The End of Summer

This summer wasn’t completely what I had hoped in terms of the weather. It’s really hit or miss here in the Pacific Northwest. Some years it hits the high 80s for three months and that’s when everyone’s grass turns a crackly brown and it feels like you’re walking on tiny spikes when you go into the yard barefoot. The smell of sunscreen is ubiquitous and the spray grounds are packed to maximum capacity. In fact it might even be a good idea to invest into a harness just so you can locate your child amongst the mosh pit of swimsuits.

Then there are years where you find yourself sitting near a quiet beach with a single tear streaming down your face as you try to suck the life out of a day in the high 50s, gray clouds hovering above as you pretend it’s summery outside by eating juicy peaches (that were NOT grown here this year) and donning sunglasses in hopes that the day will actually require them to be worn. You day-dream of trips to hot and sunny places like Arizona or Utah because honestly, would you ever go there in August otherwise?

This was my summer:

Green tomatoes in July….AND August!

Tiny butternut squash on the vine because the heat didn’t help them

Cold days at a local beach

And gray skies in July!

BUT….

August sent me outside with a tan, camping all over our amazingly, lovely state, and it lathered me with sunscreen for an entire month.

I have freckles on my face that show proof of those sunny days, a handful of red tommys that are truly the underdog this year, and kids with sun kissed highlights in their hair. We had a rad summer, even if it took a while to come. She finally graced us with her presence and then, just like that, she was gone.

Welcome the yellow leaves and orange pumpkins; sweaters that itch your neck, socks, spiders coming in from the cold; firm butter in the cupboard, heated house in the morning and feather duvet at night… all of this I’m not yet ready for but, in the end, what I can do? Here’s to fall!

All photos by Tracie Bonjour

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Is preaching at funerals a bizarre tradition?

Photo by Tracie Bonjour

My friend Caleb is a funeral director and a writer and he’s just  posted a hot topic of discussion  regarding whether or not pastors should preach a gospel message or salvation message at funerals; namely, eternity is upon the departed so get your own life right in God’s eyes. Right now the topic of where people will spend eternity is huge considering Rob Bell’s new book, that I have not yet read, Love Wins. Boy, this poor guy is being slammed out of the evangelical window right now for some of his comments in the book regarding hell and whether or not a loving God creates an everlasting hole of perpetual torment for ‘unbelievers’. If you ask me this sounds more like a night out at Denny’s. With this in mind I do think it’s timely that Caleb posted his thoughts on preaching salvation at funerals since eternity and whether or not hell is for the heathen is such a huge discussion point.

I’ve been to funerals that were heartbreaking but precious as we all grieved the loss of another life. Then I’ve been to funerals where I kept wondering who this stranger of the departed is and why he’s saying the stuff he’s saying. I know a lot depends on what the family wants to be said, the same is true at weddings. I’ve even been to a few weddings where the couple actually wanted the unbelieving family members to know that time is a-tickin’ and they better take stock of their lives soon. Then we all had cake with butter creme frosting and boogied to Michael Jackson songs. Mazel Tov!

I personally believe that death is an intriguing part of the human experience and that we as Westerners seem to want death to be wrapped in a tidy bow for a variety of reasons that I don’t fully understand yet. Maybe grieving families want the attenders to know there is a heaven and a hell and that, as we face the death of a loved one, we need to keep our own vulnerability in front of us. Maybe we hand the keys (so to speak) over to our pastor to officiate the service because this is the role of the pastor in our church; a leader, a shepherd, a guide to the flock, anointed to bring a gospel message, one who orates better than the rest of us?

I guess at the heart of it I find preaching salvation at a funeral to be in poor taste considering death is such a huge loss for people to walk through as it is. I believe death has its beauty and also has the potential to draw out the strength and connectedness in an entire community so, in my opinion, when you have a pastor in front preaching about heaven and hell you lose this dynamic element of mourning that a community needs to experience in order to move forward. In this case someone’s death has become a platform to deliver another Sunday service message and a funeral isn’t that, it’s much more exceptional than a church service.  I guess it can serve as a gauge in reminding us of our own brevity in a short life but, in general, as far as the amazing event of a funeral goes, I think the preaching is better left for Sunday morning. And again, by preaching I mean letting the participants know “there is eternity and we will spend it somewhere so where will you spend it?” end quote

Could it be that preaching a message of salvation at a funeral, by the pastor, is a tradition that not too many people question these days; sort like wearing black at a funeral or wearing white at a wedding, or shaking a stick at a witch under a full moon (ok, that last one is just made up)?  Does preaching belong at an event as profound as a funeral?

Another beginning

Today I’m listening to Vivaldi’s, The Four Seasons and it’s the Summer Allegro that reminds me how fast this season has gone by in our cloudy state. I almost feel like we didn’t really have a summer as we all sat near beaches and pools, shivering with our kids, trying to enjoy sandy turkey sandwiches while many of us wrapped ourselves in light sweaters in AUGUST! When the sun has come out it’s been crazy outside. You can smell BBQ wafting down the street from all directions and you can hear (in our neighborhood anyway) music blasting from every corner. It’s like we’re making up for lost time and snatching the small scraps of summer that we can.

It’s August 10 and that means only a few short weeks until September 1….and THAT means Oliver is starting first grade….in school! I decided, after months of heaviness to put him in school this year. I was preparing to order curriculum and still didn’t feel right about homeschooling next year. He loves to craft and make projects but also loves to do experiments and learn about the scientific world. These are the things I find very hard to do with him while having two small children to take care of. Lately he’s been bored and under stimulated at home and also, he wants to be around kids ALL THE TIME!

It usually takes me about 30 minutes to research a project that is just right for the both of us. Then another 30 min to find the materials around the house that we’ll need for this project and after 10 minutes of actually doing the activity he asks, “So, can we do another one?” That’s when I want to collapse into a ball, rock back and forth while holding my knees in the fetal position. I’ve been realizing I can’t quite keep up with his need for input so I decided to enroll him this year and it was quite a dilemma for me. I really believe, contrary to what some homeschoolers might believe, that you can give your kids a great education and nurture them wonderfully if they are in public, private school or home schooled. It just takes the parents being highly involved in the kid’s life and in their learning process. It helps to lay good foundations of self esteem and security while releasing their own creativity.

I have heard about this school in our area, but not in our district, that is a centre for the creative arts but the wait list for out of district families is quite long. Some parents have had their kids on the list for over two years and still not getting in. These days, it seems like a good school is hard to find. I must have tried to call and left a message with the principle inquiring about getting Oliver enrolled for next year, I honestly don’t remember speaking to her so I think I just a left a message about a month ago. I was told of the wait list so I considered another school that is similar but it’s pretty far of a drive from our house. I decided to enroll him there but still felt heavy about the far drive. It would have been about 80 minutes total for two, ‘there and back’, drives each day. The day I enrolled him in the school that is far from our house the secretary for the first school I originally wanted him in, the centre for creative arts, called me and said even though I’m out of district they would not put him on the wait list, they would enroll him straight away! It was so random and unexpected, so divine! The call came out of nowhere and it’s just something that I’ve never heard of as happening to a family wanting to enroll at this particular school but I’m amazed and thrilled that Oliver gets to go here.

Learning math and science through the arts! Designing a building and learning about numbers and problems! The elements of science and the beauty of creating through artistic expression! Crafts and projects. Glue, glitter, paints and clay. Charlotte’s Web during story time. Robots from tin cans. Mosaics! Music and dance. My son, I’m thrilled for you and what you will create this year. Your heart longs to invent, manipulate, bend, click and snap things into place. I can’t wait to see what you bring home, showing me each masterpiece you will make.

And that’s a wrap!

Just last week things finally came to a head with the neighbors. I’ve been learning a lot about living in an urban setting and the places where our family needs to give and take as we live so close to so many people. The noise? Ok, I can deal with that (most of the time). The loud ‘chatter’ as people pass by our home in the middle of the night? I can deal with that too. Shopping carts? Well….I’m still calling Safeway every time those bloody things end up on our street. But living next to some of the worst people on the block has been a huge learning curve. The question for me was always, “What do we have to accept and what do we NOT have to put up with?”

When we first moved in I learned that you can’t cower in fear when things get crazy, you must confront! When a violent fight broke out next door and the cops took one of them away our first week of moving in, I decided to talk with the neighbors the next day and ask if that was going to happen again. I was reassured, through many apologies, that it would not happen again (even though it did, but that’s another story).  Talk through the fence to the people who live near or next to you and it will always create more relationship. It also let our neighbors know that I was now alert and paying attention, not just pretending it didn’t happen. I also learned every house member’s name and I used it when I saw them. It’s been six months since we moved in and not one of them knows my name. Ok, fair enough, they don’t have to call me Tracie. “Hey” or “Um” will do for now.

I have also learned that you need to keep talking through issues instead of letting anger fester, even though I have, at times, let it fester- they really stressed me out, man! If people are starting construction projects at 3am with the windows and doors to their home wide open, ask them not to do that (the next day, maybe). If they are dry humping in front of your kids even when you let them know there are children in the yard, do speak out! But I felt I had done everything I could to be a tolerant neighbor when I finally started to call in Jonny Law.

I’m not about getting all the loud people out of our neighborhood so the Bonjours can abide in peace. We all share space together and for the most part, I like my neighbors and I really like our neighborhood. It was about having a home next to people who were committed to living in a community and not tearing one down. They brought drugs, noise, lawn trash, parties, fights, they tore up my garden and woke us up countless times with their late night, porch “chatter”.  So I started to respond, when I wasn’t reacting inside.

The last straw for the Tacoma Police was when our neighbor (the owner of the home) didn’t pay the power and water bill so both were shut off while he had split for a few weeks (MIA). The tenants had to move out, except for two rowdy stragglers who lived sans electricity and water fror almost two weeks. Finally the city found out that there were people living there without power or water and the next day the police boarded the house up. I guess the owner ran off with rent and electricity money that he’d been collecting and just didn’t pay things off. Oops!

So here we have this lovely and amazing house that now sits abandoned by the owner. It’s really a shame because he had put work into it when he bought it five years ago. Then he let life spiral out of control and when we moved in it’s like we had a ring side seat, sitting here watching it get desperately worse with him. Things are much quieter now but it’s eerie having a boarded up house next door. So here are a few lessons I’m learning about urban living:

1. Invest into your neighborhood! It’s yours now too!  When I use to live in community housing there were often stains on the carpet and smudges on the walls that had literally been there for years because the place really belonged to no one. When you own something, you take care of it.

2. The little things matter. Pick up trash in the street, cut your lawn and take care of the area

3. GET TO KNOW YOUR NEIGHBORS. Names, hellos when you see them and small talk until you get to know them better make a huge difference.

4. Make your place lovely in the ways you know how. I garden and I’ve taken back so much land at our house because I’m out there putting stuff in the ground. It looks lived in and loved.

5. Don’t put up with crime. Fear is huge when you see people breaking the law, especially in terms of violence, but we have to stay on top of things in our area and that’s one lesson I’m really learning lately. The police work for us and they want us to tell them when the “fit is hitting the shan”, so to speak.

6. Talk over the fence when your neighbors are acting crazy and talk to your other neighbors about a problem house, getting the rest of the neighbors involved.

7. I am finding that living in confidence is helping me enjoy the people here. Fear is normal when you move to a rough area but you have to keep believing in others rather than stereotyping and reacting in fear or mistrust. We all want the same things in life anyway, right?

Here’s to urban living! Salute!

Taking the kids to the races

Recently Matt reminded me of a tradition at the Apple store that happens when a team member leaves for further endeavors in life. All of the colleagues line up, maybe the way you would do if you were in the army and you all drew swords in the air for another couple to walk under, and they all ‘clap out’ the colleague that is leaving the store while said colleague walks in between the line of well-wishers. It’s a bit of an emotional moment for most as they feel the love and encouragement from this team of people they have worked with. Matt told me about his ‘clap out’ in Madison that happened before we moved to WA and how moving it was for him. When he told me I realized that this would have been an amazing moment for our kids, if they had been there, to see their father honored by his own teammates.

I’ve been thinking a ton about mentoring when it comes to my kids and also I’ve been realizing how important it is for our kids to see their parents succeed, whether it is at a job or a talent we are pursuing. I like my kids to see me taking photos and then to see the photos online. Now, I’d love for them to see my photos hanging in a gallery but that’s another story. I think it’s amazing when kids can watch their parents act in a play or sing on a stage or work at a job. There seems to be a lot of lessons to hand down in those moments. I’m sure they are taking in more than I even know.

Taking all this into consideration I took our kids downtown this weekend to watch their father in his first bike race. They saw the racers before Matt’s category was announced and I explained the whole process to them about what it means to race and who the winner is. When Matt’s category took off they watched him go by and every time he passed they yelled out, “PAPA!!!” It was rad! I’m not gonna lie. I loved that they saw him competing and pushing himself physically. I know it’s planting seeds in them for later in life even if our kids never compete in the same manner.

I’ve been around church culture for a number of years now and I’ve known a lot of personal friends who had an extremely rough time growing up because they felt that their parents were so consumed by the work of ministry yet it was never really integrated into the family life. It was sort of this amazing and dynamic work that stayed at the office, so to speak. Not only did these friends, as children, feel a bit like they were left to take care of themselves while their parents did God’s work but they also wished they could have seen more or participated in some way. I think too that they missed out on seeing their parents succeed and that’s huge for a child. We are the world to our kids and I’m convinced that they feel joy and pride when they are able to see mom and dad do what they love to do. I know it’s true. I’ve seen my son smile and beam when he’s been able to see me teaching or performing in front of people, to see me in a role he isn’t use to seeing me (a very un-mommy role). And while I am still very intrigued with the idea of my kids someday having mentors other than Matt and I, for now I think we are the best example to them on how to challenge ourselves, to set goals, to do what we are passionate about and to pursue our dreams one step at a time.