☕️ Home Invasion

A Saturday Caesura

Our house was invaded last week. Strangers arrived and made themselves at home, and while I was (am) happy to have them, their presence left me feeling not at home in my home. It’s interesting how our lived-in spaces become such an extension of ourselves that changes niggle and unsettle us.

When I say that the ‘invaders’ are an antique dining room set, a multi-place setting of Royal Albert china (Old Country Roses, complete with all the accessory serving dishes, a bell, and shoe-shaped toothpick holder), crystal, stemware, silver, and table linens (actual linen linens), I know that eyes will roll — first world problems, get a life already and all that.

And I understand; this dis-ease in my own home, a home that is generous, warm, secure, and not lacking in any device designed for comfort and ease (except a dishwasher), is not even close to real discomfort. I know this.

The issue is that I am not a china-crystal-silver kind of person. I never have been. My mother-in-law is, and these new arrivals are hers. They felt right and proper in her home, but here, among my basic white Corelle, Pyrex, and mismatched accessories (not to mention my feathers, pebbles, bird nests and dragonfly wings), they feel ostentatious and decidedly not me.

So I’ve been compelled to adjust to a new home-persona (for lack of a better way to describe it), and in the process I’ve pondered a couple of things.

One of them is how the juxtaposition of china tea sets and old milk cans and bird nests and glass covered-cake-stands is not unlike a family with its eclectic mix of personalities, preferences, and perspectives. Families may share homes for a time, but individuals don’t necessarily experience life the same way. And then we add new members and become members of other families, each person bringing a whole self to sit alongside other whole selves just as flawed, quirky and unique. Feathers and crystal. Pebbles and silver. Sometimes we don’t seem to fit together at all…and yet, we do.

And that leads to the other thing. My mother-in-law loved to create meal experiences for her family. At 92-years old, her kitchen glory days are over, but her presence and legacy lingers in these ‘invaders’ of my home. Just as she preferred the baking pans used by her mother, treasured the porcelain tea cup hand-painted by her Aunt Charlotte, and served meals on this same dining room furniture inherited from her mother-in-law, I can eat a bowl of soup from her-now-our-china knowing that the only real value in all of these objects is the memories and the people they represent.

So while interior designers would have a hard time defining my home decor because it doesn’t fit any recognizable (or popular) category and they would be mortified to see bird nests displayed in crystal fruit nappies, I’ve come to embrace the revised feel of our home because it even more fully represents two things I love: God’s created world in all its intricate beauty and the indescribable gift and legacy of family.

PS If you ever come to visit, I promise to thoroughly wash the fruit nappies before I serve dessert.

☀️ Time

A Sunday Doxology

I am not a physicist.

I am not capable of even an attempt

at reducing time into complex formulas

and many fellow non-physicists

would scoff when I acknowledge you,

Creator God

for separating light from dark,

for ordering time into units you called

day and night

for establishing their rhythms into

seasons and years.

Time, after all,

belongs to the realm of physics

as something difficult to define

less difficult to measure as

we mark seconds minutes hours weeks

organize into zones

readjust to ‘save’ daylight

worry over waste

fret over scarcity

wish for speed or slowness

according to our whim and fancy,

seeking control when

time is ultimately

yours.

You are the one who has taken eternity,

difficult to define and measure,

taken it in your hand

and set it in the human heart

and even with its tug, its longing, its hope,

we cannot begin to fathom all

you have done

from ancient times to what is still to come.

From everlasting to everlasting,

You are God.

Fine.

☕️ Jots & Tittles & Scribbles

A Saturday Caesura

Whenever my husband sees me staring out the window with my thin blue notebook and a pencil in hand, he asks me how the ‘jots and tittles’ are going. On some days I answer, “Fine.” On other days, I sigh. Sometimes my mind swirls with words and images practically begging to be embodied on the page. Sometimes the words seem to have flown south or gone into hibernation. Or something.

I have another notebook (brown, spiral-bound) and a whole set of pencils, though the latest favourites are H and B, sometimes F. This notebook contains my “scribbles.” When lines and curves and dots won’t cooperate to make words, I repurpose them for other ways to create images.

Creativity is about observing our world and taking the bits and pieces, the broken shards and the impossibly intact, and using them to tell a greater story about beauty and truth and wholeness.

I’ve been trying to use what I have —jots, tittles, scribbles — to tell this grand story of grace and redemption, but it’s a story we all can tell through our unique callings and abilities.

And this story? It’s one our world desperately needs to hear. We need to hear.

Mountains are not easily reduced to jots, tittles, or scribbles…
I could scribble prairie skies for days and days.
Marsh ❤️
My addiction — alpine meadows.
A tree growing on a rock.
How does life flourish in such impossible places?

☕️ Adventures in Learning

A Saturday Caesura

Cold settled to the bottom of the sky this week, left glitter hanging in trees, spread a generous helping of white over autumn’s abandoned and decaying glory. The night the cold arrived, a stray kitten found a warm hideaway shelter, curled its baby tail around its pink baby nose and settled into that deep, world-abandoning sleep recognizable in babies of all shapes and sizes. In the early(ish) morning, the little kitten, a soft-grey tabby, went on an unplanned, very un-kitten-like adventure — to school.

The stowaway was not discovered until the student pulled into the school parking lot and heard something other than the usual purr of his truck engine. And so it was that kitty, smelling slightly of engine oil and still oblivious of the dangers of fan belts, found himself tucked into a flannel-lined jean jacket and smuggled into Room 210. Not that the secrecy part of the smuggling operation was particularly successful. The teacher, somewhat experienced with reading student body language and quite knowledgeable in techniques of interrogation, was quick to spy the bulging jacket, ferreted out an equally quick confession, and further declared that if kittens were going to attend English class, then she, as the teacher, would exercise her authority by being the first to cuddle it. Which she did. Of course.

And so it was that kitty found new warm shelters in various laps, explored an intriguing maze of legs (human and non-human), left tiny paw-prints on papers and desk tops, tapped a few Chromebook keys for good measure, and purred and purred and purred (and meowed), and then, oh glory of all glories, lapped up a dish of goodness made from three creamers smuggled (successfully) from the staff-room fridge, the contents mixed with a bit of water, and, once that was gone, munched on a generous scoop of tomato-basil flavoured tuna graciously donated from someone’s lunch. Oh, that all un-kitty-like adventures could result in such bounty, such an embarrassment of riches.

Any suspicions about how much school-work was actually done that class are probably warranted. Kittens are magnets and there is nothing in the high school English curriculum about magnets. Or kittens for that matter. Nothing. Nada. However, there is an entire general outcome related to collaboration and group work, and if one were to assess the class ability to collaborate based on their collective responsiveness to kitty’s frequent meowing and their ability to offer lap-space in an equitable manner without any squabbling, then it could be argued that, even in Grade 12, having a kitten in class is conducive to learning. And if the quality of learning was gauged by the full, round kitty-belly and the steady, rumbling purr, then the class certainly achieved a standard of excellence that day.

Just Keeping In Touch

A Saturday Caesura

Sneaking into my classroom is nearly impossible. With the door situated near the front of the room, everyone sees who arrives late. So it was obvious when one of the grade 12 boys tried to slip in unnoticed. As if that was ever going to happen. That it was not me he was concerned about was also obvious because we made eye-contact while he skulked just outside the doorway. Still, his behaviour was uncharacteristically fearful. I know English is not everyone’s favourite subject and this particular student would certainly choose friends and farming over fixing sentence fragments, but really? Get in the classroom and sit down already.

He would take a cautious step, peek into the room, and, turtle-like, retreat to the hallway. This continued for too long. I told him (again) to come in and sit down. The whole class told him to come in and sit down — one voice in particular rising above the others, overly inviting, almost taunting.

I’ve been a teacher long enough to catch on to student shenanigans fairly quickly, but the truth behind this little scene surprised me — not because of anything overtly serious or sinister at play, but because it was so blatantly simple.

They were playing tag.

“It” was already in class, patiently waiting for his intended tag to arrive. In fact, this tag game involved several students, clandestine trips to each other’s homes and places of work, various levels of secrecy as to who was actually “it,” even a group chat to coordinate who was playing and who wasn’t.

Several days later, the game was still going. One morning as class ended, a harried shuffle and scuffle with giggles and shrieks somehow led to a perfectly executed quadruple play, several breathless (masked) students, and a new “it” resigned to her role as they tumbled into the hallway.

I’ve thought about the game all week. As sophisticated as they have made it, this group of grade 12 students are still playing one of the oldest, simplest playground-backyard-indoor-rainy-day games of all time. Tag. Touch someone and they are “it,” charged with the task of touching someone else. The game has twin but opposing objectives: touch and avoiding touch. I’m wondering if the game for these teenagers isn’t really about the avoidance though. They are, like all of us, inundated with messages regarding social and physical distancing. The length of a hockey stick, 46 Timbits, 2 beavers, 1 cow — however you measure the recommended distance, it doesn’t allow for touch. For good reason.

But there is also a good reason why we use phrases like, “Let’s keep in touch,” or, “I’ll get in touch with you later.” We use the language of touch when we talk about, long for, reach out for connection. We have so many tools at our fingertips for staying connected across the distance of time zones and continents, but this doesn’t take away or lessen the need for our fingers to connect with living, breathing humanity — even if it is only for the millisecond it takes to poke someone and say, “You’re it.”

The darting away to avoid being tagged back is more accurately an invitation to follow, to “keep in touch,” to extend the give and take of connecting into days and weeks and lifetimes.

Tag. You’re it.

Note: Lore Ferguson Wilbert wrote a thoughtful and articulate book on the whole concept of touch that goes far beyond a random game of tag. I recommend it! Handle With Care: How Jesus Redeems the Power of Touch in Life and Ministry

☀️Thank You

A Sunday Doxology

“Thank you” seems less than

adequate, less than

enough, less than

what my heart feels

when standing before you,

the God from whom every good thing

is a perfect gift

and nothing you give is less than

good.

If I could say thank you with

sunsets and rainbows and flaming

orange and yellow leaves

and green ones, too,

and blue skies and rain

and crisp white snow…

I would.

But I have only words,

so empty without a corresponding

life of gratitude.

And even the thought of

living out the full depth of

my thanks only confronts me

with my inadequacy, my less than

enough, my amazement when

you still accept me

and my thankful praise.

☕️ On Gratitude Calendars

A Saturday Caesura

Rain and grey defines this day. The few leaves left on the trees appear tired and waterlogged. Fall is fading towards a some sort of finale while winter lurks backstage. The drippy chill has not hampered the chickadees and blue jays cavorting outside my window, however. They appear delighted and energetic, as if rain is a thing of joy. The calendar may remind us to set aside this weekend for giving thanks, but my feathered neighbours remind me that gratitude can be written into every calendar day. Consider the past week:

Monday: reading through some brilliant-funny-wistful pieces my grade 12 students wrote about “the stories we wear” brings to mind a pair of hiking boots that have played a supporting role in many stories and adventures over the past 40 years. Gratitude for the miles and memories I’ve hiked in those boots spills over into gratitude for the man who encouraged me to buy them, then married me so we could continue to tromp through life together.

Tuesday: it is the season for glorious sunrise vistas from my classroom window. I turn off the lights and sit and absorb the rich colour, the majesty, the fading brilliance. I breathe it in and then breathe it out in gratitude throughout the day as students pull my attention away from windows and sun and clouds to books and assignments and forgotten pencils.

Wednesday: my evening walk or run is sometimes not much more than a forced routine I go through because I know my body needs the movement, the catharsis. But today I come home out of breath from both exercise and wonder, amazed at how the same routes and kilometres can contain such nuanced beauty that no two days look, smell, sound exactly the same.

Tiredness seeps in on Thursday. Lack of sleep, too many to-dos, the ongoing challenges of teaching in a pandemic restricted environment evoke a sense of weariness that clings to me all day. But weariness does not excuse me from being grateful: for the student who has a cup of hot tea waiting for me when I return from the photocopier, for the bowl of thick chowder for supper, made with fresh corn gifted from a friend’s garden, for a good rest at night.

Friday: just the thought of teaching a double-block of my most challenging non-academic class on the day before a long weekend puts me into survival mode. So I am not only grateful, but also pleasantly surprised when this rag-tag, rough-and-tumble group of mostly boys (only two girls — quiet, dependable) completely usurps my plan to have them listen to an audio-book version of the novel we are studying in favour of three of them, self-appointed, taking turns reading aloud to the rest of the class. Sixteen-year-old boys who would much rather talk about trucks, fishing gear (yes, one student brought his rod and tackle box – not sure why), quads, dirt-bikes, hunting, farming, skateboards, food, and all manner of shenanigans characteristic of such boys are actually reading a book together — without me. I watch and listen and breathe gratitude for what feels like a miracle.

Our calendars don’t come with the particulars of thankfulness neatly typed into the allotted box for each day, but if we look closely, if we have the right heart-posture, we can see all the ways that minutes and hours and events and landscapes and people point us towards a grateful response to the Ancient of Days, the God who cannot be contained in boxes –calendar or otherwise.