You are Fraud; You are Family

There is a universal secret, a uniform truth so many of us tuck between the religious things we read from notecards. (Secrets, secrets they’re no fun; they seem to weigh a metric ton.) What’s the secret? So many of us feel like frauds.

On an average Sunday evening, I gather with a liturgical community in a sacred space rented from an evangelical, non-denominational, non-liturgical church. The bell rings, the cross processes down the aisle, and I cannot help but notice the elongated shadows of our sister church, haunting. I imagine the morning crowd, now at their evening home groups, or maybe at home with their families, or doing whatever it is they do on a Sunday evening. I fix their faces in my imagination, even as I bow to the passing brass cross. I imagine all those morning church folk, and as I look at the shadows between my sneakers, I see the scattered crumbs of their own fraud-feelings.

The morning folk--did they come hoping to put these secrets to death? Did they come hoping that fresh faith would somehow kill the nagging doubt or hypocrisy or abivilance? Perhaps not all, but certainly some. And the evening folk, are we any different?

Universal truths are universal for reason.

If you listen to the voices beyond the voices in any worship service, the internal echo of things we hear but don't say, you'll find the revenant. It's Thomas, Peter, maybe even Judas. You know they are in you. You know you need an exorcism from the voices.

Lord, I’m not feeling any of this; help my unbelief.

On an average Sunday evening, though, there is a moment of mass exorcism. There is bread and wine. There is us—all in our counterfeit sainthood—confessing our saggy fraudulence together.

Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.

The bread is lifted; light streams through the baptismal window illuminating an eternal circle of grain. Eclipsing the sun, a corona of truth hems the host, driving every shadow of doubt back to hellfire. Broken, bread crumbs flit down to the chalice of wine. I enter the line, expecting something. (Who knows what?) I take and eat. I drink.

This is the stuff.

Even in my fitful faith, I sense the alchemy. Those crumbs, the smallest ones now soaked in blood, have the power to change me into something more than shadows. They have the power to change my neighbor, too. They have the power to meld the evening church folk and the morning church folk. This is the meal that turns frauds to family.



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Redefining Recovery

It’s National Recovery Month, so I’m spinning a few pieces on the subject and reimagining the language. What is recovery? How do we find it? Consider the word--recovery. We use it as a badge of honor, sometimes a scarlet letter of shame. “I’ve been in recovery for almost twelve years without a drop,"  or “did you hear how Mary had to check herself into a long term recovery program?” It’s a shorthand of sorts, a way of classifying the more broken folks from the less broken folks.

[tweetherder]What is recovery really, though?[/tweetherder] Is it nomenclature confined to the world of addiction? Doesn't it imagine returning to a state of being or regaining something once lost? If so, couldn't we all stand this sort of returning, this kind of regaining?

Consider this.

She makes her way to the merry-go-round, grabs the bars sticking from the ears of the tiny black horse as the older children push her faster and faster. Her face is pure freedom, joy. Ponytail swinging wide, centripetal force slanting her sideways in the saddle, she dangles leftward, as if supported by a cosmic wire. There are no worries about gravity, which, as any adult knows, can sometimes be a real pain in the neck.

Round and round and round she goes, and where the laughter comes from every adult knows.

There are monkey bars and those same bigger kids who pushed the merry-go-round traverse the rungs. They swing from bar to bar, reach the end, examine their hands for callouses or new blisters. Laughing, they make it to the end of the line where they wait another turn. Titus pauses at the top of the ladder. “Help!” he shouts, and is lifted, held, and guided by adult arms. Rung by rung he smiles. At the end, he is dropped to a ladder, which he descends before running to my knees. He looks up, says, “I did it, Daddy.” I don't correct him.

In the evenings there is only the community of children creating a sludge-slick sheen of sweat and dirt, which they swap back and forth as they play Chinese freeze tag. I tell them the name of this game is not politically correct, but they shrug and go on, continuing to generate the smell worn by livestock. They chase and shout “your it!”

They want to fly and pose for photos. They want to believe the universe is raucous and good, even in the dark of evening. They are light on worries and gravity.

The world is a sacrament, an outward manifestation of the goodness of God in the land of the living. It’s the children who see this best and with the clearest eyes. Before first-kisses, first drinks, and first layoffs, even the most ornery of the lot is more innocent than the most innocent adult. This is the beauty of children.


I read, once, that a good lawyer came to a good teacher and asked how a man could find the kingdom of God. The good teacher looked at the good lawyer, said, “unless a man is born again he cannot find the Kingdom.” The good lawyer asked, “how is it possible to become a child again?” The teacher responded, “only believe.”

"What is recovery?” you ask. I’m not sure that I have it all quite deciphered yet. But consider the children. Now, you tell me.



Cover.FrancisThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. In it, I discuss faith, doubt, and random bits and pieces of my life. Sign up and  received access to my serial eBook, Dear Little Brothers.

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How to Pray For Fish

In our fifteen years of marriage, Amber and I have moved more than migratory birds. I’ve written about this before, just two months ago. What's more, at the time I penned those words about home, I had no plans of moving again. But humans are creatures of habit, and our habit--so it seems--is to get the seven-month moving itch. And when that itch sets in, we scratch it. All animals scratch their itches, see.

These facts being the facts, it should come as no surprise that we’ve moved again. Amber’s mental yarn was beginning to unwind; the circus of raising four boys in a house the size of a shoebox had done her in. We’d had plans to expand the little house on the little farm from day one, but when would we break ground? Who knew? So, on an average Thursday in late July she called me saying both she and the boys needed a touch more space. “Boys need to run,” she pleaded on the phone before sending me a country listing. “There’s a pond.”

Her voice quivered, tinny as a guitar string strung too tight, and she said, "I’m going to look at it.” She wasn’t so much asking for permission as making a declaration, and if you know Amber, you know this about her—you can’t shake Amber free of an idea once she’s made a declaration. She visited the house, fell in love, and four weeks later, the boxes were moving out of one place and into another.

To be fair, there are other factors precipitating the move—factors into which we need not delve. All factors aside, on August 28th, I walked into my new home, the house with the pond in the woods.

Whisper Pond.

It’s quiet out here. It’s so quiet, in fact, that if you bow your heads and close your eyes, you can hear the cricket prayers in the early morning. It’s quiet enough to hear the hum of the Milky Way, and if that’s hyperbolic, it’s at least dark enough to see the cloudy glow stretching across the night sky. The moon peeks over the ridge in the late evening, reflects in the glassy pond while I walk the dogs. It’s just the two of us--the moon-man and me--and we listen to the cricket prayers, the Milky Way’s song, and the tiny clink of dog tags as my pups search for a place to relieve themselves.

Amber’s taken to calling our pond “Whisper Pond.” She tells the boys this as they string up rods and reels. “If you run around the pond screaming, you’ll scare the fish away, not to mention the peace.” It's a pragmatic statement, but this all about pragmatism. Amber is teaching them, in her own way, about sacred space, the spaces where God hides under rocks or in the boughs.


On Tuesday, I walked to the pond with the boys, only a stone’s throw from the back door, and I watched as they dropped lines into the water. I fingered a set of prayer beads in my pocket, but I didn't pray a word. No Our Fathers. No Jesus Prayer. No I Just Pray You'ds. I just ran my fingers over the tiny polished orbs and watched as Isaac worked a jig through the water. Watching your boys is its own form of prayer, I think.

Ike worked his rod—reel, reel, reel, twitch—and just when he’d nearly played his lure to the bank, there was a great thrashing of water and his rod tip bowed. He whooped—so much for Whisper Pond—and said, “Daddy this is a whale!”

“Don’t lose your cool,” I warned. “Work it; keep the tension.”

He worked like a seasoned angler, like one who’d grown up on the water and I marveled at his instincts with a rod in his hand. He’s good at this, maybe a born fisherman, maybe a distant relative of Glaucus. He worked his catch back to the shore, landed it, and lipped it. And if I were an Arkansan with a penchant for litotes, I’d put it like this—this weren’t no small fish.


Each of the boys followed suit, laying a line across the water with varying degrees of skill. They’re learning the great art of boyhood here at Whisper Pond, even as I'm recovering my own sense of it. Every catch resulted in a whisper-shattering whoop and holler, first from them, then from me.

ian Titus Tippa

We’re home here in the woods. We’re home with our pond, our crickets, our stars, and the velvet blanket of evening quiet. [tweetherder]We’re home[/tweetherder], and this time I telling Amber this: [tweetherder]I’m happy to move again, but only if you load me up in a casket first.[/tweetherder]




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Marriage Letters: On Home

Next month, Amber's first book, Wild in the Hollow, hits the shelves. It explores a sort of coming of age, a discovery of what it means to be home. In celebration of her book, we're writing Marriage Letters this week, exploring the concept of Home. After you've read our letters (read Amber's letter here), wander over to Amber's place and check out Wild in the Hollow.


Dear Amber,

We've treated home like a pair of jeans. Tried them on. Owned them for a time. Stained them, then taken them to the thrift store. Bought a new pair.

Truth is, if we're known for anything in Fayetteville, it's for moving. Let's recap.

1. The Oklahoma Apartment

We started in Oklahoma, newlyweds in an apartment smaller than a single-wide. The walls were thick, the floors thin, and the smells of our downstairs neighbors' musty towels and Chinese takeout wafted up and permeated our space.

There was a tree outside our apartment, and it's upper branches spread onto our balcony. A student from our church climbed its boughs one night, lowered himself onto the balcony and tap-tap-tapped on the sliding door while we were making out on the living room couch.

That was embarrassing.

2. The Love Shack

We moved to the tiny house in the Ozarks, the one behind my grandparents' house. White, nearly dilapidated, we called it the Love Shack. Every summer sweltered in that house, what with only one window air conditioner unit to cool the whole shebang. We wore a whole lot of nothing in those summer months. In the winter, it was all flannel and covers and "sweet Moses I can't seem to shake this chill." There was a field of horses, a spring's worth of surprise lilies, and tuna fish sandwiches and Dr. Peppers with Grandma.

We brought a child home. His name was Isaac. He made us laugh.

3. The Grouse House

After graduate school, we bought our first place. The corner lot in a neighborhood on Grouse street. Children rode bicycles till dusk. We grew tomatoes and peppers in barrels. We brought another child home, Jude. He'd be our prophet-poet-artist in resident.

Just when we'd settled into the new normal--toddler and infant and a little dog that leached all manner of rotten smells--we watched a terrible movie and drank a cheap bottle of wine. We conceived a third child in that house. The Grouse house was full of love.

4.  The Upwardly Mobile Joint

We moved across town, upsized to middle-class dream home with crape myrtles and a sprinkler system. It was a two story joint and the back porch overlooked our neighbors tropical paradise. He was a Tyson man, a life-long accountant of chickens, and he'd recreated a Bahamian island in his backyard. There were tiny banana trees and flowers from Hawaii. We spent evenings in the backyard admiring his landscaping.

On the fourth of July, the neighborhood men went in and bought fireworks together. The neighborhood sounded like a war zone, like too many humans were trying to rip another hole in the sky. We watched as a sulphur smoke descended on our neighbor's paradise.

5. The Rock House

We moved back to my grandma's land, but this time we moved into the big house, the Rock House. Grandpa had passed, slipped away in a hospice bed in the living room. An angel had visited him there. Seven feet and clothed in purple, he told grandpa he'd be back in an hour to escort the old man home. He kept his word.

The memories were too much for Grandma and she moved to an apartment in my parents' hometown. We took ownership of the surprise lilies and the fish pond. We ate tuna sandwiches from time to time. It was all about nostalgia.

6. The Arkansas Apartments

We left the Rock House and moved into an apartment. We'd been bit by the bug of communal living, and insanity set in. Close friends--missionaries from Southeast Asia--had moved into the complex, and we followed to forge a new kind of community. The quarters were too close again, but the community loved well. We brought another child home, Titus. He was sick and required more space than either the little apartment or community afforded.

7. The Rock House (Part Deux) 

Back to the Rock House we went. (Does the reliving of all these moves make you tired? It does me.) We made it two years in that place. But sooner rather than later, the old family house became too much to handle. Titus grew sicker by the day and demanded all our attention. We learned a little known fact from that old place: honeysuckle and morning glory can eat a house in approximately three months and seven days if you don't tend to it. We were too busy tending to sick child and the house grew into one gigantic ornamental shrub.

A buyer came knocking even though our house wasn't on the market. We sold.

8. The Rent House

While we waited to close on the Rock House, we had two separate homes under contract. The first was structurally unsound. The second leaked worse than the Titanic. Neither passed inspection, so after a selling the Rock House (and after a 4 week housesitting stint), we settled in a rent house in the heart of town in an effort to avoid homelessness. It was a cozy place, the place where I dried out. We sat under the arms of a massive American sycamore tree and learned the peace of poetry, records, and dreaming of a place to call our own.

9. The Tiny House

We visited Tuscany during the summer of 2014. We saw farmers tend their olive grows and sheep. We caught a vision for something small, something organic. We came home and you looked at listings. You found a tiny house on an acre. There was a small orchard, a garden. There was a compost pile under the pecan trees. "This is the one," you emailed me, and we jumped.

We've been here almost one year. It feels as homey as anyplace.

What is Home?

Some folks associate home with a particular geography, a landscape. They think of the old Baptist Church on the corner, or the coffeeshop down the block. They think of a particular town or region. They see mountains, maybe deserts, maybe a river valley running over.

Some folks associate home with a people.  They remember how grandpa used to sit on the same porch carving peach pits in the pastel evening, or how Ms. Werner brought homemade krawt down the apartment stairs. They think of genealogies or new friends. They like their colorful city mixing bowls, or their stayed and stolid country folk.

Some folks associate home with fauna. The peonies pushing pink in spring. The summer stargazers. The rusted leaves of autumn maples. Portland cherry blossoms. Florida palms.

Geography, people, and fauna--these are accouterments of home, but when your home-place is in constant flux, you come to find that home transcends any of these things. Geography changes. People pass. The leaves turn. So what is home?

We've made home nine times, and each feels as settled as the last, at least for a while. Each place feels like home. Why? Home,  I think, is where you are; it's where we are together. And antsy as I may grow from time to time, as itchy as my feet might become, I'm home so long as we're together.

I'd like to think we'll be here twenty years. That we'd finally pay a place off and have a dream to leave to our children. I know us better than that. I'm sure we'll put this dive on the market at some point, pounce on a piece of property deeper in the country. Whatever. It's not so much about the physical place as it is about being with you.

So let's move to Tennessee, Texas, or Tuscany. Let's try on Portland, or another house in Fayetteville. Country living, city living--let's try on just about anywhere (except Pine Bluff), and know that it's home if we're together.

[tweetherder]The trick to finding home? Knowing the one who makes it what it is.[/tweetherder]


Thanks for being my home-girl,



*Don't forget to read Amber's Marriage Letter HERE.



Cover.FrancisThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. In the first of edition of the June newsletter, I'm giving away Chapter 2 of Dear Little Brothers, a serial eBook. Sign up in the box below to receive Chapter 1 and look for the June Tiny Letter in your inbox to download Chapter 2!

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Grandma's Passing

My grandmother slipped behind the veil last week. Slow, groggy, feeling a little too tired, she laid down for a ten-minute nap and woke in eternity. My parents said she went with a smile on her face. She was 95. As my friend Karen said this morning, "weddings, births, and funerals tend to turn people toward reflection." Yesterday, a few handfuls of celebrants gathered at Moore's Funeral Chapel, and we reflected on the passing of a saint. She was a woman who used her 95 years well. By all accounts she was a student of scripture, a spiritual mother, a living prayer.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to share a poem at her funeral. Today, I'm sharing it here.


For Grandma Upon Her Passing.

At 95 we thought she might live forever, suspended between nature and eternity, the passages caused by old age or accident, whichever God gifted first. Brow folded over brow, wisdom lines tracing trenches until her 90th birthday, then no more. (One can acquire only what wisdom is acquirable.) Thin-skinned hands, veins light purple the color of queens who seem to outshine the lot of us. Affections turned toward home, toward husband, and children, and children's children, to mother and father, to friends who visit in late afternoon memories. In well-worn age, the world's weights became helium balloons, releasable, laughable, floating things. Memories, family, faith, hope-- these are the anchors of age.

95 and we thought she might live forever. Perhaps she did.

IMG_4733-600x600 Image by Amber Haines.


Cover.FrancisThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. In the first of edition of the June newsletter, I'm giving away Chapter 2 of Dear Little Brothers, a serial eBook. Sign up in the box below to receive Chapter 1 and look for the June Tiny Letter in your inbox to download Chapter 2!

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