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.

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I have a thing next weekend, and I’m looking forward to it, and it terrifies me.

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It’s a weekend thing – a few women getting together at a spa for a writing/planning/workshopping thing – and here’s where I’m at with it all.

I’m torn between loving the thought of it, and planning my escape. These are the excuses I’ve come up with so far.

My husband needs me to help him with some stuff around the farm.

My children need me to help them with some stuff around the farm.

The farm needs me to help it with … some stuff.

Or the classic, I’m not feeling very well. I think I’ll have to cancel.

Why does the thought of spending all those hours together in the company of women intimidate me so? It’s not like I haven’t done it before. It’s not like I hate women or I hate weekends at a spa or I hate talking with incredible people about amazing God things.

But a several hours drive and two nights sharing hotel rooms and an agenda that involves talking and smiling and more talking, and putting on a bathing suit, and then a “fun” trip together to a drive-in to watch a movie. To bond.

Oh my. The thought of it has me sweating insecurity all over the place.

Yet, inside, I want it. I need these women. I need to be connected and so I do this, over and over. I get on a plane or in a car or on a bus and I go with.

And I simply hope, when I’m quiet and the smile wavers and the words falter… I hope they understand how hard it is and how hard I’m trying. I hope they understand it’s me, not them. That it’s not aloofness or unhappiness or anything-ness.

It’s just one quiet-natured, self-conscious, insecure, mess-of-a-saved-by-grace woman, trying desperately to think of the next thing to say.

The Eternal is my shepherd, He cares for me always. He provides me rest in rich, green fields beside streams of refreshing water. He soothes my fears; He makes me whole again, steering me off worn, hard paths to roads where truth and righteousness echo His name.

Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness, I am not overcome by fear. Because You are with me in those dark moments, near with Your protection and guidance, I am comforted.

You spread out a table before me, provisions in the midst of attack from my enemies; You  care for all my needs, anointing my head with soothing, fragrant oil, filling my cup again and again with Your grace. 

Certainly Your faithful protection and loving provision will pursue me where I go, always, everywhere. 

I will always be with the Eternal, in Your house forever.

Psalm 23 (the Voice)

My words are next door today, over at How to Homeschool High School. Anne and I have started writing letters back and forth, and it’s so much fun. I’d love to have you join us.

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My letter to Anne today is part reflection (summer is almost over, you know) and part kick-in-the-pants. I’m still trying to figure out how we (my son, Colton, and I) are going to approach the rest of his homeschool experience. Structured? Relaxed? High School transcript or not? College credit courses?

Decisions.

Please pop in on the conversation, and if you have any wisdom to share, that would be fabulous.

And enjoy the last days of summer. We are trying to.

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It’s slow at the beginning. We sit in cramped pews and gaze at painted walls and ceiling and windows, and wait. Wait for the music and the men and the maids and the bride. Chat among ourselves, quiet, and check phones for google answers to silly boy questions, and remember back twenty years to our own beginning.

It starts, swelling music and in they come, groom and his men, and beautiful girls, and cherished woman on the arm of the man who loved her first, on her way to the man who will love her forever. And it’s words and promises and signatures and beautiful music.

I watch from far back, peeking through the rows of all the people ahead and I snap a picture, thinking it will amount to nothing, but when I look later, scrolling though all the blurry shots of the day, it stops me.

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Because when I crop out the heads and the shoulders and I see what is left, it’s everything. Two together, hands and hearts and lives joining in love and promise under the umbrella of all His holiness.

Sanctus. Holy.

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And then what began slowly, deliberately, practiced … ends in a rush of new beginning as they sweep by, almost running to the future. As they pass, all young and excited and new in this, I pray a few words for the next day and the next. For the two of them and for where their love will take them.

New is only new for a short time, but holy is forever.

I sit beside my husband on a rainy Sunday morning and I watch my three boys serve communion to the congregation. Carter is in his bare feet and at first I fret about what someone might think, but only for a second. Three boys, and here they all are, and the one with whom I made them beside me.

All the grandparents are here, too, and one of my sisters, because of the youngest boy’s baptism and the oldest boy’s graduation. And some other relatives make the trip, eight in a van, and I’m touched that they drove all this way. Friends come too, from out-of-town, and of course the familiar every-Sunday faces, and its enough to make a mother feel blessed beyond measure.

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I watch the day with taking-pictures-for-my-heart eyes. I smile through tears as my dad baptizes my son and I whisper I love you into a wet boy’s ear as I wrap him, dripping, in a towel. I’m touched by a grandpa’s prayer, and I share lunch with those who stay, and I listen to the middle boy as he speaks a few words about his brothers and about the day they are sharing. Our preacher prays over the oldest, soon leaving, and the words are a blessing. And the youngest thanks them all for coming and for staying and for the witnessing.

And we sing. Big songs with good friends and laughter filling in for the words we forget.

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Some of them come home with us and we talk and we eat again, here at the farm. Catching up and sharing stories and munching chips and hotdogs and drinking cans of pop, and cake and watermelon for dessert.

It’s a day of family and friends and sharing memories and laughter and a few tears, of children growing up and making growing up decisions, and by the end of it I am full.

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We are on our way, my husband and the boys and I, to visit friends. Specifically, to visit my husband’s friend (who is my friend, too) and his wife (who I have not met). It’s a long drive and we’ll be there for the weekend, and on the way I make him promise not to leave me alone with her. The friend’s wife, I mean.

I know; it’s confusing.

But it’s because I don’t know her yet, you see, and this girl friend thing is not always easy. Maybe she won’t like me. Maybe we will have nothing in common. Maybe we won’t be able to talk to each other. Maybe she’ll think I’m a small town, frumpy, stay-at-home-mom with outdated clothes and poor social skills who spends her days baking bread and quilting.

I’m not always good with girls. Being girl friends can be hard. It can feel like a competition or something. I think it’s me.

So in my insecurity I make him promise me some safety.

I promise, he says. And when I keep looking at him, impressing on him the seriousness with which I am taking this, he repeats, with emphasis, I promise.

Okay, I say. Don’t forget.

We arrive and meet and the weekend rushes by and we talk and laugh and she nods in agreement when I say something about being married to a crazy dreamer guy, and we share some God talk and some family talk and stay up too late and talk some more and it’s all lovely, and I leave thinking I’ve made a new friend.

What a gift.

What a treasure it is, to make a friend, and I shake my head at my foolishness.

Today I will meet a girl friend for lunch. I’ll talk on the phone with another and I’ll text a few, and I’ll spend some time preparing for a Saturday full of them. A room full of girls, and it honestly makes me a little nervous, but I’ll remember what I’ve learned.

That most of us feel the same insecurities, and most of us really want to be each other’s friends.

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It’s bad grammar, I know, but it sounds better than, All my friends are smarter than am I.

Either way, I think they are. It’s a good thing. They make me think. Here’s an example.

One of my friends, let’s call her Sheena, was visiting the other day. Sheena was here for a class we were taking together, and she stayed with us. It was SO MUCH FUN, because Sheena is hands down one of the funniest people I know. She makes little old introverted me feel like a barrel of laughs, just because her fun-ness rubs off on everyone around her.

She’s funny. But she’s also kind and good-hearted and sweet and caring and loving and concerned about all kinds of evils in the world.

Which is why I wasn’t offended when she called me simplistic and naive.

Actually, she called my world view simplistic and naive, but whatever.

Sheena thinks big thoughts about big issues. She is definitely one of those smarter-than-me friends. She’s heavily invested in things like human rights, particularly as they pertain to all the stuff we hear in the news these days regarding the implications around our country’s treaty issues. She calls herself a settler, and lives and works as a teacher in Fort Qu’appelle, Saskatchewan, which is where, as I understand it, Treaty 4 was signed.

Sheena blogs at Treaty Walks where she writes beautifully about this treaty journey she has been on for the past few years. She’s been on radio talk shows and is friends with lots of journalist and political-type people, and it’s all really cool.

So we’re sitting around my kitchen table, talking about The Lord of the Rings and the goats and her girls and my boys and inevitably the topic of First Nations people and settlers and Idle No More comes up.

And in my simplistic and naive way, I say something like, you know, that I don’t think race needs to be such a big deal every time a white person and a First Nation person encounter each other. Like, why can’t it just be me and her, race-defining-adjective-free, sitting down and having a cup of coffee together and talking about our kids? Why do I always have to be so conscious of the fact that I am privileged white woman and she is historically wronged First Nation woman?

My friend Sheena gave me lots of reasons why that isn’t possible. She gave me examples and we talked history and culture and I see her points. I do.

But, dang. Does it have to be that way?

Is it really simplistic and naive to think that can change? Can’t I behave as if it has already changed? Can’t I ignore all the garbage and just see the person in front of me? One person at a time. One relationship at a time. Sure I’ll make mistakes. Sure I’ll misunderstand culture and history and put my foot in my mouth. But isn’t that the process of changing things?

I appreciate so much people like Sheena. People who delve into the issues and take brave stands and march and write letters and make speeches. People who walk their talk.

I think there’s room, though, for those of us who are just walking. Not with heads in the sand or anything. Not ignoring the fact that there are problems. Just approaching them differently.

Howell Raines grew up in Birmingham, Alabama during those days of riots and hangings and civil unrest. Black and white. Somewhere in all of that, it was his relationship with Grady, the family maid, that informed his ideas about race and equality and influenced his writing and his life. In his 1991 Pulitzer Prize winning essay Grady’s Gift, he wrote this…

Gradystein Williams Hutchinson (or Grady, as she was called in my family and hers) and I are two people who grew up in the 50’s in that vanished world, two people who lived mundane, inconsequential lives while Martin Luther King Jr. and Police Commissioner T. Eugene (Bull) Connor prepared for their epic struggle. For years, Grady and I lived in my memory as child and adult. But now I realize that we were both children — one white and very young, one black and adolescent; one privileged, one poor. The connection between these two children and their city was this: Grady saw to it that although I was to live in Birmingham for the first 28 years of my life, Birmingham would not live in me.

And this…

There is no trickier subject for a writer from the South than that of affection between a black person and a white one in the unequal world of segregation. For the dishonesty upon which such a society is founded makes every emotion suspect, makes it impossible to know whether what flowed between two people was honest feeling or pity or pragmatism. Indeed, for the black person, the feigning of an expected emotion could be the very coinage of survival.

And this…

Every white Southerner must choose between two psychic roads — the road of racism or the road of brotherhood. Friends, families, even lovers have parted at that forking, sometimes forever, for it presents a choice that is clouded by confused emotions, inner conflicts and powerful social forces. It is no simple matter to know all the factors that shape this individual decision.

As a college student in Alabama, I shared the choking shame that many young people there felt about Wallace’s antics and about the deaths of the four black children in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in September 1963. A year later, as a cub reporter, I listened to the sermons and soaring hymns of the voting rights crusade. All this had its effect.

But the fact is that by the time the civil rights revolution rolled across the South, my heart had already chosen its road. I have always known that my talks with Grady helped me make that decision in an intellectual sense.

This is the power of relationship. This is the beginning. This is how it starts. The marches and the clashes and the political stuff… those are necessary and important. Those are the things that make the news.

But the real game-changers, I think, are born out of meaningful relationships.

They might not be equal relationships. They might not be well understood or even socially acceptable and will likely involve a lot of fumbly mistake-making.

But relationship, two people sharing words and tea, that’s where it begins. At least, that’s where it begins for me.