Marriage Letters: On Home

Next month, Amber’s first book, Wild in the Hollow, hits the shelves. It explores a sort of coming of age, a discovery of what it means to be home. In celebration of her book, we’re writing Marriage Letters this week, exploring the concept of Home. After you’ve read our letters (read Amber’s letter here), wander over to Amber’s place and check out Wild in the Hollow.

*****

Dear Amber,

We’ve treated home like a pair of jeans. Tried them on. Owned them for a time. Stained them, then taken them to the thrift store. Bought a new pair.

Truth is, if we’re known for anything in Fayetteville, it’s for moving. Let’s recap.

1. The Oklahoma Apartment

We started in Oklahoma, newlyweds in an apartment smaller than a single-wide. The walls were thick, the floors thin, and the smells of our downstairs neighbors’ musty towels and Chinese takeout wafted up and permeated our space.

There was a tree outside our apartment, and it’s upper branches spread onto our balcony. A student from our church climbed its boughs one night, lowered himself onto the balcony and tap-tap-tapped on the sliding door while we were making out on the living room couch.

That was embarrassing.

2. The Love Shack

We moved to the tiny house in the Ozarks, the one behind my grandparents’ house. White, nearly dilapidated, we called it the Love Shack. Every summer sweltered in that house, what with only one window air conditioner unit to cool the whole shebang. We wore a whole lot of nothing in those summer months. In the winter, it was all flannel and covers and “sweet Moses I can’t seem to shake this chill.” There was a field of horses, a spring’s worth of surprise lilies, and tuna fish sandwiches and Dr. Peppers with Grandma.

We brought a child home. His name was Isaac. He made us laugh.

3. The Grouse House

After graduate school, we bought our first place. The corner lot in a neighborhood on Grouse street. Children rode bicycles till dusk. We grew tomatoes and peppers in barrels. We brought another child home, Jude. He’d be our prophet-poet-artist in resident.

Just when we’d settled into the new normal–toddler and infant and a little dog that leached all manner of rotten smells–we watched a terrible movie and drank a cheap bottle of wine. We conceived a third child in that house. The Grouse house was full of love.

4.  The Upwardly Mobile Joint

We moved across town, upsized to middle-class dream home with crape myrtles and a sprinkler system. It was a two story joint and the back porch overlooked our neighbors tropical paradise. He was a Tyson man, a life-long accountant of chickens, and he’d recreated a Bahamian island in his backyard. There were tiny banana trees and flowers from Hawaii. We spent evenings in the backyard admiring his landscaping.

On the fourth of July, the neighborhood men went in and bought fireworks together. The neighborhood sounded like a war zone, like too many humans were trying to rip another hole in the sky. We watched as a sulphur smoke descended on our neighbor’s paradise.

5. The Rock House

We moved back to my grandma’s land, but this time we moved into the big house, the Rock House. Grandpa had passed, slipped away in a hospice bed in the living room. An angel had visited him there. Seven feet and clothed in purple, he told grandpa he’d be back in an hour to escort the old man home. He kept his word.

The memories were too much for Grandma and she moved to an apartment in my parents’ hometown. We took ownership of the surprise lilies and the fish pond. We ate tuna sandwiches from time to time. It was all about nostalgia.

6. The Arkansas Apartments

We left the Rock House and moved into an apartment. We’d been bit by the bug of communal living, and insanity set in. Close friends–missionaries from Southeast Asia–had moved into the complex, and we followed to forge a new kind of community. The quarters were too close again, but the community loved well. We brought another child home, Titus. He was sick and required more space than either the little apartment or community afforded.

7. The Rock House (Part Deux) 

Back to the Rock House we went. (Does the reliving of all these moves make you tired? It does me.) We made it two years in that place. But sooner rather than later, the old family house became too much to handle. Titus grew sicker by the day and demanded all our attention. We learned a little known fact from that old place: honeysuckle and morning glory can eat a house in approximately three months and seven days if you don’t tend to it. We were too busy tending to sick child and the house grew into one gigantic ornamental shrub.

A buyer came knocking even though our house wasn’t on the market. We sold.

8. The Rent House

While we waited to close on the Rock House, we had two separate homes under contract. The first was structurally unsound. The second leaked worse than the Titanic. Neither passed inspection, so after a selling the Rock House (and after a 4 week housesitting stint), we settled in a rent house in the heart of town in an effort to avoid homelessness. It was a cozy place, the place where I dried out. We sat under the arms of a massive American sycamore tree and learned the peace of poetry, records, and dreaming of a place to call our own.

9. The Tiny House

We visited Tuscany during the summer of 2014. We saw farmers tend their olive grows and sheep. We caught a vision for something small, something organic. We came home and you looked at listings. You found a tiny house on an acre. There was a small orchard, a garden. There was a compost pile under the pecan trees. “This is the one,” you emailed me, and we jumped.

We’ve been here almost one year. It feels as homey as anyplace.

What is Home?

Some folks associate home with a particular geography, a landscape. They think of the old Baptist Church on the corner, or the coffeeshop down the block. They think of a particular town or region. They see mountains, maybe deserts, maybe a river valley running over.

Some folks associate home with a people.  They remember how grandpa used to sit on the same porch carving peach pits in the pastel evening, or how Ms. Werner brought homemade krawt down the apartment stairs. They think of genealogies or new friends. They like their colorful city mixing bowls, or their stayed and stolid country folk.

Some folks associate home with fauna. The peonies pushing pink in spring. The summer stargazers. The rusted leaves of autumn maples. Portland cherry blossoms. Florida palms.

Geography, people, and fauna–these are accouterments of home, but when your home-place is in constant flux, you come to find that home transcends any of these things. Geography changes. People pass. The leaves turn. So what is home?

We’ve made home nine times, and each feels as settled as the last, at least for a while. Each place feels like home. Why? Home,  I think, is where you are; it’s where we are together. And antsy as I may grow from time to time, as itchy as my feet might become, I’m home so long as we’re together.

I’d like to think we’ll be here twenty years. That we’d finally pay a place off and have a dream to leave to our children. I know us better than that. I’m sure we’ll put this dive on the market at some point, pounce on a piece of property deeper in the country. Whatever. It’s not so much about the physical place as it is about being with you.

So let’s move to Tennessee, Texas, or Tuscany. Let’s try on Portland, or another house in Fayetteville. Country living, city living–let’s try on just about anywhere (except Pine Bluff), and know that it’s home if we’re together.

The trick to finding home? Knowing the one who makes it what it is.

 

Thanks for being my home-girl,

Seth

 

*Don’t forget to read Amber’s Marriage Letter HERE.

 

***TINY LETTER***

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Screaming Opinion Babies

The Poetry of the News Cycle

Celebrity scandal. Terror event. The Christian famous trip on sin.
Three day lull. Anchors scramble. Trains, plains, or automobile event.
Tabloid sex. Black folks murdered. Watch a house of worship burn.
Civil rights protests. High court rulings. Watch the social media churn. 

Celebrity scandal. Terror event. Maybe this time we’ll break the mold.
Black folks murdered. Civil rights protests. Watch a house of worship burn.

Salty Opinion Loops

We are stuck in a perpetual loop, an endless cycle of news. It’s a pregnant news cycle, one that gives birth to screaming opinion after screaming opinion after screaming opinion, and all these opinion babies come crying into our social media feeds.

As a person of faith, do you feel the tension? We’re called to be salt and light, yes? And what’s saltier than an opinion? Nothing but an Arkansas pork butt, I’d say.

Opine. Opine. Opine. This is how you know you’re alive.

Here’s the tricky bit, though. Sometimes its best to hold your tongue.

Remember Your Grandmother?

My grandmother passed last week. She was a kind soul who lived a good life. She was prone to occasional fits of gossip as humans  are, but for the most part she kept her dinner-table opinions kindly folded in her lap. It was, perhaps, her crowning quality.

I don’t remember her exact words, but when I bandied opinions about, she’d often ask me whether my words were kind or helpful. It was the old if-you-can’t-say-anything-nice bit, sure. But there is a reason so many of us respected our grandmothers. They lived the lost art of kindness.

The Endless Debate Place

There is a season for everything, for debate, for argument, for strident support or opposition. There are places for these things, too. Dinner tables. Coffee shops. Town hall meetings. These days, though, the entire world has become both time and place for debate, argument, and strident support or opposition. And in many of these forums where context is often lacking, there is often a conspicuous lack of one virtue–kindness.

On Tuesday, I jotted this little Facebook post. It seems to have resonated with more than a few people.

“Is it kind?””Is it helpful?”These are the questions I’ve been turning over over the last few days. Do I have…

Posted by Seth Haines (Writing) on Monday, June 29, 2015

Is it Helpful? Is it Kind?

Don’t get me wrong, I find many news stories and social media posts helpful and kind. In fact, allow me to offer a helpful link this morning. Click here, and donate to help rebuild the black churches that have been burned in recent days throughout the south. (Click here to read about the black churches being burned.)

I’m glad that the news cycle and social media have broadened my perspective on a great many issues of the day. I’m not advocating for a moratorium on speech. Not really. Instead, I’m advocating for something rather Christian. Kindness. Let’s all give it a try?

“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32

***TINY LETTER***

Cover.FrancisThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. In the first of edition of the June newsletter, I’m be giving away Chapter 2 of Dear Little Brothers, a serial eBook. Sign up in the box below, to receive Chapter 1 and look for the June Tiny Letter in your inbox to download Chapter 2!

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Jump Starting Hope (Featuring Velynn Brown)

I met Velynn Brown–slam-poet, writer, and speaker–at a writer’s conference in Portland, Oregon. It was early spring, and the cherry trees were shedding their blossoms on the parking lot of Warner Pacific College. Velynn and I shared a retreat conversation, one in which I praised the beauty of the cherry-blossom carpet and the pink-skirted azaleas. She spoke of nature, too. “See the black sap tears on the fir? God is crying with us.”

Velynn stood in the shadow of Ferguson, in the fresh grief of the brutal detention and subsequent death of Freddie Gray, and she asked me, “do black lives matter?” Sure, we’ve all seen the hashtag. But when your sister looks you in the eye, when she removes the “#”, inserts spaces, and slaps it with a question mark made for you, the equation changes.

Velynn is a poet and passionate social justice advocate. She’s a joyful psalmist and a modern incarnation of lamentation. But more than any of these things, she is my sister. I trust her. I’ve invited her to share words with us via my Tiny Letter, and she’s offered a piece of poetry. Sign up to receive the Tiny Letter by clicking this link, and I’ll make sure you receive a copy of her words. They’re powerful and good.

If you get the chance today, check out Velynn’s work on her blog and at the Mudroom. Follow her on Twitter, and join her Facebook community. She is one of the good ones.

***TINY LETTER***

Cover.FrancisThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. In the first of edition of the June newsletter, I’m be giving away Chapter 2 of Dear Little Brothers, a serial eBook. Sign up in the box below, to receive Chapter 1 and look for the June Tiny Letter in your inbox to download Chapter 2!

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Grandma’s Passing

My grandmother slipped behind the veil last week. Slow, groggy, feeling a little too tired, she laid down for a ten-minute nap and woke in eternity. My parents said she went with a smile on her face. She was 95.

As my friend Karen said this morning, “weddings, births, and funerals tend to turn people toward reflection.” Yesterday, a few handfuls of celebrants gathered at Moore’s Funeral Chapel, and we reflected on the passing of a saint. She was a woman who used her 95 years well. By all accounts she was a student of scripture, a spiritual mother, a living prayer.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to share a poem at her funeral. Today, I’m sharing it here.

*****

For Grandma Upon Her Passing.

At 95 we thought she might live forever,
suspended between nature and eternity,
the passages caused by old age
or accident, whichever God gifted first.
Brow folded over brow, wisdom lines
tracing trenches until her 90th birthday,
then no more. (One can acquire only
what wisdom is acquirable.)
Thin-skinned hands, veins light purple
the color of queens who seem
to outshine the lot of us.
Affections turned toward home,
toward husband, and children,
and children’s children,
to mother and father, to friends
who visit in late afternoon memories.
In well-worn age, the world’s weights
became helium balloons, releasable,
laughable, floating things.
Memories, family, faith, hope–
these are the anchors of age.

95 and we thought she might live forever.
Perhaps she did.

IMG_4733-600x600
Image by Amber Haines.

***TINY LETTER***

Cover.FrancisThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. In the first of edition of the June newsletter, I’m be giving away Chapter 2 of Dear Little Brothers, a serial eBook. Sign up in the box below, to receive Chapter 1 and look for the June Tiny Letter in your inbox to download Chapter 2!

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Confederate Treason

I attended a high school with rebel roots. We were a Southern school on the south side of town. Our rival high school was on the north side. We were the majority white school. They were the majority black school.

The school mascot in those days was Johnny Reb, our unofficial theme song was Charlie Daniels’ “The South’s Gonna do it Again.” Under the Friday night lights, the parking lot was filled with Confederate flags. After every touchdown, the band played Dixie, and we sang “I wish I was in the land of cotton, old times there are not forgotten.” We justified it all, said this Confederate lingo was just part of our heritage.

I never took a stand against the mascot or the Confederate flag (the flag which was officially banned my sophomore year) in those days. Perhaps this was because I didn’t understand the full implications of our histories, our heritage. Perhaps I blamed any criticism of the tradition as benig levied by those who were “too sensitive,” or “too politically correct.” Perhaps it was because I didn’t listen to my black friends.

Whatever. I was wrong.

***

My family sneaked away to Gulf Shores, Alabama last week for a little rest and relaxation. There, on the beach, plain as day, teenage boys wore Confederate flag shorts, and cars in the parking garage had stars-and-bars license plate holders. I saw at least a half-dozen Confederate flags flying on the highway, and more symbols of Southern rebellion on teeshirts, sunglasses, and belts.

It’s strange, when you think about it, this swath of folks celebrating a flag that stands for treason and racism. If they flew ISIS flags, they’d be called traitors and racists. We’d round them up, interrogate them. We’d detain them and subject them to all manner of examinations. But these aren’t Muslim terrorists, see. These are our own people, the people who share our office cubicles and grocery store aisles with us. Maybe a person or two who goes to church with us.

Do you see the treason? It looks like us.

*****

This morning I read the daily collect in the Book of Common Prayer. It reads:

“Keep O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion.” (emphasis added)

The truth is, racism is baked into our society. The truth is, the Confederate flag is a flag of treason and racism. The truth is, it is a symbol of hate speech, and ultimately, of treasonous evil.

I grew up in a world where flying the stars-and-bars was justified as “heritage not hate.” Let’s be honest. It’s always been about hate not heritage. It’s always been about rebellion.

*****

I’m grieving for my black brothers and sisters in Charleston, South Carolina. I’m grieving for the violence they suffered at the hands of a domestic terrorist. I’m grieving for children of the Reverend Clementa C. Pinckney, who will grow up without a father because of a racist with a gun. And I’m sorry they’ll be reared in the shadow of the Confederate flag flying high over the Capitol.

See a Confederate flag? Speak out against it. Is this an attack on the Southern heritage, at least in part? You bet.

***TINY LETTER***

Cover.FrancisThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. In the first of edition of the June newsletter, I’m be giving away Chapter 2 of Dear Little Brothers, a serial eBook. Sign up in the box below, to receive Chapter 1 and look for the June Tiny Letter in your inbox to download Chapter 2!

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