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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 wrote a whole book about the longing for home and the painful (but beautiful) process of homecoming, and yet, five years after moving to Maplehurst and more than a year after Roots and Sky was published, I find I have so much more to say.
And so much more to learn.
Bekah DiFelice is teaching me and inspiring me. I feel as if I could have written every word of this post myself, and yet her experience of moving, moving, and moving on again has given her wisdom and a perspective that can benefit us all. Myself, included.
She shares some of her story below, but I encourage you to pick up a copy of her just-released book, Almost There: Searching for Home in a Life on the Move.
I’m not a gardener, nor do I possess any talent for coaxing green things to grow, but I am a person who is curious about roots. I’ve often wondered what it takes for them to wind through the ground beneath me and make me feel settled, at home.
Nearly a decade ago, I married a handsome Marine who promised to show me the world.
Then he moved us to Yuma, Arizona.
Ever since that first departure, my family and I have moved often, rearranging the same furniture in different houses, coaching new acquaintances on the correct pronunciation of our last name.
In a life on the move, I have found that a person can be homesick for many things besides an address. You can long for a relationship, hobby, or talent that you’ve lost or tabled for a time. You can be homesick for a version of yourself that existed before you changed jobs or had babies or decided on a whim to try out bangs.
Any source of stability can unexpectedly expire, so I think we’re all “on the move,” in one way or another. We are moveable gardens and transplanted roots, all asking what—and where—home is now and what else it could be.
My favorite quote from Christie’s book Roots and Sky is that homecoming is a “process rather than a moment.” It takes some time. Because to establish home is to strain for it. Home is not a passive landing pad, but the place where we battle for roots.
For a long time, I wondered if all this physical transience was detrimental to my root system. I wondered if I fostered shallow relationships or a short attention span; if I had an extra-large appetite for elsewheres, since new possibility was just one move away.
But when I evaluated our mobile life, I didn’t find a touristy sense of ease and detachment. I found, instead, that transience motivated a muscular strain for settledness. It takes a lot of work to transplant, after all. And this work is for our good.
This makes Jesus’ message in John 15 all the more alluring, where he refers to himself as a vine and you and me as the branches.
‘Live in me,’ he says, “Make your home in me just as I do in you.’ (John 15:4)
The work of the branches is to live in companionship with Christ so that they may enjoy a good and abundant life (John 10:10). But the best life doesn’t necessarily mean the lightest or most carefree, which is why the same passage also talks about pruning, the trimming down of branches. God cultivates us by occasionally clipping at our edges so there’s room and reason for us to expand into greater growth. Vines are spreading plants, after all. They exist on the move. And when they’re healthy, when they’re challenged and pruned, they know how to take new territory and to live well in it.
Whether you’re someone who is on the move in identity, career, purpose, or geography, movement has a way of encouraging resilience by way of hardship. It spurs the pursuit of community, clarity, and hopefully God himself as tethers of stability we reach for when other kinds expire.
Although transience doesn’t always train us in the grit of staying in one location, it does train us in the grit of remaining in Christ, in sinking our roots into Someone who interprets for us what to do with all these bits of temporary.
I believe that God is fostering the fullness of life within by placing us in contexts that require us to tenaciously remain in him. So it is a sort of consolation, or maybe even a source of deep gratification, that the distinct stressors of a life on the move are the same tensions that train and grow us.
The work of homecoming clarifies the destination our roots are straining towards.
Bekah DiFelice loves strong coffee, her home state of Colorado, and turning strangers into friends. She is a passionate gatherer of people, mediocre cook, and writer who has a lot to say about only a few things. You can find her at BekahDiFelice.com, where she shares her story of discovering pieces of home in the most unlikely places. Her book, Almost There: Searching for Home in a Life on the Move, is available now.
I look forward to Mother’s Day. My life brims with beautiful mothers: my own, my mother-in-law, my two sisters, and my sister-in-law. Though my four children never have managed to plan a breakfast in bed, they are not stingy with homemade cards and hugs. When I stirred my youngest awake this morning, she said, before even opening her eyes, “Is today Mother’s Day?” That’s how eager she is to watch me open the brown paper-wrapped craft she brought home yesterday from preschool.
But I remember other Mother’s Days. I remember Sundays when the annual recognition of all the moms in the church congregation brought me nothing but pain. I wanted what they had. Desperately.
Having a mother and being a mother are blessings, which means they open us right up to both great joy and great pain. It seems a fitting thing to remember this week.
I am grateful to my friend and fellow writer Sharon McKeeman for sharing her story of grief and Joy with us.
When I was young, I tucked my dolls into bed safely each night. When I was young, I drew haphazard flowers on construction paper for my mom on Mother’s Day. Life was simple and sweet, and I trusted that it would always remain so.
I didn’t know then that I would hold a son stillborn on his due-date. I didn’t know I would caress his perfect but lifeless body before the nurses took him from me. In those moments, life shattered desolate. I returned home from the hospital to my two young sons, and somehow, we celebrated Thanksgiving a few weeks later. My heart had stopped right in its tracks, but the North Carolina sun kept shining, and the rhythm of ordinary and holidays continued. I offered thanks around our turkey-laden dinner table, and I wrapped presents for my children at Christmas. Grief is a long road, but as the chill of the winter months turned to warm spring, I felt my soul begin to revive. Then one day I woke up, and it was Mother’s Day. How could I survive this?
I was afraid I would come untethered, scared that I might just float away. Shame, despair, and heartache were so very close that day, but miraculously Christ was closer. The One who made me and holds my son, wrapped His arms tight around me and carried me through that day. This didn’t numb the pain, but as my two living children kissed my tear streaked cheeks, I lived the truth that, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4 NIV) A mother just barely healing from sprinkling her son’s ashes in the sea, I was comforted. I can’t explain it other than I called out to Christ because I didn’t know how else to survive, and He surrounded me. He held me and didn’t let go.
I wish I could say that since then I have tucked my children into bed safe each night. Thankfully a healthy pregnancy followed the loss of my son on his due-date, but I lost another child when his heart stopped beating at sixteen weeks and another when her heart never began to beat. Even though I held three living children, Mother’s Day become a joke, a time to endure. Even as I collected hand drawn cards and red roses, my soul sank. While around me spring was bursting with life, my heart began to feel as dead as my womb. Despair and distrust of my heavenly Father grew until a friend reminded me that a weeping Jesus is always near.
Jesus entered this mess with us. He suffered and wept; He weeps with us still.
I came to rest in that truth.
I held three children, and I mourned three children. My arms were full, and my arms were empty. Through it all my Maker held me. When I was too weak, too consumed by grief, to hold on, God surrounded and carried me.
This spring an unexpected bloom has unfurled. After I held death within my body three times, a pregnancy blossomed into a healthy daughter who is filling my arms and heart. After all these years of mourning, we have named her Joy. Our family holds her close and breathes thanksgiving, but I know this happiness is just a step in our journey. There will be more storms, more barren months. The greatest gift comes in knowing that joy was not found alone in this precious little one, but in discovering that Christ weeps with me, and my Maker holds me so carefully that no tragedy can tear me from His embrace.
For every woman with empty arms and an aching heart in this season, I pray that she will feel a weeping Jesus near and comforting her. I pray that a miraculous joy will well up within, defy earthly pain, and speak heaven straight to her soul.
There is an everlasting spring yet to come, and even as these bodies of dust often fail us, its whispers take root in our hearts.
Sharon is a homeschooling mama to three sons and a daughter. She is a Midwestern girl at heart who now lives with her family on the sunny beaches of Southern California, where they enjoy reading together and playing in the surf. She is an author, educator, speaker, and photographer who shares more of her story as @sharonmckeeman on Instagram and at www.sharonmckeeman.com where you will find her blog, Writing in the Dust, as well as her newsletter, Mourning into Joy, which is filled with encouragement and resources for grieving mamas.
I still remember when I discovered Hilary Yancey’s writing online. She writes the kind of sweet-sharp prose that I love. Hers is the beautifully precise storytelling that hurts a little to read but always in the best possible way. I remember thinking, “I hope she writes a book one day.”
I am so pleased to share the following guest post from Hilary with you. She writes for those who are waiting for help or good news but worry time is running out. She writes for those who wonder why there seems to be no miracle for them.
Hilary reminds me that good news unfolds in time. Rarely can we receive it in an instant. Instead, it is, like grace, something that reveals itself slowly. But given time, it will sink its roots down deep into our lives changing, not only our present and our future, but our past as well.
I was all grace-less worry the first six weeks of my son’s life. He was born into the bright steadying lights of the NICU. He was born into weeks of poking, prodding, scoped up and down. His first pictures besides our Instagram snapshots were the flickery black and white of heart and head and kidney ultrasounds.
Two by two, we would go into that ark, my husband and I. Two by two, and no more than that at a time. In the mornings the attending physicians and residents would form a crescent moon standing around his bassinet, and the real moon would take the night watch alongside us.
We are all born into motherhood. The labor is from us, and for us, and so I too was welcomed by bright lights and pulsing blue and red monitors. I too was born into an endless click, click of blood pressure cuffs and kinked IV needles and blanket forts to hide us while we slept.
This birthing birthed in me a worry of keeping it together, of keeping on for him, a worry of being enough. I have known this worry before, but it has a different shape in the helpless hallways of a hospital. I was told by every sign and monitor and nurse who ran past me for the red or yellow alarm that I – the mother, the one they say is everything and has been everything – was not the only person my son needed. I was reminded of this when I had to leave Jack’s bedside or faint from not eating. I was reminded when I tossed and turned in the hotel bed that felt suddenly empty.
It ripped me wide, this birth into hand sanitizer rituals and the required removal of wedding rings, these quiet conference rooms where the patient in bed 34 was the topic of conversation, where my son was the patient in bed 34. In all this worry I lost the thread that binds us back together. I lost the thread of the hem of the robe of Jesus.
I think of the woman and her hemorrhages. I think of myself and the way I seemed to hemorrhage confidence and trust as I walked the same dreaded hallways. Is that how she felt, finally seeing his feet passing her by, walking somewhere else? Why didn’t he stop for me – I’ve been here for years – what other house must he go to? What other miracle is more worthy than mine?
I became, this past year, the woman suffering from hemhorrages. I sat down on the side of the road and day after day I thought Jesus would never walk by, that I would never get the chance to reach out for his robe. I wondered if there was any strength left to do even that. When I was pregnant with my son I used to read him the Jesus Storybook Bible. “‘We don’t have time!’ Jesus’ friends said. But Jesus always had time. He reached out his hands and gently lifted her head. He looked into her eyes and smiled. ‘You believed,’ he said, wiping a tear from her eye, ‘and now you are well.’
Just then, Jairus’ servant rushed up to Jairus. ‘It’s too late,’ he said breathlessly. ‘Your daughter is dead.’ Jesus turned to Jairus. ‘It’s not too late,’ Jesus said. ‘Trust me.’”
There is the place where Jesus is going. And then there is the woman I believe he always waited for along the road. I believe that road wanders through the bright hallways of the hospital, past me, that he always has enough time for me to reach out for his robe.
And now, one year later, I open the book to this page, to this story. I am the woman with her fingers grasping the edge of Jesus and I am the woman receiving grace from him, a grace that pours back over the worrying, the disbelieving, the many days when I walked the hallways in quiet desperation. Even when I thought there was no time – Jesus has always had more than enough. Jesus was waiting, maybe even trusting, that we will stop him and touch the hem of his robe.
Hilary Yancey is mama to Jack, wife to Preston and in the midst of getting a PhD in philosophy from Baylor University. When she isn’t chasing an idea, a busy toddler, or learning the first few steps in her adult beginner ballet class, you can find her writing at her blog the wild love or on Instagram at @hilaryyancey.
We are rounding the bend. We are nearing the end.
These sacred days will soon reach their fulfillment.
With Christmas on the near horizon, I am so pleased to offer you this Advent story from my friend and fellow writer, Bonnie O’Neil.
The memories come flooding back to me, as they do on many a cold, dark December night. Flashes of a night, just like this one, many years ago. I was younger then, bright-eyed, full of hopes and big dreams.
The streets are deserted, save for my husband and me. I hear the click-clack of my soles on the cobblestones and press forward, click-clack, steady on. My feet, I cannot see. All is belly, swollen with the joy of life inside of me.
The wind howls. I wrap my garments tighter around me.
I reach out for his arm to steady me as I go. My feet falter on the uneven stones; his strong arm upholds me. It is just the two of us in this foreign land. There will be no mother by my side as I prepare to deliver my first-born child.
Inhaling the cold December air, I exhale the promise of all things new and wonderful. My warm breath hangs in the air, luminous against the cold dark night, and I sigh with relief that the child lies safe and warm inside me tonight.
Mystery, all is mystery and wonder. It is just days, hours perhaps, before I step into the vast unknown and begin the mysterious journey of motherhood. All is wonder. What will this child become? What kind of mother will I grow to be? There is much to ponder; there will be much to treasure in my heart.
I don’t think I fully appreciated Mary and her journey of faith until I was expecting a child of my own. All is Nativity in December, so when you are awaiting your own Christmas baby, I suppose it is natural to stop and reflect on the wonder not just of the incarnation of the Christ child, but also of the faith of the young woman who said yes to becoming His mother.
She was a teenager; I was 30. But that doesn’t mean I knew any more than she did about babies. In fact, she probably knew more! Her cobblestones graced the streets of Bethlehem, far from her Nazareth home; my stones lined the streets of medieval Paris, where my husband and I were living, farther still from any family or close friends. I can feel her aloneness.
There is no fighting the loss of control. It is too late for that now. I sense her acceptance of “what is”.
Her story was, of course, far more faith-stretching than mine. By faith, she accepted that the impossible would become possible as the Son of God became incarnate within her very womb. By faith, she accepted a life of ridicule and judgment as all manner of false conclusions were drawn about her. By faith, she accepted that her child’s life was truly in her heavenly Father’s hands.
No matter how old we are or how long we have been trying to walk by faith, we all still have times when we feel like Mary. Alone. Vulnerable. Insignificant. Unqualified to accomplish a small thing, let alone a big thing. And how like our God to come in those moments and ask the big thing of us.
To say yes to God often involves saying no to myself. No to my in-the-moment need for retribution or recognition. To choose the Mary way is to choose the self-emptying way. It requires nothing less than the intentional surrendering of my will so that I may hear the voice of the Father calling to me.
It is the daily invitation to echo the cry of the God-Man, not my will but yours be done.
To embrace the mystery of Christmas is to accept the mystery of the unknown. It is to throw off the burden of needing control and easy answers and choosing instead to entrust our lives to God’s loving hands. It is to choose a life of outrageous faith amidst a world that says it will only believe once it truly understands. It is to declare with Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant; may it be to me as you have said.”
In this Advent season, we can all be carriers of the Christ child. We choose every day whom we will serve – the Lord and others, or ourselves. May we, like Mary, choose the mystery of a faith-filled life.
Bonnie O’Neil is a gifted writer, speaker, and Bible teacher. She lives in the western suburbs of Philadelphia, on the edge of bucolic Chester County, and is the mother of three mostly-raised children. She is passionate about helping others experience the God of love, finding a cure for type 1 diabetes, filling her senses with beauty, and exploring all things France.
I am a mother well-acquainted with the fears and anxieties of raising a son with a potentially life-threatening medical condition, and Bonnie’s wisdom, born of hard experience, has become a special gift to me. I can say of her what she has written here about Mary: “By faith, she accepted that her child’s life was truly in her heavenly Father’s hands.” With Bonnie’s encouragement, I am doing the same.
Already a consistent blogger, Bonnie has plans to begin writing out the lessons she has learned during her years of raising a medically vulnerable child. I encourage you to sign up here to receive those upcoming blog posts by email.