is (though baffling, though maddening, though wildly impractical) impossible for me to give up on the idea of a third child. But this (below) is a thing we’re doing, and have been doing for a month now, and have already been pretty damn changed by. And so I share it with you.

Thanks, by the way, for your kind and robust welcome home. I think I’ve been unsure what to write here because I wasn’t sure what would be, to you, worth reading. What you said was: my voice. Our voices. That’s worth reading. I’m not sure there’s a kinder message than that.

And so, an invitation:

A thing that has been said to me is that I’m not great at relaxation. And it’s something that worries me because: I believe in rest. I’m not interested in more-is-more life, or parenting, or work. And I’m for sure not interested in busier-is-better spirituality. The people I most admire move more slowly than that. They make more space.

But I don’t move slowly. At least not on the surface. On the surface, I’m not great at relaxation.

I tried to greet this reality by imagining a way out of some of the work in which I engage. But the truth is, I engage in it because it feels worth doing. And I imagine that’s true for most of us. How I parent. How I labor. What I cook. The walks I like to take and the books I like to read. It’s all important to me. More important than the indulgence I’m supposed to want.

And yet I’m tired. Most of the time. Part of this is because I’m a parent of young children and – ask any of us – tired is a thing. I’m also lucky enough to have deeply fulfilling work, which has the gratifying if exhausting consequence of meaning I long to do more. I stay up late at night because doing more brings me joy. And so: tired.

But I’ve been offering space lately to this question: how might I meet my need for more rest without giving up any of the beloved endeavors to which I offer myself? Without ceding to the notion that I’d be somehow more whole if I binge watched Orange is the New Black instead of reading theology and listening to sermons once the kids go to bed.

And so I’ve turned to an old practice. Like, Genesis-old. Then-God-Rested-old. Sabbath. I’m far from alone in this return, of course, though what I see of this practice being practiced is scattered. And it is by all accounts countercultural in contemporary America.

To be clear: this isn’t a post that extols the virtues of a long-held practice of Sabbath-keeping, though plenty of those exist. It isn’t a summary of the scriptural origins of the practice, though consider reading those because there’s immense wisdom in what our desert mothers and fathers had to say on the subject. And it isn’t a deep-dive into the theology behind Sabbath-keeping, though Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote a pretty gorgeous one of those, if you’d like to read alongside me. Instead, this is an invitation. Because like many of us, I work best in community. And because I’m guessing that lots of you wish you knew how to slow down too. I’m not alone in needing more rest, and I’m not alone in being unsure how to get it.

So (the Tiniest Little Bit) About Sabbath:

The Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori (badass former presiding bishop for the whole Episcopal Church, thank you feminism in religion) teaches here that “Sabbath can be an opportunity to learn more deeply what God asks of each of us — loving our neighbors, each one made in God’s image, as we love ourselves.” And, I mean: I for sure need to work on that.

Jane Carol Redmont describes Sabbath keeping as “a regular weekly rhythm of rest, time for reconnecting with the sacred, festive meals with loved ones, the nurturing of community life, study of holy wisdom and sacred texts, attention to beauty and sensuality, honoring intimacy.” But Redmont also writes about how hard it is to get students even to experiment with the practice. I met with such resistance when I tried to get students to do media blackouts: to unplug for forty-eight hours. Lord have mercy; they found even the suggestion traumatic.

Rabbi Heschel writes what is, perhaps, my favorite recommendation. He says, “our goal should be to live life in radical amazement….to get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

And then there’s also this.

Sabbath-Keeping as Protest:

Author Stephen W. Smith writes that “when practiced, Sabbath-keeping is an active protest against a culture that is always on, always available and always looking for something else to do.”

Boom. Right? Fuck yes to that protest?

It was in talking this through with my wife that the reasons for our cultural resistance to true rest became clearer to me. We’re offered ways to buy rest: television, movies, dessert, alcohol, amusement parks, vacations, prepared food brought to our table. And don’t get me wrong: aside from amusement parks, I dig these things. But really, most of those forms of rest are stimulating, right? They might bring pleasure; they’re surely entertaining; and they offer a passive form of indulgence – maybe even luxury – that might pass for rest. But they aren’t likely to bring us stillness, a sense of enough, or gratitude for what is and not what can be made to be. They won’t make us aware of how amazing it is that our hearts are all beating.

Heschel writes: “People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation. To be entertained is a passive state–it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle…. Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one’s actions.” It seems to me that real rest is a form of celebration. And it doesn’t make anyone money. There’s nothing there to market to us, which is probably why we’re culturally discouraged from making space for it. There’s nothing to sell because rest, celebration, means we already have all that we need. Enough. It means more than enough.

Our First Sabbath:

So this week, for the first time, my family kept a sort of Sabbath, which consisted among more nuanced shifts of a commitment to abstain from all internet/media activities. From sundown Friday to sundown Saturday (because church work means I can’t keep Sabbath on Sundays), we put the devices away. We played music from neglected CDs on our old player in the kitchen (instead of our carefully curated playlists on Spotify). That first night, when the kids were sleeping and the chores were done and it was only 9:30pm, I settled in our old glider and read almost fifty pages of a novel in a dark house with no glowing screens. And then I prayed for longer. And then I slept.

The next morning, we went to the farmer’s market, and I didn’t take pictures of my kids’ faces when I said they could have the freshly fried donuts they smelled from the other side of the market. I didn’t take pictures when they saw red sunflowers or tasted the most perfect yellow tomatoes on earth. I was just there.

When we got home, I cooked lunch slowly, enjoying the sound of the boys playing outside, and the feel of my cool kitchen, and the indulgence of good food. We invited friends over spontaneously, and watched the kids get wet and muddy. I paid a little more mind to my breath, to my posture. I paid a little more mind to my wife. I worked (cooking, parenting, sweeping the floor), but more slowly, with intentionality and joy. I took pleasure even in washing dishes. I worried less about how long bedtime would take. There’s no evidence, but I think I smiled more.

I’m in, at least for the year. At least until next August, some version of this will be our lives from Fridays at sundown through Saturday nights. I’m already looking forward to next week. If you think you might join us, will you let me know? I’d love insight into what you’re reading, or how you’ve kept this spiritual practice in the past, or how your family practiced it growing up. I’d love to know how it works for you now. Even in this new, fumbling stage, I am grateful to be on this road, and I would be thrilled to have company.

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all hallows’ eve

The only sounds I hear right now are wind picking up outside and rain leaking through the roof and landing in a metal pot in my entryway. This relative quiet means that the rest of my family has fallen asleep together upstairs: a rare group nap in anticipation of a late Halloween night. I’m alone on the sofa with a thin blanket, and it’s cold in here. I could turn the heat up, but I’m struck by the not-unpleasant sense of porous boundaries, of the outside getting in. The rain, and the wind, and the cold. This is always true, I think. This fluidity. Walls don’t offer the kinds of division we pretend they do. But I’m not always as willing to see it as I am today.

I’m brewing a second small pot of coffee. The lunch dishes are still scattered on the table, and I’m trying just to notice this. Noticing is a big thing lately. Noticing how little I understand time, with its wild variations: fast, slow, racing by. Other wild variations are a big thing lately too: my mood, my wife’s kindness, all of our trust. I suspect that my awareness of these swings is an ironic product of being settled. We are all safe to feel the complexities. Of being a preschooler. Of being a toddler. Of being married (in happiness. in frustration. in resignation. in gratitude.). Of being parents of young people and all of the young-people needs. The too.many.things that we are, so that life is crowded even when it’s pared down and simple. And so we swing, all of us, right now. From euphoric love to resentment and resistance. From surety to restlessness. From desperate need to rejection. All of us, with the wild variations, and with time refusing to steady itself.

I’ve been wanting and wanting to write. Writing, though, is a kind of standing still, and stillness seems to be what life is most unwilling to yield these days. And yet. There’s a lot to say. When I think about this space, I can’t really think about readers anymore. This isn’t because I don’t still love the sense of community, or crave it. I do. But I’m unsure of what I offer that is worth receiving by anyone who isn’t one of us. And I’m not even sure what I mean by one of us. Maybe I mean the kids one day. Maybe I just mean me. Anyway, I can only write here as a keeping of some kind of record. For later. For when there’s time to stand a little more still and listen to the way things were when there wasn’t time to really hear. And if this space is worth something outside of that, then that something can stand on its own.

So, for the record. And anything else this might be worth.

The house. We’ve been in this house for coming up on two months, and we were right. It is right. We’re getting to know it. It is a creaky old house. You can’t move around here without everybody knowing about it. It has other surprises too, of course. Beautiful morning light. An expansiveness that must be about something other than square footage. A kind, inviting feel that has kept people here through the ages: it’s almost a hundred years old and we’re only its fifth family. Our pathways here are far from worn, but they’re being created. The fact of living here is no longer startling. And I’m in no rush to learn the secrets this space holds. I understand marriage enough now to let the complexity of this new undertaking unfold.

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And the Birdie. Who is determined and willful and emotionally vast. Who is as physical as a high-speed train. And who is a nurturer: of me, of Bram, of his stuffed bunny, Henry. He has a sense of humor that the rest of us lack, and it sets him apart, and it makes us grateful. He is eager to please us. He delights in the world, and is every bit as watchful as his brother has always been, but less reluctant. He doesn’t love music yet, and he doesn’t always love books. He is affectionate as a cat is affectionate, which is to say: on his terms. For these reasons, he has made me work much harder than Bram ever did to figure out how he wants to be loved. But, oh, when he feels seen by one of us, he lights up. He is a small, radiant lighthouse. And he surprises me everyday.

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And Bram. Bram, who studies life. Who burrows into it: all depth, that kid. Who draws for hours without a break. The same creatures over and over. Who wants to read the same long books until he’s mastered them. He does not live on the surface, and so surfaces startle him. School is still hard: not the work of it, but the light relational part. He is discomforted by the presence of more than he can process at once. He is every bit the storyteller that he’s always been, and the same narratives still drive him: good vs. evil. Americana. Love and defeat. I can’t imagine he’ll ever be good at small talk.

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And happiness. Sometimes I think: this is what it feels like to live your values. To be happy, and exhausted, and bewildered, and broken, and flooded with grace. I think I’m happy because I’m made that way, and not everyone is, but I also work hard to live a life that is in keeping with what I sense to be true about the world. And that is work, but it also offers a contentment that I imagine (remember, even) is hard to come by otherwise. So: this class- and race-diverse neighborhood. A devotion to the mystery of liturgy. A commitment to using my spirituality in action. Food ethics. Marriage. Patient and positive parenting. Compassion. Grace. Love. Surrender. Surrender. Surrender. The rewards not of immediate pleasure, but of investment.

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And God. A couple of weeks ago, I sat at a downtown, outdoor cafe, only a couple of blocks from St. Luke’s, with the best staff imaginable. And the sun was shining down on us and there was easy camaraderie and good food. And someone mentioned that winter is coming. And someone else said that the town’s only real shelter can’t meet our need. And someone else looked around and said isn’t it a shame to have all these buildings down here and all of them shuttered. And then: a conversation about resources. And J just finished a month long diaper drive: gathering 24,000 diapers, which is enough for 500 families for a week. Because diapers are expensive, and necessary, and not covered by any of this nation’s fiscal safety nets. And Sara Miles started the food pantry at St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco fifteen years ago this week. So, God. And Jesus. Christianity, to me, is never about charity. Never. It is always about remembering that we are all welcome at the table, and that means coming to the table and bringing what we have. And that what we have isn’t a reflection of who we are. It just is. So we give. And we take. And none of that makes us better or worse. All it makes us is God’s. And blessed, of course. And under obligation to one another not because we are more or less fortunate, but because we’re what we have of God. We’re what we have. We are as porous as my house is today. I don’t know. Maybe one day I’ll figure out how to tell this story.

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In the meantime, Bram will be Robin Hood tonight. Which is perfect for him, my small prince of thieves. And Lou will be Little John: his brother’s devoted fellow. And I will be Maid Marian. And J will be the Sheriff of Nottingham: no justice without the unjust. And our block will filled with trick-or-treaters from the neighboring streets, which aren’t so safe, and some of the neighbors here will bemoan this, and I will give thanks, once more, for the failures of boundaries. How they make us all more human. And tomorrow, guided by our liturgical calendar, we will celebrate the saints: sing their names in a litany that will take my breath away. And Monday we will honor the dead. We’ll put Emmett Ever’s ashes in the columbarium at St. Luke’s: at once a gesture of honor and of release. Her name will be etched in gold in a room whose smell I cannot describe but cannot stop loving.

And we’ll go on praying, and questioning, and misunderstanding, and being misunderstood. I am well over a third of the way through reading the Bible in a year. And I can’t be one of those people who wishes for my children’s growth to slow down because their growth is the most viscerally sacred thing I know. And I will keep wanting more stillness. And keep not making choices that would bring it to me. And I will stay grateful for this good and pretty life full of complex, beautiful, frail humanity.

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a small mile

One week from tomorrow, we will leave our little cottage behind. We will drive away from the place that both J and I have lived longer than we’ve ever lived anywhere else, and we won’t live here anymore. We will leave without a puppy-cat who moved in here with us, but with his sister. We will leave with two boys who were conceived of, conceived (mostly), and brought home here, and whose entire conception of home is these walls and floors and smells and colors, and this air quality. And this view. We’ll take E’s ashes with us, and the boy who isn’t Saul will still be turning three somewhere, and it will never matter to him that we’ve left the house that was once his home. After packing up with a good half dozen generous parishioners helping, we’ll drive our rented U-Haul one small mile away, to a modest and lovely house in a working- to middle-class neighborhood that has beauty, and that speaks to our values.

And then we’ll live there instead. With one chalkboard wall in the kitchen for meal planning and family notes and boysie creations. With the color of saffron on the other kitchen walls, and a mostly working fireplace, and original wood floors, and a finished attic with wide pine floor planks. With double the square feet we have now, and double the bedrooms, but nothing grand except that it will be ours, and we will be privileged to have it, and that alone is grand. We’ll paint the door the slate color of my wife’s eyes, and we’ll finally buy a sofa, and a low bed frame. And a college kid and his dad are making us a farmhouse table and two three-seat benches. Bram will find a big box of real Legos (given to us by another generous parishioner) waiting for him in his room: his first foray away from Duplos and into big-kid-ness. Big-kid-ness in a room that, I pray, he’ll get big in. The driveway has an old basketball hoop, so someday we’ll go to a store and come home with a basketball and that will be countless hours of our lives. Some other day we’ll have saved up enough money to finish the basement and buy a pool table, and that will be other hours. There’s a deep freeze in the basement, and a small canning room with perfect rows of glass jars, all of which is lovely in its simplicity, and its pragmatism, and the care that it implies. The people we’re buying the house from ran a small neighborhood church in the living room for five years, and though some of our perception of Christianity differs from theirs, the house seems to carry with it those hours and years of praise, and dedication to service, and love of God and community, and that feels like a gift to inherit. Today my mom texted to say that she’d picked up the first season of Life Goes On at a garage sale and did we want to borrow it. So maybe J and I will watch some of that as we muddle through whatever it means to leave and mourn – as four individuals and also as the animal that is one family – a set of walls that is jam-packed with memories. To let time pass. To get to know a house to whom we are strangers.

This little cottage knows heartbreak. Probably the new house does too. Certainly it does. Like this cottage, it was built in 1927. I like to imagine the family who built it. Their laughter and their failures and their frustrations. They loved this city of mine. Of theirs. I like to imagine the other ways in which our lives collide in spite of the years. The house holds all of those secrets, and I respect it for knowing what I never will. But I never imagined heartbreak when we moved in here, and that’s not true now. Instead, letting myself fall in love with a new home feels like a way of accepting what we’ll face inside of it. The suffering and the joy. The firsts and the lasts.

This cottage and this blog have been homes of mine for all these years, so it seemed necessary to honor the one I’ll leave behind in the one I’ll carry with me. Thanks for granting me the space to do that. Here are some photos of our cottage-dwelling boys by way of tribute.

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