The Beech Tree

The giggling girl and boy crept up to me as quietly as their childish mannerisms would allow, glancing all about to ensure that the deed they were about to commit in broad daylight would remain unseen. Then they carved their initials in me, a secret sign of their affections, commemorated forever a yard above my grassy roots.

~~~

I had the pleasure of knowing many children at that parsonage, from the families who lived there to those who attended church next door, and of course the neighbors. I had a fondness for the ones across the street, whom I could only will love upon from my place in the front yard. I knew they needed the love, though.

Like these young ones, I heard the late-night music of the next-door neighbors, saw their blazing campfires through the hedge late at night—the kids thought it frightening, but imagine me! I can’t move, and I’m made of wood! —and watched many a car use the church lot to turn around when they were misguided.

They were good times.

My leathery grey skin and pointed oval leaves basked in a good deal of sunlight and weathered quite a few thunderstorms as the children rode the rope swing literally to pieces, considered the engraving left by that young couple, and gazed up at my smooth branches trying to discern who I was.

The kids relished the autumn when they could rake up and jump in my fallen leaves. They felt accomplished to gather those mounds of feathery gold and joyful to disturb them into a flurry, a fluff, a frizzle, as one might say. I never quite understood the point, but it made me laugh, and their pride rubbed off on me, for I had given them the gift of those leaves—unlike the backyard oaks who were stingy and held on to their dull brown ones until March.

I was generous. I was a pillar. I wasn’t well known, per se, but I know they needed me. They needed me for play and for shade and for their intellect as they studied science. I helped them with all that as their front yard beech tree.

I’m here still, just waiting for more children to run unto this side of the yard again and entertain me with their antics. They’ll come to rely one me soon enough. Everyone needs a tree like me in order to engrave their legend.

Advertisements

The Three Tree

Second back from the front and about two yards to the left of the church house dwelled the Three Tree. A red oak of aimable personality, it had weathered many storms with a genuine grin and lived to see the joy of the children around it.

The church house, known as a parsonage to many, is what I called our split-level ranch, which the church on the property owned and in which it let us live as my dad pastored when we first moved to North Haven.

Our yard had a good handful of trees, each unique and well loved, and was backed by a small forest. The Three Tree, however, sat much closer to the front, far from the occasional nighttime noise of local crowds at a baseball field a couple blocks away.

One had to walk across the parking lot and into the yard to see the Three Tree, but once discovered, it was memorable due to its three trunks that diverged just a couple feet up from the ground. Ancient and strong, the oak would have been a good climbing tree if it had any lower lying branches, which it did not.

The Three Tree witnessed many adventures from us church kids and was in the general vicinity of the Goliath beetle we once found during a picnic.

Along with the White Oak, the Three Tree bordered the small field on its right; the ramp lined the field’s front while the church’s side garden and basement door sealed the left, the sidewalk from that door heading back towards the house and the Three Tree in completion of the rectangular plot of grass.

In this field, my best friend Annabelle and I played Frank and Joe from the Hardy Boys and foraged for nuts when pretending to be Natives, whose cultures and lifestyles I now recognize we knew nothing about.

(Our state’s name itself, Connecticut, is a mispronunciation of the Algonquian word regarding the river that runs through it, and many places in the state and region hearken back to European colonization and the brash overtaking and erasure of Native cultures there.)

Familiar with its history and its present, the Three Tree looked upon us in kind amusement, a silent but wise presence, friendly as we passed by and game for our attempts at climbing.

We were childish, and it was happy. The Three Tree was childish itself, though not spry like us anymore. Age had made it firm but had not worn down its spirit.

Its three arms opened to the blue sky filled with cumulus puffballs, ready to receive either a child or a thunderstorm and ready to protect its area with its hearty leaves that stayed green through the winter and turned brown and fell frustratingly atop fresh ground each spring.

The church property was neglected once we moved out of state, and the Three Tree’s life cut short with some of its companions years before that, but the memory of this unique red oak, which was at once playful and firm, lives on.


Note:

I am still working on images for this series. Please bear with me and engage your imagination until (and even after) I draw replicas of the dear trees I am describing. I will add them to their respective posts when ready. Thank you.

PC: KSB

Introduction to Memoirs of the Trees, a new blog series

I grew up in New England, surrounded by forests. Trees dwelt in my yard, encompassed our vehicle as we drove around town, sat watch at Sleeping Giant where we hiked regularly, and huddled in New York’s Adirondack Mountains where we traveled some summers.

Apple trees lay below us on Blue Hills Road on the way from Cheshire to North Haven. Above me, below me, and around me in Connecticut were oaks, beeches, maples, and pines of earth brown, spotted yellow, vibrant maroon, and green of all shades. No other region of the U.S. can compare to the diversity of foliage in New England.

Perhaps you have heard of Ents. If you’ve read Lord of the Rings, you know of their wisdom and the histories that lie deep within their hearts in the Fangorn Forest.

In this blog series, Memoirs of the Trees, I would like to share the histories of specific trees whose lives have crossed mine. In this way, I will honor the trees that have impacted my life.

Perhaps the tree will share a particular moment in its life, or perhaps it will describe a stretch of years. Spun from my reality, these stories will include creative elements stretching back into history, imagined occurrences as well as actual connections had with humans.

Enjoy this blog series and take some time to honor the land that has shaped you. Next week will begin the first of many stories regarding trees that I hold dear. Thank you.

PC: Rebeka Mwenebitu

Rudi nyumbani, mpenzi

“Coka mucie, that’s what he said to me, rudi nyumbani, doesn’t matter what you did. Ningwedete, that’s what he said to me, mi nakupenda, doesn’t matter what you did.”

“Return home,” the song calls. “I love you,” it declares. “Doesn’t matter what you did.”

I’ve been singing this song by Stacy Kamatu and Dira the Band all day. It’s the story of the Prodigal Son. It’s God’s message of hope, forgiveness, redemption, endless love.

PC: KSB

God is loyal and faithful, as is his Church. Jesus gave himself for you, and the Church emulates that.

So you’ve slipped back into sin. Return home.

So you can’t see your way back to the path yet. Jesus still loves you and offers you both an advocate and companion for your journey.

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” Jesus said in John 14:6, just before promising the Holy Spirit as a helper.

Friends, advisors, and the Word itself – these too can guide you in wisdom and righteousness.

Return home. You are dearly loved.

Rudi nyumbani, mpenzi.

 

PC: KSB

The sixth love language: food

An open door created a pathway between young adults laughing at the center table and napping on the back couch to Eva, the woman who made the office a home for them. A loveseat and cushioned chair encircled her table of snacks: today a full loaf of bread with a large peanut butter jar sidling up to grape jelly and some Mexican candies, the standard cheeseballs and animal crackers seated on her desk next to the Keurig and hot tea. If God is a provider, and if he has any love, he made himself clear through her food.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the five love languages: physical touch, words of affirmation, giving gifts, acts of service, and quality time. The Office of Multicultural Development, described above, held conversations about this very thing. How do you give love? How do you receive it?

The OMD, as we called the earth-toned space, also taught me that our conversations were incomplete. It was Eva that taught me the sixth love language: food.

African food and friends: beans made Angolan style, foufou, pilipili PC: KSB

African food and friends: beans made Angolan style, foufou, pilipili — all in the Illinois kitchen where I hosted so many friends. PC: KSB

God gave us food for many reasons: It gives us the energy and nutrients to physically sustain our bodies. It grants us joy through its countless flavors and even touches our souls when done with excellence. It creates community when people cook or dine together. It communicates culture as well.

Sharing food with others could be seen as a gift – say you deliver cookies to your friends during finals or mail your best friend a box of protein bars to make sure she is eating. It could be seen as an act of service, bringing rice porridge to someone who is ill or keeping mandazi and chai on hand for your wife when she’s recently brought a new life into the world. Even quality time and the sharing of food go together like PB&J. Thus, I don’t believe it fits in any one love language; I believe it is one to itself.

Personally, I feel loved by food. I feel both taken care of and cared for. Aside from Eva’s “care days,” or grand parties to bring students into the office and show them love, she offered her regular snacks daily—one of her rules was that you had to take something from her office once you stepped foot in it, even if it was just a teabag—and kept a secret stash of almonds just for me when I had dietary limitations.

Eva was so thoughtful, and in all practicality, she and the OMD provided my lunches for much of my college career. That’s how I was sustained, and that’s part of why I felt so loved there. Eva knew her students and what they liked and could or couldn’t have. She gave food out of the love in her heart.

She’s not the only one to love through food; it’s a large part of hospitality in Congolese, Burundian, and Rwandan cultures, for example. You’re sure to be served ugali, water, chai, Fanta if it’s on hand.

Once, my Rwandan friend picked me up from an airport and took me to his family’s apartment, where, although it was at least 10 pm and perhaps closer to midnight, I was made to eat a platter of vegetables and rice before I could sleep. More food, I’m always told I need more food. Food is vital to life, central to hospitality, and part of how people love others.

I currently work at a restaurant, and I have dubbed one of my coworkers “Official Sandwich Maker of the KSB (my initials)” since he thoughtfully puts together delectable, healthy sandwiches out of foods we can no longer serve to customers. I feel loved when I see him staring at the line thinking about what I would most like after I request something to fill my breakfast-deprived stomach, or when he gives me a fresh egg that was “definitely expired,” or when he pops around the corner to hand me a brown box with his creation simply as a surprise. Whether he is aware of this or not, he loves me through food.

I’ll forever be thankful to the OMD for loving me and for teaching me how to love others a little better. As part of being hospitable, I too enjoy giving food. One of my favorite activities is cooking together with friends, dancing around the kitchen to Kenyan pop while catching up on life and testing flavors to create something excellent. Biting into something so delicious draws me closer to God, enhancing our relationship in that moment of gratitude. Finally, I am honored to serve others food when they are sad, sick, or struggling. Thus, food connects with so many love languages and yet is its own.

 

Hanging out with my young friend, eating ugali and sombe. PC: KSB

Hanging out with my young friend, sharing ugali and sombe. PC: KSB

 

What are your love languages? How can you relate to the love language of giving or receiving food?

 

Birthday ice cream with one of my best friends. PC: KSB

Birthday ice cream with one of my best friends, Ili. PC: KSB

 

 

For more posts on this subject, read “Lunchtime in the DRC (Learning How to Eat),” which mentions Mama Julienne and how she loved me through food, and “MuKappa: A Taste of Heaven,” which hits on the communal aspect of food.

 

16473301_1374401339287868_5220522382492646453_n

As MuKappa, our Sunday events were centered around dinner. This particular photo captures the surprise birthday party that Cabinet threw me, complete with homemade soft pretzels. PC: KSB

PC: KSB

Why I shaved my head

Last August, just before the solar eclipse that crossed the entire nation, I shaved my head as a sign of mourning the sins of racial and social class inequality in the United States.  I had in mind the way poor people in this country are treated on structural levels, for example.

The way black teenagers have to fear for their lives when knocking to ask for directions to school and it’s not an isolated incident or unfounded fear; the way black and white men are given vastly different court sentences; the way the KKK was allowed to riot in Charlottesville this summer, a century after the Jim Crow Era; the way low income families are ripped out of their decades-old trailer homes to make space for expensive, new developments, because the Denver owners lusted for more money; the sin of gentrification – the list goes on.

At the time, I was reading the Biblical book of Amos, which references a solar eclipse and the shaving of heads because of the nation’s sins of injustice and inequity, similar to the ones I mentioned above. God convicted me as I read this timely passage, so as a prophetic move, I went to the hairdresser and asked her to shave curly locks, which are such a part of what I perceive to be my beauty and identity.

As much as we may often be going for style, women’s hair is not merely a part of our bodies or attire; it is symbolic. From owning your afro during the Harlem Renaissance to going natural as a black woman in the American workplace today, many women can identify with this.

Today I stumbled across this article from the New York Times. It discusses the politics of hair and references gun control activist Emma Gonzalez as well as the fierce warrior women in Black Panther, both with their buzzed heads, and it’s worth a quick read. So is the book of Amos, which remains relevant to the USA.

A few passages stand out:

There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court
    and detest the one who tells the truth.

You levy a straw tax on the poor
    and impose a tax on their grain.
Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,
    you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards,
    you will not drink their wine.

For I know how many are your offenses
    and how great your sins.

There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes
    and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times,
    for the times are evil.

Seek good, not evil,
    that you may live.
Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you,
    just as you say he is.
Hate evil, love good;
    maintain justice in the courts.
Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy
    on the remnant of Joseph.”

-Amos 5:10-15, NIV

After referencing much doom and punishment, Amos 8:3-10 (NIV) continues:

 “In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “the songs in the temple will turn to wailing. Many, many bodies—flung everywhere! Silence!”

Hear this, you who trample the needy
    and do away with the poor of the land,

saying,

“When will the New Moon be over
    that we may sell grain,
and the Sabbath be ended
    that we may market wheat?”—
skimping on the measure,
    boosting the price
    and cheating with dishonest scales,
buying the poor with silver
    and the needy for a pair of sandals,
    selling even the sweepings with the wheat.

The Lord has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done.

“Will not the land tremble for this,
    and all who live in it mourn?
The whole land will rise like the Nile;
    it will be stirred up and then sink
    like the river of Egypt.

“In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord,

I will make the sun go down at noon
    and darken the earth in broad daylight.
I will turn your religious festivals into mourning
    and all your singing into weeping.
I will make all of you wear sackcloth
    and shave your heads.
I will make that time like mourning for an only son
    and the end of it like a bitter day.”

Solar Eclipse, August 2017 PC: KSB

Solar Eclipse, August 2017 PC: KSB

God does leave space for repentance; the nation can change. Then there can be hope.

But since August, things have only gotten worse here: established immigrants expelled and new ones not accepted, violating God’s welcoming way of treating foreigners throughout the Old Testament; low and even middle income families in a bind with insurance (I currently have none and my family had to move to a co-op type of plan in order to maintain any); the continuation of the urban camping ban in Denver, which prevents many homeless people from covering themselves in the night; and so forth.

My curls are growing back, a sign of beauty and life. But will America also grow in righteousness (justice) or love?

 

PC: KSB

To my teen and tween self: I see you

Dear Katelyn,

I see you. You and the one other outcast sit alone at the lunch table. She is a caring, fun, spirited, and beautiful junior high girl, as are you, and your classmates are being jerks by not accepting you two. Keep looking up. She will help you carry on and be a close friend.

I know you are ignored in the hallways and given the silent treatment when you try to make up for whatever wrong you may have committed, though I do not believe there was any because you are so sincere and only want things to be right between you and your peers. Don’t let them silence your voice or deny your worth.

You are different, strong in personality, and unwilling to conform or deny your interests in order to fit in. This is admirable. You are also pure in heart, sweet, diligent, and passionate, and you long for friends. You try so hard, yet you are favored only by teachers in the classrooms. These adults see your diligence and maturity, but they do not see you crying as you leave the building each day. But I see you, girl in grey.

So do a few upperclassmen, who, when you are a freshman, think you are cool enough to go with on barefoot hikes at Sleeping Giant and visit your house, sing with around campfires at their houses, and invite to their graduation parties.

Once, one of them will even notice you at the lunch table and join you to see what is wrong, cleverly protecting you from a girl, one of your bullies, who tries to get the juice. These upperclassmen are awesome, and they think you are, too. They will pour their lives into yours.

They see you and believe you are worth knowing.

When you hit this year, your freshman year, when things are slowly on the incline, you also will see the younger outcasts and reach out to them; you always do. You do not want to be alone, and you know they do not deserve to be ignored because they are different than their cliquey peers.

As you skip ahead in school, you will make good friends with your new classmates. Senior year will be truly fun, loaded with memories, and your new classmates will encourage and care for you, because they are true friends and you have mutual relationships. They will push you towards Jesus and health and hold you to high standards out of their love for you. You will do the same for them.

College will be the best, so set your hopes high. It is always best to dream. From day one, your college peers will appreciate your quirks and interests. They will have their own, such as obsessing about geology, having a special ability to make alien sounds, and knowing how to say “I’m so beautiful” in nine or so languages. You will appreciate these fun things about them, too.

You will change your name at this fresh start, and you will thrive in your relationships, Skye. You will remain compassionate and empathetic, with an eye for the outsider. At the same time, you will find your place in the in betweens.

One last note, dear Skye: As an adult, you will still meet people who treat your poorly, even some who will remind you of your junior high bullies at times. Try not to reciprocate. Don’t retreat into a shell or ignore them when it is hard to keep trying and trying. Do your best to be understanding. Love them regardless of how it turns out.

Stay pure in heart, embrace your differences, and remember who you are: a beloved daughter of God.

Stay pure in heart, embrace your differences, and remember who you are: a beloved daughter of God and, of course, a Bennett. And you progress on this journey called life, don’t forget to have fun as well! You’ll make your mama proud.

I see you, girl in purple, full of worth. I see you.

Sincerely,
Your twenty-something self

PS – I stumbled across this song by Hunter Hayes last week, and it nearly brought me to tears. It was healing, as I pray this blog will be for you.