Lighting candles, praying for sidewalks

I lit a few thrift-store votive jars tonight at dinner.

“God, thanks for these candles, which remind us that though today is pretty ordinary, it’s actually a holy thing, all of us around this table. Thanks for the sunshine outside, still, and this food, and these people.” And we threw in some more words for “hurting places” (my children’s term for what other kids call boo-boos), and for the monkey bread on the counter. I’m here, all the way: cold linoleum under my socks and all.

Flickering lights in those glass jars held my attention throughout that whole meal. I’d taken them down from the shelf this afternoon to wash them. The effect was mesmerizing. The sparkle! Drawing me back to right here, right now, this cliched-but-true spilled milk; these kids complaining because it’s bean soup again. Dave here for dinner, thank God.

We’ve had a string of afternoons of ennui, these girls and I: a pudgy-fingered toddler rips a plastic T. Rex from her sister’s bony grip, and they both scream, and my voice is thick with fatigue. I bark: “Please. PLEASE.” I cannot break up another fight over plastic prehistorics. I cannot: Not until April.

This place, this house is feeling tired, and this isn’t a winter thing alone, though that underlines my opinions, I’m sure. I think the place, this rural rental, is losing its magic. The lighting of the candles tonight was an act of grounding our attention; of listening, not complaining. February needed the sparkle, but it was also a mental accord, a nod that the God who gave us this rental home could move us, too, please. We’re missing something out here. People, mainly. A place to be for a long while, too.

Augmenting our desire is the fact that our church nests, too. Our oldest two say “I wish we had sidewalks to ride our bikes on” as we drive to our church’s new venue, or even the library. “Can we live in a house like that,” they ask. We dream. Our church dreams, too. We met in a school for more than a decade (they did; I came late). I imagine more than a few people asked “Can we meet in a place like that, more permanent?” more than once during those years. Finally, late last year, we moved to a permanent venue in a neighborhood in Lansing. We’ve bought an old building and we’re taking out walls, opening it up, removing the pews.

As we as a church will begin to settle into the neighborhood there, there’s an energy that reverberates into our imaginations at home of rooting, of being neighbors. I’m not sure how it’ll play out, but I sense a motion, like a wave I can see from a distance. I’m not sure how big it’ll be til it gets here.

All I know is that now, today, prehistoric creature fights notwithstanding, this meant I washed some dusty jars to nod: I’m interested in something new; something more beautiful than I could ask or imagine, with people and sidewalks. I pried with a fork the dried wax from the bottom of those jars, stuck on since Christmas. Dropped in new candles; used five matches, whiffed the sulfur of every one. Called the kids to dinner. Took a picture while they washed their hands, before the bean-soup-again tears. As they came to the table, they were interested, skeptical.

“What’s this for?” My oldest wrinkled up her nose, suspiciously.

“It’s pretty, isn’t it,” I said.

“Ooh! Turn off the light,” Violet begged. Caught one of their imaginations, anyway.


I’m ending February happier than when it began, which can only be divine: a mixture of friendship, books, candles in jars, and monkey bread on the counter. And bigger, new dreams.

Since taking our dishwater vows of stability, I’ve had the wildest dreams of sidewalks and living by people, in the city. There’s a physical desire, here, manifest in the drag of leaving the house to drive fifteen or twenty minutes to get anywhere. It’s manifest in our long afternoons, where even the mailman’s coming and going is a mystery to us. It’s in the words of “Sidewalks in the Kingdom“: we Christians should be city people, either by living there, or supporting and enjoying the fruits, culture, and vitality of the city; we’re neither, and the lack of a web of sidewalks around a neighborhood out here is more than a cute illustration. Maybe to fully realize what community is, we should be in proximity to it. There is something to those sidewalks, those neighborhoods.

And so we pray, and wait for snow to melt, for green things. We wait for the juncos to move out; and for us, maybe, too.

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