Love Believes First

Underneath a capricious prairie sky, we drive east along the Trans-Canada Highway.

The autumn sun is behind us. It pours out all it has left, in yellow and gold, and turns this concrete highway into a river of fire. But today as we drive home from Thanksgiving, we remember how to feel safe in the wispiness of clouds, remaining open to receive whatever comes our way, even as a dark and steely weight walks across the prairie and sets off whispers of a looming storm.

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Many thanks to my friend Jennifer Ferguson of Finding Heaving Today and s(He) Listens Ministries for inviting me to write a guest post for her ongoing marriage series. I hope you'll join me!

 

The Feeling of Surrender

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My family leaves for an impromptu day trip to our favorite beach along the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan. We’re ready for a fun day together under a blue sky.

My wife, Toby, shakes open a beach towel. An orange butterfly spreads its wings over the dry and sunburnt sand. We set up camp.

You can read the rest at The High Calling.

Image by Nathan Gibbs. http://www.nathangibbs.com. Used with permission.

My Last Day

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Not long ago, I handed in my letter of resignation. I made two hard creases and folded up 13 years of teaching English at a rural high school in Northern Indiana.

Friday was my last day in the classroom. The first student who opened my door that morning handed me a card and a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies. I read the card after she left. “I’ll be praying for you and your family,” she wrote.

The whole day was bittersweet, just like that.

This summer my family of four will begin our new life in Winnipeg, a large urban city in central Canada. It’s been a dream of ours for years. There comes a time when the only way to make a dream come true is to stop dreaming and take action.

Sometimes that means letting go of a regular paycheck and a regular routine. And the security of sensibly-placed furniture.

At least for a time.

As I emptied my classroom of 13 years of memories and supplies, I needed the help of others. I handed out most of my belongings to students and teachers. I doled out handfuls of pens and highlighters, my famous collection of kitschy garden gnomes, a giant lamp shaped like a tree stump with three perching owls on it, and hundreds of pieces of magnetic poetry. I gave away coffee mugs and framed artwork. I removed special books from my shelves, sat down and wrote notes inside them, and went to deliver them to students who might treasure a particular book from me. It felt good to give things away. It also felt strange.

So many pieces of me. Scattered.

In the afternoon, 20 or so students from Mr. Thompson’s English classroom suddenly stormed mine with an arctic blast of symbolism. These former students of mine blasted me with laughter and a blizzard of hundreds of crumpled paper snowballs.

Soon after, Mr. Thompson stopped by with a smile and a big snow shovel. He cleared the floor of the wadded-up notebook paper. His students left the snowballs a few inches deep.

Friday was strange in unspeakable ways and my stomach didn’t feel like eating lunch.

Before I left at the end of the day, two students dropped by to say goodbye. A.J. noticed my cool astronaut water bottle, still half-full, sitting on my desk. He wondered if he could have it.

I was suddenly overcome with thirst. But I knew he would enjoy it.

Then, once it was time to go — get this — these two students asked if they could pray for me.

Yes, A.J.

Yes, Kyla.

I wouldn’t want my life in the classroom to end any other way.

Special note: As our family gears up for this big move, we face many unknowns. The days before us will surely bubble and froth with adventure. My plan is to share the continuing story with you during these life-changing months as often as I can.

If you think of us, my family thanks you for your prayers.

I am grateful for the community which has formed over the last year, here on my page. You’ve left more than just messages in comment boxes. You’ve left gifts of encouragement and personal connection, so my prayers are with you, too.

 

Writing is Home

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I read Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity and Writing by L.L. Barkat while spending a week in a church that’s been converted into a home.

Writing is like that. Its presence towered over most of my life with the stillness of a holy temple. Grandiose. Imposing. Until I finally flushed a toilet, heard truth echo through a cavernous sanctuary — with the noise of everyday water.

Writing, it turns out, is a place to inhabit.

Modern culture has discombobulated our sense of place. The hub of the kitchen table no longer holds together the farm and work shed like it once did. Now our most important occupations are prone to the sprawl of square miles, states, even countries. We do our best to knit together these habitations of work, family and faith, using long threads of concrete interstates and digital texts.

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Picasso’s Brickwork

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Picasso’s Brickwork

Tonight
At the concert
The guitarist stood
In the smoke
Like a younger version of
“The Old Guitarist”
Only he wears black jeans
Like me
And stands against
A red brick wall
With wet lime, sand and
Cement in his eyes,
And he uses the back of his
Hand as a trowel for his
Tears while I pray for him.
“Beautiful,” I tell him,
Later,
When I pass him
On my way out

Because I heard a
Crack of joy
Spider through melancholy
As a ram’s horn
Blasted from somewhere
Along the outskirts
Of Jericho.

_________________

Note: Last night I came home from a concert with a guitarist still on my heart. Accustomed to larger and wilder venues, two of the band members noted this was the favorite show of the tour. They appeared tired after a long tour and then shaken up by a different vibe at our local venue. These guys are used to performing in bars and folk festivals. But ours was a quiet listening room. And quiet enough for my spirit to feel something stirring, maybe cracking, on that stage.

And I could still hear the sound of those horns when I came home.

When the Light Turns Blue

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The coffee shop is a good place to begin a long walk of conversation. We begin ours with muddy Caffè Americanos.

Nate and I leave for a long walk along the canal. The trail leads us through melting snow and uncomfortable slush.

Occasionally, we stop, place our noses near our cups. Drink. And move on, stepping over a glassy black puddle whenever it comes.

I do most of the talking today, and the words roll off my tongue like vapory white ghosts. I watch how the voiceless thoughts take on new shapes when they’re delivered by the warmth of my breath.

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Valerie’s Got It Covered

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The sun enters my classroom after my students leave, and I’m thankful once again for how light can melt the side of my cheek.

Valerie parks her heavy custodial cart just outside my room. Through the window in the door, I see her unroll and tear off two trash bags. She reaches for the doorknob.

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