September 2013


I am participating in the Open Letter Challenge writing contest organized by Josh Irby. The following letter is my response to An Open Letter to You from the Rest of the World.

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Dear World on a Monday morning,

Here I sit, toast crumbs on the table and cold coffee in my cup, and the day is barely born. I pour out the chilled and add some hot, and its high time, I think, to be calling the children from their beds, and I say so.

Let them sleep, he says, my husband who pretends stern, and I know he’s been softened at the sight of their sleeping selves as he’s passed their rooms on his way to the kitchen. The waking always falls to me.

The weekend had been much and the morning was tired and cool and we sit, just the two of us after chores, and the peace and quiet is a welcome meal before he’s up and gone and the kitchen waits for more.

I sweep my man’s morning into my hand and toss the crumbs into the chicken pail, add fresh slices to the toaster and set clean plates. And they come, after I’ve sent my voice up the stairs two or maybe three times, to sit at the table and rub and stretch and yawn away the sleep and they ask if it’s cold enough yet for hot chocolate for breakfast.

It is, I say, and the day begins, again.

It’s the same, mostly, morning after morning, day after day, and I think sometimes the world is oblivious to these things. These kitchen table things – meals and milk and scriptures read and words prayed – and all the time the children raising up higher in their chairs, inch by inch by inch. Raising up, these three boys, on bowls of porridge and good bread and honey from the farm down the road, and stories and laughter and arguments and apologies.

A day of ordinary in a lifetime of ordinary, and it’s miraculous, the thing that is built out of all this intentional ordinary. In the midst of it, the sweeping up of crumbs and the washing of sticky jam hands, it all happens.

In the midst of it, right as it happens all around me, right in the middle of the mess of all this living – in the midst of it I write. I write my heart into words and I send them away, growing them into stories and it’s like raising children.

Because it’s a little bit out of my control, all these words like all these boys, and it seems to happen as it will, even as I try to do it right. Even as I try to do my very best, it happens. Words and stories and children, it all happens at the kitchen table, the World unknowing of it all.

Until the children grow right up out of those chairs, and the words too, and then, World – well, then we’ll see.

In all the big and little ways of being happy, there are not many that equal coming home.

There’s something about walking into familiar, you know? Even if the boys have been on their own all weekend and the house can’t keep their messy secret, outing them by all the dirty dishes in the sink and the scattered this-es and thats.

Homecoming is the final gift of home-leaving.

I was away for the weekend, a road trip by myself. It’s been a long time, just the CBC and me, and the long prairie road. I drove by photographs I didn’t stop and take – the leaning hip-roofed barn, the wild turkeys, the hawk on the fence post – and I sang off-key and I thought mindless thoughts about things I don’t remember.

Manitou Lake, Saskatchewan

Manitou Lake, Saskatchewan

I spent the weekend in the company of women, sharing writing dreams and listening to things said and not said, and tasting the rich chocolate of fellowship and homemade chilli and good bread and prayer on my tongue, with the words and the walks and the water.

I came home from it all to Sunday afternoon resting and eating and boy hugs and a husband and a nap on the couch, and even the Monday morning mountain of laundry can’t bitter the sweet of the time away, and of the return.

Colton's doodle of a Metis boy

Colton’s doodle of a Metis boy

You can find my words over at How to Homeschool High School today. A little letter to Anne about art and muskrats. Love to see you there if you don’t mind popping over for a quick visit!

Have a great weekend! I’m off to the spa with some friends to talk about writing and such. Yay, me!

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We used to do church at the pig farm.

Our family, their family, and a bunch of boys between us. A gathering, scripture, sharing ideas, sharing a meal … a morning that sometimes stretched to an evening.

We were pretty young then, with the children small and all, and it was a sweet year-and-a-half of fellowship without much obligation. I suppose sometimes it was hard on us, just being us, but mostly it was restful. A church sabbath, in a way.

I remember moving to the new town, and the number of times I was told this: Now you will have a real church to be a part of. I remember the anxiety of those words. I didn’t really want a real church. I liked the simplicity of the pig farm.

I think of it sometimes, in the middle of a busy Sunday.

I don’t know if our pig farm church would have been a long-term option. Maybe, if we’d stayed, we’d have found a “real” church to be part of, eventually. Sunday School and sermons and ladies class.

But, I know the pig farm was what I needed, when I needed it. And it was very, very real.

Maybe I read too much, or not enough. Or, maybe I think too much. Or, you know, not enough. I’m not sure.

I’m seeing much out there these days about the challenge of church (however you define that) to meet the needs of people, mainly young families. Most of the stuff I’m seeing is talking about church as a local body of believers who gather together for worship on Sunday mornings. Traditional, corporate church, I suppose. Sermons and Sunday School.

And the stuff I’m reading is about how hard it is for families with young children to participate in these settings. Kids fuss, make messes, clap, cry, squeal, misbehave. Parents struggle with the dilemma of keeping them in the assembly or taking them out. Or even, staying home till the kids are older and more cooperative.

Carter sleeping through church at camp

Carter sleeping through church at camp

I get it. I really do. I remember it, clearly.

I remember the time I was asked to bring toy cars instead of toy dinosaurs for my boys to play with, as the dinosaurs bothered an older woman who sat behind us.

I remember the Sundays upon Sundays when my husband was at work and I spent my time wrestling with a toddler and a baby and who knows what the sermon was about.

I remember leaving early, in tears.

I remember bringing hot dogs and potato chips to potluck.

I remember chasing a defiant two-year-old through the empty pews at the front of the church, in full, humiliating view of the watching worshippers on the back pews.

I remember being asked not to bring Cheerios into the sanctuary, and to take my dirty diapers home with me, and to please come and get my crying child from his toddler class.

I remember sitting in the cry room, zombie-mom, while my toddler systematically emptied the toy box and my baby nursed, and how disconnected I felt from whatever I thought church was supposed to be. I remember getting up, and leaving the mess, and walking out the door of the building, strains of Leaning on the Everlasting Arms growing faint behind me.

It’s a ridiculous time, this time of raising small children. Ridiculous and challenging and exhausting, and church can seem like an insurmountable Sunday morning mountain to climb, week after week.

Climb, climb up sunshine mountain, faces all aglow … not.

So, what is a church to do?

Here’s the thing. Here’s the hard reality. There’s not much a church can do. I mean, there are children’s programs and the cry room and all …

But, just like in the grocery store, or on a plane, or at your house, if your child is upset or loud or fussing, there’s probably little I can do to help you.

I can shoot you sympathetic eyes. I can offer to take your baby. I can smile at you as you take the screaming toddler to the back of the sanctuary, and I can put my hand on your shoulder as I walk by you on my way to the bathroom as you are walking the halls with your kid who can’t sit still.

I just don’t know what else I can do, except to say, I understand. I love you. I love your baby. I love that you are trying. I love that your children are making noise, and mess, and being cute, and talking in the quiet, and shouting Amen at the end of  every prayer.

Bring all the toy dinosaurs you want. And fishy crackers or Cheerios or apple slices. And those toys that ding, they’re okay, too, if that’s what it takes. And if you are in and out of the room a hundred times, it’s fine.

And know that church, like anything, is challenging for all of us. Trying to be family. It’s hard. As a mom of teens, or a single person, or a young adult, or a widow, or the pastor’s wife. There are mountains to climb, whether you are wearing a baby sling on the journey, or riding a skateboard, or using a walker.

I don’t know what to tell you, except to hang in there. Like parenting in general, parenting at church is a day-by-day, messy, mistake-making, grace-requiring, hand-holding journey.

And when we fail you, and we will, know that it’s hard for all of us at times. And we’re all doing the best we can.

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A book club made up of introverts. Imagine.

Although there are extroverts who read and who join book clubs, I’m sure. Just not ours.

Sunday night was my re-entry, so to speak. I’d been on book club sabbatical for several months, trying to do all the things that had become pressing, suffocatingly so, in my life. I’d missed it. I’d missed the gathering of these women, the conversations about thoughts and words.

The book was Quiet, by Susan Cain. Interesting to discuss this quiet book in this group of quiet women.

Most of us liked parts, agreed with parts, and skipped parts of this book. It’s dense, and it’s study-based, and honestly, it took some work to get through it. It didn’t grab me, not really. Even though I’m introverted by nature, it wasn’t a book with which I related. I’m not sure why?

Maybe we aren’t such a tribe, we introverts. Maybe we don’t need to make ourselves one. Maybe the fact that we are introverts makes the whole idea of there being a group of us a bit ridiculous. Maybe there are as many differences among introverted people as there are among, well, people.

Honestly, the tag line threw me a little. The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Why power? Why does everyone need to be powerful. Why not The Place of Introverts, or The Peace of Introverts, or The Purpose of Introverts?

I know why, actually. The word power is a marketing word. It tests better. It sells books better. But, whatever.

I was struck, though, by the re-realization of how noisy the world is. Introverted or not, there’s just a whole lot going on out there. Earplugs are required. Filtering out the noise, the distractions… this is the skill I need. This is the challenge I face. The challenge we all face.

Today I’m baking. The children are studying. For the moment, the house is quiet. Soon, it won’t be. Something will come up. A phone call, a kid with a need, a husband coming home.

But the quiet minutes, they are a gift. I’m thankful for them.

Whether you work, whether you parent babies or teens, whether you are single, whether your career is inside or outside of your home… wherever you are at in the wide wide spectrum of personhood, I pray you find ways to make space for yourself in your day. And treasure that.

I’m blogging today at How to Homeschool High School, where we are talking about family communication and art. I’d love for you to join in there.

Here’s a taste of the conversation:

In families, especially families that spend as much time together as do homeschooling families, communication is extra easy, and extra hard. We do a lot of it, but we don’t always do it well. And there’s the extra pressure, sometimes, to do it exceptionally well because, you know, we’re homeschooling families and it’s supposed to be one of our strengths. And we think people are watching…

Be blessed, friends, as you go about your day!

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