The Hundred-and-Twenty-Third Letter: Ziploc Bags and the Kingdom of God

Dear Daughters,

For more than a decade, your dad has teased me about my compulsive behavior related to rinsing out Ziploc bags. I turn them inside out, rinse them, and then prop them at random places around the sink to let them dry—the faucet, on top of used water bottles, that sort of thing.

I know that single-use plastic is a Big Deal Thing for a lot of people. In fact, I know a some who really believe that their refusal to use single-use plastic will somehow singlehandedly change the world.

I do not believe this.

But I do think it matters.

Maybe it goes without saying that it matters to the environment in some small way, but my rinsing out of the plastic bags in my life time—even if I use a thousand or ten thousand—will not change the number of plastic bags produced in America. If everyone stopped using them? Okay, maybe, but that motivation is not the best reason to do a good deed—doing it on the idea that if everyone else did it too it would then make a difference.

Honestly, I think you’d get really discouraged pretty fast if that’s what you hooked your conviction on. I don’t recommend it.

So, what I mean is, I think the reason washing out my Ziploc bags matters is bigger than that, and yet also smaller than that.

It matters because it changes us and the way we place ourselves in the world and, what’s more, how we relate to the world.

It matters precisely because it is an inconvenient thing to do.

*

This idea of inconvenience is way bigger than whether I rewash Ziploc bags or you use plastic straws.

(You don’t, by the way. Our children’s minister gave all of you metal straws last year when you did an environmental justice unit at church.)

Just to get the full scope of where I’m coming from, let me just outline our myriad family habits that have developed over the years related to the environment. (There are quite a few.) We don’t use paper napkins or paper towels and instead have piles of cloth napkins and lots of rags to sop up spills. We recycle what we can—plastic, metal, and corrugated cardboard–locally, which isn’t curbside, for the record, and requires a lot of basement storage and driving to the recycling center. Every few months we remember to drive our accumulated glass to the next city over in order to recycle it. We save newspaper and small yogurt cups for painting projects. You have a large box in the homeschool room where we save the items you want for “trash art”: plastic and metal lids, small trinkets, old ribbon, twisty-ties, you name it. We compost. We rarely have a full trash can on trash day. We accept hand-me-downs. We give hand-me-downs.

What I mean is, we try to live simply and do our part.

But even though we do all of these things, and have been doing all of these things for some time, and these practices are woven into the fabric of who we are as a family living in our community, it’s not like I actually want to do these things much of the time. 

It’s not like they’re the easy thing to choose at any given moment. Even for me. Let’s be real.

Of course I would prefer not to have overflowing cardboard and plastic bags and three trash cans full of glass recyclables and a constantly half-full bin of “to donate” stuff in our basement and laundry room. 

Of course I would prefer not to walk stinky compost out to the bin when my flipflops are going to get covered in dewy grass clippings.

Of course I would prefer to throw away, buy new, pay someone else to do XYZ. The list goes on and on and on.

Of course I would prefer to do the easy thing. Because I am a human being.

Because the easy thing is easy.

Of course.

But the easy thing is about me, and you know what I see when I read the Gospel? That the Kingdom of God isn’t about me.

Are you thinking that was a great big leap of logic? Let me back up a minute.

Am I really saying that composting is about the Kingdom of God? I think I could probably argue for this on many levels, because I have actually written a handful of poems about the sacramental process that is composting, but what I’m trying to draw out here is both more than that miraculous mystery—and less than the mystery. (So many things are both more and less when we are talking about the Kingdom.)

But my connection today is simple: composting is a small and concrete task that makes me think not of myself but of others and the world that God created and called good.

Is rinsing out my plastic bags about the Kingdom of God? Or using your old cloth diapers as rags to wipe up the kitchen floor? Or any of the other annoying, less-than-convenient things we do? Are they really about the Kingdom? Yes! They are all small and concrete tasks that can remind me of my own preference for an easier option and also the privilege I have to make the choice to do something easier or harder. So many others don’t have that choice, girls. And that’s another part of this.

I could go on and on. Trust me, on some days, I do.

But this idea of choosing the inconvenient thing? It’s important.

Life would pretty much always be easier to not do the inconvenient thing. The hard thing. The awkward thing. Always, girls.

I’ve been feeling this with so many topics lately.

It would be easier to go-with-the-flow and not say “that isn’t true” when others I’m around say things that aren’t true.

It would be easier to just give up on the American church that often preaches prosperity and security more often than Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. 

It would be easier not to be consistent with social distancing and mask-wearing, easier to let life go back to “normal.” 

It would be easier not to wrestle with my own internalized racism and not work through challenging books. It would be easier not to try to talk with you about racial privilege and what it would be like to be nonwhite in this world. 

But the Kingdom of God is not the easy option.

And that, well, that’s all I can manage to say about that for today. 

It will have to be enough.

Love,

Your Momma

The Hundred-and-Twenty-Second Letter: Solidarity with the Tortoise

Dear Daughters,

Over the last few months of our socially distanced life, we’ve begun a new Sunday morning tradition: family bike rides. 

It’s one of the perks of your getting older, to be honest, that we can do things like this. Just after your birthdays, for which you both received new bikes and helmets, baskets, bells, and water bottle holders, we optimistically purchased a four-bike rack that attaches to the hitch of our Outback. 

So now, on many Sunday mornings after breakfast, we load up the bikes and head down to a local paved bike trail just south of our little town. 

It’s a gorgeous trail: wide and well-paved, hilly but not too rigorous, beautifully winding through the back of ridiculously picturesque farmland. We manage to see quite a bit of flora and fauna as we ride—this last week, there was a turkey ruffling its tail feathers, a hummingbird, grasshoppers, and lots of flowers worth your commentary.

I could write about the solidarity of the trail and the encouraging words we get from the more hardcore biking population, or I could write about the grumpy bikers who reprimand us if we don’t behave according to the unwritten rules of the trail when we park alongside it. But I’m not going to.

What I want to write about is the tortoise.

As in, The Tortoise. The famous one.

You see, usually on these family bike rides, I am fourth in line, riding and encouraging the youngest member of our family. You know who you are. You say we are “bike buddies.” Zooming up ahead is your dad with the Bean. We know they’ll stop at our designated rest points, and we don’t worry about what they’re doing while we bike along, counting the bridges and the painted designs on the path, pointing out every single pokeberry plan that hangs over the fences.

Last Sunday, I heard myself say, “Slow and steady wins the race.”

It’s such a cliché and honestly I find it to be one of the more annoying sayings. Maybe it’s because I am a slow and deliberate person in just about everything I do—running? Definitely slow. Cleaning? Definitely slow. Making decisions? Definitely slow. But I feel resentful about the “wins the race” part of the moral. 

Because I’m not slow and careful because there’s a race that is in need of winning and I think this is the best way to win it. I just am a slow and thoughtful person. It’s my superpower. And I’m okay coming in last place. Your dad teases me all the time about my lack of competitiveness. 

Anyway, I said it, and since I couldn’t take it back, instead I asked if you remembered what it was from, and then we chatted a little bit about The Tortoise and the Hare and also about Aesop’s fables generally. You really love the fables and have an uncanny ability to recall them.

As we were talking, I remembered an audio version of The Tortoise and the Hare that we listened to a few years ago on a road trip. In that telling, the Hare is antagonizing all of the animals into racing him. He keeps bragging about how impressive his physical prowess was, and his motivation for racing is to prove that he was indeed the fastest in order to achieve broader acclaim.

Basically, the Hare is not just prideful and rude, but he is a great, big  jerk.

When the Hare loses, it’s because he is too cocky. His loss actually has nothing to do with the tortoise’s slow and steady pace at all when you think about it. Any competitor would beat him. Because he is too cocky. Because he is a great big jerk.

When we listened to that fable in the car, I remember leaning over and telling you dad that the moral of the story is not at all “slow and steady wins the race.” 

To some extent, the moral of the story is more along these lines: don’t be a great big jerk.

But if you really want to focus on the Tortoise, you could say the moral of the story is, keep on keeping on, even when others are great big jerks.

I feel like both of those are much better and more honest messages. 

Because, of course, if the Hare hadn’t been cocky, the Tortoise would not have won. No matter how slow and steady he was. No matter how strong of moral character and conviction. He would have lost because the Hare was faster.

But the Tortoise kept going, which is really the best part of the whole thing. 

It doesn’t matter that he won.

That is actually completely beside the point.

Love,

Your Momma

The Hundred-and-Twenty-First Letter: Echoes of Mercy, Whispers of Love

Dear Daughters,

What might be hard for you to imagine is that someone who knew me as a 17-year-old in high school–active in her charismatic mega-churchy youth group–might not recognize me now if they came across these letters or my Instagram account. 

In the twenty (gasp! Twenty!) years since I graduated from high school, I’ve changed a lot. Everyone does, of course

In the essentials, I can easily see how I am the same. But a lot has certainly changed.

Even things I wouldn’t have expected to–spiritual things like how I express my faith and understand the Kingdom of God, as well as life-choice things and priorities–have changed. 

Trust me, I never could have expected to be a homeschooling mom. Not. At. All.

But yeah, things change, and I love that it still surprises me sometimes.

For example, as an adult, I have come to love the old hymns. Your dad grew up singing them, and though I was certainly exposed to a lot of them in childhood (and I come from a harmony-singing family), I wouldn’t have really considered myself a hymn singer twenty years ago.

Or at least, twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have considered hymn-singing “real” worship. Because let’s face it, hymns didn’t feel “alive” to me as a teenager, due to my very limited conception of what an active and alive faith looked like.

Very limited.

You, on the other hand, only know a worship that involves hymns. And we sing hymns a lot in our home. (We sing a lot of all kinds of music in our home.)

I really am going somewhere with this, I promise.

For some reason, I decided to be more intentional about teaching you hymns this school year as a supplemental and fun thing to do together. This week, we’re working through our second Fanny Crosby hymn of the year. We started with To God Be the Glory, and now we’re on the second verse of Blessed Assurance. We often sing the hymns we are learning as prayers at meals to practice them, and we work through them slowly, adding each verse and talking through the theology that it expresses. We define old, rich words and discuss their implications and metaphors (and yes, also talk about gendered views of God—you know the sorts of things I can be preachy about).

Two things have surprised me about this practice so far:

First, somehow, even knowing that I was going to explain them to you word by word and line by line, I didn’t anticipate this part of our day being such a theology lesson for you: atonement theories, salvation for the “vilest offender,” perfect submission, what mercy is, or, oh, hey, look, those three metaphors in a row add up to the Trinity! (I do love talking about the Trinity.)

I myself am learning to see more in these hymns I have long known, even in the familiar ones, than I expected to, and, here’s the other thing, I’m carrying their metaphors with me.

When Fanny Crosby writes about visions of angels descending from heaven and bringing with them “echoes of mercy, whispers of love” from above, I get to tuck that away and wonder about it. I get to, and I do.

Because I might not be literally seeing angels around me, or having a divine visions of God, but certainly there are ways I can hear echoes of mercy if I listen for them, even in these monotonous and ordinary days that seem to drag on and on.

Certainly those whispers of love are audible even here, even in this time of divisive political rhetoric, news stories of racial injustice and trauma, more and more people dying from a global pandemic.

Let me be honest, girls: I’m not doing a great job at hearing them right now, the echoes or the whispers.

These days, I’ve been feeling distracted or unsettled or heavy laden or all of the above. It seems that somebody I love is always hurting. It comes through on my text threads. Every day.

Honestly, the whole entire world seems to be hurting. And the lack of empathy for others’ stories is sending my highly sensitive soul into a tailspin. Some days.

And, some days, it’s not nearly so dramatic. In fact, most days there is just too much plain old ordinary repetitive life drowning out the echoes of mercy and whispers of love.

But I know they’re there, girls.

I know it. Even when I’m struggling to hear it.

So, I guess what I mean is, if I can help tune your ears to hear it someday, I’ll consider that a win.

And if you also love to sing the old hymns, well, that’s even better. I’ll sing along.

Love,

Your Momma

The Hundred-and-Twentieth Letter: The One Where I Write About COVID-19 Yet Again

Dear Daughters,

And just like that, over three months have gone by since I wrote my last letter, and nearly five months since we started living a strict socially distanced life.

I would say that amount of time passing without me realizing it is surprising, but I gather this is pretty normal for COVID life, girls.

In our normal pre-COVID life, we had so many markers for keeping track of our days, weeks, seasons. But that is not now.

Now life is daily.

That’s the best way to describe it. (Right now at least. Today. Maybe I’ll change my mind tomorrow.)

Some days feel long and relentless and exhausting, and some days feel short and I blink and they’re over. And sometimes it turns out that every day is apparently two weeks at the rate that we are flying through summer.

I mean, does it even still count as “summer” if we started our new homeschool year in the middle of July week? I’m not sure, and I don’t really care.

March, April, May, June, July, and now here we are in mid-August.

There are many things I thought I would be able to do at the beginning of quarantine that I haven’t done (finished my novel draft, for example, or written more of these letters). 

And there are many things we have done during quarantine that have surprised me (the giant pool in the backyard, for example: we are not pool people; the herringbone brick patio I now can’t imagine our yard without).

And the truth is, there are many things that have remained completely normal about this summer: a huge box of peaches from The Peach Truck, five boxes of 25 pounds of tomatoes processed into marinara sauce, a weekly CSA of veggies and fruits from a local farm, reading and reading and reading, being outside and biking around the neighborhood, mowing the grass every week until that magic moment it gets so dry it stops growing, you two practicing your piano every day.

Some days we have followed a plan for the day. And sometimes we do not. Yesterday, before breakfast, you wanted to play outside, and it wasn’t hot yet, so I said yes. Actually, I said, go get dressed, I’ll bug-spray you, you can play outside all morning, and then we’ll come in and shower and have a half day of homeschool in the afternoon

(One of my flexibility improvisations this school year, with that mid-July start, is allowing half days of school in our schedule as necessary.)

The truth is, one day at a time is about all I can manage, doing the task in front of me, being attentive to you and your questions, circling our conversations naturally back through difficult and imperative conversations about love, community, racism, justice, poverty, courage.

Some days you are fearful. Some days you are brave.

Sometimes I am too. Both on the same day, even.

And we keep on.

Recently I heard someone say that the truth is, we don’t know where we are in the progression of this pandemic. Are we still at the beginning? Are we in the middle? Are we near the end?

The experts don’t know, and we don’t know either. 

There are days I am hopeful. Other days I am incredibly frustrated at the lack of care I see around me. 

But most days, the days I spend with you, right here in our house, our yard, our pop-up pool, I’m grateful. 

I soak in Vitamin D and your questions. We ride around the block and chant Shakespeare in iambic pentameter. We pay attention to butterflies and caterpillars and the heron that we’ve seen land on our neighbor’s house every few weeks this summer.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that in those things, I recognize grace. 

There is enough.

I’m grateful.

Really.

Love,

Your Momma

The Hundred-and-Nineteenth Letter: Whatever You Do Is Enough (Covid version)

Dear Daughters,

During this strange season of quarantine, lots of folks are touting all the amazing things that they (or I) should be (and are) doing with their (my) time. As if this pandemic is a chance to start new things, finish old projects, be reflective, get stuff done, be uber productive. Take advantage of all the time you have at home! Marie Kondo those spaces in your life that are cluttered! Do that thing you have always wanted to do! Learn a new skill!

But recently I’ve been reading a lot of the opposite message, too. Lots of folks are going out of their way on social media to say, “Chill out, people, you don’t have to do anything with your time except get through this.” 

Girls, can I be real?

I’m kind of resentful of both views, to be honest, and I’m as tired of other people telling me what I should be doing as I am of those giving me permission to not do anything.

Because, y’all,have gotten a lot of things done. And I am feeling pretty productive and happy and peaceful a lot of days as I manage to check off items from my to-do list.

Because we don’t have commitments every weekend as usual, we have managed to deep clean, organize, and totally simplify both of the bedrooms upstairs, and your dad built an amazing inset bookshelf at the top of the steps. (Both of those things have been major mental-health improvements as well as physical space improvements.)

Last weekend, we finally got around to moving the raised beds along the fence, and digging up the iris and daffodil bulbs that have been growing up every year along our fenceline and in the corner of our yard since we had the fence installed—five years ago. Yes, five years ago, we said we were going to move the daffodil bulbs, and this year, thanks to Covid-19, we finally did.

So I’m kind of resentful that there are so many people telling me to chill out and stop making everyone else feel guilty about what they aren’t getting done.

Because though I’m not making anyone else feel guilty, now I am personally feeling guilty for doing something at all, as if there’s something wrong with trying to do something with my time, even though I haven’t been talking about it publicly. Maybe that doesn’t make sense, but I feel equally uncomfortable with others telling me to chill out as I am with folks telling me to do more.

Because even though I am being productive some of the time, the truth is, it took me seven weeks of quarantine to finally dig out my novel and start working on it again. Reading novels I excel at—I’ve read quite a few in the last two months—but doing the hard work of committing to a novel-length writing project? Oy. It’s been hard. Many things have been hard.

And obviously I haven’t exactly been cranking out letters to you, though I did manage to write a letter to the littlest on her birthday last week in the private journal I keep for each of you. (Granted, I hadn’t written once since January of 2019, but I considered it a win that I wrote one at all.)

Girls, here’s the truth: I consider it all a win, whatever I manage to do on any given day.

And the things I don’t manage to do? Well, I just let them go. 

Because some days I don’t do much.

Some days it really is too overwhelming. Just homeschooling you is enough. And some days that “homeschooling” turns into phonics games and bike rides and Spanish memory flashcards.

I guess what I want to say is this:

Whatever you do, whatever season you’re in, that is enough.

Please don’t feel guilty about being productive and busy.

And please don’t feel guilty about doing nothing but getting through the day.

Still, I feel like it always needs to be said: don’t let yourself off the hook either. Don’t lower your standards and expectations, just be flexible. Every day is a new day.

Simply put: be discerning.

Be discerning in what you can and can’t do. Let some of it go. Make an attempt at something else. Maybe the something else is just deleting over seven thousand photos off your phone and iPad in one morning—clearing your devices up to clear your mind up. That would have been me this morning and I feel like it was a monumental accomplishment. 

It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.

Some days for me, paying bills is enough. And other days for me, I rock the to-do list and get a bazillion things done and plan for a gajillion more.

It varies day to day.

There is no should. There is no guilt. It just is life.

We are getting through this, and wherever you are, whenever you are reading this, you will get through it, too.

I promise.

You are enough.

Love,

Your Momma

The Hundred-and-Eighteenth Letter: Life in the Time of Covid

Dear Daughters,

This afternoon is rainy, and we are all upstairs in my room. One of you is reading on my bed, probably a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys book; the other is here beside me at my counter-height art table challenging herself with the slide puzzle on my phone. 

Being allowed to use my phone for anything is a novelty, but her desire to challenge herself is not. I love this about both of you, the arbitrary challenges you set for yourselves just to see if you can do it. I’ll be honest, you probably don’t get this from me.

We are living through a season unlike any other in recent decades, this worldwide pandemic keeping us at home, forcing us to maintain distance when near friends and to get familiar with seeing folks in masks out in public. 

One of the reasons I like writing letters to you is that I always try to imagine you reading them, try to imagine what the world will be like in that time: the world as a whole but also your own world and how you are experiencing it. 

When you read this letter, for example, I don’t know how old you’ll be or where you’ll be living or what you’ll be doing, but I do know this: the world will not look like it does now.

I find that encouraging. 

Whenever I can’t see the end of something or am worried about how it will turn out, I think of you, as an adult, discovering my writing and knowing that whatever event I’m writing about is solidly in the past. Because life does go on. Some things change. Some thing stay the same. But it keeps going on, even though I can’t, with my limited vision, begin to predict how it might turn out.

I did this a lot before and after the election of 2016.

And I am doing it a lot now.

Our life is gentle and slow these days. You two are easy to have at home, and I am grateful that prior to March of 2020, we had an established rhythm and expectation of days ordered by peace. The things that often added busyness to our days and weeks—namely, obligations outside our home—have been released for us into the nether.

And the truth is, it doesn’t make me too sad to lose some of those things.

Now don’t get me wrong: there are a lot of things making me sad these days. I feel the burden of the world’s brokenness more than I ever have. I am worried for the least of these in particular, those experiencing job loss, health instability, loneliness. I am worried for children in physically unsafe and food insecure homes right here in my community. I am worried for our legislators and worry that they are out of touch with average Americans, because I am so radically aware of how out of touch I am with the suffering of so many here in my own town, on my own street.

We have been fortunate during this season; though life looks different for us, at this point our biggest worries have not been life and death worries. They have been minor inconveniences.

And yet the world as a whole is groaning in pain right now in this season, girls, and it is easy to get overwhelmed. 

But it is also easy to look for the helpers. There are so many helpers. So many people coming up with pragmatic and creative ways to offer hope to the world. So many people showing up when showing up is called for, even if they’re wearing masks and staying 6 feet apart. So many reminders to reach out and love and encourage even if and even when and even so.

I am trying my best, girls, to offer hope. I am trying to live in the present, not in the what-ifs and what-mights and fear-mongering that has become commonplace.

But when I do start to wonder and wander into the future, this summer, next school year, the longer-term down-the-road questions of job security and economic downturns—when I get to that point, I look at you, and I take a deep breath.

Because I know someday you’ll be reading this letter, and I know this season will be part of history.

I anticipate it will be a significant moment on our historical timeline, a turning point for a lot of things, and that life globally will look different post-2020. But the truth is, even in that I may be wrong. Though I do know that for many people, family and home life will not be the same because this season has been drastically marked by loss and grief and heartache.

Still, I like to think about you as a grown-up, remembering this season. The afternoons up in my room. The new bicycles for your birthdays. The dozens of books you’ve read over the last few weeks. The birthday videos I asked friends and family to record for you.

I hope you’ll remember, even as the history books catalog the losses and tragedies and you learn about the wider scope of the pandemic and its aftershocks in coming years.

I hope you’ll remember.

And I hope you’ll mention this letter to me someday, asking what I remember, so we can compare what I have to say then with what I am writing today, this rainy Wednesday at the end of April, in the midst of Covid-19.

Love,

Your Momma

The Hundred-and-Seventeenth Letter: Small-Town Church Life in the Midst of Covid-19

Dear Daughters,

I probably seem like a normal Sunday-school-born-and-raised kind of Christian. But the truth is, my church experience didn’t consist of one single congregation throughout my childhood, and often didn’t include regular Sunday school attendance at all.

Because of the travel we did with the Family Circle, the gospel singing group my family was part of when I was little, we worshiped in many different churches on many different Sundays.

So, basically, when I was your age, my church experience looked a lot different than yours does.

As a family, we still attend the church that you were both dedicated in–both on the first Sundays of Advent the years you were born. In your Sunday school class at church are some children who were born the same month you were, who crawled in the nursery alongside you, who have been at VBS and Wednesday night activities alongside you your whole lives.

I didn’t have that kind of longstanding, substantial, consistent church community when I was your age.

And later, when I think about the church experience that shaped my teenage years, it was a wholly different kind of church life as well: large, charismatic, Spirit-led, and energetic.

Also, loud.

Girls, we don’t attend a fancy or flashy church. The loudest part of the service is probably the peals of the pipe organ. Many of the people who go there have gone there for a long time. In fact, many of the members my age were born and raised in this community.

As churches go, I guess ours appears relatively traditional from the outside (and relatively progressive on the inside, but that’s a theological treatise for another letter). I’m not a fan of the traditional/contemporary divide because it fails to capture the complexity of church in America, so I like to think of our church as creatively liturgical. If you pay attention, you can see the nuance and thought behind what we do, but you have to pay attention. You can’t assume because we sing from hymnals that you know what’s going to happen next.

Honestly, sometimes it feels like we attend a church straight out of a movie about small-town America, in all the good ways.

And most of those “good ways” are the people.

In the midst of Covid-19 due to social distancing regulations, churches are not meeting in person, and it seems like everywhere I look, I’m reading about folks worshiping online. Our church has even been live streaming through Facebook.

I love that the church in America is trying to figure out how to have church in the midst of a crisis–and also how to be church in the midst of a crisis.

It’s not the same thing, of course, and it’s always good to be reminded that the church is not a building.

Our church is doing a lot of good in the community, girls, by actively partnering with nonprofits and seeking opportunities to help those outside our walls, but, let’s face it, also to help those within our four “walls” even when we aren’t meeting. Because our church is an aging church, and the aging are particularly at risk during this health crisis.

And one of the things our church does best is to rally around the hurting, the grieving, the vulnerable. We know how to show up, take food, send notes. We know how to make sandwiches, send cards to the reading camp kids, say “I can” when the text asks who can help.

We do this all the time, girls.

And we are still doing it.

That gives me hope.

I actually find comfort that we won’t ever have the flashiest online service or the most spectacular YouTube channel. Sure, we will learn those things and adapt as it makes sense to do so–but more importantly, we will keep people connected in the ways we already know how, with the habits and practices we have already been cultivating, by serving our community and refusing to stop loving our neighbors.

That gives me so much, so much hope.

And when your Sunday school teachers–two retired grandmothers from our church who have cared for you every Sunday morning this year–texted and told me they’d recorded a Sunday school lesson for your little class on YouTube, I nearly wept. Not because it mattered to me that you had Sunday school, but that the love shown was so simple, so straightforward, and so lovely. In the recording, they sang your Sunday morning greeting song, read a Bible story, taught the motions for Zacchaeus Was a Wee Little Man, recited the Lord’s Prayer, and taught you how to make a Resurrection Garden as we prepare our hearts for Easter morning.

I watched you bow your heads and pray solemnly along with the video, sing Zacchaeus, and get excited about the stone rolling away in the Resurrection Garden on Easter morning.

Easter morning.

There is much loss for me as I think about not having Holy Week and Easter services with my gathered church community. We have such lovely traditions–bell ringing, carrying Easter lilies down the aisle to recognize each family who has lost a loved one over the previous year, beautiful music. Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.

Gosh, I tear up just remembering what it is like to be present in that space.

But it has helped this week as I’ve thought through all the ways our local community is reaching out and being the hands and feet of Jesus in this season, all the ways I am grateful that we already practice such sincere and selfless community, all the ways that the light is shone to you girls by a whole community that loves you and prays for you and has committed to journeying alongside you, through every season, Covid-19-social-distancing-live-streaming season or otherwise.

Yes, I am grateful for this small town church in the middle of America.

And I am grateful we planted a Resurrection Garden here in the middle of Lent.

Love,

Your Momma

The Hundred-and-Sixteenth Letter: Marking Time & Social Distance

Dear Daughters,

With all of our activities cancelled, it has been difficult to keep track of our days, especially for you two. Normally, each day heads toward whatever the plan is for the afternoon and evening. A good example is Thursdays: on Thursdays, all day, you often say “it’s TRG day” because we co-host a theology reading group on that evening and you get to eat with and play with the kids of our co-hosts. You love TRG days and talk about it all day long. But we rarely call them Thursdays.

Without those markers, you’ve been a little disoriented.

It’s not that every day has been the same; it’s just that we have lost our weekly pegs to hang our schedule on. I can imagine it’s even more disorienting to children who normally head off to a classroom every day and are suddenly finding themselves at home. But even for us homeschoolers, it’s been hard.

We’ve lost our ways of marking the days.

As soon as our church cancelled two weeks of services–and I’ve really appreciated how proactive our church, local community, and Kentucky as a whole has been with setting high standards for social distancing–I looked at our Lenten calendar and knew.

I knew it would be disorienting, girls.

This year, only a few short weeks ago, I downloaded a free printable Lenten coloring calendar and printed 3 copies on cardstock so we could use our watercolor colored pencils every day. I wanted us to mark time together throughout the season.

I have always loved the liturgical concept of marking time, and your dad and I often try to get you to help us mark time throughout the liturgical year. Throughout the full year’s cycle, we have our weekly wooden “clock” of the wall, and we let you turn the dial one little dash every week. And during Advent and Christmas we have lots of ways to mark time, but we’ve not often cultivated a Lenten family practice that visually shows us that journey of Lent.

And so, when the two week service cessation was announced, and I looked at our Lenten calendar, my heart felt a bit heavy. I saw with my own eyes how close to Holy Week that would bring us–only one week before Palm Sunday–and I knew I wouldn’t get to see you wave palms this year. I also knew, as pretty much everyone does, that two weeks of social distancing wasn’t going to cut it. The likely scenario was that services would be cancelled straight through Easter.

It hasn’t been announced yet, but I wanted to write this before I know exactly what Holy Week and Easter will look like this year.

Because the truth is, whatever it looks like, however we honor the season, it will still feel disorienting. Because we’ve lost our pegs to hang our liturgical coats on. For now.

But it will be okay.

I’ve taught classes about and written often about how one of my favorite things about the cycle of the liturgical calendar is precisely that it happens over and over again. And when we honor it as a community, we get to walk alongside others and remind them, even when circumstances suggest otherwise, that we are still on the journey. That it’s okay to not “feel” a season. Some years, people die on Christmas Eve. And some years, babies are born on Good Friday. And it’s okay. We keep marking time and pointing to the work God is doing in the world through us and through the church.

Still.

I wanted to say this, here on this fourth Sunday of Lent: It doesn’t feel like Lent to me.

Days go by sometimes, and apart from coloring this little piece of a broken cross on our printable calendar–you’re the ones who realized that every four shapes make a cross, by the way–apart from this calendar, I can go days without reflecting on Lent.

But the truth is, it doesn’t matter whether I “feel like” Lent or not. The liturgical calendar isn’t about how we feel.

Because the truth also is this: we are currently living through what is perhaps the most Lenten of seasons the world has known in my lifetime.

So there’s that.

And it will be okay.

Love,

Your Momma

The Hundred-and-Fifteenth Letter: Hope Nonetheless

Dear Daughters,

I have long teased your dad about his tendency to overbuild. When he built our compost bin, for example, I joked that it would be a great tornado shelter, because it was way more massive than I had envisioned it. 

But the truth is, he builds things well: well-planned and built-to-last.

When we bought our house ten years ago, a large maple tree towered in the backyard. She was massive, but we knew she wouldn’t live long because she was hollowed out, a large dark gaping hole at her heart, a cave of sorts. She reached high to the sky, though, and every season would drop thousands of helicopters, a last gasp at life, it seemed.

Over the years, I wrote many poems about that tree, so rich in symbolism with the hole in her heart and leaves dancing in the wind, reaching for the sky. 

You can see what I mean about the symbolism.

A few summers ago, knowing she wouldn’t be safe for much longer, your dad decided to cut back her huge limbs and build a treehouse of sorts around her.

Now, I thought he was going to build a treehouse which was the equivalent of slapping a few pieces of plywood up there and nailing them into the tree and calling it good.

Needless to say, that is not what he was planning. And even his plans, which were already pretty heavy-duty, had to be revisited: as soon as he tried to mount anything to the tree, he realized she was not able to support any amount of weight. She was even more rotted than we knew; the cave in her heart wasn’t just from the bottom, but also from the top. (In fact, there was a possum residing up there, but that’s an amusing story for another day.) 

So in order to build a treehouse “in” the tree, the structure would have to be completely self-supporting, surrounding the tree. Completely self-supporting.

And so it is.

In fact, it has been mentioned a time or two that the treehouse is likely to outlive the tree.

It is a tall treehouse: tall enough that we adults can walk under it with a push mower.

It is a strong treehouse: strong enough to bear adult weight, though most adults don’t feel comfortable up so high, we’ve learned.

Your dad added a basket and pulley system; the ladder rungs are intentionally wide to keep tiny tots (mostly) from climbing it; and even with the limbs cut back and the bark barely holding on these days, the tree has enough mass to partly shade the back of the treehouse through the hottest part of the day.

What I mean is, the treehouse has been a resounding success, drawing neighborhood kids into the yard, entertaining you both for hours at a time. It is your restaurant and your kitchen, your secret area, your garden, your mess of sand and buckets. I don’t even know the half of it, because I don’t go up there.

But this week, as I sat in the yard and looked at the tree—still hollow, even more so than before, the bark now crumbling off, somewhat due to the neighbor kids, and the strong limbs chopped off and broken—she seemed forlorn, resigned, maybe even sad.

Or maybe that’s not fair. Maybe she was none of these things.

Maybe it was just that seasons change in unexpected ways, especially when you are settled into a rhythm that seems to be working, and you’re pretty sure you know the direction things are going.

But then they don’t go that way.

These are heavy feelings.

Because though she no longer reaches to the sky, her new life as a playground—you are both able to climb to the very tippy top of her chopped-off limbs and perch there, frighteningly high—somehow, miraculously, this new life simultaneously gives me hope while my heart feels the weight of sadness. Isn’t that a strange paradox?

Yes, she gives me hope, nonetheless, that there is a new season to be discovered, even as some things get more and more crumbly around us.

Girls, I thought this would be a letter about Covid-19 and how I’m processing it, but as it turns out, it isn’t. 

Or at least it isn’t only about that.

I’m reading a lot of Jan Richardson’s poetry blessings these days, mostly from her collection Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons. Richardson’s words are helping guide my thoughts during this extraordinarily Lenten upheaval we are all living through.

Her blessing, “Rough Translations,” in the Lent section of the book, opens with these lines:

Hope nonetheless.

Hope despite.

Hope regardless.

Hope still.

– Jan Richardson, from “Rough Translations,” Circle of Grace

Girls, these are the words that were on my mind this week while you were playing in the yard on a bright day of sunshine as schools were being closed around the country, and I was studying the broken and beautiful tree (from my comfortable, albeit overbuilt, wooden swing), and somehow it seems fitting to end with them, too, I think.

Hope nonetheless, girls.

Hope nonetheless.

That’s enough.

Love,

Your Momma

The Hundred-and-Fourteenth Letter: The Arbitrariness of Beginnings

Dear Daughters,

I’ve been thinking about the significance of starting over. Beginning again. Resetting. Refocusing. Getting back on track. Whatever you want to call it.

And I’ve been thinking about it specifically related to this: you can do it whenever you want. We tend to focus on big milestones—beginning of the school year, beginning of the new year, beginning of the summer. We make lists and goals and resolutions and bucket lists and get excited about getting things underway.

And then when they fail or if we just get sidetracked by other things and come back to them later to catalog all the things we didn’t do, well, then we throw in the towel. Or decide we can just wait until the next year to start over again.

But that “next year to start over again” is a relatively arbitrary point in your life’s timeline, girls. It’s arbitrary. What I mean is, why next year?

We rarely talk about how we can stop at any point and start over. Especially at the New Year, we act like our resolutions or goals or words of the year (don’t even get me started on that) are set in stone. 

But, girls, hear me: you can stop at any point and start over.

And what’s more, it’s not just that we can stop and start over, it’s that we often should, and we don’t. We’d often rather throw in the towel than pause and take a deep breath. Because let’s face it, it’s often easier to throw in the towel or wait until tomorrow than start over today.

Maybe this idea of arbitrary beginnings just resonates with me because my days often don’t start off on the right foot. The news I need to hear pretty much every day is that halfway through a day, or halfway through a morning, I get to reset, I have an opportunity to start over, rather than being a grumpypants all day long and chalking the day up as a fail.

What I mean is this: We can start over whenever we want. I can. You can. We don’t have to play by the rules of the calendar or the season.

Lots of folks have made a big deal about this year’s New Year significance.

Every New Year is a big deal for folks, but this year, with the move from the teens to the twenties, there has been a particularly unreflective strain related to the decade coming to a close/new decade beginning. Lots of then-and-now photo comparisons, for example. Maybe I’m the only one feeling like this, but I’ve found it grating.

I should note that there has also been a positive, reflective strain of looking back to see what has been accomplished in the previous decade, how much growth has happened, mapping out the good of the decade, and looking ahead with optimism to the next decade. It’s basically regular New Years on steroids

I guess because I don’t tend to do a lot of New Year reflection for January 1 on any given year, preferring instead to be reflective in Advent about the coming liturgical year, and then again in summer related to the coming academic year, I’m just burned out on the January 1 New Year/New Decade schmaltz.

And so, all of that to say, for me, one of the best things your dad said on New Year’s Eve was this: “Despite what people may say, today is notthe end of the decade.”

That’s right, girls, it’s not. I had forgotten.

He was reminding me of a previous conversation we’d had about time and calendars and how we live in time and count time. There is no “year zero” in history, so even though the first year of life when counting human birthdays is like a “year zero” (as in 6 months old is half a year old, but not a full year old, so you’re kind of age “0”), there is no such thing when we talk about the timing of history. There is no year zero. There is a year 1 BC and there is a year 1 AD (Or 1 BCE/CE), but there is no 0 in history.

Because of course, history is backdated from a later century.

Someone in history, centuries later, decided when we would start counting from. 

So if you’re being particular literal about beginnings and endings of decades, it’s fair to say that 2019 is the last year of the teens, but not of “the decade.” Likewise, 2020 does not actually start a new decade, though it is the first year of the twenties. 

I get it, girls, that maybe this seems like a small matter of semantics, and indeed, it’s a distinction that doesn’t really matter in the long run. People who are all yay-new-decade-new-opportunity-rah-rah could care less what I’m thinking about and where I’m going with this.

But this is what I’m thinking about and where I’m going: the arbitrariness of beginnings. You want to say the new decade started January 1? Go ahead. But that’s just as true as saying that the next new decade starts next year, or next month, or even next week, because we can start over at any point. Re-set. Refocus.

Beginnings, and starting over, and being reflective about the past, and looking ahead, well, it can happen any time.

Sure, sometimes things do begin at a particular point. Babies are born, after all. New jobs begin. New school years begin. A year begins on January 1. A fiscal year begins at a different time. A month begins on the first. A week on a Sunday. A day in the wee hours of the morning.

But as far as whether we are stuck with what we’ve got once it begins?

Nope. We’re not.

Feel free to start over at any time you want, girls.

Any time.

That’s what grace offers us.

Love,

Your Momma