Plain and Minuscule

on having an eye for mystery (creativity) and finding our people

Welcome to the last day of March 2021! Just as the blooms fell from the Jane Magnolias and Bradford pears, the dogwoods opened. New yellow and green leaves along with the red-bud’s hot purple are like layers on wood in mixed media art. My chickens are giving us rainbow eggs, and all the perennials are emerging. From far off, my garden looks empty, but up close, you can see there’s a lot at work. Such is a sacramental life, which is what I always hope to talk about in these letters, though much of that way of seeing the world proves to ebb and flow. That’s the winter and spring of it all.

On any given day in this Haines house, if I have eyes to see, I could be swept into the new passions of the young men I’ve birthed: The Haines Boys. It’s a marvel to watch them take hold of the world and call it mysterious and good, to see in their eyes that there are stories they NEED to hear, lands beyond the sea, music that hasn’t been born, and fish so deep that only a master could catch. They wake me to wonder. I tell you this because my joy in them is to the brim, and in an unexpected way, they’re contributing to my formation and faith journey.

To explain, I have to tell you that COVID kicked my tail. After five days of being sick-ish, I leveled up into bad sick for another solid 9 days. I had a migraine for a month total. When I finally got up and about, I did fine until I ran full-bodied into an invisible wall and crashed back to bed daily. I’m out of that stage, but it’s the brain fog that lingers (along with my inability to smell toots, which with four sons, I call a win).

I had imagined that if I got to quarantine in my room alone, it would be secretly magical. I’d watch some new shows. Seth would bring me food. I bet some of you here have thought the same thing. I guess needing oxygen or the hospital would have made it less magical, but besides that, my level of dudness during quarantine was astounding. I didn’t move, couldn’t read. During two whole weeks, I only watched one movie, the one where Kylo Ren and Black Widow are married, but it’s falling apart. He’s a great actor. Both are. I cried. There were flowers in jars along my window seal. Other than that, it was loads      of      total      blankness. My progress toward healing my thought-life and body felt stolen, and all I had energy for was a Kanye shrug: “It is what it is.”

Now back to the boys. I have been much better at enjoying motherhood with Titus than with my oldest three when they were little, not that they were less enjoyable and more that I hadn’t learned to appreciate how little control I have of who they’ll be. Control is a wet blanket on joy, but we learn to let go over time. The news here is that I’ve discovered how much I love having teenagers, even when they’re moody, confused, and a touch oppositional. I’m not great at it, but I understand this part of being human much more than I do the younger parts. The problem with it is that I woke up realizing what stage we’re in, and it feels almost over. My brain is a slushy, but our conversations and their new ways of questioning have ignited my intellect and my ability to connect with them in a way that shows me COVID didn’t take from me as much as I tell myself it did. I’m realizing how much on-your-feet creativity motherhood requires.

It feels like a miracle right now to see it. If you have ADHD, this will make sense, but I can walk back and forth across my house with nonstop ideas and to-dos blipping through my head, and then they poof away. I have to tell myself instructions out loud and will yank into a room to do something before I forget, and I usually do forget. But when I sit down to write, my thoughts gather and find order. I remembered the passage about having the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), and somehow all the more on the backside of foggy COVID, a sentence feels like a leap, a healing, relief, and magic, much like those conversations with teenagers can.

I wonder if you have any false narratives running through your head about what you can’t do right now, too.

Is it 2007? No, but I still have a blog.

Ideas are bouncing at me from under rocks it seems, and I have been writing enough (on my clackitty computer, not public) that I started a new blog, though I’ve only posted there once so far. In that post, I shared that “I wanted to reopen an online space for the disjointed creative free-writes and for essays that might not feel newslettery. There are a few series I hope to do, including how/why I became Catholic. I want to write some scary things, and I want to be as boring as an iris’s pokey leaves before the petals come in.”

In that post, I also said these free emails are short and sparse, and now we all know I’m a liar. Some of you started reading with me here only a year ago, and it has taken me another full year of healing to find the un-straining strength in my voice again. Healing is slower than Christmas. Thank you for having patience with me. The majority of my posts regarding my story will be private and in my paid newsletter, but some of it will need to be public, so subscribe where you can if you want in that loop.

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Side note: My last paid newsletter about making friends with my own anger and my own sense of humor was one of my favorite things to write.

On Instagram

A post shared by @amberchaines

I’ve challenged myself a couple times this week to share on Instagram for Holy Week. I like seeing Instagram as an opportunity for short short essays, though I won’t do it all the time.

A post shared by @amberchaines

During my years away from public writing, I lost touch with my readership. I came back to many who were not interested in my liturgical leanings and many who had stepped away from church altogether, but most of all, I’m pretty sure what I’m hearing most is that we’re a group who can tend to feel placeless in the church and in our culture. We love Jesus, or at least we aren’t ready to give Him up even when he feels far away. We feel in no-woman’s land regarding politics and faith, like we’ve been caught up into some weird gray space and aren’t allowed to talk much about it.

I know this isn’t all of us (maybe just the ones who write to me), but what I hear most is that many of us feel stuck in unhealthy church circles and cycles. If you’ve stepped out of those spaces how I did, then you may feel all the more unrooted. You know we’re made for more. You’ve witnessed abuse. You long for Jesus. This is a liminal room of waiting, transformation, and pain, but we aren’t hopeless. This is how I know it’s time to share my story.

This is also how I know we need to hear more from Sara Billups. I shared the following video from her in my instagram stories yesterday, and the feedback I got was incredible. There are a lot of us “Orphaned Believers,” and though I feel very Home in the Catholic Church, the things she discusses here describe me and most of us. Tell me if I’m wrong.

A post shared by @sara.billups

A few other things I’m enjoying lately.

  • Christian Wiman’s latest book of poetry, Survival is a Style, is simple, gut-wrenching, full of the zeitgeist of doubt, and about as close to exquisite as I’ve experienced in modern poetry. If you’re a true poetry lover, this will move you and potentially break your heart. (Did I just describe heaven for the enneagram fours?)

  • Add Roo Panes to your playlist. Poke around at his work. Read his lyrics. Listen to this.


I love when you write me back when I send these letters. The responses are often personal emails and such a gift to me. More often that not, though, I keep hoping you’ll respond here so you and others can see how not alone you are.

Tell us anything. Help me know you better.

1) Does the term “Orphaned Believer” ring true to you?

2) What are you listening to or reading that is inspiring you?

3) When I asked about the false narratives we tell ourselves regarding our abilities, does that ring true? What might the true story be? Is your creativity more alive than you think?

3) Also, help me out with this teenager thing. If we were to make a guide together on HOW TO BE A GROWNUP, what would we write in it? We’ve started bank accounts and are setting up YNAB for the oldest so he can learn to budget. What helped you (or your kids) launch?

As always, thank you for reading to the end. May you see something mysterious today, something that makes you pause and wonder, something seemingly plain and minuscule as a bug. May you throw off the wet blanket of control and experience joy.


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