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ANDREA BURKE
Rochester, NY, 14620

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Carta Marina

Andrea Burke

So there I am, salsa chicken in the crockpot and I’m dumping a pile of cinnamon-and-sugared apples into a pie crust and I feel lighter. I do. I feel like God has given me a simple joy in seeing a bunch of random ingredients come together into a pie dish just for the joy of enjoying this battered world for a few scrumptious minutes. 
 

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The Afternoon Light

Andrea Burke

Once upon a time I felt prolific. Then I started typing.

I don’t know what I plan to do here, kicking about half-written entries and half-thought-out ideas inside of Google Drive documents, my head and my desk. With the return of September, routine finds its way back into our lives. I’m sitting at a newly built desk with the hum of a fan and the sound of a child in a red wig playing in another room. The wig makes no sound, but the personality does.

I’ve been wrestling with the shadow of contentment for more than a few months now. It’s devilish. And the absence of writing has left me without a place to as Stephen King said, "...find out what I think."

I need the outlet of words. Several fiction pieces spilling out of my mind and onto screen have been revived and I find myself desperate for an hour or two of writing silence. I crave the evening hours when all is silent and for a moment, I can see a form of something, someone in the shadowplace where my writing once stood. She stands there with a lantern. Her voice haunts me a bit. I think it’s me.

I’ve been thinking about this culture who dresses up their dead after they’ve been long gone, and then I see ads for anti-aging, and I read about Seneca the Elder who said,

The final hour when we cease to exist does not itself bring death; it merely of itself completes the death-process. We reach death at that moment, but we have been a long time on the way.


I wonder if we’ve become so comfortable with this world that we forget our bodies are meant to die. I want to write several lines about how we’re painting corpses while there are withering hearts in the houses next to us. I want to ask why we are plumping up our skin with fluids while there are eternal souls are dying of thirst. I want to, but then my daughter comes in to the room to declare that the watermelon herbal tea I’ve made her is not what she wanted. This is the end of all things, it would seem, and she is in tears asking for another cup.

“I’m not making a different kind of tea right now,” I say and she throws me the look of absolute devastation. Or perhaps more of deflated loss. She knows I won’t change my mind and I wonder how much I’ve just disappointed her that I am not bounding out of my chair for the umpteenth time today to make sure she’s happy. Sometimes I can’t worry about whether or not she’s happy. Sometimes it’s a lie to teach her that her happiness is the most important. I want to write about that.

I want to write about being married, and how nine months feels like a lifetime of learning and how going from a single mom to wife has been more difficult than I anticipated. But then I think we’ve only been married nine months. No one wants to hear anything about marriage from me. I don’t want to hear marriage thoughts from newlyweds. I want to read things from people who are seasoned. Who have some years under their belt. That’s not me, so I turn and kiss my husband instead. I can’t tell him enough how wonderful I think he is. He’s broken too, as am I. The brokenness sometimes sits with both of us in painful ways. But we’re asking God to heal us. As our pastor told us in pre-marital, we need more people championing good marriages. We need more people talking about how marriage is hard, but also fun. It’s a broken reflection of a perfect thing, but the perfect thing changes us day by day into something more beautiful if we let it.

I want to write about a friend who sincerely asked me if marriage fulfills me. She wants to know, “Is that it?”

“No,” I tell her. “It’s not.”

She tells me how she’s waiting for that thing. That moment when she can breathe with relief for just a moment having arrived at that exact place she always hoped she would. That the gnawing ache within her that is ravenous and screams in the silence and longs for something more will just *poof* be gone when she achieves the next thing.

“It won’t,” I tell her. “As soon as you arrive there, it will disappear and you’ll find it’s moved on to something else. It won’t come from marrying the man of your dreams. It won’t come from having children. It won’t come from traveling or writing, fleeting fame or losing that weight.”

She's clearly disheartened. She knows this to be true, but to hear it again, well it's a sober reminder. “Then what will make me feel that way?” she asks, almost begging. “What is going to fill that thing within me? Is there anything that will take it away?”

“Jesus!” I laugh. I laugh because it seems too obvious, but I laugh too because even then, it won’t go away. “Even then,” I say. “We see just a dim reflection. I don’t think we’ll ever feel completely at rest until we’re home. This world, and all of its limitations, will keep us running after false things or longing for the real thing.”

I want to write more about this. Because I know as easy as it is for me to tell her this, I'm still convinced I'll be the happiest person in the world once I lose 50lbs or publish a book. The mirage has moved. 

I want to write about my dear young friend who said to me, innocently and without judgement, “You could’ve been something!” as she listened to my CD from when I was 20. Maybe, I say to her. Maybe not. Sometimes it all feels so random. But then I realize I’m inching closer to my mid-30s, the novelty of fresh-faced 30 a few years behind me now. We live in a culture that celebrates youth, perhaps to a fault. Because I know a whole slew of 20-somethings who walk around panic-stricken as if the clock of success is ticking for them. As if the tipping point is 30 and after that, well, you could’ve been something. But now you aren’t. You won’t be. It’s ending.

I want to write about all of the changes. The moving. The marriage. The decision to homeschool. The radio silence on my memoir that is now collecting dust.

I want to write about the neighbors we’ve met. The faces we’ve nodded at. The strangers kissing pennies and throwing them into wishing wells.

But my daughter comes into the room to ask what "The sleeping fox catches no poultry" means. This brief moment of lifting my head away from the screen is enough to pull me out of the writing world. I am not disciplined enough to hold my breath and come up for air. Each conversation, each noise, person pulls me out of the water and when I come back I’m swatting at waves that don’t make sense.

Once upon a time I felt prolific. Then I started typing.

Being a writer is a strange disease. The desire to write is never gone. The words with which to do it are. Until the right afternoon light strikes my desk, its slanted rays falling across letters to be mailed and insurance cards in a small pile, and somehow I feel the chair begging me to come sit. We have made it through a morning of homeschooling. Volcanos drying with plaster of Paris on the dining room table, minds full of stories about Leif Ericson and “Vinland” and “Thor” and short proverbs to teach both spelling and manners. A half-eaten apple pie sits under foil on the table top, the dog is napping at my feet, and I have this moment, right here.

I want to write, and this fall, I have every intention of spilling out words again here. Words of incomplete thought and of a faith that is being worked out. Words of a woman who is still finding her place and also finding her nearly-mid-30s to be a place of a little more ease. A little less “What will they think?” and a little more "I can't really worry about that." Words breathed at 5 am over tea, during autumn afternoons and those few brief minutes in the evening when I can hide here after the day has swelled.

"I'm going to cut the fox out," she says, startling me out of my words. "And glue it. And then cut the other words out. And glue those too." 

"Great plan!" Time to step out of the afternoon light. It will return tomorrow, as will I.

The Welcome Doormat

Andrea Burke

It’s another night of spaghetti and sauce overloaded with meat. Noodles sticking to the insides of stainless steel pans and tomato sauce splashed against the stove top, drying until I come along with a sopping wet sponge to clean it up.

Half-filled mason jars are scattered around on top of our old bookcases and paint-covered trunks. We’ve always used mason jars. Our moms always washed out the jam after the summer supply was spread, and we were left with jar after jar shoved into cupboards. I’m carrying on the tradition, filling my shelves with the remainders of stocked pantries and farmer’s market purchases. I feel like this is poetic for what we’re doing here. We want what has stood the test of time; things that are ok with feeling used. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Friends and strangers have kicked up their feet and I’m lending a book to someone I’ve just met. We are forging a little community here over hot rolls fresh out of the oven that soak up sauce and brownies that melt in our mouths. It’s amazing how one invitation of food becomes an invitation for hearts to feast. I want every person whose shadow passes through our doorway to know they’re loved, they have a place, a meal, a makeshift family, a stack of books to peruse, a jar of water, a friend to ask them “Tell me what your life looks like these days” and then sticks around for the answer.

I love community and I will keep finding a way to make space for it.

But even still, I feel wary of community for community’s sake. I want to turn the fresh rolls and red sauce into broken bread and holy wine. I don’t want our community to function for its own sake; for our own satisfaction and self-congratulatory pats on the back that say, “Look, we have accomplished it.” I’ve just started leading a women’s discipleship group at our house and one of the primary calls for the group was to not be a place to meet your new 10 best friends. This hooked me. Discipleship is not the cool kids club. True community is not elite, exclusive or always comfortable.  We want our home filled with people, not just to grow in friendship and relationship, but to grow in roots and truth.

Stop me at the stove and tell me what’s really going on. Let’s talk for a minute about how to win hearts and not just follow rules.

We’ll be honest with you and tell you what has been hard about the years in our lives and the lives in our marriage.

Ask the question about how to deal with this major cultural issue and we’ll unpack it here, where we’ll look to the Word for answers, where we want to be people of the Gospel and of grace. And we’ll make a lot of mistakes. We’ve already screwed up and surely we’ll screw it up again, but that’s why we want to keep pointing to Jesus.

My husband and I have talked about the (not-so) new mantra that suggests we can dispose of “negative people” and “toxic relationships” to improve our lives. Cut them off, some say. “Break up” with the friendship. Surround yourself with people who make you a better person.

And while I know that all relationships need boundaries, I can’t help but wonder if we’re missing the point with building circles out of our 10 best friends. Us four, no more. Granted, we are not designed to be doormats for the world but we are meant to lay down our lives (and sometimes, that might look an awful lot like letting someone walk all over you.) We are called die to ourselves. We cannot save the world. We cannot fix the broken world. We cannot smart-talk our way to a hardened heart or make enough spaghetti to dissolve the hunger of arrogance and hatred.

But we can be the fish and the bread. And we can be broken so that some will see the miracle that a life broken for Jesus does not fall apart, but is instead multiplied. We can love Jesus, serve Him and do it all in a messy, imperfect sort of way and let him use our crumbs and lunch scraps to serve the world.

Maybe this is the hardest lesson of all. We can’t just break up with broken people, but we can be broken up for them.

I don’t know how to do this well. I want my new 10 best friends to be with me all the time. I want to know that I’m always and forever in a group of peers who love me, respect me, cherish me and value me.

I don’t want to be in a group of peers who might eventually deny me, betray me, lie to me and question me.

But that’s who Jesus is. And I am a far cry from that kind of community leader.

“Everything you have is given to you to push back darkness around you,” my pastor said. I scribbled it down quickly. Push back darkness. In me. In our town. In community. In our home. Everything I have is not given to me to make my life suitable for me and the 10 people who I think are are the most awesome 10 people I have ever met. Everything I have is not meant to make me feel better about myself.

“When you primarily look at yourself,” my pastor said later in his message, “whether you see a slug or a rockstar, when we’re not just thinking too high of ourselves but rather think about ourselves too much — that’s pride.”

I write down as much as I can until my hand almost cramps in the forever posture of trying to write down something I'm sure to forget.  Amidst a culture that says to put yourself first, close the doors, save more, fulfill your own dreams, prolong youth — God calls us to die to love a little more every day. Like the one we follow, our lives will feel spent, split and spilt and because He did, we can do this without pressure to perform, the need to impress or the panicky feeling that suggests we aren’t building ourselves up enough. Maybe in the dismantling of our pride, we can find that the best community isn’t built on us at all.

What a relief.