February 08, 2018

When You Leave a Place

There was a giant of a magnolia tree in our backyard in Hattiesburg... limbs reaching out in at attempt to cover the whole yard like a mother hen. We hammock swung there and it shaded the boys' clubhouse. Andrew took a ladder out each spring at my request to pull off those perfumed flowers that filled our whole house with the smell of Mississippi. And I feel like I know what it's like to be that tree; I stared at it with knowing eyes... my feet starting to get heavy and I could feel them getting all knotted up in the ground. My roots were taking...

I remember taking this picture while weeping... filled with love for our home and that tree

When you love a place, everything gets personified. Our house... it felt like a child and a parent and a best friend. I knew which places to lunge over in the hall when a baby was sleeping, and we knew exactly at what spot and what time the peep hole will make a rainbow in the entry way, a gift to my children who waited expectantly for it every morning. "Can I hold the rainbow?"

little chubby Charlie hand... 

I can close my eyes and feel the familiarity of walking up those porch stairs and into our entry, the room warm with the light from the hanging pendant Andrew got me for Mother's Day. We stood in that entry saying hellos and goodbyes to so many dear to us... lingered there for sometimes an hour more when we meant to call it a night, because the company was just too good. We zipped jackets there and probably had a few arguments over lunch boxes and pine straw and where IS that left shoe.

We gutted that house and filled it up with us. Painted walls. Cultivated gardens to bring forth hydrangeas and kale and our own little Eden.

On Day One of our move-in we started reno on the kitchen

The house that knows us. That gave the background to our biggest celebrations... that kept our feet steady during days when our knees buckled under the weight of sorrow, that knew our hot breath and tears when we couldn't stand upright. We hid in its clefts during tornados and laid in the sunspots of its screened-in porch on those warm days that stretched from eternity to eternity.

And of course it wasn't just that house that was hard to leave... but it was the most surprisingly hard thing to leave. I didn't know how much my heart would cleave to it. How I would long for our car to find its way back to the driveway and to feel "home" when we are home.

Our precious neighbors getting salutations from my boys every time they left from and returned to their house
I know that we are pilgrims in this world and that journeying through different places and peoples is good for our hearts in that way- it's good that we are being trained to not anchor ourselves down to temporal things. But it's also not how it's supposed to be, either. We are pilgriming to an eternal land... with finality and rest. And so our hearts long for that, too. We burrowed ourselves down in Hattiesburg and our hearts and souls practiced eternity there. It was a hard thing to pick up our bags and say, "Not yet. This is not home yet."

So here's a long overdue homage to our Mississippi folk... you were our home in a way that no other place will ever be a home.

Slow life and neighbors ending up unexpectedly on your front porch

You lived up to your reputation to be the most hospitable and giving state in every sense of the word. Gave us Sunday-lunch tables to sit around and opened up your doors for playdates. You showed me how to value beauty in everyday things- like those magnolia blossoms in the church hallways or a little piece of pottery in your kitchen window sill.

You taught me how to be a mother, how to slow down and play with my babies in the backyard. How to turn on the water hose and eat watermelon on front porches with friends. You showed up in dark corners of our lives by leaving a milkshake on our front porch when I miscarried our second baby, coming by to weep with us on those same steps when our house contract fell through.

You were family to us when we had no family near, coming to Easter lunches and birthday parties and piano recitals and baptisms.... and all you precious, precious people who babysat our children just because! Just because you are so dear, and because you love so deeply and without borders. You Mississippi people do that the best.

Student becomes friend becomes family
Rosemary wearing Allison's baptism gown

Your children became my children and my children became your children... and we watched them grow by measuring them by the tiger mural at the zoo. We went from days sweating bullets at the lemur cage to driving our babies to their first day of kindergarten together... how did it happen so quickly?

Too tiny. Impossible. 

The mamas in the mirror making my heart swell
We sat in those pews together, Mississippi friends, and I learned to love church with you in a way I hadn't before. To long to be in those pews more than anywhere but heaven itself. We gave side glances and squeezed hands when I knew we were singing a song you had to choose to believe, when you had one of those weeks and your mouth had to plead your heart to heaven-- I pled with you. You pled with me.

You worked by our side in ministry, bringing the good news of hope to students on campus. You were those students that we loved dearly.... you came in our home and shared life with us and maybe you heard the true gospel for the first time there, maybe we had the incredible privilege of taking you by the hand and leading you to Jesus's throne of grace. You prayed for us and gave and gave and gave of yourself to put wind under our wings. Mississippi people will never let you do ministry alone--you made sure we knew you were with us.

We started traditions together-- Trick or Treat in Innswood and Easter egg hunts in the Bentons' backyard. You came over on Christmas Day and we shot bottle rockets on 4th of July.

This picture always takes my breath I love it so so much.
We rode up S 21st to have a coffee at T-Bones or veer off to Kamper Park to meet. We would stop and talk to our neighbors in their yard, or wave to Toby who walked his dog past our house every day and became the mayor the week after we left. Ordinary days, brimming with grace. We didn't have the eyes to see the holy grounds we were treading.

Car-pooled with these boys for nearly three years, lots of excitement on these rides including a knocked-out tooth!
When you leave a place and people like this, you don't really leave. You wonder--despite all your good theology--if your shadow stretches back 400 miles because surely your life doesn't make sense outside of the borders of that world you left.

Our heart aches and grieves even eight months later for home. And yet we know... we know that this short feast in Hattiesburg-- that truly felt like our whole lives-- was the most profound gift to us. The fact that it had a beginning and an end gives time a frame so that we can hold it in our hands. We can grasp it tightly to our chest and we can give thanks to a God who let us practice eternity there.  

I will always be from Kentucky. But I think our family will always be from Mississippi... we were grown there. Breathed to life there.

Mississippi-- you are dearly loved, dearly missed, dearly appreciated for the ways that you made us into a family. 

How we came
How we left... sad to lose Samford and sad about W's face in this pic

Charlie asks to go back to his "City House" (what he calls our Hattie house for some reason) at least weekly... Wilson told us at Christmas that it didn't feel like Christmas because we weren't in Hattiesburg. It's hard to ache for a place but even harder to watch your children ache. It's made me wonder how our Heavenly Father looks into our weeping eyes... 

On our last night at church we sang "On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand"--and through my tears, I think I understood. He must know that every longing in our heart is really us casting that wishful eye. I know He aches with us as we ache, but I also know He wants to teach our hearts to sing-- we are bound, we are bound, we are bound for the promised land! If our Mississippi home is but a shadow... what a promised land it must be.

March 27, 2017

Rosemary's Baptism

Last Sunday night, Andrew had the opportunity to preach to our church. He took us to Psalm 120, the first of the songs of ascent.... the pilgrim songs. These songs were not meant to be sung alone, but as a chorus that mingled with the tromping of
feet that were traveling together. Voices that were, yes, raised to the heavens... but that also stayed earth-bound and weaved in and out of your friends' ears... anthems of truth that went before you and caught you up from behind. 

It was a beautiful message that made me think of the significance of the morning... of Rosemary's baptism. Her sign that she is caught up in the singing. 


On Sunday, her church told her that the gospel promises that we sing over her...to her...around her... those are promises for her, too, if she believes. 


As my best friend's husband poured water on her head to signify the washing of the Spirit... I thought that what he was really saying to her is that she is our fellow pilgrim; She is walking with us in this not-quite-our-world home. 


And her baptism says she's a part of us. We haven't left her behind. She's being carried along in our arms, in the midst of the travel to a better land.


And I was thinking and hoping of that wonderful day when I can take the hand of my daughter who will also be my sister. When she's not just carried along but chooses to come along and her voice will join our chorus and encourage other weary hearts.


This just isn't the year for us to buy a baptism dress, so I asked one of my dearest friends if I could borrow.  I was, admittedly, a little sad at first that she wouldn't have her own... but then I thought about the beauty of her wearing a dress that Allison wore as a baby. And all three of her girls. What a tangible reminder that our friends are her family, too. 


We had a small little gathering for lunch after church as we feasted and celebrated the goodness of our Father.




Right now you don't have a choice but to be carried as a pilgrim. You live in a home and with a family who have their eyes fixed on a better country... We love this world created by our good Father, but we also know it's not the way it was supposed to be. And until then, we will be tent-pitchers, sewing seeds of beauty and goodness that are given to us by the one leading us, Jesus. He is slowly restoring this world back to its original beauty. 


And not just the world around us... but the worlds inside of us. He can do the same work in your heart... He can make you who you ought to be, He can make you into the most beautiful version of yourself. On your baptism day, we gave you a sign to point you to that truth- that just as you could not apply the water from the baptism font to your head... you cannot apply the work of Jesus to your heart. It is a work of grace, not of merit.


And after the sign, the singing. In one of the more beautiful moments of my life... I cried through your first pilgrim song. 

Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so...


Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong. 

Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.


There will be so many times in your life when you're going to need your fellow pilgrims to hold you up with songs of truth.. Times when you are so low and disoriented that you cannot hear the voice of your Father singing love songs over you. So on Sunday, we sang. Before you could even believe it, or doubt it... we sang truth to you. 

And one day, you will need to sing it back to us. Your father and I are hoping and longing for the day when you and your brothers become our forever sister and brothers in Jesus. We love you, Rosie Baby!