Dipping the Toe

Thoughts on life and faith and faith in life

Author: Tamara Belanger (page 1 of 71)

342 Miles to a Friend

Thirty-six days ago we sat in a church in the countryside of Columbia, TN. We’d been there before a few times in summers past and knew we wanted to go back. When the word came we’d be in the area for much of the summer, we let them know we were coming and they made room for us in their lives and in their homes. So this particular Sunday? We were already “home” as far as our hearts were concerned. I glanced up from where we sat, a moment’s gap between people allowing me to see across the room as a woman and her teenage daughter flashed by and made their way to seats on the other side.

Afterward, the girl and I took a friend come to visit from out of town to a diner nearby. It’s the sort of place that you’d be tempted to pass up from the looks of it outside but are mighty glad you stopped when you step inside. The locals and travelers line up before it opens to get a spot saved. There’s coca-cola chocolate sheet cake, a three stack of fluffy buttermilk pancakes and country fried steak with gravy. You’re more than willing set aside gluten-free bread and vegan ice cream and pay the price later. As we waited for our turn to sit down on a busy Sunday lunch hour the red and white screen door, just like grandmother’s old house, pushed open behind us and we all shifted to make room for more. “You were at church today, weren’t you?” I recognized her immediately. She and her girl had taken a mother/daughter trip out of town, she told me, time between them much needed and longed for. She wasn’t sure why she’d chosen this area, save for the music concert offered nearby that same weekend. Something pulled her and she stopped at the diner to savor the last few minutes before heading back home.

Where are you from? I asked the usual out of town question. Northern Kentucky. “No, you can’t be. We’re from Northern Kentucky!” A long table opened up in the middle of the restaurant, room for a gaggle, and would we mind sharing space, the server asked. We eagerly agreed and gathered our chairs closer around each other and started sharing our stories.

As the meal ended I looked around the table for the check, eager to pay it forward for all of us. The girl and our check were missing. She’d already had the same thought, two beats ahead of me and standing at the cash register. As she made her way back and sat down, we all looked at each other. Something important was happening, Someone bigger than us had woven our paths together. None of us wanted to leave. I would contact her when our summer was over. I promised.

And so today, five weeks later, our bags unpacked and laundry hung back in the closet, we make good on our word and sit across another table, this time in our home state, just a few miles from where each of us lives. She loves to paint and had paid attention to the rest of my trip as I’d shared online. She brought me a picture she’d painted of the bison I’d met in Montana. “I think,” she said, “I think what I learned from this summer is to take back what I saw in how they loved and cared for one another in Tennessee and do the same here.” I looked at her, this person that had appeared unexpected in my path. It was exactly the words that had taken shape in my own heart.

One evening in Tennessee, I told my new friend, we were staying with people we’d only just met two days before. They got a text. “Come have supper.” I was incredulous. But….it’s supper time now….and there’s five of us. Do they know that?? No one hesitated….except the girl and I. We hoped they were sure about this. When we pulled up into their driveway, she’d just come back from the store bringing a pie to complete the meal. We followed her into the kitchen where we helped pull food to share from the fridge and warmed it up together. We finished up and carried our coffee out to the porch and put the sun to rest as we laughed and talked and sang. No one dusted the furniture first, no one changed clothes, no one set out the good china or scripted their stories. And no one had ever shown us what friendship like that could look like.

We made a pact, this new friend and I. We would pay attention and move toward the whisper in our souls. Tonight the small picture of the bison she painted has a new home over my kitchen sink. I traveled 342 miles and back again to get that painting, to keep it as reminder of all those who taught us what love looks like.

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Homesick

I’ve been writing in my head for days. Trouble is my head isn’t big enough to hold it all. Neither is my heart. Neither are words. But words are how I paint the pain and the fantastical, the glory-be’s and the what-the-heck’s, the quiet cups of coffee and the bigger-than-bargained-for troubles. It’s my way to make friends with those who wish to read, with my own insides. It gives me something to hold onto to remember, to give thanks, to savor one more time. Last week, on this very day, I sat in a car and watched bison walk by the window, wallow in the dust on the ground and peeked my head out to hear what bison sound like when it appears they are in an argument with another bison. I decided it would not be a sound I would want to hear in a dark alley. I pledged right then to never annoy a bison.

We woke up late today, still sleeping the road off from adventures and an overnight in the airport. The girl came downstairs and we poured our coffee into cups we’d brought home from Tennessee and sat across from each other, each in our designated spot, like church pews that become your own because you sat there one Sunday and everyone now knows that’s your spot. You belong there.

We’ve sat with so many coffee cups filled by strangers and strangers become friends this summer; tables and booths in restaurants and homes and airports. We’ve read books in parks and bookstores, Airbnb’s and various living rooms that we didn’t know existed in the world. We’ve eaten in diners and kitchens, trendy and earthy, places of respite for the trafficked in training for a better tomorrow, bars and grills on trivia night with the 20-somethings laughing and raising a glass together. We’ve seen farmland and reservations, mountains of majesty and inner-city, town squares straight out of Mayberry, Amish buggies, mountain bikes, gay pride parades, and cowboy church. There’ve been new heart ties with those we’d never met until we walked through their front door or into their mailbox online, reunions with those related through family tree and those who’d earned a graft into the tree because we’d loved them forever or the minute we first laid eyes on them. We’ve talked and shared ideas with those like-minded, those higher-minded, those with vastly different ideologies, and those that made us think, challenged us, ruffled us. Their faces scroll through my heart and I feel a fire lit deep and strong.

To my daughter and her husband and magical little girl, thank you for being the first stop on our summer journey. The food, the books, the walks and conversation, the welcome into the quiet and beautiful daily life that is yours. And for the hug goodbye that said: “come back”.

And Bea…..”Nana loves you, too!” <3

To those whose paths crossed ours by “chance” or by effort, we are deeply grateful for the particular seasoning sprinkled over us by spending time with you and are in awe of road maps that intersect serendipitously and sprout joy.

To my son Noah and his love, Erin…..thank you for going beyond convenience to plan the trip of a lifetime for us and lingering longer than planned in front of Old Faithful, for tolerating my silly mama tears at the sheer joy of all that I was seeing. The dinner at Dolce, the impromptu dessert run on our last night, the Saturday morning walk into town for breakfast burritos, the hike to the water that was scaled down below what you could have taken on your own…. but you did it for us. None of it went unnoticed and is appreciated. “Are you happy?” The nod to my question at the airport goodbye made it easier to leave. I’ll love you forever and always.

To Fran and Ty and Joanna and Nellie and Sharon and Denise and Dena and AK and Orvil and Pam and Julie and Rachel and Linda and Jeff and Lisa and Rob; Pete and Shige and Drew and Chris and Andrew…..I’m overwhelmed at trying to remember the names and the catch in my breath as I type through tears. Your homes offered, birthdays celebrated, conversations fruitful and silly, dominoes around the table, books discussed, laughter that rang true and deep and satisfying to the soul. And the friendship, ah, the friendship. Thank you.

To the girl I met whose pronouns are different than mine, to the man in the coffee shop whose body diseased made it difficult to carry his drink from the counter to the table and let me help him, to the man and his wife making warm doughnuts in a small shop in the mountains’ middle through cancer diagnosis and chemo and remission who looked every customer in the eye and took the time, a thank you goes out to you unknown for making me stop and consider my own lot and how to love someone.

I sit here back home in Kentucky on this warm Sunday. The girl and I watch church online from Tennessee where we planted ourselves and left roots. “I’m homesick,” said the girl. I understood. She picked a liturgy from a book gifted to us and we read it out loud to comfort ourselves. It made us feel understood by an invisible listener.

Inconsolable Homesickness

“Let me steward well, Lord Christ, this gift of homesickness–this grieving for a childhood gone, this ache for distant family, lost fellowship, past laughter, shared lives and the sense that I was somewhere I belonged.” — Every Moment Holy

We learned what home means, what weaving life together looks like, how loving open-handed can feel. We saw different than us as a person and less of a project. We are slain by the grace of it all.

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Endings Are Beginnings

This morning finds me gathering our earthly goods as we make ready to move to our final destination for the last week before leaving The Summer of Our Great Adventure here in Nashville. I stop a few times to catch my breath as tears make their way up through my chest. The tears, though, taste sweet like gratitude that can never repay what’s been given. I look out the window where I’ve found myself so many quiet days on this trip and the movie in my mind plays itself through with the images of moments and people that have their way to my hearts’ door.

The girl and I sat in the local mall Saturday afternoon, reveling in more time to read, to absorb, to just be. My phone dinged a tiny surprise. Miss Ann was nearby, on her way home from a funeral….could she come to see us? She had known me before my parents thought of me, she and her husband friends with my parents since their college days. The last time I had seen Miss Ann or her husband, Robert (“Unk” to my kids) was eight years ago. They had come to see my father for the last time. He was fading from Alzheimer’s and Robert wanted to see his friend while he could still remember him.

Robert was my daddy’s best friend until his last breath. They died eight months apart. I still remember having a dream, so vivid, so startling. My father was on a playground sitting by the slide. I was watching him from a distance out of a window. He looked up and saw a beautiful Irish setter playing nearby and called for it to come to him. His face lit up when it sat by his side. I heard him say, “Go to Tam. She’ll help you.” I woke up in the early hours waiting to hear from Robert’s family. He was in the late stages of dementia and his family was by his bedside. “Tell him my daddy is waiting on him. Tell him it’s ok to go.” He was in heaven within a few hours.

So, this past Sunday, Ann sat beside me and the girl, having joined us at CrossCountry Cowboy Church where our hearts had planted themselves since we’d been here. We introduced her to Nellie and Orville, to Joanna and Fran and Ty and others who had taken their place in our hall of heart ties. I looked over at her bobbing her head to a familiar song being sung and smiled at her hands searching her beloved bible.

I could not believe the extravagant love of our Father to offer us this gift of a visit unexpected. As she drove out of the driveway this morning on her way back home, I let the tears fall as she waved a goodbye through her car window. I don’t know if I will ever see her again this side of heaven. But I know for sure her prayers follow me and my children past the miles between us. And I am so grateful to have seen her again.

As I turned my hand to preparing the home for the return of its people, they having gifted us permission to stay here in their absence these many weeks; laundry humming, vinegar spray spritzing away dust, plates rattling clean in the dishwasher, I flash back through the copious cups of coffee, the serendipitous moments of finding musicians on every corner, small town Fridays where everyone came out just because we could and mingled together around the center square.

Words and truths gleaned from so. many. books. from the shelves of bookstores and the home we’re in ticker tape through my head. The time granted, hard to come by in my ‘regular’ life, to start and finish books kept me fairly “drunk” on just breathing in the pages.

We sat in the Belcourt historic theatre one evening; a place where silent movies used to be shown when silent movies were the newest thing to marvel at and the theatre was the largest stage in Nashville; where the Grand Old Opry was housed for a few short years in the 1930’s and now where the girl and I sat in seats that had been there longer than either of us were alive. We watched a documentary on The Biggest Little Farm, a dream hatched and bloomed by a young couple desiring simplicity and finding it by inviting others into their dream.

We sat on the couch last night in the quiet of the early evening, the girl, Miss Ann and myself. So much life had been lived in the few weeks we’d been here. So much good soil upturned and fed. I turned to the girl. “I’m ready,” I said to her. “Me too,” she replied. In the time that we’ve been here we have planted a part of ourselves that will continue to flourish. We have walked into stories we want to continue to watch unfold. Parallel to that are the messages from back where we come from. “Come home.” “Let’s get together!” “I’d love to get to know you better.” “Coffee?” There are texts that light up my phone and my heart from those I work with. They make me laugh and remind me I have a quilt already begun back in Kentucky that everything I’ve read, heard, seen, walked out; everyone I’ve met and grown to love; every thought I’ve pondered, every sermon I’ve amended to…..all of it wrapped itself around the people in my world. No seed planted or harvested has ever done it alone. There is always water and sunshine and oxygen; till and gloved hands, baskets to gather and vases and plates to display the bounty. I am sensing that the Father of all these good gifts has granted this respite so that I can take new things home in my heart and share the bounty with those who are waiting to hear.

The girl and I…..are being prepared to come home for a spell. We won’t leave here easy or without a second and third look back over our shoulder. There will be tears. But we’re ready, those of you back home…..ya’ll come sit with us when we get there, won’t you?

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