rituals: the couch (kaitlin jenkins).

Okay, treat of treats on today’s Guest Post Tuesday, on today’s look at the not-so-boring rituals that make the story deeper …because today you get my COUSIN! She’s a high school English teacher and a bookworm and a snorter and a lover of the beer her brewmaster-husband brews at a local brewery. So, enter into Kaitlin’s words today as she treats us to her couch.

Penny Pic

When one walks into a home, they might see a piano, and think fondly of a family gathered around it singing holiday songs. Or perhaps they might see the television, that flat-screened 55-inch marvel that brings us the best of “How I Met your Mother,” and don’t-you-dare-judge-me, “The Bachelor.” And somewhere nearby, the couch patiently waits, ready to cushion, to comfort. Some homes boast sleek leather (it’s easy to clean), others, the jumbo L-shaped sectional (by far the best for fort-making). The home I share with my husband, our cat, and our puppy is no different. The piano plays songs of yuletide joy, the T.V. tells me who will get kicked off this week in a storm of tears and drama, and the couch- the couch brings us all together.

It is the space that hosts our nightly ritual.

It was the first big-kid piece of furniture we ever bought. I remember thinking, “How can things cost this much money?” I chuckle now, thinking about how we got it on sale at a consignment store. It is small, and lightly patterned. Thank god it has always been cream-colored, because the years and baby animals have taken away its…new charm. It sags in just the right places, so that the sitters unintentionally form a cuddle-puddle, whether they want to or not. And it is my favorite place in the whole world.

My husband and I are currently experiencing that honeymoon, lala-land, head-over-heels, eyes only for each other bubble that is the first year of marriage. We are in that beautiful moment of quiet before the storm.

We love our jobs, and pour ourselves wholeheartedly into them. We work crazy hours because we can. The only babies we have are furry, and require nothing more than some kibble and our absolute love.

This space, in our first year of marriage, is something we protect. We guard it; we cherish it, because we know that it is fragile, and that with the first cries of our first baby, things will be different.

Wonderful, but different.

And so, every night we meet on the couch. The hubs lights the lemongrass candle on the coffee table, I order the vegetarian pho. The fur babies get settled and we fall into each other’s presence.

Sometimes the ritual space is filled with confession: “You know Joey in my fourth period?” I’ll ask. Of course he does. This is where he hears about Joey all the time.

“Today he made me cry. He stood up for the autistic kid, and it was the bravest thing I’ve seen in a long time.”

Sometimes the ritual space is filled with song, “So no one told you life was gonna be this waaaaaaay! (clap clap clap clap!)” And we sing along, excited to see what shenanigans the “Friends” gang will be up to this week.

Sometimes, the ritual space is filled with silence. The kind you soak in after a long day of people barking orders, and kids dropping f-bombs. Sometimes we need each other’s silent support. And on the ritual couch, the other gladly gives it.

In this space the puppy snores gently, the cat purrs, we slurp our vegetarian pho, and we grin over at each other like two fools in love.

Because this is our space.

This is our time.

I know so many people who are swept up in the day-to-day hustle and bustle, myself included. We spend so much of our time worrying about our to-do lists, and wondering if that e-mail was sent. We don’t allow ourselves the grace to stop and breathe in the moment. Life rolls, and we roll with it.

Can we learn to appreciate the roll and the respite at the same time?

In one week I will get on a plane to go see the world. It’s something I have to do. Adult life has done nothing to cure this girl’s wanderlust. I will be standing on a glacier in Iceland, and I’ll be marveling at the Great Synagogue in Budapest.

But it’s the couch I’ll miss the most. The couch and all the ritual it brings with it: the puppy snores, the Top Chef finale, the husband’s exasperated confessions about the missing valve on an important piece of equipment at work, and most of all, the man himself. In the meantime, I’ll breathe in the moment; I’ll drink in the ritual. I’ve got a lemongrass candle to light and a phone call to make:

“Hi. Two orders of vegetarian pho, and an order of spring rolls, please.”

 —

Kait and KenKaitlin lives in the bay area with her brewer husband Ken, their sweet pit-bull, Penny, and their malodorous cat, Roscoe. When she’s not grading 9th grade English papers, she loves hunting down good craft beer, singing Sunday hymns, and being a nerdy book-worm. Cara again: I know. Do you love her – and the couch and all her newlywed bliss – or WHAT? Leave Kaitlin some love today!

embracing the body (a book review & a giveaway)

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A few days ago, my almost three-year-old son pulled a small mirror off the bookshelf, stared at his four-by-four inch reflection, and said to himself, “Like you.”

Then, with mirror in hand, he walked over to where I was sitting on the couch, planted the mirror in front of my face, and said to me, “Like you.” He proceeded to bring the mirror around to Baby Brother and back to himself, repeating over and over again that simple, two-word phrase.

Like you, Like you, Like you. 

Tears stung at the corners of my eyes. Because for my little boy, nothing stands in the way of seeing himself as he really is, for beauty that resides in wispy curls and caramel-colored skin and one dazzling, beaming smile.

Life hasn’t led him to believe that he’s too short, too tall, too fat, too skinny, with hips too wide and knees too knobby and eyes too close together, and too many wrinkles and too much cellulite and too much wiggly, jiggly baby weight left to lose.

If you’re anything like me, we begin to believe that the “too’s” are who we are and all we are, letting lie after lie, mistruth after mistruth, not only shape but define both our outsides and our insides too.

We forget, as C.S. Lewis said, the dazzling, radiant, immortal creatures we are, that we might pulsate “…with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine …”

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Click here to read the rest and to join us at She Loves for this month’s Red Couch book club discussion! Also, I love this book SO much I’m giving away a copy over at the be, mama. be Facebook page …and I’d love for you to be the winner!  Check the page later today – one name will be drawn on Friday, June 6th so you can get to reading!  Otherwise, what part of your body do you need to embrace?  What needs to be rewritten?  

just mercy (a discussion).

A_BOOKCLUB-CARA

Hi. My name is Cara …and I judge people.

I take the gavel into my own hands, and I decide to play the Great Judge.

I judge the homeless man who shouts at his reflection in the window, the one who paces back and forth after our Sunday night dinner. I judge the workers clad in orange jumpsuits, the ones who dig ditches on the side of my busy four-lane highway. I judge the woman who sits outside the post office with her four children in tow, cardboard signs propped on every lap, five sets of eyes that plead at me for mercy.

And I think: I take my medicine. Well, thank God my sin isn’t as bad as theirs. At least I’d have the decency to keep my kids in school.

I judge, I judge and I judge again, feeling justified in my judgment of others.

But when the ugliness of my own heart astounds me, my own lack of mercy begs me get down on hands and knees, and plead heavenward for more, for some, for any.

So tell me, am I the only one?

Am I the only one who forgets to show mercy to the least of these, to those who need it the most?

Click here to read the rest of the post, which is a discussion at She Loves Magazine on what may be the best and most important book I’ve read this year, Just Mercy.  In light of all that’s happened this week in Baltimore – and beyond – I find talking about issues of race and social activism incredibly relevant.  

on writing: set that timer.

It’s Thanksgiving.  And today especially, I hope you’re full in heart and tummy, in all the best possible ways.  I hope you’re surrounded by the ones you love, who perfectly love your messy, imperfect self in return.  So if the Macy’s Day Parade isn’t cutting it for you or you find yourself in tryptophan-induced coma and need something to do for ten minutes, consider grabbing that pad of Grandma’s flowery stationary to your right and limitlessly putting pen to paper.  Otherwise, get off the internet and love-squeeze that person sitting next to you.  Give thanks!

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I swim in a sea of irony, I’m certain.

When my friend Leigh asked our Red Couch Team for a creative post on Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, I replied with a hearty, Yes! Having never read the book nor obtained a copy, my insides remained chipper for the chance to belong; to be a part of something bigger than myself.

Eager for involvement and desperate for recognition, I didn’t anticipate reading a book that, at the time, found me far from actual subject matter.

You see, I’d declared September and October as “Input Only” months. I’d just had a baby: a perfect 8lb 10 ounce boisterous, bouncing boy we call Baby Brother. And babies are good and perfect little creatures–a slice of heaven’s pie, one might say–but through no fault of their own, they can wreak havoc on their mamas with their crying and their pooping and their love of eating breakfast at 3am.

So, in order to save my sanity and the sanity of those around me, I put a moratorium on producing, on writing in particular. The Next Piece of Literary Greatness via the blog and articles for submission could wait, and sermon prep for those Sundays in November would come in due time. My manuscript, the one whose book contract I surely thought I’d be waving in the air by now, could continue to simmer on the back burner … because my baby will only be a baby for so long.

Staring mindlessly at this little being, my little being, is the best writing fodder I can muster. I can stand to not keep up with The Writing Man. I can stand to let myself be.

I know, I know, I’m a broken record player of self ALL THE TIME.  But there’s a point …there’s always a point.  Click here to head to She Loves Magazine and read the read of the discussion post about Natalie Goldberg’s writing classic, Writing Down the Bones.  And, if you end up doing a ten-minute free write, consider sharing a sentence or two below.  Otherwise, is this bringing up too many repressed high school English class memories?  Don’t hate the player, hate the game.  Kisses!

prayer: then & now.

RedCouch

The gift arrived on a Sunday morning.

My husband and I sat cozied together on an over-sized reading chair, one of those perfect pieces of furniture that makes you wonder whether it’s built for one or for two, the kind that requires a cup of tea no matter the visitor. Almost by accident, we found ourselves at House Church that morning, apart from the norm of Apostle’s Creed recitations and formalized Eucharist indulgences. I feel my heart beating wildly as I lean in to cushion and skin, my body sinking further and deeper into the man I hold hands with for life. Our four-week-old son nestles into his chest and I close my eyes, just for a moment.

I breathe in this perfection, our own corner but a small slice of the halcyon morning.

I smell the coffee wafting from paper cup in hands, its energy waking my newborn-weary body. I hear the hallowed words the voices sing in repetition, the simple eight-word chant growing in strength and belief with each growing verse: “Be still and know that I am God.” It’s as if I can taste the Spirit. You are here. You are present. You are ours.

My senses are fully alive.

And in doing so, I am fully connected to the presence of God.

In Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World, the reader is introduced to this very concept:

Prayer … is waking up to the presence of God no matter where I am or what I am doing. When I am fully alert to whatever or whoever is right in front of me; when I am electrically aware of the tremendous gift of being alive; when I am able to give myself wholly to the moment I am in, then I am in prayer. Prayer is happening, and it is not necessarily something that I am doing. God is happening, and I am lucky enough to know that I am in The Midst (178).

Could connection to The Holy actually be this simple?

* * *

I return to House Church, to the twenty-five people gathered haphazardly together on the main floor of Mark and Lisa’s San Francisco flat. As luck would have it, our discussion that morning centers on prayer, around that same notion of entering into God’s presence. We read John 17 and Luke 24, and gathering in clusters throughout the space, we begin to unpack our previous notions of prayer next to the morning’s texts.

A memory floods my mind: I am a sophomore in college, and I believe in a big, boisterous, Spirit-filled God. Hundreds of us gather this particular Monday night, spread throughout the room, standing and kneeling, swaying and bowing. We worship, loudly, and we raise our hands upwards, fingertips gasping for air.

When it comes time to pray, I know the drill. I know how it’s supposed to be done: You raise your voice and sometimes you shout. You prove you know your Bible by inserting God’s Word into your prayer, which is deemed a holy success by the sounds of your peers. Because when a prayer is really good, everyone cheers and claps, with shouts of yes and amen.

This is what I want—because isn’t this what God wants as well?

I know, I’m leaving you hanging – but the story is far from over.  Click here to head on over to She Loves Magazine read about when I became a “prayer weakling.”  Otherwise, what is prayer to you?  How has your experience of prayer changed over the years, if at all?  

PS: If you haven’t yet read or heard of Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World, PICK IT UP!