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Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The Best Kitchens

I've rearranged my kitchen again. 

It's not the kitchen of my dreams that I thought I would be sitting in this year. It's not the kitchen we paid for.

But it's the kitchen that is.

We've been living in a construction zone since last August. As the one year anniversary rolls up I find myself indignant and resigned by turns. "It is what it is," I shrug, and then the next day, "it's not fair!"

So, I'm right and I'm right. It is what it is ... and what it is is unfair.

Anyway. All that aside, we're expecting family for a visit at the end of the month. So I've been trying to think of ways to make our half-built space more accommodating and cozy. It won't be fancy or even finished but it can still be comfortable, I think.

So today I rearranged the spaces. The office is now the dining room, and the old table space in our kitchen is now a sitting area. I've got boards on sawhorses to make an island with shelves for dishes, lamps all around to make up for no lights being installed, and I think we will have lots of fun hanging out in here.

After I wrapped up the dishes for the night and washed the counters (rough boards, whatevs), I sat down in our new little sitting area to just make friends with the space. The fridge hummed, the lamplight was warm and gold, and I found myself feeling really close to my grandmothers.

They were both mothers of big families - 10 kids in my dad's family and 9 in my mom's - and hard workers. I remember them most in their kitchens, full kitchens, overflowing with people and laughter. Stories and songs and good food, prayers and tears and poetry - these were the things they fed us. When I was quite young, I was awed by them, and a little afraid. They had such fancy ornaments on top of doilies, and soft shell-shaped soaps, and covers on their cushiony toilet seats. But as I grew older I found myself connecting with them more, devouring their stories and craving more minutes in their kitchens, with their memories and wisdom and expressive hands.

They both left sooner than I would have liked but their stories have stayed. Their recipes and hymns and poetry have settled deep in my heart like flat worn stones in a well-loved garden.

I loved their kitchens, but not because they were fabulous. (They weren't.) I loved their warmth and welcome. I loved the way I left feeling filled and filled. I loved the family milling about and the shouts of laughter, the way songs or stories would spring up and get all our hearts on the same page.

And that's a kitchen.
That's a kitchen.
It's not new cupboards (or no cupboards lol). It's breaking bread and breaking down walls and just taking a break to be together. 

My grandmothers knew it. Lived it.
And maybe this little hiatus from my dream kitchen will help me enjoy being in my kitchen like I remember enjoying theirs.  No matter what it looks like.

Xo.

kitchens with couches are the coziest kitchens!

Saturday, July 10, 2021

A Wedding Toast

One of my lovelies is getting married today.
When she told me about her fiance she started with, "he's so kind." 
My heart melted.
I love him already.

Because as far as I can tell, there is nothing like kindness to make life together happy ever after.

Which, I think, is not the message I grew up believing. Not the message I believed for far too long as an adult.

I always thought if I was pretty enough (and submissive enough, tbvh - thanks church), I could snag a hot husband. Then we would never stop being in love with each other's gorgeousness and live happily ever after.

But ... I have a lot of really gorgeous friends who have mediocre or even downright miserable marriages.  Gorgeousness is apparently not the ticket.

Kindness, though? All the happiest people I know are kind, and if they're married, are married to someone kind. 

Kindness doesn't fade. It is a quality that grows more appealing and desirable the more it's practiced. 

Patrick and I would not win any sort of attractiveness contest unless we were the judges, but I am incontestably attracted to him. We have so much fun together, so much joy.  You can be vulnerable and open and completely yourself if you are held close in a deeply kind heart. You don't need to play games, be fake, or hide anything at all when you are with someone kind. There's trust and true intimacy when kindness is the mode of your relationship.

Love is patient, love is kind.♥️
Get you a partner who works on their gentleness, patience, goodness. Then, no matter what they look like, you'll be smitten forever.

Congratulations to my friends on their wedding day. God bless you now and always!

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Ode to a Jetta, with goosebumps

Tonight I saw an old red Jetta. 
Boxy and with those particular handles that only Volkswagen drivers know how to open.
It bumped across in front of me through the intersection as I waited at the light, and, transfixed, I watched it roll merrily out of sight.
I was awash in goosebumps.

An old square Jetta, exactly like the one my parents had. 
I remember crawling through it, barefoot, the summer evening when Dad brought it home. We pulled and prodded every button and switch, lowering the back seats and crawling into the impossibly huge, square trunk. There was a passenger arm rest and cupholder that pulled down from the middle back seat, suggesting drive throughs and road trips. The windows wound up and down with small grey - what are they called, handles? levers? winders? - and most amazing of all, there was a moon roof.
A moon roof!
Sunroofs were a treat I'd enjoyed in my big cousins' cars, but I'd never experienced the wide open thrill of a moon roof. And the carpet was so clean, and soft against my toes.

By the time I was a teenager my parents had two Jettas, one red and one grey, but only one would start. The other had to be jumped. So, early each morning, my mom would get in her Jetta and my dad would get in his (carefully parked the night  before to face down the little incline at the end of our street. Dad would park on a hill near work, so he could roll himself to a start on his way home). Mom would butt the  nose of the red Jetta up against the metal bar bumper of the grey Jetta, where my dad was ready, clutch engaged and gearshift in neutral. She pushed until my dad was rolling down the street, then he would turn the key and the ignition would catch. 

It was a clumsy and delicate dance, and I could never quite decide whether to laugh or cry watching them repeat this daily ritual. It was funny and beautiful, the kind of beauty that leaves a little ache in the throat.

I first learned to drive in that square old red Jetta. Permit in my pocket, I traded places with my sister at the top of a ramp leading onto a mostly empty Nova Scotia highway. It felt strange to sit in her seat, and buckle my seatbelt on the wrong side of my body.
"Ease off the clutch until you feel it grab," she told me, "then ease on the gas." I didn't know how to steer or brake or anything, yet off we went, the throaty rumble of the Jetta a loud and unmistakable purr of satisfaction. 

The rush of driving was addictive. (I've preferred it ever since; I hate being a passenger.)

I remember one night we were out at the lake, friends and cousins, a whole bunch of us, and my cousin Laura locked her keys in her Golf. I'd heard that Volkswagen only made 7 different keys, so I thought the odds were good that my key would open her door.
It did.
It did!

That Jetta.
We made many miles of memories in that boxy thing. 
I hadn't thought of them in years.
But when it passed me today, it left magic in its wake.
Magic.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

For Patrick, Fifteen Years Later

I remember praying for you.
One day when I was 13 or 14 I knelt beside my bed and before I went to sleep I prayed for you.
That God would bless you that day and every day. Help you with exams and give you joy and give you a strong and true and loving heart. That you - whoever you were, wherever you were - would have a happier moment today, and many happier moments in your life because someone who longed to meet you was praying for you.

When we crashed heart-first into each other and got married I could not believe my luck. 
Some people put on their best self like a jacket when they go out. They wear bright shiny smiles for strangers but put on something less lovely for their loved ones.

You save your best self for home.

Your warmest love and happiest laughter and most devoted kindnesses - you pour them all out right here for us. For me.

I've always said the first year was our hardest year. Learning to be around each other all the time and how to fight and make up and what's worth arguing about (I guess we still argue about that 😅). And folding towels.

Before we got married, my mom told me not to worry if you do chores differently than I do unless I wanted to always do them myself (good advice). We wash dishes and sweep differently, we sort things differently, we fold shirts differently. 
But after a few loads of laundry I found myself unfolding the towels you'd folded and doing them my way (the right way lol). You laughed and said folded was folded. And then, when I persisted in the refolding, you tried to learn my way. Muscle memory was not your friend, and the towels always ended up in long skinny weirdness that didn't fit anywhere. And finally I just told you not to bother - that I was refolding them anyway so you might as well leave them for me.

You didn't. So I've been refolding your folded towels for years. (Not resentfully! I love you.)

Last year we installed a gorgeous new set of shelves and a new washer and dryer in our laundry room.
And wouldn't you know it, the towels fit best on these new shelves when they're folded the way you first folded them a million years ago when we first got married.

So, smiling a little at the relief it would be for you, I started folding our old towels this new, old way.

And something weird happened.
I kept finding them folded my favourite  way on the shelves.
Each time I adjusted them, thinking my muscle memory must have kicked in and I'd forgotten to fold them the best-fit way.
I found them again.
And then again.
And finally I realized that

After fifteen years
And me giving up on it entirely
You had finally mastered my favourite fold.

My darling.
You kind soul.
This wretched lonely year, when we can't get away for a date night or a moonlit stroll, you still manage to spell your love out ... in towels.

I am grateful for our first hard year, this last terribly hard year, and every year in between. 
Thank you for loving me steadily and gladly and deeply.
You are beyond what I dared ask or think and I love you. 
Xo.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Blessing and Cursing

My friend shared this post today, where she talks about blessing and not cursing - and the way it's holy, Godly, to cherish the scraps.
And the way that when you cherish goodness in leftover bits, you begin to look closer, to see with wonder, to see the value in each created thing and in each created one.
Even others.
Even yourself.
Even others.

God has been whispering this to my heart for quite some time. 

I used to think that curses were formal things - formal wishes for evil and harm, by someone with power to make it so.
And blessings too. Formal wishes for good and wellbeing, by someone with power to make it so.

But - as my friend points out in her post - Jesus says that it's a hellish thing just to call someone a fool. It disparages them and reduces them to the thing you're frustrated by. It's myopic at best. And it's a curse. It's speaking evil about and to them.
But the key - the deep down behind the scenes reason it's not okay - is because we're ignoring the holy truth about people when we blister them with a curse.

God calls us Beloved. Honours us as image bearers. Blesses us.

I think I would be a much gentler driver if I remembered that everyone is beloved of God and created in his image. 

And that remembering needs to start on my lips. 
Can you imagine?
Instead of calling someone a jerk or worse, imagine if I called them Beloved, Created in the Image of God.

Instead of speaking evil, speaking truth. 

"Cut me off in traffic, will you, Beloved, Created in the Image of God?" 

Or my kids? "Time for school my Beloveds, Created in the Image of God."

Oh guys. 
That sounds so much nicer.
So much truer. 
I need that word on my lips.
That truth in my heart.
Blessing, not cursing.

Thanks for reading, Beloved, Created in the Image of God.

Friday, April 30, 2021

One could do worse than plant flowers

Today is supposed to be my writing day. 

Subjects have been interviewed, topics are prepared, and three articles are due ... but I'm sitting at my computer gloomscrolling instead.

I feel stuck.

And not just in my writing. But in everything. Helplessly stuck. You know?

 The apartment building across the street had a leak in the basement a few years ago. A cute little backhoe came and dug up the driveway, ruining the curb and a long strip of asphalt on one half of the front of the building.  

Repairs were made, the earth was replaced, but the curb and asphalt were never fixed.

The building isn't pretty - brick and square - but the front of it was always reasonably neat and not unpleasant. But for the past two years it has had an ugly 2-foot swath of dirt out front like a scar.

I feel like that with Covid. More than a year of adaptations to a life I was pretty happy with have been necessary, and functional, but ugly.  Scarringly ugly.

I want everything to go back to the way it was.  I want to have friends over and raise a glass and decimate a cheese board and hug hello and goodbye. I want to hang out with my closetalker friends and not step back an offensive mile.

I want the asphalt and the curb repaired.

Today I noticed that lumpy upturned patch of earth in front of the apartment building is growing daffodils and tulips. Last fall, maybe, someone got an idea in their heart and carefully tucked the seeds and bulbs into the dirt and let them unfold in their own time.

Beauty. 

Just now, my friend called. We're miles apart. Her call was like a breath of air. We can't hang out in person but we can still talk and share joy and carry each other's burdens. 

Her call planted a little flower in my Covid-broken heart.

I don't know how to plant and I don't know how to repair torn asphalt or rebuild a curb. I don't know what will grow out of all the upheaval and repairs we've had to make.

But I do know that God put us here to make gardens out of wilderness. To set our hands against entropy and craft, create, cultivate. We're made to be makers. To make beauty, to make life, to make wonder and function and comfort and nourishment.

And maybe someday a construction crew will pull in and set the apartment driveway right. It will be lovely.

But until then - 

one could do worse than plant flowers.


Tuesday, April 20, 2021

On Sleeping

I love the way our bodies 
Fold together in the night
When we're asleep, legs tangled and feet 
Murmuring hello.
Your hand on my hip
Just barely twitching, 
A million miles away together.

I woke up from a dream of being beautiful.
Your legs were nestled into mine like two spoons 
Our room was dark and spacious and
My heart was content. 

Monday, April 19, 2021

My Sam

There's a man who lives in our neighbourhood, and when he sees us outside he often wanders over to our place for a chat. He's definitely had some hard times in his life and doesn't always make a lot of sense. He talks close to your face and swears about the government a lot, so he's a bit scary for the kids, even though he's never done anything harmful or threatening to us.

Usually he finds me when I'm on my way home from dropping the kids at school, but today he came over when they were playing in the driveway.  I was in the porch getting my shoes on when I heard him ask Sam if he was babysitting.

I stepped outside quickly, and there was Sam standing in front of the kids with his arms out. "Don't come so close," he was saying, but politely, trying to shoo the kids away behind him, "social distancing please."

My heart.

I had my mask on, so I stopped and talked with the man while the littles ran out back, and Sam wedged himself into my arms, determined not to let anything bad happen if he could help it.

I held Sam close and the man explained he thought Sam was a teenager who must be babysitting and he wanted to tell him to look after the kids well.

And I smiled and thanked him but all the time my heart was singing because Sam already was.

He already was.
He was making a barrier, protecting his siblings and he was using his voice. This boy, who hates being noticed and doesn't often speak up, was speaking up. He was confronting a grown up he didn't trust. He was being smart and brave and bold.

I'm so so so proud of him.  

Monday, April 12, 2021

Are We Poor?

Little Miss V was having a hard time today. (Very long story very short, our contractor left our job half done so we're living in limbo and chaos with living room, dining room, kitchen, and office all condensed into one cupboardless very crowded space.)  
"I hate things being ugly," she moaned, "can we make it prettier?"
I have been feeling the exact same way for months. It's no small part of why I've been so discouraged - looking at ugliness drags at the soul.
So I asked her to sketch some ideas for beautifying and we got to work. We pulled up the dead plant in our tiny front yard and put two deck chairs out there to make a little sitting area instead. Then we cleared off the side steps and decided to paint them - but it was calling for rain, so we just painted the big top step, which would be sheltered under the porch roof.
Then we swept and tidied the back deck, unstacked the chairs, and washed the winter grime off the table.

While we were painting, V asked why we didn't just hire someone else to do the unfinished work.
"We will," I told her, "we're saving up again." She pondered this for a minute, then, "Are we poor?" she asked me.

The kids have asked me that before. (Usually when I'm impervious to the gimmes and cries of but-my-friends-do.)  I told her what I always tell her.

"No. We have everything we need, and a lot of what we want."

There is a lot of discussion lately about essentials and non essentials. Workers and supplies. Jobs and shutdowns. 

It's not easy.
I'm lonely. We're all lonely. 
And struggling. 

But there are late night phone calls and starlit walks and prayer requests in my inbox.
There's grocery pickup and counseling on the phone. 
There's a patch of forest in our backyard, and wild geese in the river.
There's sidewalk chalk and a trampoline, books galore and Netflix.
There's love and sex and laughter and the quiet grey of dawn.
There's a grab-and-go pork schnitzel & chutney sandwich right up town that is out of this world.

But. Like V and me looking around our unfinished house, it's so much easier to see what's missing than to enjoy what's there.

We don't have hugs or grandparents, date night or church gatherings or a packed arena cheering on our hometown teams. We don't see strangers' smiles or have cousins' hands to hold. We don't get to grieve together or rejoice together or travel and stand around in our friends' kitchens with our shoes off, singing.

But God grant that we will.
And until all this mess is broken, fixed, healed, repaired, put right, we can just try to make things a little better right where we are.

We have everything we need. 
And a lot of what we want.

Hold tight, friends. 
Pray with me.
Xo.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Wounds

I know that almost everyone has had a hard go through Covid-19.  My mental health has been shakier this year than any year since my first bout of depression - way back in 2009 when I miscarried our first baby at 12 weeks. 

I'm a hugger. I love friends. I need space and people both. Too much socialization and I lose myself. Too much solitude and I get bogged down in my own head. 

I took another job this year because the solitude was swamping me like a heavy cloud.

I recently started meeting with a counselor on the phone, to help manage the depression. She gave me great advice, and offered helpful practices and exercises.  I'm so grateful for her listening ear and wise instructions. 

But the biggest gift in all the ache and struggle this year is when others have opened up and shared their struggles with me too. Friends and loved ones who reached out and said "I've been there." The ones with practical advice and tender understanding. "Check out this podcast," they say, "read this book that saved me from despair." The ones who don't judge. The ones who pray for me and laugh with me and hurt alongside me and assure me we'll move forward together. 

I've been spending way too much time online, and the other day I stumbled across a really cool horticulture article. It was all about grafting and growing multiple types of fruit from one tree. 

The author shared that grafting isn't terribly complicated - you just need two harmonious trees that are supple and flexible (ie, trees from the same family, such as 2 types of citrus trees). You pare a spot beneath the bark on the host tree, and pare back the bark on the other tree, and put the wounds together. You wrap them in moss and they begin to grow together - sharing nutrients and strength and becoming one tree.  And in the end, your one tree produces two types of citrus. One artist grafted 40 different fruit-producing branches onto a single tree.

And I wept when I read it because I, too, feel like a branch with open wounds. Cut off from trusting my own heart. And my friends, my sisters, have drawn close and shared their hurts with me and prayed for me. They have laid bare their griefs and battles and showed me one after another that I do not face these alone. Depression lies and it tells me that I am alone and I am lonely but my sisters say look here, me too, I am hurting too.

I may be a broken branch but they have wrapped me in moss and carried me to Jesus - Jesus, the wounded.

And while I suffer, I cannot think of it as a good thing. But the horticulturalist says that the wound - the wound is where the life flows in. The wound is where we bond. The wound is what allows a cut branch to live again. 

The wounded branch receives life from the wounded tree.

 And I think of us all, with our hurts and raw, bare places, grafted to the life-giving tree - and we are healed by his wounds, knit together. Made strong and well. He is a tree of healing for the nations, for every struggling, wounded heart. 

Don't hide your wounds from your friends. Let your loved ones carry you. Let them cry "me too," and weep and pray with you. You are not alone, my dear one. 

And if everyone around you forsakes you, you are still held. 

Jesus holds you.

Friday, April 2, 2021

How To Build A House

Tips from a carpenter for the un-handy 

(Adapted from the book of Matthew, chapters 5-7)

When someone asks you for your cardigan, give them your coat too.
When they strike you, turn your cheek.
If anyone forces you to go one mile, go two miles. 
Give to people who ask, and don't refuse when people want to borrow from you.

Give secretly.
Pray secretly.
Fast secretly.
Your Father sees.

Love your enemies.
Pray for those who persecute you. 
Don't judge.

Watch birds.

Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing [and the family more than the house]?

Will he not much more clothe you, you with your little bit of faith?
Therefore
Don't worry.
Your Father knows that you need them all.

Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.

And all these things will be added to you.

And your house will be solid,
So you won't fear the wind and rain.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Resurrection

If I say them out loud
In a row, in order,
The weights I've been carrying,
It sounds like a depression comedy album
A Murphy's Law of a year 
A graveyard of hopes
And then some. 
A thousand little losses
A dozen large ones
A few
Once in a lifetime doozies.

And I have been trying to 
Ignore-rationalize-dismiss-contextualize-bury
These burdens
But You say - unearth them. 
Roll them away, roll them Your way
Roll them all the way straight to the cross
Because it's only with Jesus
Soaked in spit and forgiveness
Slain and victorious 
That hope makes sense.

I uncover them one by one
And
Jesus weeps.
The little hurts;
Jesus weeps.
The big aches;
Jesus weeps.
The wearinesses I've been pushing and lugging around for so long (and I need a miracle God!);
Jesus weeps.
And Jesus waits. 
And
Eventually 
On some timeline I'm not privy to

Jesus speaks
And life begins.

I come forth.
My sisters make sure 
The graveclothes unwind.