My husband has drawn me this little mouse. He said he fashioned her a bit after me, with her hands together, a little timid. I had asked that he draw her with pen, in the style of old-fashioned children’s book illustrations – something whimsical and real. She already feels at home here.


She doesn’t particularly have an obvious connection to Still Traveling. But, in my mind she’s a country mouse, preferring the slower way, partial to sunrises, wheat fields, an evening read. She travels around (of course she does), but she most travels her own fields, finding there is always a new stone or burrow to investigate.


I love her to bits.


Welcome to the blog, ol’ girl.


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There are many rural places in Ohio. Most people picture cornfields, and they aren’t wrong. There are cities, too, one of which I live in, but even then the cities are green. My own is nestled between Kentucky country and nature reserves. Much of the state can be crossed at 70mph on a quiet highway. One summer in college I packed up and moved to Chicago. By the end, I ached for a cornfield. A wide green pasture. A clump of trees like a desert island, surrounded by dry amber.


Out here there are billboards with the Ten Commandments. Big, sprawling advertisements that say “Hell is Real,” shadowing cow pastures and family farms. We always pass a particular one on the way North. It says, “Marriage is between one man and one woman,” the words sitting next to thick gold bands, one resting on the another. I agree with it. This is the kind of marriage God purposed when He made people; it’s the pattern after which He modeled Christ and His church. It’s the natural instinct of the body.


I believe, too, that these billboards tend to render snappy head nods from some and disgusted eye rolls from others. For some of us, it’s some uncomfortable feeling between. I agree with it. Decisively. Yet I wonder, when we zip on past, cruising an easy 75, who these signs are actually for.


My boys and I were in the grocery store the other day. The baby was strapped to my chest while his brother sat in the cart. At the register, the friendly cashier looked at my youngest and asked, “he or she?”


I smiled, “boy.”


“Of course, that doesn’t mean much anymore,” he said, jovially.


I hesitated. He looked at me, waiting for a reply, and then he went on – remarking how everything was changing, how it was a little crazy.


I said, “it’s a lot,” speaking overhead the boy in the Baby Björn, about whom I have prayed earnestly, around this topic and others, but about which topic I hadn’t considered how to make small talk over frozen corn and baby wipes.


My whole chest had gone tight. Cat got my tongue. This little mouse ready to drop and run. I think he felt a little strange, too, for bringing it up, because he quickly let the subject drop. He was being friendly, and it had backfired. He was attempting to make conversation is a trying world, where words are banished quicker than fists. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how to be a light there. I had no idea how to be kind, truthful, unwavering behind what God says, bleeding for the cashier.


I’m still praying for the words. I hope I can trust you with that, dear reader, as a frightfully unreliable narrator. Praying for clear candor. Unafraid love. God has told us ahead of time, “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). It’s worth finding a better way than a billboard, I think. Worth looking that scared cat in the face. If it bites, then I guess it bites.


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Once, in Trinidad, my youth group visited a Hindu temple. Our guides had gathered and instructed us before we’d arrived. They told us, respect the people, honor the rules – remove your shoes before entering. They assured us, this wouldn’t do a disservice to God. Instead, it would strengthen their witness among the people, many of whom they had been loving for a long time.


This was hard for me. I was a black and white film, and these were hues I hadn’t seen yet.


At the temple steps, we slipped off our shoes. We took to the stairs barefoot, like all the others. We didn’t worship the gods, or place fruit at their feet, where the flies were feasting. But we honored the people around us.


The temple faced the sea, a literal High Place, where you could look out over the water and see Tobago on a clear day. A family was gathered down by the bank. We watched as they released their loved one’s ashes into the water.


I have never regretted taking my shoes off, though it pained me at the time. I didn’t know that loving God meant loving people in incredibly specific ways. It didn’t mean worshipping their gods, which I wrongly supposed taking my shoes off would imply. It meant being humble. And it would mean being honest, too, if given the chance.

I haven’t written much about my husband in this space, and I’m sorry for that, as he’s my much more interesting counterpart. Firstly, the man is a proud West Virginian. Once, when my uncle teased him about being a “hipster” for wearing all the flannels he does, Cody corrected him that he is not a hipster, but a West Virginian. My husband’s mind is always moving, like the second hand on a clock. He is often sketching at something with a pen and a scrap. He is a toy inventor, professionally. He is intensely hopeful. He is stubborn. He says I am more stubborn, but here we can never agree. He has a way of being just who he is with everybody. I don’t know a Cody at work and a Cody at church and a Cody at home. I only know Cody.


The other day he told me about a virus that causes bee's wings to fall off. He then went on to make plans for government officials: mandated that citizens work as part-time farmers, beekeepers, any agriculturally rejuvenating effort. This led him to a new topic. "So, the jumping worms." He paused, "have you heard of the jumping worms?" I shook my head. There, sitting on our Ikea couch, he launched into the full thing - crop rotations, seed-eating worms, preventative measures. We circled back to the bees. "I'd rather live in a world full of bees than a world full of mites," he ended triumphantly. I agreed, stupidly, ignorant of all things mites and bees. The night before he taught me about nuclear fusion, the source of tritium and deuterium and the costs associated with both.


You know those posts that say, “marry a man who…” where they mention things like “my husband does the dishes every night, wakes me with a coffee and a massage, only speaks in library tones, and never lets me open the car door?” Yeah. Well I think those things are great. I’m happy for those people. I would love the whole thing, but I just can’t get behind that qualifier: “marry a man who…”. My husband is a bit of a wild bird. He has never done those things. Well maybe the car door. But the point is – and you know the point – you can’t prescribe these kinds of things. What you can do is love for and love despite. Learn to honor that person like your own face in the mirror. This is hard stuff. We know this, especially, because we make mental lists about the hard stuff. Things like: #1,452 doesn’t clean sink out after shaving or #297 is too goofy with kids at bedtime. Then this person leaves the state on a business trip and you know as you trudge upstairs alone that you have never known a better person. You pray fevered prayers about their safety. You watch some Netflix alone, but it’s less sweet because they aren’t downstairs waiting for you. That subtler list, the one with all those good characteristics, comes to mind in rare form, all caps. Things like: #78 lets you drive even though you take corners like a NASCAR driver or #27 bakes a honeyed salmon that makes your knees weak.


Just for kicks and giggles, let’s go back to that “marry a man who” stuff. Let’s really immerse ourselves in it. Really get it going. You can play, too. I’ll go first. Marry a man who invents toys. Marry a man who knows everything, like Encyclopedia Brown. Marry a man that is so blasted stubborn, maybe even as stubborn as you, that you ebb away at each other’s hard corners, and you start to be shaped a little smoother. Marry the goofy one, who’ll stuff a whole piece of pizza in his mouth just to make you laugh, and you’ll think, “who is this nut?” Marry that guy.


Now it’s your turn. Go on, and be specific - tell us who we should marry. Maybe you’ve been married for fifty years or maybe you’re a fledgling; maybe you have a friend that you love like a sister or a brother. Whoever they are, I bet you know the secret to loving them. I bet, even, that if they have the audacity not to wake you each morning with a Michelin Star omelet, you’ll suffer to keep them around.

Two or three years ago my mom broke her foot. She was nearing sixty at the time. There are only three steps off the porch, but she missed one, sent the ankle sideways, crack. She had to have it wrapped, use crutches, the whole deal.


One day I had to drive her to Wal-Mart. By the end of our trip, she was tired, so I went for the car while she waited by the doors. When I swooped around the lot toward the doors, the car ended up being at an awkward slant, a little too far from the door, a little too far in the road. Mom started hobbling toward me just as I was getting anxious about the car’s position. A young man was coming out at the same time. He watched my mom elbow one crutch forward at a time, probably making little huffing noises as she has been known to be dramatic. Just then I started inching the car forward, maybe five feet. She hobbled on, trying to catch up when she’d just been almost to me. Then I gassed it five more feet. By then the young man had fully directed himself at my mother, offering his assistance as my cruel self could be seen hollering from laughter in the driver’s seat. Mom started chuckling, too, under and around her exasperation. His face was scrunched up in concern as he grabbed the door and opened it for her, probably trying to stave off any more driving. Mom thanked him and assured him she didn’t need any more help while I continued to bark laughter inside.


Mom texted me the other day. She was lying on her back-patio couch, looking up at the bluebird sky. A canopy of green branches spread out like a fan above her. She sent me a picture. She said I could use it in a blog post, and said she’d like a word on “perspective.”


Mom’s always been able to see the positive, believe the best. When our next-door neighbor made snide comments after we accidentally kicked a ball onto her property, I called my mom to fume. Her first thought was that maybe I misunderstood. Turns out we probably didn’t misunderstand, but for every insult, mom comes back with a kinder perspective.


After my cousin died she started reading up on death experiences. What people said as they were dying, what happened to people who briefly died and came back. She said there were a lot of nonsense stories. She also said there were lots of stories that held to a thread. Random stories that corroborated the others, had the same details, generally piecemealed a coherent story about Heaven. Vibrant colors. Always that. Sometimes family members. Sometimes music. Sometimes Jesus talking.


We’re a fairly conservative family, spiritually speaking. Not overly expressive in worship or prayer. Most of our lives we haven’t thought over much about Heaven, or put over-much stock in what people who have claimed to visit have had to say. But when my cousin died, we did see some things. The veil between Heaven and Earth seemed, for just a tiny bit, thinner. Ross heard music. (“What did it sound like?” my Aunt asked. “Contemporary Christian,” he said, and when we heard that we chuckled a little.) Ross asked his friend at his bedside, “can I touch you?” and seemed amazed when he could. He’d been afraid of dying, leading up. But that day was all peace. He spoke with confidence. Said, over and over, “I love you, Jesus.”


It changes the way you see things, seeing that. Makes you curious. Gives you a face to look forward to at the gate. You wonder things like, “what have I got wrong?” and “maybe there’s more than I thought.” You start planning your life here a little more for the life there. Like, “would Jesus like this? What gifts has He given me? What’s He want me to do?” All of the sudden, the grumpy neighbor beside you starts looking not so bad. You start thinking, “I want you in Heaven, too.” You start baking muffins and making small talk, taking the jabs she throws with more patience. You start giving her the benefit of the doubt. You start praying. “God answers prayers.” You know this now, for sure. You see the backyard forest all lit up, the sun catching the East leaves in glowing Arugula greens; you think, “that’s nothing” and try to imagine it even better.