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I met Patrice Gopo during a week-long writer’s residency at the wonderful Collegeville Institute. I was just beginning the book that would become Placemaker. She was nearing the end of the book that has become All the Colors We Will See. It was always a treat to take a break from writing and run over to the kitchen for tea or coffee, only to find that Patrice was taking a break at the same time. Even a brief conversation with Patrice would give me something to laugh about and something to think about.
A notable endorsement of Patrice’s book says that in this collection of essays, Patrice “sets herself apart as one of the most promising and talented writers of faith of our time.” And it’s true. She has written a beautiful, enjoyable, and quietly powerful book. It was an honor to offer my own endorsement:
It gives me so much pleasure to share a guest post from my friend Patrice Gopo on the blog today. Her reflection on a moment of seasonal transition feels just right for these days when I am contemplating (and longing for!) that subtle shift from summer to fall. The seasonal shift Patrice invokes is much less subtle, even a little violent perhaps, but it reminds me of the deep tremors we can feel when we navigate even the most seemingly ordinary life changes.
Patrice has offered a free copy of All the Colors We Will See to one reader! Read to the end to find all the details.
In Charlotte, where winter brings no guarantee of snow, small children press their palms together, close their eyes so tight they see waves of color, and plead with God to unzip heaven. And last night God answered their prayers, pouring a fine dusting across the hard ground. This morning the radio says, “No school.” Twitter commands, “Stay off the roads.”
After my young daughters slip into seldom-used boots and pull fuzzy hats over the tips of ears, I open the front door to the sound of melting snow. We emerge into the bright sun as rivulets of water already gush down the road. Grey concrete peeks through our trail of footprints. Tiny icicles clank against the ground, succumbing to the same warm rays beating my brow. Tomorrow, I will stand on this bare sidewalk, absent the melting song that declares the cold can’t remain.
In my childhood home, we referred to today’s symphony as “breakup.” Breakup in Anchorage was a thing of weeks, maybe stretching beyond a month. A whole season. First winter. Then breakup. Finally spring. After months of snow and ice, breakup reminded us that winter could not prevail. That spring would always swallow death. Drops of water plunking against still frozen ice. Tiny rivers in search of street gutters. Frozen fangs released from roofs, shattering against porches and decks. My rubber boots—breakup boots, we called them—pounding puddles, splashing slush.
Now in my front yard, thin blades of dead grass poke through the snow. The girls lean back on the white lawn, thick tights and fleece pants shielding them from the damp. Flapping arms and legs, they leave behind the outline of angels.
“Listen,” I say. “Do you hear the snow melting?”
“Listen,” I say again.
Can they know the music? Can their ears discern those sounds in a world where snow leaves in a day? Tomorrow we will stare at yards returned to winter’s norm, at our world carrying on in muted colors. Then on a Saturday in the near future, we will awaken to the hum of lawn mowers and the soft fragrance of fresh cut grass. Without realizing it, we will step into a season that splashes pinks, purples, and vibrant greens on flowers and buds and lawns.
But what of the waiting, what of the longing for an end to the grey? What of a season that reminds us of what we leave, but hints at what still will come? The in-between time when we start to believe for another year that winter will pass. When we muster hope that the spring we remember will come again.
Standing in the driveway, I watch the girls tumble around the yard, puffed out with coats, weighted down by pastel boots. They lean towards the ground and run mittened hands across the snow. We walk to the sidewalk, a mixture of feathery white and patches of wet concrete. Around me the air sings, and the curve of my mouth mirrors my daughters’ smiles. The girls remove their mittens and slide warm fingers across chunks of ice while I languish in the dripping, the cracking against the ground, the music of today’s breakup.
Feel the ice, I think as I watch my daughters. Feel the melting ice. With both her hands, my oldest breaks a frozen gem into smaller stones. She presses a piece against her cheeks. My youngest takes another to her lips. And I imagine what I hear today, I will hear tomorrow, and the next day. Until one bright morning, a bird will sing amidst fresh buds pushing through the branches of a tree.
(This post originally appeared at Lunch Ticket and is used with permission.)
is a 2017-2018 North Carolina Arts Council Literature Fellow. She is the author of All the Colors We Will See: Reflections on Barriers, Brokenness, and Finding Our Way
(August 2018), an essay collection about race, immigration, and belonging. Please visit patricegopo.com/book
to learn more. Facebook: @patricegopowrites Instagram/Twitter: @patricegopo
Friends, Patrice is giving away a copy of her book! To be entered to win, simply leave a comment on this post. A winner will be drawn Sunday, August 19 at 9 am eastern.
Tell me, do you pick up more serious, weighty books as we shift from reading on the beach or park bench to reading by a fire? I look forward to hearing from you!
I sat in my hairdresser’s chair this morning feeling too worn out for small talk. Summer days at home with four children will do that.
She asked about my trip to Tuscany: “Did you bring home ideas for your writing?”
“No,” I said.
“Well, maybe,” I added.
What did I bring home from this spiritual retreat for writers?
Two bottles of olive oil. A duty-free bottle of lemoncello. Hard candies in pretty little boxes for the kids.
Also, a retreat journal full of prayers, epiphanies, and meaningful quotations from the likes of Henri Nouwen.
Your future depends on how you choose to remember your past. – Henri J.M. Nouwen
How do I remember my time in the Tuscan countryside of Italy? How do I remember those days lived in community, in a garden, around a table, surrounded by beauty?
I remember rest.
Simple rest. A total focus on the here and the now and the people right at my elbow.
The kind of rest I believe is available to those walking the Jesus way.
The kind of rest I rarely, if ever, manage to enter on my ordinary day to day.
What is rest? What is its substance?
It feels like being held. It feels like the absence of fear. It feels like no anxiety for tomorrow and a quiet acceptance of yesterday.
It feels like stillness.
It feels like freedom.
It is a spacious place.
I am a gardener who has never yet found rest in my own garden. Who can rest when mosquitos are biting, weeds are waving, and overgrown cucumbers are beginning to rot on the vine?
Who can rest when children are growing, my cellphone is dinging, and the cucumbers I meant to make into pickles are beginning to rot in the fridge?
I found rest in a garden in Tuscany because that garden wasn’t mine. It wasn’t my responsibility. Someone else made that place, and I had only to enjoy it.
If rest is a place made for us, where is the door?
In Tuscany, rest was a stone bench beneath sheltering leaves, a kind of green grotto within an enormous shrub.
Our word grotto is related to the Greek for hidden place, the same Greek that gave us our word crypt. That should not surprise us. “Blessed are the dead,” we read in Revelation, “they will rest from their labor.” In this life we sometimes glimpse the ultimate rest, but ours is only a glimpse, a momentary vision, for “there remains … a Sabbath-rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9).
Man-made grottos, whether green and growing or stony and still, are often markers of gratitude: gratitude for some miraculous encounter or some answered prayer. Grottos shape how we remember the past. They tell us God is near. They say all shall be well. They hint at a reality we have yet to enter.
My own garden has no grotto, but, since returning from Tuscany, I have discovered it is possible to shelter within gratitude, as if leaf by leaf or stone by stone, I can be transported, not leaving my ordinary everyday but somehow sinking, a little more deeply, within it.
When fear or worry invade, I say Thank you for this and thank you for that and I find that the list goes on and on.
Until the list becomes a door.
I wanted to write something about these long, summer days: how they are suddenly upon us, how they leave me laughing but also desperately trying to catch my breath. Then I did a little digging in my blog archives and realized I’d already written the post I was imagining. No need to reinvent the wheel, then. Summer is easy like that.
In slightly revised form, here is my summer manifesto. Every word just as true as it was one year ago.
Summer days are here: cool in the morning, a little too warm by afternoon, and every window open.
We wake early but find that the sun has already beat us to it. These are the longest days, and they start without us. I sip my morning coffee and make my list. How is it possible to feel so behind at 6:30 in the morning?
Summer to-do lists are like none other:
Pick the snap peas while they’re still tender. Cut the sweet peas before they wilt. Visit the u-pick berry farm. Make freezer jam. Write that magazine story due tomorrow. Carve a dent, at least, in the email inbox. Write that check and mail it. Help the boys catch fireflies.
Summer priorities are topsy-turvy. Ripening strawberries and fat peas are things of urgency, but I’ve forgotten where I left my laptop. Was it two days ago, I last used it? There’s an important professional conversation I need to have, but I’ve missed the phone call twice. The first time, I was at the creek with the kids. The second, I was picking cherries.
An afternoon storm rolls in, the kind of summer storm that is all sound, little fury, and I think Lord, I love summer.
The boys start fighting (again), and I pray, Lord, let me survive the summer.
Summer days are so long, we have more than one second chance.
Here is one, and here is another. We explode in anger. We apologize. I make them hug. One shrugs. One runs away. We laugh. And we do it all again, three or four times. I maybe cry once, and then I tell my kids how I used to fight so terribly with my sisters I made my own mother cry.
Summer is crying mothers, and fighting kids; summer is fat, sweet strawberries, and lightning crashing like a cymbal on your head.
Summer is more, and more, and more.
Summer is magic.
Summer days run fast and hard until evening. Then the summer sun slows, almost stops, and you can hardly tell it’s sinking. Summer evenings taste like forever. I could finish that to-do list if I wanted, but urgency fades in the evening. Why didn’t I realize sooner? These are the longest days, and there is time enough.
Swift, swift times flies, but still there is enough for what matters: porch rockers, bubble wands, strawberries, one last visit to the new tree with a watering can.
The kids watch a movie and stay up too late. You and I walk in the meadow we made when you decided to stop mowing the grass.
There is time enough.
Summer is here. Why don’t we sit a while?
Tell me, I’d love to hear. What is your summer manifesto?
Winter does not give up easily. Not this year, at least.
For weeks now, winter has held on, as if digging icy claws deep into the frozen soil, deep into my heart, and deep into the whole wide world (yes, even in the southern hemisphere where warm winds blow but hearts still feel the chill of injustice or violence).
When the thaw finally begins, I feel as if I should shout for joy, yet I find myself angered by mud and mess. The ice is giving way, the green tips of daffodils are reaching for cloudy skies, but I want a settled beauty. I don’t want the mess of hard transitions.
I really don’t want to set my hopes on spring only to find the snowflake icon creep back into the ten-day forecast.
In the final pages of our Bibles we hear a victorious Jesus say,
I am making all things new!
How those words ring. How they lift my heart.
But then I look around.
The beauty of winter snow gives way to the ugliness of mud puddles, and I recognize that making new is hard, messy, sometimes back-breaking (always heart-breaking) work.
I could turn away. I could close my eyes to the mess that always does emerge in the middle.
Or I could hold my broken heart still, will my eyes to open wider and wider, and wait for that magic moment (and it always feels like magic) when something hard yet necessary finally breaks and a river is loosed.
A river of spring is set free.
I’ve never yet seen the precise moment. Always, I marvel: Did this leaf uncurl overnight? Did those tulips grow six inches in an afternoon?
Yet here is the wild thing about this particular magic: we helped make it happen.
We participate in spring.
When our hearts are broken, when are eyes are open, we don’t simply wait for spring. We join in. We dig our shovels into the dirt, and we help to release rivers of justice and peace. When the flood finally comes, I like to think we will turn to our Jesus and say, we made things new, didn’t we?
Together, we made things new.
In celebration of spring, whether it is firmly planted in your neighborhood or still just a dream and a prayer, I am giving each one of my newsletter subscribers a free gift.
Here are four more pages from the book of my dreams.
When I first imagined the book that eventually became Roots and Sky, I pictured an old-fashioned treasure, something like the books I seek out in thrift stores and used bookstores. I thought my stories would be interspersed with seasonal tips and recipes and nostalgic pen-and-ink illustrations.
Almost as soon as I began writing, I realized that the story I needed to tell was simpler and leaner. Those first four seasons at Maplehurst were more quiet and watchful than busy and industrious, and the book needed to reflect that.
But the idea of offering more–seasonal stories, tips, recipes, and beautiful illustrations–has never gone away.
In collaboration with the talented designer and illustrator Jennifer Tucker of Little House Studio, I’ve created four spring-themed pages from that book of my dreams.
They are free for every one of my email subscribers to download and print.
One comes from my kitchen, two from nature, and one from my bookshelves. Each page offers something practical and beautiful wrapped up in my own lyrical point of view.
I’m planning to print and frame mine, but they’ll do just as well tacked to a bulletin board or tucked into a garden journal or recipe box. Feel free to share this post with friends who might like to subscribe and print their own.
Simply click the subscribe box below, enter your email address, and a confirmation email will be sent straight to you. Confirm your address, and you’ll be taken to the link in order to claim your download.
If you are already a subscriber, check your inbox. Your link should be waiting for you.
Something to remember: THREE WEEKS from today, the offer expires, and the prints will no longer be available.
Spring is for new life.
I have twelve baby chickens and trays of green seedlings in my basement. I have a teetering stack of new books by my chair.
One of those books is by Hilary Yancey. I’ve shared her beautiful words in this space before. She writes with rare wisdom and lyricism, and I look forward to digging into Forgiving God: A Story of Faith as much as I can’t wait to dig into my garden. This is the story of Hilary’s pregnancy with her firstborn, Jackson, and her journey through his diagnosis with craniofacial microsomia at a 20-week ultrasound. It’s a story of working to believe in miraculous healing, and confronting God when the miracles don’t look the way she expected.
It’s a story of learning to leave behind old expectations to make room for something wider, and wilder.
I am so glad to host Hilary’s reflections at my home online today.
I am not one to despise Your gifts.
May You be blessed
Who spread the riches of Your sweetness
For my zeal…
Let my small span of ardent life
Melt into our great communal task;
To lift up to Your glory
This temple of sweetness,
A citadel of incense,
A holy candle, myriad-celled,
Moulded of Your graces
And of my hidden work.
– “The Prayer of the Bee” by Carmen Bernos de Gasztold, translated by Rumer Godden
When I was in high school I was once described by a new friend as doing a kind of “butterflying” – from person to person, subject to subject, leaving conversations half-finished or always to be continued. I had, in the thoughtlessness of a fifteen year-old experiencing peer acceptance, jumped from lunches to free periods and neglected her. I hadn’t realized that she moved more carefully, finishing each thing before taking up the next one. I apologized profusely, and we went on to build a friendship in chemistry classes and after school theater. But I vowed to myself that I would change, I would abandon my butterfly ways. I would be slow, I told myself. I would be wise.
Have you ever kept a promise too well? Have you ever been so good at becoming more like someone else that you left yourself behind?
Three years later, at the start of my freshman year of college, my mentor told me that I was too flighty. I came in, as she once called it, in “a gust of disquiet.” I was so anxious to prove that I could be a quiet soul. I remember trying to practice daily prayer in the windowless study room of my dorm, growing bored in the words even as I willed myself to practice, practice, practice what I assumed she meant by stillness and calm.
In trying to become wise, I have been trying to become someone else. I assumed wisdom was sturdy, like wood, that you had to carve in yourself a space for it to live. I assumed I was the wrong shape for it, that to acquire it, to be the better friend and the wiser soul, I had to sand down and rework the architecture of my heart.
During the day, my daughter sleeps in fits and starts—fifteen minutes, thirty minutes, a rare hour—waking with a surprised widening of her eyes and then a smile that slowly creeps across her face, indenting at her dimples that echo her brother so strongly. Her waking hours stretch and bend, winding like a river through our days. She is never asleep that long, she is always looking for a reason to wake up.
My son gallops through the day, racing from backyard to coffee maker to puzzles and books. His energy is just barely contained by the limits of the sun going down and coming back up. He is a tidal wave, dancing to a record or to the NYC Ballet’s Nutcracker movie, and he thunders his life around me. He moves so fast, and I feel the stretch of my body and mind to keep up with him.
Perhaps the shape of wisdom isn’t always wood. Perhaps sometimes it’s water.
My children echo back to me parts of myself I put away back when I assumed that remaking myself was the way that I could honor God. But of course, God doesn’t ask us to become other people, even other wise people. God asks instead that we become ourselves.
Lord, I am not one to despise Your gifts.
And I am the bee, the scattered heart, the wave. I am built for movement and for restlessness, I am built with too many loves which always feel like too few. The other day I told Jesus I want to learn to play the banjo. The other day I told Jesus I want to study the structure of our immune system. The other day I told Jesus I could spend my days rereading Richard Wilbur’s Collected Poems out loud. Perhaps this is you, this restless movement. Perhaps you are more like a tortoise or an owl, perhaps your wisdom is in how you keep watch or how you pace yourself through the world. Perhaps you are built for a different kind of movement.
Lord, I am not one to despise Your gifts.
I wrote Forgiving God because there was a book in me and it was bursting to come out. I wrote it to search for God, to find a way to confront him and a way to lean on him. I moved restlessly then, writing twenty minutes here, ten minutes there. I labored, I hope, like the bee – gathering hope from a thousand flowers to build something up.
But this I hope more than anything else – that this book, this small span of ardent life—melts into the task before us all: that together, we lift up for God’s glory something holy and beautiful. That we, in the many ways we might be wise, whether slow paced or ceaselessly moving, whether more like a tortoise or more like a bee, we live ardently. That our tasks come together to offer something fragrant and good.
And wisdom can be like water, and it can fill all kinds of hearts.
Hilary is a student of the surprise hidden within the every day. She explores the challenges and blessings of marriage, motherhood, and a life of faith–and how these are expanded and changed by disability. Hilary is also a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at Baylor University and lives with her husband, Preston, and two children in Waco, Texas. Her blog can be read at www.hilaryyancey.com.
On school “Career Day,” she sat at the back of the third-grade classroom. Her bright face was framed by two glittery barrettes. “What’s the funniest things you’ve ever written?” she asked.
“The funniest?” I said. Quiet settled around us like a fog, filling up one second, then another.
“To be honest, I tend to write about sad things. Those are the things that snag in my heart and make me want to understand them. I guess I write about sad things because sad things happen to all of us.”
She sat up straight in her desk and almost shouted, “My cat died!” She looked toward a corner of the room and then back into my eyes. No longer shouting, she said, “My grandmother died, too.”
On Valentine’s Day, our youngest will give her preschool friends paper cards covered in glitter glue and sparkly stickers. Her bedroom floor has become a Milky Way of pink and purple dust.
Valentine’s Day is also Ash Wednesday. That afternoon, Jonathan and I will gather four children and drive to church. “Dust to dust” and a cross of ashes on all our foreheads. Pizza dinner with our church family. Heart candies in pastel shades pulled from linty pockets.
Last year, I was not prepared for the terrible sight of a black cross on my little girl’s tiny, white forehead.
No, your heart says.
Yes, your mind insists.
This year, I am prepared. I know I will want to wipe it off. I will want to say to her, I’m sorry. But I will not.
Five years ago, she was born into this breathing world, and it is too late for apologies.
You are dust, Elsa Spring.
And so am I.
Christmas at Maplehurst was the glitter of snowfall. Epiphany was the sparkle of ice on the dark water of the neighborhood retention ponds. With my sister and her children, we feasted. We skated. We laughed, and though we did not talk about it, I know we also remembered.
Only two years ago, my nieces and nephews celebrated Christmas with their Dad in the house with the mango tree. Only two years ago, I celebrated Christmas with my parents, their grandparents. “We’ll slow down,” they said. “Maybe we’ll travel!” they said. We didn’t know we were all walking nearer to the edge of a cliff.
Each Christmastime, I find myself bracing for bad news. “What’s coming?” my body asks. “Nothing,” my mind says. “You’re only remembering.”
“Sorrow is always coming,” my heart insists.
The sparkle of Epiphany has been washed away by rain. There is no snow at Maplehurst, and the ice over the dark water is thin and broken. Now there is only fog.
“This is bad,” Jonathan says, driving our car toward church on Sunday morning.
“Ice would be worse,” I say. I mean it to be comforting, but the words slip away, and we are both quiet peering ahead along a road we can no longer see.
I turn toward my sons seated at the back of the minivan. “Remember, you may notice some of our friends at church crying. We are sad right now, and it’s okay to be sad. Do you have any questions?”
They have no questions.
Or maybe they do. Maybe it is only that they know by now their parents do not have the answers. At least, not the easy ones they may want.
These past two years, grief has visited family and grief has visited friend after friend, and though these four children are mine to care for, I cannot protect them from sorrow. I cannot pretend this world is different than it is.
If they must know sorrow, I pray, let them know comfort, too.
I’ve always imagined Lent as a season of subtraction. We do without. We live with less.
But the word itself is an old word for spring, and spring is a season of more. In spring, there is a very little bit more every day—more light and more life, as if joy were a buried seed and this is our one chance to watch it take root and grow.
Lent is related to lengthen, and this is the season of lengthening days.
I tried to explain all this to my kids at dinner, but I failed. Shrove Tuesday they love. “Let’s eat all the pancakes in the world!” Elsa said. But Lent? No, thank you. Though my boys were less polite than that.
Maybe that’s why I kicked them out of the room halfway through our post-dinner reading of C. S. Lewis’s Prince Caspian. They disrupted our family reading with laughter instead of their usual bickering, but that somehow made it worse. As if anything were more fun than listening to Mom read about lions and dancing trees.
Still, I wish they’d been there. I wish we could have talked about the turning point in this story, and how it all began when Lucy recognized her failure and stopped trying to defend herself. “I’m sorry, Aslan. I’m ready now,“ she said.
“Now you are a lioness,” said Aslan. “And now all Narnia will be renewed. But come. We have no time to lose.”
Come! We have no time to lose.
Time is flowing on, but time is also moving backwards. This is the meaning of renewal.
Renewal is spring made visible, but it is also winter undone. The tangled threads of the past are set right. Our mistakes are rewoven. Even the power of death itself has begun to be unraveled.
And we can participate.
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke … (Isaiah 58:6).
No doubt, I will long for some shortcut. No doubt, I will want to guide my children toward some other path. I will wish for them some easier way unmarked by grief or hunger or unanswered questions.
I will want to keep them comfortable, but comfort isn’t always our friend. Still, I think I’ll keep a few of those leftover candy hearts in my pocket. A little sweetness to share along the way.
What will we see when the fog rolls back and we arrive at Easter morning?
Perhaps not sunrise. Perhaps we must still wait for that. But even though we go on walking in the valley of the shadow, the sky above is pierced with starlight.
Look at that! we’ll say to one another. This night is more like noonday (Isaiah 58:10).
Then we will turn to our companions on the way, shining with so much reflected light, and we will say to one another: Remember that you are stardust, remember you are on your way home.