All in Place

The squirreled-away baguette’s crust is so hard you can smack it on the counter and it won’t break. It is like a crouton — one big, long, stick of crouton. It has not bred worms and it does not stink, but you can’t eat it either. 

In your real life, you like to stock up, relying on your own ingenuity and foresight. Wince as you try to break the baguette one more time. Maybe right now you’re in Paris, dining while sitting down, saving butter for the morning, learning to count to five, but probably you’re just the same person, wherever you are, same fear, same neuroses, same old tired you.

Then, all at once: a miracle.

In order to reconcile myself to the difference I feel between Mr. Berry's observation of the world and mine — at my own risk, according to his prefaced warning — I listen to him as I would a prophet rising to an appointed calling, announcing judgment to all transgressors, calling us to change the way we live in order to be spared. He is a surly prophet, but better an ornery prophet than unmerciful judge. I would not want you, Mr. Berry, as my judge. You seem too convinced of my guilt before hearing my story.

Dirt, Chicken, and the Reimagined Rose

Jesus spoke of a way of rightful being and living with God, people, and place. He gave it a name that the people of the time would understand — the Kingdom of God, and then He turned their notions of kings and kingdoms upside down and inside out. His talk of the Kingdom was not a once for all, clear as a bell theological declaration. It is, however, a creative means to reorient, even reestablish, what it means to be God’s kind of fully human person. That is, a person alive to a healthy relationship with God, His people, the land and all that is in it.

Love Never Fails

We’re giving ourselves to these things, piece by very tiny piece. But before and amid all of that we’re giving ourselves to God and to each other. We’re relearning that we belong to each other already, that all things and people are connected. We’re creating space where we can remember who we are and whose we are — where we know we’re not alone.

Keeping the Feast

It was a world — a life — that disappeared with divorce and vows gone wrong, as the garden did under the parking lot. With it went the abundant veggies and flowers, the girlfriends' nights of canning and freezing the harvest, a certain style of gathering friends and family around the walnut table.

 All the more richly strange that anyone should gather — in both the old way and the new — at the walnut table nicked now with thirty years of feasting which, though it has changed styles, continues. A table hosting faith and doubt, pain and joy, betrayal and commitment. 

You don’t have to have a sidewalk to take a walk. One side of the street will do. A dirt road will do. The edges of your neighbors’ lawns might do, depending on the lawns and the neighbors. But those have other purposes. A sidewalk is a zone between where we live or work or shop and where we move in vehicles. It is made for walking.

People were made for walking, too.

 In so many ways, my ideal home is like the earth itself. Perhaps that is the real reason I eschew plastic and acrylic. Perhaps that is why I love wood and wool. Why I like to see our rooms change with the seasons. I want to remember that I am made from the stuff of earth. I never want to forget that the earth is my God-made home. The sky a tent overhead.

So, this winter, I’m finding it worthwhile — even necessary — to name the things that are saving my life. Sometimes I scribble down a list in my journal (a gift from my sister last Christmas, and itself a lifesaver). Sometimes I take the time to write a blog post, with pictures of those purple tulips or a brave blue winter sky. Most often, I’m trading daily texts with my friend Laura, both of us doing our best to find and name the things that are saving our lives. The act of naming them often becomes a lifesaver, a welcome glimpse into the brighter side of this world.

I reach the tracks and look both ways, like the sign says, just in case, though it’s difficult to imagine a train without a decent amount of noise to warn its approach. 

I take my time crossing the tracks. 

I look down the east line and imagine what’s beyond the horizon, imagine myself on the Amtrak, one station away from the New Mexico border. Red lights flash, the bell ding ding dings, and my pace quickens.

There is a tension here that my husband and I find important as parents. As our life on a farm begins to mirror the lives of some of our ancestors who had closer connections to death, food, seasons, and the rhythm of days, our family has been given many opportunities to experience both a spiritual and a literal darkness that cannot be eliminated. We try not to shield our children from every hurt and pain. But we also encourage them in their imaginations, giving them a framework for hope and allowing them to “escape into” the longing for the not-yet that literature can bring. 

The Place of Our Affection

With all of this in our hearts, we got in the car and left the hotel, returning home to what we love. Before long, the acute stages of family emergency had passed and everyone moved on to more permanent situations. As things returned to a more normal state, I found myself feeling more placed than ever, letting go of questions about the future and digging in to life as I know it right now.

It all seemed almost like my own, that was true. But as early romance gave way to marriage, I realized that it is one thing to be from somewhere, to know it by heart, and another to adopt a place or have it chosen for you. My marriage chose Atlanta for me, and I was then adopted by my husband’s many circles of friends. Yet until our last year or so there, though, I had an indistinct feeling of being on the outside looking in — someone who belonged more by association than creed. 

I glanced behind me and ached for the desert a landscape in which things and maybe people, too, thrust deeper roots into the rocky earth in order to survive. It is a land teeming with earth-toned life, as though wildness found just enough water to scratch color onto the earths skin only to have the sun bleach it out again. Struggle is its tradition, baked under the scorching sun in a massive sky, seasoned with diverse cultures in providential collision. The history of the land unfurls into the present like the deep fuchsia blossoms of a White Sands cactus. I didnt like this arid landscape much until after I left.

When I wash the dishes or grade the multiple choice quizzes, then, I try to cultivate my understanding of how those tasks fit into(yes!) the redemptive arc of history.  Maybe I'm joining in God’s creative nature by creating babies and veggie stir-fry and quilts, by telling stories and painting with watercolors and making up silly songs and dances. Maybe I am making all things new by doing loads of laundry and getting dirty dishes to sparkle again. In each of these tasks, I am — hopefully — participating in God's plan to bring restoration to a broken world.

The romance of snow-dusted rooftops and tree branches limned with white becomes much less lovely when bitter winds whip down your street, or clumps of grime-encrusted slush collect at the corners of city streets. For those of us who have to live through winter, going to work and the gym and the grocery store as usual, “a mind for winter” must be developed when we’re outside as well as inside.

Artists and gardeners aren't the only ones who should be creating or coaxing life. I've started six urban gardens in three different cities and I can't stress how essential it is to co-create with those whom you want to build bonds. It is incarnational and it is transformational. It works across languages and ages. Three sunflower seeds can be enough. A tomato plant is even better. A public art project is outstanding.

There, floating with these beautiful newfound sisters in the cool, emerald green water of the Frio River, amongst the tiny flickering fish and the long blades of grass, I felt my heart settle into the deep quiet. I didn’t have an ongoing grocery list running through my mind. I wasn’t worried about the kids and whether or not my husband had remembered the sunscreen. I did not even have to fight the insecurities that normally gnaw at me about my body in a swimsuit. No, for the first time in a great long while, I let go.

Academy of the Observant Life

The irony of conversing with a stranger is that your individual lives always look very different and personal, but then you strip away the nuances to find a common likeness buried inside of diversity. Take away money and geography and we’re all just flesh and blood and soul. We’re all dealing with sin and forgiveness, love and hate, glory and shame. The big ideas remain. Life creates another day of history and the babies keep on coming. People dream their dreams. The young grasp at reinventing the wheel and the maturing masses learn to let go of such reinventions one breath at a time.

I study the stuff of my inheritance accidentally in every mirror and in every setting of the table, but I call them heirlooms because I inherit them from women I know and love. I cannot help but bear the silver hair of my grandmother, and by some indiscernible mix of nature and nurture, I love the game of bridge. Most likely, even in an open adoption, my non-biological children will not so easily see themselves growing into the people whose genetics made them. Spliced into us, they will stand to inherit much more — both the biological nature of their first family and the adopted nurture of their forever family — but through a sharp loss.