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all the good

There are things that drift away
Like our endless numbered days
Autumn blew the quilt right off the perfect bed she made
And she’s chosen to believe
In the hymns her mother sings
Sunday pulls its children from their piles of fallen leaves

-Iron & Wine, Passing Afternoon

I was allowed wild. I spent days in the sunshine, gathering dirt into a big metal bucket, spraying water from the hose, mixing it into a consistency just right for my purposes. A rusty-but-solid metal table served as a perfect oven for the discs of earth I formed. I sat in the grass while they baked in the sun, caught garter snakes, picked at scabs, had big romantic thoughts about being a pioneer. Over and over.

Repetition and big open spaces of time. Sun-soaked skin. Dirt-perfumed hair. My soul was well-tended.

Messing around with dirt is a hopeful act–investing in beauty and nourishment together, trusting in the eventual delight of the senses. It implies not living day-to-day. It implies rootedness. It implies faith and looking forward to the future. When my precious cakes were ready, I’d gleefully break them apart, scrub off the metal table, stack my kitchen supplies and look forward to doing it all again the next day.

I learned something nameless in those hours, but left it outside the doors of church because it wouldn’t fit through. Two messages came to me in those days; two ideas planted way down deep.

One: this life matters in and of itself.
Two: this life only matters in the context of the next.

I hope what is true will root down and remain, and what is false will simply float away, like I used to think I would do someday.

//

Standing to have the ash smeared on my forehead felt like a reunion with what I used to know: it’s no waste of time to live here. I’m growing less afraid to salute the sun after knowing a dense cloud of gray days. My children instinctively flow out the door like a thawed creek, digging for worms and gathering sticks, oblivious to time. I spend time pulling off winter-soaked foliage to reveal richly dark soil underneath. My fingers bleed and my nails are black; they look honest to me.

I was given, in part, a religion of earth. I was given time. Baptized in a deep river, sun-grown during all those solitary days, with a seed planted that fearful, contained systems have kept dormant far too long. I choose to risk it now.

I’ll take the possibility of being wrong in exchange for not needing to make the up-springing of green things my enemy.

I will love it here. I will make a home here, dig down and let the cool soil soothe my burning hands, after so many years of snatching them out of hellfire. 

Oh, to see again what the little girl knew. All the good is God.

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April 3, 2014 · 11:12 am

rooted

We make our way down the hill from the cul-de-sac to the footpath, me pushing the stroller, their little faces growing rosy in the cold air. Still growing accustomed to all of these trees, we look up, quiet, crunching the diminishing leaf piles underneath. As we walk toward the water, the remaining leaved branches shimmer and sway in the slight breeze, but my gaze goes to line of thinning, nearly bare trees in the distance. They don’t seem to move at all. It’s as if they’ve shifted their weight a little lower into the earth and now they stand with perfect posture, rooted, stoic.

There’s a different sort of chill in the air today; autumn is giving way, slowly. I’m thinking of the winter to come, of more time indoors.

//

In the early hours before sunlight, I fold myself out of the warm bed, first creaking down the stairs for coffee, to listen and write in the still, taking joy from all the feathers lining my nest lately. I’ve known bare, too.

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The man who helped to bring me up in this world would have been 65 last Friday. I’ve never observed All Saint’s Day before, and so I haven’t noticed its proximity to his birthday. It comes around this time of year when we’re adjusting to less light, reading more, wrapping up in warmth, re-calibrating to a slower rhythm.

So maybe it’s a gift that the community church we visited on Sunday celebrated All Saint’s Day a week late. They placed remembrances on an altar, lit candles, wiped their eyes, and later we passed bread and sipped wine from that same altar. When we sang a song honoring the ordinary saints that we love and miss, I heard my Dad in the words.

It was a gift to pause and feel the sadness tug at me, but meet quickly with joy as it does now. It took years for that to happen, for time to weave its silky cocoon around all those sharp edges that would pierce with every turn. I’m blessed to remember someone so fondly. Blessed for these roots from which to draw water.

And today, blessed to walk through our little neighborhood forest as it shakes its leaves down and reminds me: I’m rooted, I’m known, and all shall be well.

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November 15, 2013 · 5:00 am

on roles, adventure, and what feminism means to me

“I want a wife who will stay home and take care of the kids,” he said, earnestly. He was breaking up with me, even though we’d never defined ourselves as a couple. We’d been getting to know each other for a few months. Hanging out with mutual friends, watching movies, studying. I liked him, and he liked me, that much was obvious.

We’d had a few conversations about the future. All of nineteen years old at the time, I had some thoughts of going to medical school, some dreams about medical missionary work. I might have said I was interested in botany, or ballet, or becoming a spy; what he heard was not a housewife. This was a problem, because it was his belief that as a Christian woman, a Biblical woman, my role was to raise children and care for my home, and apparently nothing beyond that.

Once, at a party, he introduced me to a girl who was planning to go to Russia that summer. She gushed about how she was so excited to have an adventure now, because later she planned to be a stay-at-home mom. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, but later it struck me as an odd thing to say. Adventure now, mom later?

Looking back, I wonder. Was the girl at the party supposed to sway my opinion?

I’m pretty sure I dodged a bullet there. I’m nothing but grateful that he broke things off; most likely one of us would have eventually. But I do find it incredibly odd that he, or anyone else, would judge a woman not by her personality, interests, intellect, even her appearance, but by her role. I didn’t think much about privilege or subculture then. All I really heard was that my dreams were less worthy of consideration.

I think about that moment in contrast to many others. All the times I’ve dreamed out loud with my now husband, all the times he’s affirmed me, and I him. How we take turns pursuing our dreams. I am so incredibly grateful to have married someone who didn’t look at me and see a role. He saw Emily, a person who will change with the seasons. At times, like today, home with yoga pants on, bathrooms to clean, and two babies to snuggle and direct. At times, leaving the house for a night shift at the hospital, assisting women through labor, wrapping up newborns, teaching new mothers, working toward a professional goal. At times, writingwritingwriting because I need to. We are a great many things. 

Three cheers for my feminist husband, full of dreams himself. We’ve evolved, we’ll keep evolving, we’ll make a way for each other. And here’s something important: this doesn’t conflict with our Christianity. No, it’s informed by it. At our wedding, we took communion while our dear friends sang these words:

Jesus, You are
Jesus, You were
Jesus, You will always be
a perfect servant to us
a perfect servant to death
even death on a cross.

Give us the picture of Your face
show us the measure of Your grace
reveal the love of the Father
put within us tenderness
release from us all selfishness
we’ll consider them better
we’re Yours
give us hearts of servants.

I didn’t know those were prophetic words. I just thought they were beautiful, and we wanted to honor and include Jesus in our ceremony. We’re eight years in, and we haven’t always been Jesus-y in our treatment of each other. Sometimes not even close. We’ve fought about all the usual things. Through it all, the goal remains, and while I’m open to people interpreting these things differently, it’s my personal conviction that the best way to be Christlike to our spouse or anyone else for that matter is to see them as a whole, varied, evolving person. No one person nurtures, no one person provides; it’s all mixed together and messy and beautiful.

This is my experience with what Sarah Bessey calls Jesus Feminism. It’s a term that she made up when concerned people asked her wanted to know what kind of feminist she was. She writes:

Throughout the records of the Gospels, I saw how Jesus didn’t treat women any differently than men, and I liked that. We weren’t too precious for words, dainty like fine china. We received no free pass or delicate worries about our ability to understand or contribute or work. Women were not too sweet or weak for the conviction of the Holy Spirit, or too manipulative or prone to jealousy, insecurity, and deception to push back the kingdom of darkness. Jesus did not patronize, and he did not condescend. (Kindle loc 17)

Sarah herself is a stay at home mom (or mum, as she would say) to three children, by choice. She enjoys and honors this work while recognizing that it’s not everyone’s calling, nor is it even an option for everyone. “If the title can’t be enjoyed by a woman in Haiti, or even by the women hailed in Scripture, the same way it can by a middle-class woman in Canada,” she writes, “then biblical womanhood must be more than this.” (Kindle loc 100)

If I could have a cup of coffee with the girl from the party, I’d want to know if motherhood has turned out to be one of her greatest adventures, if she’s now a mother. It certainly has for me. I’d want to know if she defines herself singularly, or if her husband does, if she’s now married. I’d want to ask her a lot of things. I hope she’s happy. I hope she knows now that to be a woman is a gift; not something to be martyred, but lived out fully.

This is my contribution to Sarah Bessey’s synchroblog, in celebration of her new book Jesus Feminist.

The song I mentioned above is Hearts of Servants by Shane & Shane.

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November 12, 2013 · 10:39 am