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ANDREA BURKE
Rochester, NY, 14620

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You Were Looking for Something?

Andrea Burke

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Oh again I sit here because I need to write. Windows open and the sound of late summer crickets outside in the yard. One child sleeps, the other is at school, the dog is curled at my feet, slowing licking her paws. The morning is easy and quiet and I'm restless. I need to write not simply for content, for clicks, for shares or likes, comments or tweets. I write because I desperately need to see what I think and to put some words as a placeholder for the myriad of thoughts that meet me this morning.

Someone searched “affair” on my blog recently. I don’t know who. I only know that was the only word they searched for on my site. I don’t know if it was someone I know, someone who wanted to read my story again, or someone looking for dirt on me.

I suppose it doesn’t matter.  I’ve written very publicly about my past, so it’s no secret. When people whisper, “I know what you’ve done,” it’s very freeing to whisper back “So does everyone else on the internet.” Being open about the ridiculous redemption of my life, from grave to cradled, has been one of the most fruitful journeys from the Lord.

But to know that after 12 years, that that’s still the word that follows me around wherever I go still feels like a punch.

Early on, I felt that I had the choice — I could move on and not talk about it, and still enjoy the beauty of redemption for myself. Or I could brazenly tell the story of God’s relentless pursuit of my ragamuffin heart in all of its hard truth and watch how He used it to set others free.

I went with door #2.

So in the face of the enemy who would love to use my past to continue to shame me, I'm going to remind him that Christ won and Christ continues to win. The only happy ending to my story is that Christ is my defense. I've cried about this shadow — I've asked friends "Why won't this just go away?" But how quickly I'd forget if it did. By continuing to write and speak about it, I'm raising my tired, bleeding hands toward my Savior to say that He fixed what I thought couldn't be fixed. He saved what I thought was lost. He rescued what I thought was dead.

My story is a reminder that God is merciful and running after the hearts that are prone to wander. My past is a reminder that sin is destructive, the local church matters, and that there is no perfect person. Jesus comes for the sick, not the healthy, and he found me starving to death in my kingdom made of straw.

Every now and then, I think about blowing the dust off of the book. Last night, my husband and I sat by the last fire of summer and while the embers faded from red to black, we talked about what all those stories and pages mean. Are they worth revisiting? Is it worth telling? Is it worth rekindling the fire of memory? The book wasn't meant to be a tell-all; it was a brag on the graces of God. The one I started three years ago and shelved for various reasons has resurfaced in my head and heart and I’m thinking of taking it down from that proverbial box and sharing it in pieces. Maybe here. Maybe I'll see if there’s anywhere to go with it now. Or maybe I'll just remind myself that my past isn't under a cobwebbed lock and key, and that Jesus showed up in every area of my life that needed a Savior (which, for the record, was ALL OF IT.)

Maybe you have a word that's following you around. Maybe you're tempted to think it has become your identity. 

This is what is upside-down about following Christ. Our greatest failures become his trophy. While the world may try to tie a word to my identity until the day I die, and it might always be linked to my name in search bars, whispered behind closed doors, and in public statements about what I did once upon a time, there’s only one word that is stitched into the fabric of my soul, put there by the engraved hands of Christ, and it’s this — redeemed.

The Only Cure

Andrea Burke

I remember the year the trees were taken up with the gypsy moth. Wrapped in shrouds of a foggy grey web, branch by branch they died. Subtle and fatal, all at once. Tree after tree along our streets, back roads and driveway. "That one is next," we'd say, pointing at the adjacent healthy tree whose leafy arm brushed against the white web next to it. 

No one told me this is what death would feel like. Like a slow grey hue, subtly pulled over your eyes, arms, legs. I found out at 20 when a friend died of cancer. Death and grief come instantly and slowly, creeping in a fast fatal blow to any green limbs you have stretched out toward life. 

No one told me this is what sin was like. Like a shroud that seems innocuous at first but is the first bell of danger. I found out at 22 when I saw the web around my feet. It will spread. It always spreads. 

I remember the year of the gypsy moth — how they came and devoured our foliage while we watched. It was beautiful and devastating all at once. The end is deceiving and seemingly triumphant. 

But it's not. Don't be fooled by the shroud. In a garden, it was pulled back and folded up, shown to be defeated once and for all. 

Hope in Christ is not an analgesic. It's the cure. In him, death and sin are never the final word. Not in the balmy summers of my childhood. Not when I was 20. Not when I was 22. Not today. 

When a Moment Becomes a Memory

Andrea Burke

I've been going through all of my old documents lately. Digging up thoughts and piecing them together, finding old stories and remembering the places and people I've put in to words over the years. I've decided this year I'm going to post a mix of old stories, words that haven't been perfect and thoughts that aren't adequately formed. But bit by bit, I'm going to get it done and out, and whether anyone reads or not...well, that's secondary. 

Quickly moments pass into memory. In an instant what is becomes what was and it's so bittersweet, sometimes I can only fight to just stay present. We are coming up on our anniversary in a few weeks. With a 6 month old on one hip and a loquacious 8 year old on the other side, it’s easy to forget what was before I said "I do." Those years were full and hard, beautiful and fast. That’s why I write sometimes — just to remember. I write because I know that in a few years I won’t remember stories like this one. I’m sharing this with you today because maybe you need the reminder that life goes by fast and 1 a.m. girl chats with your eldest are necessary and sometimes over before you know it. And sometimes you don't know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.


November 19, 2014
 

Last night, her six-year-old body was tucked in next to mine. She normally sleeps in her own bed, the one down the hall with the purple tulle draped around it. The one covered with stuffed animals and pages and pages of drawings that she creates night after night. Pictures of tinker bell, rainbows, leprechauns and mathematical equations (yes, you read that right). But every so often, when she wakes from a nightmare or if the house feels especially colder than usual, I find her body next to mine. Her hair is always knotted into a bun and slight curls wrap around her still perfect cherub cheeks. Last night she was awake when I crawled into bed. I was feeling especially sentimental. It’s a mix these days. She asked me to cut her hair because the responsibility of brushing out long, twisty curls was the cause of too many tears. So now she swings a long bob, and the just-too-short pieces are laying against the nape of her neck. Her eyes are big with glee when she sees that I too am crawling into bed.

“Your hair is just like mine, mom!” she points at the lopsided bun on the top of my head. Under the white blanket, she grabs my hand and invites me to share a pillow with her. She is growing so quickly, I think. Most parents have this moment — the one where you look at the babe you once birthed and realize they are quickly running out of the reach of your arms, but never your heart.

Early this evening, the man who has been winning our hearts and slowly, gently moving into a place carved out for him in this home, we talked about marriage. We talked about the days ahead, commitment, changes, the possibility of more children, all of the things couples talk about when the future is laid out before them as a vast unknowable thing. We reached our arms to each other across the couch and dreamed a bit about the nights when I won’t have to kiss him goodbye at the door but can kiss him goodnight on the pillow. We talk about covenants, fears, broken hearts and all of the things we’re laying out on the table of promise. 

But now, it’s just me and her. Just her head on my pillows. Just her tiny voice filling up the dark space of my bed. 

“Let’s have some girl talk,” I say. It’s well past 1 a.m. but that doesn’t matter. Not when time waits for no one, not even your mama heart. 

She squeals, pulling the blanket up over our heads. She rattles off about the “cutest boy” who waves at her across the hall, some questions about life and what I love about the man who just hours before swung her upside down. It’s nothing life-changing, but maybe life-building. Maybe not the conversation that shapes her dreams and choices, but the kind that hopefully will lead to more that give her time and space to share what can only be shared by the quiet whispers of pillow talk. 

But these days, these six years of endless mom and me time, hours and hours of knowing there was no one else to compete for my attention, and an unknown future of questions — they’re slipping more and more into memory. Parts of these days are ending. The exclusivity of our relationship is slipping into past tense. “Remember when it was just us?” she’ll ask and we review story and adventures before a men held our hands and swung our hearts and bodies high into the sun. Memory leaves out the aching tears when she asked why she didn’t have a father here. The nightmares of abandonment. The questions I couldn’t answer when she asked why she can’t feel God’s hugs. Memory pushes these away into tiny fragments under the blooming memories of train trips, plane rides and movie nights. 

Today I sat across the table from a mother who has been where I’ve been. Once upon a time, she was the single mother. She cradled her baby alone for years until God saw fit to send her a man to step in as husband and dad. Now more than 15 years and three more kids later, she nods and listens as I tell her that I feel a tinge of sadness in all of this joy.

“You have to grieve the loss of what was,” she says. “To lose one thing for something greater is a good thing. But to acknowledge that you’ve lost it is an important thing too.” As Dr. Seuss said — sometimes you don’t know the value of something until it becomes a memory. 

We are making room for a man in our lives. We’re learning about expressing love, receiving love, opening our home, couch and hearts to an answered prayer that each of us has sought God for many times over the years.

And here he is, texting me that he’s arrived safe back at his home, and for this night and not too many to come, I’m holding just her at my side. She is giggling about the boy who waves and I’m kissing her matted curls. I’m savoring this even as it slips into the dark and the days of old, knowing soon enough she will be waving goodbye at my door, making promises to someone else.

Someday we will hold these six years as a golden bubble of provision. Years of fighting for repentance, receiving grace, seeking restoration, hoping for better, believing for good, savoring the best. Not long from now, my bed will not be mine alone. My pillows will not be reserved for girl talk only. But here at my side, where a scar remains from where she was pulled from me, red and passionate, screaming and waiting to be held, here she will always have a place. Here where my body still aches to remember what it was like when I held a soul apart from me but somehow part of me. Here, even when the man reaches for me across the space, do I find the place for her. Here in the beauty of memory. 


An Intentional Bed

Andrea Burke

{I posted this last year at Grace Table, but I'm reposting it here this year because...Christmas.}

Sunday night was the night for Christmas cookies. Gingerbread rolled out and royal icing whipped, dark and white chocolate chips poured and butter creamed with sugar in the most beautiful sort of way. All of these concoctions resulted in our table being a floury mess and my clothes covered with whatever I happened to brush up against as we worked. We danced around each other in the kitchen, and I made more than one correction to which my husband finally laughed, “Are you sure you want us involved in this process?”

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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.

I Doubt It All

Andrea Burke

“I DOUBT THAT YOU LOVE ME!”

She screams this in my face. Her face, scrunched. Eyes clamped shut.

We learn a lot things in the stumbling act of parenting. How high the sky is, what happens when you pour salt on ice cubes and the magic of gooblick. 

And we learn what it means to show love. To give love. To be a messenger of what God's alive and breathing love still looks like. 

So when I’m walking slowly up the stairs, and I can hear her disappointed tears muffled in her pink and blue quilted pillows, I pray “Give me grace to see what you’re doing in her heart.” 

I’m tired. Dinner is barely finished. The chicken was still hot and the rolls still steaming when we sent her to her room. The husband and I exchanged the “you or me” look at the table and I volunteered. “I’ve got this.” He nods and gives me the half-smile. The "You've got this" twinkle. He stacks my dirty plate on top of his.

Each way we turn right now we see life and hearts, messy and unfinished, needing lots of cleansing. 

I'm outside of her door and I tap lightly against the wood. A tiny paper airplane swings on a piece of string. A little note on the door says "stay away" and another says "we are bise" (busy).

“Sweetheart, can we talk?”

She grunts. She’s curled into a ball on her bed, but her furrowed brow and hazel eyes are on me when I open the door. She’s angry. Today, we didn’t show up for the book fair. She reminds me of this again. An absolute parenting fail. Again. “I thought you were going to BE THERE!” she screams. And then sobs. Her snot is mixing into her tears, but I don’t mind. Mothers usually don’t. I slowly wrap my arms around her squirming body.

“I know,” I say. “I’m so sorry we disappointed you today. We will go tomorrow.” But this does little to assuage any anger. I am holding the fraying ends of a child who probably just needs to go to sleep. It's been a full afternoon of this. Attitudes unraveling, words spit out in anger, disrespect, cold shoulders and ignoring words of correction. All of the characteristics that children exhibit without hesitation. All of the things we do as adults but pretend aren’t that bad. 

“LET ME GO!” She screams, but I say no. I’m not in a wrestle of power here. I’m in a wrestle of love. And until she sees that, I’m not letting go. She twists inside of my arms, free to wiggle out in any direction, but staying, determined to tell me she wants me to leave her alone. She arches her back and I continue to whisper quietly, “I love you. So much. We love you. We love you. Whether you’re good, or bad, angry, sad. We love you. I love you.” 

This goes on for at least 10 minutes. I’m sweating and near to tears. The fight for love is sometimes not letting go. Sometimes it's just presence. Tonight it's consistency. Beneath all of the attitudes and anger today, she really needs nurture. Maybe it's the Spirit showing me this; maybe it's my intuition. But something inside of me says, "Don't let go."  

She’s screaming at me, red-faced. “I DOUBT THAT YOU LOVE ME! I DOUBT IT! This last "doubt" is drawn out and tongue shaking loud. My ears are ringing.

But then I see it all, the messy tears, the wrestle, the fists raised toward Heaven and I’m seeing all of us, shouting at God that we doubt it.

I doubt it all. 

I doubt that you love me. That you remember me. That you’ll stick it out to the end of this fight.

I doubt you’re long-suffering enough. I doubt you have the time. I doubt you. Let me go. 

But he doesn’t. And I didn’t. 

And suddenly her arms went from battering fists to gripping me tightly. 

She's sobbing now, her body in heaves. “You do love me!” I hear in my neck. She’s sweaty and snotty, but she’s almost laughing. “You really do love me!” I cry, she cries and the fight turns to rest. Here we talk about what went wrong earlier. We talk about her hurting heart. We talk about how we all make mistakes. How mom and dad make mistakes too. How we apologize because we love each other. We don’t want broken relationships. Not here. Not in this home. 

----

Today, I woke up before dawn in hopes to eek out some quiet moments before the day’s running began. But the noise of my coffee grinder stirred the little person upstairs and she walked into the kitchen, sleep-drunk and eyes half open. 

“You love me so much,” she says, pushing her nose into my hip. “I love you so much.” 

I squeeze her still bed-warm body, "Yeah birdie. I love you."

Today we begin in love. Today we’re determined to remember that above all. We are not wrestling for position or to win battles. We aren't fighting against a tired God. We aren’t beating our fists against a moody or forgetful King. Today, we’re kids. We're born desperately wanting to believe in true love but age with the begging ache that says "Prove it." Sometimes we all want to know that there is someone who is holding on even when we let go. No person here on earth can promise this forever. Not one.

So, we find our way back into the love of Jesus that doesn’t just soothe us and comfort us, but fights to hold on, long after our strength has screamed her wild energy out, red-faced and sweaty. 

The day is new and we start again.

The Fake of Death

Andrea Burke

My great-aunt passed away last weekend. She lived a long, full life. 96 years of friendship, camping adventures, walking, gardens, story-telling, farm tales and more. We sat on the front row at her service, the casket open displaying the body of a woman I once knew.

This is death. The flickering candle from a jar of oil. The somewhat hidden electrical cord running along the baseboard behind the casket stand. It's tangled a bit, running up to the lamps with pink lightbulbs, shining on her body. They're probably supposed to give her a glow of life, blood still rushing under her sallow skin, heart still pumping. It seems no one wants to really look death in the face. We want to pretend she's still there, sleeping. 

"I always look to see if they're still breathing," my own mother says. 

"Me too," I whisper back and we giggle a little, watching her very still hands lay on top of a very still body. The music coming through the speakers is a piano version of The Little Mermaid's song, "Part of Your World." I find this incredibly comedic. Disney and Ariel and nothing at all what I imagine at a funeral. Except, perhaps in this moment, maybe it is perfect. We're the mermaids. We don't have our feet yet.

"If I go first, make sure my funeral is a lot of fun," my husband whispers. "Tell a lot of jokes." This makes me laugh and then cry for some reason. Maybe because I realize someday, funeral homes might be more common in my life than wedding bells.

"Are those happy or sad tears?" he asks.

"I don't know," I say and reach for the tissues. "Funerals make me feel all of the emotions."

"As opposed to the rest of the time..." he snickers and I elbow him in the side. 

Now "Wind Beneath My Wings" is the canned music. A keyboard and synth strings play the melody line. 

"I like the wallpaper," I say to my husband. "I wonder where they got it."

"I hate it," whispers my mother. I don't know if we're talking about the wallpaper anymore.

This is death. The creeping, spine-tingling silence of hushed voices and a room full of people who don't know each other that well. Someone laugh, I want to say. Someone talk louder. Aunt Margie would hate that we're all being so proper. 

The minister steps up to the casket to begin the service. 

"I didn't know Miss Margie personally," she says. Is this the worst thing you can say at the beginning of a funeral? I feel like yes. Don't announce that. Don't let on that you're memorializing a life which you never witnessed. But this is death — the immediacy, the end of things, the strangers milling around who don't know her middle name. Hey, even I didn't know her middle name until today. So I suppose that makes me no better.

I stand up to read Mary Oliver's poem "When Death Comes." I'm in a room of some family, mostly strangers, many closer to the end than the beginning (which really is an illusion anyway. None of us really know where we are in our timelines.) I read how death comes like an iceberg between the shoulder blades.

It doesn't feel like that so much today. Today it feels like death came like a warm blanket in the middle of winter. It feels like death came like the last candle blown out before we all say goodnight. Margaret has painted pink lips. She almost looks like she's smiling. I think they do that on purpose. 

"I hope I don't make it to 96," a woman says to my husband and I. She knew my great aunt for more than 40 years. She is in her early 80s, I gather, based on her telling me about her ailing husband at 84. "I really hope I die sooner than that. I don't think I'll make it to 96. Not based on how I'm feeling now. That would just be awful."

She looks toward the casket and we awkwardly stare at her. Do I say, "I hope that for you too!" No, no. I don't know how to respond so we nod. 

"Losing either all of your physical body or your mind," she tsks. "Just awful. No thank you!" 

I can't say I blame her. The thought of ending my life that way doesn't appeal much to my vanity either. 

But this is death — the stealing. Of time, of energy, of strength, of mind. Of memory, of opportunity, of people, of story. Of Eden. 

It was never meant to be real. It isn't anymore, not really. It isn't actually the end. Margaret knew this. She was waiting to go home. She was ready.

The photos cycle through on the slideshow. There she is. Young and in hula skirts, surrounded by family, girlfriends sitting on rock hillsides or front stoops. This is her life and I'm here analyzing the wallpaper and laughing that now the music piped through the speakers is something from "Evita...no...Phantom. Ah, I don't know. It's definitely Andrew Lloyd Webber."

My husband nods and we sit in silence again. Someone gives us a box of molasses cookies. We make lunch plans.

This is death. The living in spite of it. The guessing, the company we never acknowledge, the painted lips and last breaths, the icebergs and the candles. The going home.

 

The New Married Life

Andrea Burke

I remember the exact moment. Old jazz music blaring, a feast of food placed in front of us at our small table, and the rising sound of our friends and family laughing, talking, hugging and dancing. 

“Oh this feels like what Heaven must feel like,” I turned to my brand new, hour-long husband. The candles flickered, the pine lay fresh and green, the kids spun in dresses and mini-suits on the hardwood floor. He laughed and I continued. “Right? Doesn’t this just feel like heaven? All of the people we love in the same place. Dancing. Feasting…” 

“I think that’s the whole point?” he said, trying to not crush my happy little moment. “The wedding feast? Of the church…?” He’s waiting for me to get the point and I laugh because of course. It just never felt so less allegory and so much real as it did in those few hours on a snowy night at the end of January.

Marriage has been almost two months for us little newbies. A crash course in parenting for him. A whole slathering of revisiting all the ways I’m a hot mess. 

For instance, I cry a whole lot more than I realize. At everything. All the time.

And apparently, I’m a messy person. I’m familiar with being artistic and creative; an eccentric writer who dramatically leaves remnants of a "beautiful life" around her desk. But then he asks why there are bobby pins everywhere. Or when I can’t find something, he smirks and says, “Well, where did you leave it? Did you leave it in the place it belongs?”

“It has a place it belongs?”

This is a common conversation. 

But an update on married life can be summed up with this — we like it.

We have no advice. No hard-earned wisdom. No top five list for anyone. We each married our best friend which means we laugh a lot. We like hanging out. We've known each other for years so there are no shocking surprises (yet). We're a team. We're a family. 

Maybe eventually I will write “How to not lose your mind when you realize that you’re a control freak when it comes to how your daughter’s desk is arranged or how the bed should be made.” 

Or I’ll wax poetic about “What do when you start crying and don’t know why and don’t know how to stop.”

But more seriously, “How to talk to your kid who is new to this whole thing too about why mom and dad lock their bedroom door sometimes.”

And the hard truth? Going from being a single mom to a wife and co-parenting in a few months has given me another chance to either die to self or to wear myself out (big difference).

I'm far too prone to self-reliance. I have a hard time admitting that I need help, or that I can't juggle as much as I'd like to think I can. Where I thought I could cover and bridge the gap for every piece of my daughter's heart, I'm seeing how her heart was made to bloom under more guidance than just my own. Some seeds are not mine to cultivate. Some words mean more coming from his mouth. Some games, stories, and memories were not hoped and prayed for with me in mind. In the evenings, when we're kneeling at her bedside and sending simple prayers to Heaven, she gives thanks for God hearing her prayers and sending him. He, whom I love deeply, is God-sent and has been placed at the helm and I am learning all over again what it really means to trust.

Once again, the story of Jesus drops into the middle of our world. I see redemption in the wedding. I see the Gospel at work within and among us, around the dinner table and at bedtime prayers. I see the truth of Grace flowing as always, beckoning me to stop trying to earn love, rely on my self, impress the one who loves me or muscle through to prove I can do it without him. The Gospel at work within me, for me, despite me.

We are learning how to live together, how to communicate when we’d rather eat cookies, how to navigate parenting situations when we don’t agree, how to wake up slowly on weekends and enjoy the precious stolen moments of a love that is still very new. And I'm waking up to the whole picture of a Story that is very, very true showing itself at work in my day to day life as mom and now a wife. 
 


[photo cred: BeanArt Photography]

These Simple, Ordinary, Beautiful Days

Andrea Burke

I made pancakes and he scrambled eggs. Not a very momentous occasion outright, until maybe years go by and I'll reflect back and say "Remember the Saturdays when we had no place to be, no event to cart little people off to, no children off and out on their own, and we stood side by side at the stove, flipping pancakes and whisking eggs?"  Sometimes the most simple and practical moments become the ones that I consciously dog-ear in my mental storybook for later reference. Like the eggs and pancakes.

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