Yesterday we planted a Rising Sun Redbud in our backyard. It’s the first big purchase we’ve placed in the yard, and it felt momentous for that reason. The first chess move in a long-game strategy my mother (the resident gardening genius) has mapped out on graph paper.


The name of the tree must stem from its delicate yellow buds. The new leaves will grow into a vibrant lime green, but they first rise yellow. In their newness, curled like unfurling butterfly wings, the leaves are so delicate they’re slightly translucent. If this were all its beauty, it would be enough, but it’s not. Pink blooms of variegated rose and blush clothe its arms. Its adult leaves will be shaped like hearts. At the nursery, an older lady stopped by us as we dollied the tree to the front. She looked over it with amazement and a breathy, “what is that?” It’s just that pretty.


Evergreens are the only other trees we have planned for the backyard. We nearly got one yesterday. But, with a list of house projects riddled with surprises, as they always are, we could just do one tree this year. (Actually, I was rather pressing things with the one.)


It’s been a hard year. Sorrow is still clogging our throats, and we’re still finding ghosts at the grocery store, faces we cannot forget. So maybe the evergreen would have been the safer choice. Its thick green needles will weather the winter with poise; it’s a calming presence when all else temporarily dies. But I couldn’t say no to the Rising Sun. It’s a wild, new-morning mercy to look out at it in the yard, fleeting as its beauty is from a twelve-month perspective. Today it is lovely. Tomorrow it will be, too. Soon, it will sleep - but that is not forever - and the eternal clock will strike its golden hour again.


I am learning that it is okay to mourn much longer than others are comfortable seeing us mourn. For a culture uncomfortable with death, it’s a hard topic to keep talking about. I am, though, because we have to pass through this discomfort to find peace. Peace in Christ is not gained by going around these topics. Like Maria says in the Sound of Music, “You can’t use school to escape your problems. You have to face them.” Escapism is a sorry jaunt from the fear of death. We have to press in. And, when we are welcomed into the house of mourning, with its ample blankets and heavy shades, we’re invited to stay awhile. This is a tender kind of abiding in Christ if we let it be, where comfort sidles up to discomfort, and the sharp edges of our lives are thrust against each other.


This is the space where resurrection can find a better footing in our faith. The belief that Jesus died and raised. What does this rising mean for our joy and hope when we start to rub shoulders with death? When we realize, in fact, that this liminal life is not promised, and, at its best, is not around for all that long. What, Death? What temporary victory can you parade around? The Son has risen already, given death its unceremonious kick and risen past the stars. This is just the beginning; we who believe will be raised as well. So I stand by my decision for the Rising Sun. It must sleep, it’s true. But friends, it must also wake.


I wrote this piece nearly a year ago, but never got around to finetuning or publishing it. All winter long I’ve worried my Redbud wouldn’t make it through. My pregnant self didn’t water it like I should have. But here, at last – there are tiny pink buds all over the branches proving me wonderfully wrong. I love it. I love it.





There's a small town in South Carolina that you wouldn't much care to go if you didn't live there or know someone who did. My grandparents lived there. Not in a neighborhood, but a street of homes, tucked into trails and trees, and if you had a good eye and a craning neck, you could look up long drives and see them.


In my grandparents' slice of forest, there was a double clothes line and a sack of pins; a bird house on a tall pole; a wheel-made path for a gocart (and a slightly banged corner of a shed via me); a swatch of golfing green and a framed net; tall, tall trees that got mad in the wind, held a vendetta and told you about it; birds that sung the grocery list to you, and you listened like you'd never heard the words; a half-built tree house; a weak swinging vine; a lazy stream and fool's gold, ravine after ravine, the rooms of our childish fantasy.


Sometimes I get real homesick for those woods on Wicklow. Mom says that if we had better memories we would be a morbid people, and I agree. As it is, I'm tempted to make a summer home there.


It's not because I despise my life, though, and maybe that's the problem - the temptation to walk away from wonderful for the sake of what was wonderful. My littlest boys' deep river eyes look full into mine now, hold the gaze. His little voice explores and calls out, echoing the sounds he hears. My big one collects cicada shells, and holds a stink bug on his finger like he's parading around with a parakeet; he says it's a pet but it doesn't need a name.


I read a quote from C. S. Lewis the other day. He said, "The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only - and that is to support the ultimate career." I read it to my husband and he said, "you want a raise, don't you," and we laughed real good at that. But seriously, who could put a price on this? This is living, not "a living," and we're filthy rich on fool's gold, and that's the way I like it.

Once, when my mother was just a girl, my Grandma was walking around calling for her. There continued to be no answer and Grandma was calling and calling, searching around everywhere to find her. Finally, she found mom sitting on the ground. When Grandma asked her sternly, “Debbie, didn’t you hear me calling for you?” she calmly looked up and said, “yes, but you didn’t say come here.”


When all her kids got together, Grandma was most in her element. Inevitably, one of the kids would tell a story that she hadn’t heard before, and she’d be left round-eyed and laughing, shaking her head at them before leaning over conspiratorially to us grandkids to tell us that our parents were naughty children. Grandma could tell more stories of smeared lipstick and poofed diaper powder and disassembled somethings than a person could put in a book. She loved to tell the stories.


There’s never anything perfect to say when a person dies. The weight of our human disparities is ridiculously hard to hold. Truths intersect like a maze of highways, thoughts careening over and under bypasses: I hold her imperfections with such a fondness, and I remember how right it was to sit around a table and laugh with her. I’m glad the suffering is done now. I miss her. Mom picks up the phone to call her and cries. I keep picturing her in her chair, coloring with colored pencils some delicate floral sketch. I’m trying to rewire my brain to understand that she’s not here, but it won’t stick.


I like to picture a person in heaven. It’s the most unimaginable thing to imagine, like thinking, what was there before there was nothing? The brain can’t conceive. But I like to do it anyway, because I know she’s somewhere, laughing with her sisters, hugging her mom, grabbing my cousin and melting down in some tearless joy that my he just looks so strong now. Maybe she’s in a recliner coloring, even. Whatever it is, I know it’s good, and I know her brain is still spinning with conversation. I bet she’ll get a chance to host a party up there, which was her favorite. I have to remember that my people aren’t gone. No one’s lost in the ether. When I get there, having assumed in my earthly simplicity that they’ve been snoring for decades, they’ll greet me with, “I have so much to tell you!” and I’ll sit back and listen to all the memories that have formed them after death. These new, brilliant creatures, every bit what I remember and better.