Big Brother

I love telling people what you do for a living, I get this surge of pride when I see their eyes widen and their mouths open a little in surprise. F-16, they always repeat the phrase, as if hearing it in their own voice will make it more real. If E is with me, he laughs and says, “yeah, he’s a real badass.” People chuckle, church folks and friends outside the faith, they smile and nod and say it’s true, you must be pretty awesome to do something like that.

We’ve been praying for you at church, each week after the homily we call out prayer requests and then our pastor prays through each one, by name and situation. People ask after you, after A and the boys, and they pray for you throughout the week.

I talk to your wife. I’m trying to be a better sister-in-law. It might be simply because she’s fabulous and I love talking to her (despite disliking phone conversations). But it’s also that I miss you and because I want to make sure she’s alright with you gone until April (which of course she is, she’s a tough one, that wife of yours).

I think that most of all, you should know that I love you. That I’m praying for you. That I’m confident you’ll come home safe and sound. I want you to know that I think about you–every day, and more than once. Whenever a jet flies overhead, I remember what your wife once told your son when I was visiting, and to the pilot I’ll never meet, I whisper outloud: be safe. come home. Every time I see a jet: weekend warriors, cadets at the academy, and all the rest.

Be safe.

Come home.

Thank you.

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White Mornings

Wednesday night, while I was at youth group in flip flops and an old down vest over my 3/4 sleeve sweater the weather outside went from rain to snow. E and I are sharing my car because his serpentine belt popped off. So after he drove me home from youth group, as we crossed the street he looked up into the falling snow and said, “do you want to go for a walk?” I squeezed his hand, “just let me change out of flip flops.”

So we walked to the downtown of where I live and amid twinkling lights we strolled through storefronts older than our grandparents. We stopped in at on old world, English style pub that we’d never noticed before and ordered two mugs of piping hot chocolate. We sat in the window and watched the snow blow in the wind before settling to the ground in clumps of thick wet flakes. Trees were covered, their branches coated and their leaves hidden. It looked as though someone had begun frosting the town or painting it white for a party we hadn’t been invited to but had stumbled upon anyhow. As we walked the empty streets we found Narnia: an old wrought iron lamp stand, covered in part by the leaves of a low tree, bent beneath the weight of snow that clung to his branches. It glowed like a distant star, yellow and orange and cast its feeble rays across the snow on the ground at its base. We shouted for Mr. Tumnus but he never came. So we trudged to my home, and arrived around 11pm, tired but bright eyed and rosy cheeked from wind and pure joy of changing seasons. I snuggled in bed with an extra blanket, heard the boiler heater click on and I thought that Colorado must be the best place in all America.

The nextmorning, when I stumbled out of bed into our living room, this is what greeted me:

Tell me that isn’t one of the best and most beautiful sights to wake up to. The snow makes my heart happy. Clean, bright, pure and restful. I could dance for joy.

Berthoud on a Cloudy Day

Last weekend I drove to Berthoud Pass. Did you know there’s a trail there? I was unaware, so I went in jeans and a cutesy shirt—definitely not hiking attire. But I’ll go back soon enough and hike at the top of the mountain.

The clouds had started to roll in earlier in the day. It was my last full day of freedom before my life began again  on Monday with a new job and new classes. I had nothing to do after finishing my homework from the summer. My apartment was almost entirely packed and several friends were out of town. So I resorted to an old technique of wasting time: I got in the car and headed west.

The ascent to the Pass is not long, not in my little stick shift. It is long if you get stuck behind a transplant who doesn’t know how to drive on mountain roads; or truck who is struggling to manage the long haul to higher elevations. But on Friday afternoon I did not have either of those problems as I raced to the heights of the pass.

I stood on the edge of the pulloff while a tour bus unloaded for stiff legs, restrooms and pictures. The sky was drenched with heavy grey clouds, twisted and curled above the peaks. The sky was like fabric, tossed into the air, that falls to the ground in a crumpled heap. The layers, dimensions, the shadows and edges–both sharp and smooth–hung patiently over the Rockies, waiting for the wind that would push them away to the East where they might bring the dry land to life. There was grey like slate and blue like the distant sea after a long fought storm. There was curling silver around the tips where sunlight longed to break through.

The peaks were turned a blue brown, those still covered in trees looked black in the faded light. They were shadows, ghosts of ancient worlds that have long since passed. But the mountains remain, striving against the gravity that will eventually be their undoing. They look like waves on seashore, crashing into one another, peak on peak, endless jagged lines thrust against the thick clouds above.

No picture would do them justice. To be honest, no picture ever perfectly presents any sight in creation. Words, I thought as I shivered in my coat amid the thin cold air, words can never explain the beauty that God has given us. Not here in Colorado, nor anywhere else in all the world.

Creation, a professor recently quoted, is a silent orator, shouting the existence and majesty of our God. She cries out that there is more, that she is held together by another, and that this other, this Beyond, is God.

Timing

E and I at the Bluegrass Festival in Telluride

Today while spending time in a coffee shop where I used to spend entire days, I ran into a girl I’ve known since high school. I was jealous of her then, and to be honest, some of that jealous flared up again when I saw her this afternoon. It would seem I will often struggle with the same sins even years after they have begun.

But that girl is wonderful, and I’ve learned that in time. She works at the coffee shop so we didn’t talk long but she asked if I’d seen E lately. “He was my favourite person to work with!” she exclaimed and announced her disappointment that upon returning from six or seven months out of the country he had quit and moved to a different job. I smiled a little, the crooked smile that has hesitancy amid the cheer. “Oh, yeah, I’ve seen him, we’re dating.”

“I knew it!” she practically shouted and sat down a chair just a little too hard in her excitement.

“Yeah, that’s what most people say–”

“I always used to ask him–”

“Or people are like, ‘took you long enough!'” And we laughed because it did take a long time for us to move from friends, to best friends, to dating and who knows where that will turn. But then she said something I hadn’t considered.

“Sometimes, it’s better that way. Taking a long time.”

So often we (or I) have looked at the long friendship between myself and E as a period of waiting and turmoil on my part. It’s as though it is my fault. E would never say that. He was patient and didn’t mind the time, though I think there were periods of exasperation when I lamented singleness and he stood by, waiting, hoping, trying to snap off the blinders that I wore. But as my friend pointed out this afternoon, it isn’t a question of “fault” as though I had “problems” that I needed to overcome before we could date. Some of that is true, but that is not the truth.

The truth is, we waited  because both of us felt that God wanted us to. I didn’t know my heart for a long while. He knew his but he knew it wasn’t the right timing–even if I had known my true feelings sooner. We took out time, we were friends and we prayed about what God was doing. When it came time for us to move forward, it was pretty clear.

I don’t know why it took so long, and I don’t think I need to. God has his reasons, some we will discover and others will always be a mystery. What matters is that we are moving, carefully, confidently and always prayerfully. God will reveal himself and his plans in his time–we just get to enjoy the ride.

WHY: we build stuff

On a recent drive back from Colorado Springs (after watching 8 of our favourite children), one of E’s favourite country songs played on the radio. It was somewhere near the crest of Monument Pass, where you could see the smoke puffing up among trees on the slopes of Waldo Canyon and you could imagine the fires raging nearby. Though we were safe, and our friends were too, it was a sobering sight. The song that came on helped to lighten the mood. E turned it up at full blast in that little VW Jetta that he affectionately nicknamed “Gretta” many years ago. I don’t know the artist or even the title but the song always make me think of North Carolina and how I imagine backwoods, country folk operate. I think that’s why E loves it so much–it reminds him of the good times back home. One particular lyric that always catches my attention says something like “If it’s broke ’round here, we fix it.” Well, that’s certainly true of E. Little Gretta has over 300,000 miles on her, because when she looses a part, he replaces it. My bike was bought at a goodwill for $40 and now it’s worth around $200 thanks to some work from E (and his years as a bike mechanic). I’ve heard the song so many times, and on that long drive back home I couldn’t but recount all the things built from scratch rather than being purchased at a store. And let me tell you, there are quite a few….

When M and I first moved into our apartment we didn’t have much counter space–we still don’t have much. So, while she was on a road trip, I set up a collapsable table in the corner of our eating nook and threw a twin sized sheet over it. There’s no point lying: it looked trashy. Eventually, there were stains not he sheet from paint and various foods. When my mum reminded me I had a crockpot and blender in the basement of their house I nearly threw a fit for lack of space. I snapped. I called E to vent and announced: “I’m going to find some wood–like old pallets or something–and I’m going to build myself a fricking shelf!” Well, E knew my shelf would probably collapse so the building process was more like… Sara rips nails out of old pallets and E assembles them into something useful and magnificent. He brought it over two or three weeks later on the top of his VW Jetta and we were rescued by some Burmese men as we struggled to get it up the stairs and into the little home in Denver’s third-world.

A couple of months ago, E built a loft for my bed. I don’t have any pictures of it currently, with the mattress on top and the book shelves beneath, sporting theology, grammar and copious class notes. There’s a shelf that runs over the head of the mattress where I keep a lamp, a few candles, three or four books, the unplugged alarm clock and my mouthguard that prevents morning headaches. The ladder has uneven steps and it’s made from an assortment of wood but it may be the most ingenious thing I’ve ever had built. It makes my room twice as large since I can now have two or three bookcases sitting under my bed just to the left of a laundry basket and still have room to sprawl out with my laptop and school books. It also makes my room the running novelty of our apartment: the kids want to climb onto it every time they come to visit.

In the same day, we went to E’s old house downtown to salvage the last of the 2×6 and 2×8’s that we hadn’t used on my loft. E had been living in a one bedroom just a few blocks from the heart of Denver. Yes, a one bedroom with three other guys. The bedroom is where my loft came from: the had a loft large enough to hold two queen size beds high in the air so that they all fit into that one bedroom. Intentional Community, or something like that.

Anyway, we grabbed the last of the boards, sorted through the few things that roommates (and roommates from previous leases) had left behind and then headed to his new place where we (and by we I mean E) set about building our garden boxes. I’ve talked about this briefly in my description of our garden but I didn’t tell you about why we built the boxes instead of buying planters and I hadn’t put up pictures.

There are a few reasons we build things. One is that we’re both very cheap (or rather–we’re frugal–I’ve been informed that’s a more respectable word for such personality traits). So we use scrap wood from previous building ventures or wood that we can acquire just by driving across town.

We also build things because it means using our hands. As a student, a nanny, personal assistant and church staff member, I sit inside a lot. Holding up a 2×6 as E drills holes into it or screws it into something else has a certain pleasure that you cannot experience elsewhere. I feel like a strong woman when I yank nails from old pallets that once transported food, building supplies, furniture, etc. There’s the moment when you know the nail is about to come free but it fights you for every last moment, screaming as you wrench it from the wood it has long called home. And with a grunt it comes apart and the board springs upward, no longer bound to the shape it was forced to. I think I looked at each nail as I took it from the back of the hammer and giggled slightly when I tossed it to the ground. It’s the same feeling I have when chopping wood for fires: the ax goes above my head and there’s a moment just before the descent where you fix your eye on the middle of the log, marking where you’ll strike to snap it in half. It feels like determination has flooded your veins as you decide that log is mine. And then, the ax whistles through the air and slices into the wood. The ax might stick the first few times or send chips flying to the air. But eventually, it cuts straight through the wood and you have two halves, ready for burning.

E says he feels so much joy when he is building. It’s the chance to create something new, to be creative when you’re using limited supplies and the chance to do something. So much of our lives are spent indoors, seated at desks or running copies, chilling in meetings with stale air running through the A/C.

But to build is to create which is to share in the divine initiative, to act on the image and likeness of God in us as creator and artist. I think that’s why we, and others, experience such pleasure in building things, in planting, sculpting and designing. Because, in the most cliche (but also true) way: it’s the way God made us.

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salvaged pallets, shelf on the car (built from pallets), assembling the loft, building the garden boxes

Garden Building

{EDIT: I apologize that this post went out early to some of you. It was meant for Monday morning, not Sunday! I planned to have some time picking out the pictures I wanted to share with you…. Sorry about that mixup! Enjoy the real post!}

I’ve wanted a garden for ages. Two years ago I grew tomatoes in a pot on my parent’s back porch. The taste was better than anything else, sweet and tangy, rich with earth and sun. It made the desire for a garden even greater. Last year I tried to figure out how I might scrape one out of the dusty backyard at G and J’s house. I thought the fringes of the yard, near the leaning fence might be the best hope for a place the kids wouldn’t trample in their afternoon adventures between lunch, naps and chores. But G and J were stationed to Colorado Springs and I realized that the garden would just be sprouting in time for them to move. This year I thought about trying to plant one in the courtyard of our building. There are these areas near the bottom of our staircases, empty plots of dusty earth that get tracked into our apartment by barefooted children, screaming and laughing and wanting to learn. But it couldn’t be protected from neighbors or the cats that keep multiplying and prowling the parking lot.

And then E moved into an apartment with free rent in exchange for property management. He gained a back patio with plenty of sunshine and just enough room. The roommates abandoned their one bedroom house and they tore down the loft that allowed four grown men to share that one room and there was all that wood…with bolts and screws and absolutely everything you might need to build a little enclosed garden.

So we did. (or, he did.)

Which goes with the next point: I decided my blog could use some more pictures. Since it’s summer time and I’ll be going on lots of adventures (see WHY: I love the Summer) there will be plenty to share with you! So here are the first ones from that garden. E building the garden boxes (and building me a loft for my bed–now I can fit more bookcases in my room) and some pictures of us filling up those boxes. We used a mixture of dirt from a property he’s working on (they had to dig out the driveway) and potting soil bought at Lowe’s, on top we finished off with a bag of compost (we’re both sort of green). It took 12 18gallon buckets of the free dirt, three bags of soil and 1 bag of compost to fill these beauties and make them a welcome home for the plants we chose.

The pictures are your chance to journey with our little plant heaven on the back patio at E’s new place. So, welcome to the week of planning and set up. The hardest part–digging up dirt, building the boxes, lining with trash bags, and filling with aforementioned dug up dirt and finally, a watering can to get this garden off on the right foot. No thirsty plants on my watch! It’s a good thing we did much of this in the evening and on some cooler, rainier days! I love the sunshine but not always the heat that goes along with it! (I’m a pansy!) You can click for a larger image and slide-show your way through the magnificence.

Welcome to Ithir.

WHY: Summer Days

Last week was the end of school. I wrote about 120 pages. Essentially,  I wrote a thesis. Or I wrote as much material as a thesis would be, but on more topics. Still, can we marvel over that number? I don’t mean it in a pretentious way. I mean it in a oh-my-word-how-could-anyone-write-that-much-and-still-be-sane kind of way. Maybe I’ve lost my sanity without even realizing it….

I’m very glad that I’m done. I don’t love change, I don’t love things ending (like classes, semesters and assignments) but I’m quite glad that the semester and her massive amount of writing is all done. I’m also glad to be done for the year because it means something more than just the end of assignments and schoolwork.

It means that summer has begun.

I love the summertime. It means, later nights with brilliant, burning sunsets. Bike rides become leisurely without looming assignments that snag the wheels and threaten your perseverance up that hill of wasting time (which should, obviously, be spent on said looming assignments). It also means that the mountains will have shed their thick white blankets and dried out in the afternoons of late spring. And that means two very glorious and spiritual things can happen:

hiking.

camping.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
I love summer time in Colorado. I love hiking. I love camping. I’m a journey hiker (which will be a later post) and I’m both a backpacking and car camper. Just give me those Rocky Mountains and I’m happy as a clam in the deep blue. Except there’s not much blue here. It’s more brown with runs of green and forests that look black as smoky ebony when the setting sun hits just right. There are great things to learn of God that come through intellectual discussion in classroom settings. But most of those great experiences with God recorded in the Bible take place outside. If you come to Colorado, you will discover why he speaks in the wilderness–or perhaps, he always speaks, but you will discover why we hear in the wilderness. There is a majesty there, a magnitude that cannot be described or uttered, it can only be seen and experienced and it leads to worship in a way that nothing else can. I can’t put the picture into words. So here are the reasons I love Colorado summers told by photos, here is a sample of the beauty in which God has manifested himself to me in the wilderness that I am privileged to call home:

(Mountains, with snow, in August; Hiking trail; Under the waterfall at Hanging Lake; Standing above Hanging Lake; Looking down onto Hanging Lake; Dusky sunset at a park overlooking the foothills; Before a concert at Red Rocks; Backpacking up to Mt Evans; Giants must live here–Narnia!; Backpacking with a friend from college; Feeling small amidst the Rockies; Clouds on one of my favourite trails; A recent sunset caught in my side view mirror by my cellphone camera)

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