october freewrite (hey there, it’s been a while)

At some point, you just have to start writing again. And it’s helpful to stop worrying about what you can’t do and ask what in fact you can do. And that applies to everything. Everything.

So hello there, little corner of the interwebs where I have written in the past. Yes, it has been a while. It’s hard to explain, but I think the new job is mainly to blame for the long hiatus. Yep, new job. And not just any job, but a job I felt barely qualified for and yet was hired for anyway. A job with the learning-curve-of-a-lifetime, another job where I’ll always work too many hours and make too little, but hey! I actually like it. It feels like a tremendously perfect fit for my self – skills, talents, all that jazz. And that is amazing.

I’ve been teaching 6th grade since August 19th. Twenty-one adorable infuriating 6th graders are my life companions for 30 hours a week. It’s delightful. Invigorating. Maddening.

And so on a night when I could be using this extra-long weekend to fit some extra planning in, I’m surfing the web and deciding to head back this way after quite a while.

I’m supposed to teach them how to write. But that’s difficult to do, isn’t it? And what do I really know about writing? We’re using this lovely curriculum by Lucy Calkins and in her teaching script, she insists on calling the students writers. She tells them, When writers like you do this-and-such, they often use this technique. In other words, I am channeling this epic writing instructor and speaking these confident words over children and myself – hey, y’all are writers! So do what writers do!

***

So we’re living in this weird slice of in-between life. We were both looking for jobs, then I got one out of the blue. He started school and is learning Latin names for plants and basic genetics. I’m relearning basic pre-algebra and the science of light and sometimes getting a little ahead, but mostly scraping together lesson plans as I go. We’re looking at houses, ready to buy if we find the right one. This is both scary and exciting. And we’re getting ready to move out of this house…but it’s unclear to where at the moment. There are a couple options. I’m commuting an hour and a half round-trip each day and listening to Spanish-language podcasts to practice my language skills.

We’re living together again in the same country, same house even, and it feels totally normal, except for sometimes when I realize I actually still don’t really know how to do this marriage thing well. Go figure. One friend is moving to Finland and invited me to come visit, another family member is moving to SLC, maybe to live with us. The holidays are coming right around the corner again and, yet again, I am caught unprepared, scrambling to weigh and decide on travel plans and gift ideas at the very last minute. My circle of friends and acquaintances is producing precious new humans at an unprecedented rate (at least in my experience), which is thrilling and heart-flooding and distracting. There are so many choices to be made each day and I hardly pause to wonder if I’ve made the right ones. There just is so little time.

***

And that’s where I am tonight. Maybe this will start a new season of a bit more writing here…

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(95) restless

This is quite a time, is it not? This is the intersection between what could be said, what needs to be said, and all the things that are simply and not so simply lived.

These are days when I may not deserve to reach the end of my rope, but I still do. When I have to step away from a conversation that I just don’t want to take part in and maybe that’s okay. And maybe it isn’t.

These are the days when the smallest member of the family feels the unsettledness of transition most keenly and wails her angst without ceasing. Life is changing, everything is changing, nothing is changing, and she knows it.

One season ends and another begins. I still expect him to leave and not come back for a while, in a way. Yet, I’m never surprised to see him come into a room. I am needlessly impatient with him, as I always have been. And I am more deeply grateful for him, more than I was before.

Ah yes, and then there was that little thing of a weekend together. It was big, actually, and I may write more with pictures later. We went through water together and were blessed with a weighty grace again and again. And at the end, when our feet were numb from standing for hours and we were flooded with hugs and congratulations, I felt differently toward him, more tender, more bonded, more interwoven.

It’s the middle of the night and I’m the last one up. The neighbor’s sprinklers are on. The living room is a wild collision of 2 households coming and going and no surface left unemployed.

You know what is perhaps strangest of all? Of the five people involved in all this moving and reorganizing and transitioning weekend, my life changes the least. I’m basically staying put. But I still feel unsettled and restless. I am caught up in the surge of this transition and change is inevitable, as always.

So, here’s to a new season! May it be blessed.

(94) anticipating reunion

Today I called the number that’s saved in my Contacts as your “home” phone number and listened to the familiar recording: “This is the _____ Air Force Base multifunction switch. All attendants are busy. Please remain on the line until an attendant becomes available or try again later…This is the…” And then she repeats the message. Lately I haven’t had to wait very long. Once I waited maybe 7 minutes.

“Operator 34, how may I help you?”

“Hi, I’d like to place a morale call to a DSN please.”

“What’s the number?”

And then I read off the number. I always read it — it’s saved in my phone — even though you would think I’d have it memorized after calling several times a week for over a year.

Today the call dropped twice, but on the third try we got to talk for a nice long time without any more problems.

I will sure be glad to be able to talk with you without going through this process. It will be nice to not have to worry about the call dropping, when I can just call around the corner or sit with you on the couch. When we live together again.

Can you believe we made it through this?

You’re probably reading this and shaking your head at me a little right now. I know, I always analyze everything to pieces.

But it’s amazing, it really is.

How do we measure the time that has passed?

Maybe in birthdays (2 of mine, 1 of yours) or anniversaries (#2) spent apart? Maybe in the personhood development of our niece, who was a squirmy infant when I moved in (3 months old) and who is now a bright and mobile toddler who knows when she’d rather eat yogurt than an egg (18 months old)? Maybe in how long my hair has gotten? Or in that I think I’ve forgotten most of your favorite foods?

Maybe nothing has changed. Maybe a lot has changed. Probably somewhere in between.

I guess I’ll find out soon what it feels like to really be on the other end of this strange journey and launching into whatever comes next.

I hope I remember how much I wanted you sleeping beside me on so many nights. I hope I remember what a gift it is to just say what is coming to mind without waiting for a time when we’re both free to talk. I hope I remember looking at the lawn and wishing you were here to edge it properly. I hope I remember to enjoy the convenience of being in the same time zone with you. I hope I remember all the times I stood in church, praying for you, and looking forward to one day being there with you.

It’s easy to take people, even the ones we really love, for granted. I hope that this time apart has cured me of that where you are concerned, at least for a little while. And when I forget, well, you can point me back to this little bit of writing.

(88) deep breath

across the field

It’s a small house just a few hundred feet back from the highway, behind a line of big juniper trees. There’s a bird bath and a few bird houses mounted on tall stakes beneath one of the trees. A big pecan tree shades the garage and a rose hedge divides the back garden from the dusty open field where herds of “goat head” thorns wait to pierce unwary feet. We throw the trash all together into the big burn barrels, but Grandpa stopped burning the trash years ago, they tell us. Now someone comes by to pick it up. There’s an old paper box under the sink, lined with newsprint, and we send it out to the burn barrels a few times a day with one of the uncles or cousins. One of the grandkids swings up into the tree in the back grass and a cousin starts a pick-up basketball game, launching the ball toward the goal mounted over the storeroom door. An uncle makes sausage gravy and I make biscuits from a mix and we serve up a hearty breakfast around the counter in the kitchen where Grandma and Grandpa always used to eat and watch Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune.

at breakfast

basketball goal

The house expands with an effortless deep breath and we all rush in to taste the memories together. We pull down a few old photo albums and relive the glory days of the house, when the grass was greener and the irrigation tank was surrounded with willows. It was like another world, their own forest right in the front yard. The tank was bulldozed years ago. Grandpa used to flood the yard to water the grass and there are pictures of all those little boys – especially the 6 older grandsons – splashing around in it. My husband is second-oldest and he remembers it all so well. This is one of his favorite places in the world, he tells me. “Your other favorite place is wherever I am, right?” I joke to make him smile.

back yard sunset

This house knows how to hold a big family. It doesn’t feel crowded, even when we’re all milling around, overflowing through the kitchen and onto the mauve recliners and flower-print sofas, great-grandkids rushing in and out through the front and back doors, just as happy to play here as their dads always were. They’ve taken my 23-year-old brother-in-law, the youngest cousin, captive and he seems happy enough to acquiesce to their wishes and play with them. We play cards and CatchPhrase, drink a lot of Coke and Dr. Pepper, and eat New Mexican-style Mexican food almost every day. And we muddle through the mess of family together too. Love covers a multitude of sins, it’s written, and we do our best to love over and through the hurtful words and hurt feelings, trying to hear all sides to the stories and judge not, lest we be judged.

living room sitting

catchphrase

The funeral is on Saturday afternoon. In the morning, we go and say goodbye to Grandpa’s body. Grandpa’s wearing a purple tie and so is my husband. I bring him a handful of tissue and hug him tightly, as if a hug could soothe the ache of grief. Six of the 8 grandsons are here this weekend and they’re enlisted to wear white gloves and carry the casket. It’s strange to think of all the times he swung them up onto his lap or carried them around as babies and now they carry him. After the graveside, we escape the bright sun and tumble back into the cool church gym where they’ve laid out a Southwestern potluck feast, fried chicken, potato casseroles, a spread of salads which include pasta and Jell-O, and a table heavy with red velvet and pink lemonade cakes.

coffin

That night, the house is fuller than it might be ever again and I know that Grandpa is loving every moment. I hope Grandma feels the joy too, but she’s at her new home, where it’s clean and cool and they look after her 24/7. Her daughters told her with heavy hearts that Daddy had died, but maybe it’s a blessing that she can’t remember anything for long. When we visit and she asks us if her sweetheart will come to visit later, we say maybe he will, but he’s busy now. “He’s a wonderful man,” she tells us and we agree.

with Zacks gma edited

And then the house breathes out and we disperse again. By Tuesday morning, all the extended family is gone. By Wednesday afternoon, it’s just my husband and I. A day or two later and we’re cleaning to leave it nice, just like Grandma and Grandpa would have liked. The spare key is hidden for when his aunt and uncle come by on the weekend. We leave the light on over the sink and in the hallway and say goodbye to every room. All the beds are made up and we’ve washed a couple loads of towels and washcloths, the last evidence of the big family visit last weekend. There are a few to-go containers filled with cake still on the kitchen counter and I feel bad throwing them away. My husband stops the grandfather clock and the finality of the goodbye sets in hard and heavy.

Grandpas shoes

The house is quiet and empty as we drive away that last time. When will we be here again? Sometime soon the daughters, his aunts, will divide out the furniture, the knick-knacks, and sell the house and the farm. This precious place won’t ever be the same, not without Grandma and Grandpa here. The memories are strong and sweet with gratitude, accompanied by that edge of grief burning our throats.

One last glance over our shoulders and we’re off. This is the life we are living, a life of loving and letting go.

looking back

(54) please define ‘home’

There are several words in Greek that all translate to the English word “love.” If you spend much time in church, you’ll probably hear this mentioned. But I have never heard anyone talk about a language with multiple words for different concepts of the English “home,” and I feel like I need multiple words for this concept, just as I need more specific words to differentiate between “I love chocolate” and “I love my husband.”

Although this was not the purpose of this journey, I apparently just took a brief tour during the past 10 days through my homes of the past 10 years and I find this concept of “home” perplexing, unsettling, wondrous, intriguing, all at once.

Salt Lake City is dry and desert-like, seamlessly built alongside the imposing Wasatch Front, where the grass turns green in the spring without any extra water and with wide streets where vehicles pause an extra moment when the lights turn green because there’s a 90% chance someone will run the red light. I have lived here for all of two months and two weeks ago, it felt like home. I felt my little heart-roots extending as I learned how to find the library and grocery store on my own and as I felt more and more included and welcomed by my sister and brother-in-law’s faith community. I had never pictured myself living here long-term, but gradually the idea was seeming less far-fetched.

But then we drove back through Langley. Truth be told, I never really felt “at home” in Langley itself. It was my college located in that bulging-at-the-seams town that was really home. And even though I only know a handful of people still living in that area, my heart still swells a bit with anticipation when I cross the border driving north into beautiful British Columbia. There was a time when I wanted to marry a Canadian and move there, I loved it so much.

Of course, my heart also still swells a bit with anticipation when I cross the border driving south into Washington. When I was at school, that was the direction of the homeward bound. And so on this trip, as I wound through Bellingham, Oak Harbor and Anacortes, the familiarity and “home-like-ness” of these places was at once reassuringly sweet and almost painful. I love the rain, the greenness, the abundance of the local, the sustainable, the hippies, the farmers, the water. The memories of being together with my husband there are still vivid and numerous. I still feel as thought I belong there. Maybe, even though I’ve been transplanted to a new flowerbed, I’ve left behind some root fragments there.

And there’s also the journey back to Oregon. Until extremely recently, I always have said that I am from Oregon. Now I feel somewhat more displaced and I am confused as to whether I’m from Oregon or from Washington (I understand why military families eventually stop trying to pinpoint where they are from). This place is home because most of my family is concentrated there. But on this visit, I felt much more like a visitor, a guest here, than I have before.

I am ever drawn to absolutes, to black and white distinctions, but I will find none here. The concept of home is expansive, growing, sort of like a Venn diagram with places and feelings and people overlapping. Home is where I am blessed with shelter and warmth and bookshelves of books and cupboards of food. Home is where I can rest and spread out, externalizing a part of my self by organizing, arranging, planting, trimming, painting. Home is anywhere I can safely be me with those who I love. Home is in part determined by where I am passing the majority of my days, weeks, months. Home is tied to a place, but is not limited to that place.

After a 2,600+ mile road trip, I returned “home” to the city of the salty lake (la ciudad del lago salado) and slept in my own bed and admired the bright green tufts sprouting from the celery root I had planted and sorted the mail and started a grocery list and went to church. I do feel at home, or at least the feeling is being revived. But I’m also reminded that any place can be transformed into “home” — when home is defined as a place I’ll be glad to return to and sad to leave.

(48) change (or why I do not like to choose my own adventure)

All I want to know is:

Am I on the right track? Is this step the right one? Will it really be alright in the end? And what will the end be?

Setting aside the obvious observation that I cannot have really any, let alone all, of these answers, a better question is do I, really, want to know all this?

I’ve always disliked those books where you can supposedly choose your own adventure. I would read through all of the options and possible endings before choosing what to do next. Seriously. Once I decided which ending I liked, I would figure out exactly which options to choose to get there (if you enter the cave with Susy, turn to page 45…).

Not surprisingly (have we been through this before?), I often think I would love to do the same thing in real life.

Example? Long distance marriage would be one. What will our marriage look like at the end of this very long-looking year? He reminds me that many other families weather this no problem. We both express confidence that it’ll be fine. But what does fine look like? Here is one story in which I don’t want to misstep. I don’t want to turn to page 67 if the option on page 35 is the right way to reach the ideal ending. I want to read the endings, choose the best one, and work back from there.

Also not surprisingly, God doesn’t seem interested in offering this option. I mean, sure, there may be ways to sort of choose steps in the right direction. But I won’t know what the end looks like until I get there and I won’t reach the end until I’ve lived through each day of the middle.

Which makes this journey feel very much like a choose your own adventure book in which I cannot read ahead.

(46) thinking about orthodoxy – part 1

A year spent living with my dear sister and brother-in-law also includes a year spent living in rhythm with the Orthodox Church, of which they are part. I am loosely affiliated because I am also a Christian. But I am clearly not one with that rhythm.

I could live to a different rhythm, as I have all these years. Participation in faith-practice with them is not mandatory. At any point, I could go alone to any number of Protestant churches where I would be invited to take Communion, where, although I would still be an outsider, I might at least recognize a song or two, where a printed bulletin might clue me in on a different manifestation of the same old Protestant celebration of faith.

But for the time being, participation is practical. I know no one in this city. Why go out and try to start friendships from scratch when I can cling to the coattails of my sister’s already-existing friendships, at least for now? Why buy a refrigerator of my own food when we can share meals together, even if that means vegan Wednesdays and Fridays and the mildly terrifying spectre of Lent (a vegan fast beginning in a couple of weeks – ancient calendar differences mean Western and Eastern Lents begin at different times)? I would be quite lonely here and they, my family, have taken me in. It seems to honor them to at least listen and learn.

In the meantime, the wonderings and musings and questions seem endless. My brother-in-law is always willing to engage in a theological discussion and so we have discussed the life of the Virgin Mary, the authenticity of relics, how the canon of the Scriptures was developed and apocryphal books, venerating icons and praying to the saints, the doctrine of original sin, gender roles, fasting, and usually all over dinner or washing the dishes.

I am realizing that I have a lot to learn and realizing that I don’t know as much in depth as I thought about various theological positions held by the church I grew up in.

And so far it seems we Protestants and the Orthodox are more similar from a theological standpoint than I would have thought, although maybe this impression is due to my lack of knowledge and understanding of above-mentioned theological positions. The main differences seem to be in practice, not in belief. And where our beliefs are different, I think the Orthodox might have a more-than-reasonable argument.

I have a feeling this will be just the first of many reflections on what I’m learning through living in an Orthodox household this year.