The Eightieth Letter: Abstract Art & A Messy/Beautiful Life

Image-1

Dear Daughters,

It is a surprise to no one who knows us that we make a lot of art in our house.

A few years ago, I taught you the word “abstract” to describe your paintings so you would have an answer when someone asked you what your picture “was.” You had seemed a little embarrassed when it wasn’t a picture of a particular thing because you were just making fun designs, and after learning the basic idea of “abstract,” you embraced it.

It throws people off guard though, hearing such a small child announce that her piece of art is an “abstract design.” And sometimes, truth be told, I even get annoyed because you refuse to say what pictures are now and instead insist that everything you make is “abstract.” But most of the time, it makes me happy.

You love it.

You really love all art.

A few weeks ago, your class’s drawing unit through our homeschool coop was on abstract art. I went to the library and checked out some books on famous modern artists, including Kandinsky, Pollock, Rothko, Matisse, and even O’Keeffe, who didn’t only paint flowers. I was excited to show the photographs of some of these artists’ abstract paintings to your class because I, too, love abstract art. I love how evocative it is. I love how impromptu it seems.

I also had fun coming up with a simple abstract art project for your class, and I had fun the night before making a sample to show you all. Your class had struggled with some of our other drawing assignments in our curriculum, like reproducing mirror images, but I thought abstract would go over really well.

And so I didn’t really expect—I mean, not at all—that when I opened the first art book to an abstract image to ask your class, “Is this art?” the resounding answer among your peers would be NO! (One child even said “YUCK!” when he saw it.)

I continued to show pieces of art, and continued to emphasize how neat they were, explained how the colors evoked different emotions and why I liked particular things about it, but your classmates insisted that it was messy and ugly and definitely not art.

And when I showed them my sample piece they were going to be making for their project that day, they were not impressed at what I was asking them to do. Not at all.

I’ll admit I was surprised at this response. I wasn’t sad or frustrated, just surprised. I didn’t expect these 4 and 5 year olds to have such strong opinions as to what WASN’T art.

For the record, you, of course, thought it was all beautiful, and weren’t influenced by public opinion, thank goodness. You’re consistently firm in your verdicts of beauty and wonder in the world all around you, and in your class among your peers it was no different. You raved about the abstract piece you made. You were amazed at the art books I showed. You loved my sample. (In fact, you said, “WOW!” when I showed you my sample. That’s about as opposite of “YUCK!” as there can be. It made me proud.)

The thing is, I don’t know what a “normal” 5 year old thinks about abstract art. Maybe you’re totally normal. Maybe your peers are totally normal. Or maybe there is no “normal.”

But I’ve been thinking about the dangers of making messy and ugly synonyms, the dangers of seeing messy as the opposite of beautiful. And I sure hope we aren’t teaching our children to think that messy means ugly or unholy or unwelcome.

Or unloved.

I know you know where I’m going with this.

Life is messy, girls.

Life doesn’t end up the way we plan it.

Life doesn’t look the way we sketch it out before we begin painting. All kinds of things get in the way and mess it up.

But I’m convinced that it’s precisely the mess that makes life beautiful.

It’s precisely the splashes of dirt mixed into the paint, the unexpected scratch on the canvas, the layers of magazine and newspaper mod-podged on top of everything else and then peeled back and sprinkled with glitter as well as tears that give life character.

We bury, we uncover, we scrape, we splatter, and we pray, and we step back, and then we see it: there is beauty in this messy life we live.

This is a metaphor, and this is life.

Love,

Your Momma

Advertisements

The Seventy-Ninth Letter: We Live Here

IMG_9750

Dear Daughters,

I cleaned the house a little bit last weekend before your grandparents arrived.

(I hope that sentence doesn’t startle you in a HOLD THE PHONE, YOU DID WHAT? sort of way, because I’d like to believe that by the time you read this letter we are back in a season of regular cleaning and you are able to do your part in that. I spent lots of Saturdays in my teen years cleaning the bathroom and mopping the floors, and I expect you’ll have those chores, too. But yes, for right now, it’s VERY unusual for me to spend time cleaning.)

In fact, I overheard a conversation between the two of you playing make-believe family not that long ago:

Youngest: I have the purse, so I’ll be the mommy.

Oldest: Okay, I’m cleaning, so I’ll be the daddy.

Truth spoken like no other. If the cleaning happens in our house, it’s usually your dad who does it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m good at picking up and putting away—that I do regularly—but I am not the move-the-furniture-deep-clean parent. Not in this season.

And let’s be honest, this weekend, I didn’t clean thoroughly. There was no mopping involved. But I did vacuum the rugs on the main floor and in the bedrooms upstairs, which is a little tricky since our vacuum is prone to overheating and shuts itself off after about 1.5 rooms. I also moved the chairs out from under the table and swept up all the crumbs with a broom. Same in the kitchen. I did a quick wipedown in the bathrooms. I looked around for dust bunnies in the corners and wiped them up with a rag. I didn’t venture to look under the furniture though.

And of course I had a much longer list that I didn’t get to: dusting, dry mopping, wet mopping, cleaning the laundry room.

It’s not that I feel pressure to clean when we have company coming—okay, I do, but not a lot of pressure—it’s mostly that I use company as an occasion to do the things I should probably be doing anyway.

As your Dad’s grandmother reportedly says, “If you’re coming to see me, come on over. If you’re coming to see my house, let me know in advance so I can clean it.”

The thing is, I just don’t clean very much.

There are lots of reasons for this.

One is that I have other priorities for my limited waking hours. I have friends who prioritize cleaning and I’m all for that for them. But if I prioritized cleaning, something would need to give: my time hands-on with you, my hands-on art time, my writing, my reading, my keeping up with community, my volunteering, my sleep, my sanity. I’ve prioritized all of these things over have a clean home.

Knowing all of this, my mom has asked in the past about gifting me with a cleaning service. (I also have lots of friends who pay for someone to clean their homes in order to maintain a standard of clean in the midst of very busy schedules. That’s totally fine.) But girls, I just don’t feel comfortable with that in this season of our life either. I have a hard time articulating why, and I’m hesitant to say this because I don’t want it to sound judgy, especially if you someday have a cleaning service, but the truth is, I really feel like if having a clean house were a priority for me, then I could make time for it in my own schedule. And if I’m not willing to sacrifice reading a novel or painting a canvas (that is, the time I make for doing things I love) for a clean house, then it isn’t important enough to pay someone else to do it. So no. Not in this season.

But there’s something else going on here, too: I really want to be okay with a lived-in, messy house. I don’t want my house to be put-together and clean all the time because that is not real life. I want toys on the floor when someone unexpectedly knocks on the door.

Yeah, okay, I’d rather there not be dishes in the sink and crumbs on the counter and the toilet unflushed, but that’s because I’m prideful. I don’t want others to think I’m messy.

A messy house keeps me humble. On my best days. (On my worst days, it’s a different story.)

Girls, most of the time, I wish it didn’t bother me at all. I wish I could look around and see how amazing our space is, how fortunate we are to have a house that feels like home. It’s quirky and eclectic. It’s comfy and welcoming. It has room for guests. It’s got most of the important things spot on, and who cares about the green, sticky linoleum, right? (Okay, I do. My socks were totally sticking to the floor while I made dinner last night.)

Yes, I wish the mess and the dirt didn’t bother me.

And some days, I even wish I could learn to love the dirt itself.

I wish the smeared yogurt on the table from breakfast, the dried piece of playdoh, the determined old-house spiders that keep making a thin web in the corner by the front door—I wish I could look at all of those things and say,

We live here.

We eat here.

We play here.

We love here.

This is us.

Love,

Your Momma

The Seventy-Eighth Letter: To-Do Lists & Kingdom Work

IMG_0609

Dear Daughters,

I’ve jotted lots of notes to myself in recent weeks listing items I want to write to you about. Memories I want to capture. Nuggets of wisdom that seem worthy of recording. What I’m learning about life, about mothering, about myself.

The problem is that I know that the things I manage to record for you in these letters and in your individual journals take on significance. Those writings begin to outweigh actual memories—in a way they become the actual memories in this season.

And that’s okay, but it makes it hard to start writing sometimes. Especially when what I want to write feels ordinary, a brief glimpse of the sacred in the midst of what is an otherwise ordinary life.

For example, Tuesdays are exhausting. I’m writing this on Tuesday. I’m exhausted. I had a rough night last night insomnia-wise, and this morning our weekly homeschool class met, which means I lead two and a half hours of activity for a group of nine 4-6 year olds. They are a sweet bunch of kids, and I’m enjoying it significantly more than I expected to (or than anyone who knows me at all expected me to). Even the rowdy kiddos are charming and kind and I have such compassion for them.

There is probably nothing short of providential intervention going on there, by the way, stepping in and giving me patience, offering me glimpses of the holy in the midst of squirming and interrupting. I believe in providential intervention, even on this small scale.

That said, Tuesdays still exhaust me, even though it’s fun and rewarding Kingdom work.

We got home this afternoon, and I painted while you had some brief quiet time. After that, I offered to let you go outside and play. I’m convinced that unstructured full-body creative play is key to your brain and body development as well as your creativity, and it’s one of the reasons I homeschool.

As usual I have a long running to-do list, but I decided to put it aside and rest myself. I made a cup of tea, grabbed a book I’m reading, post-its, a pencil, and my planner-prayer guide-journal, and sat down on the back deck. As I breathed and reflected and enjoyed my tea, I decided I did want to write you a letter after all, so I went inside to get my laptop.

I began to write.

And then I was interrupted.

As usual.

The youngest came over to announce that her sister “FOUND AN ANT CAWWYING SOMETHING WIWWY WEIRD! YOU HAVE TO COME SEE!”

Seriously, child? (This is what I thought to myself.) I do not want to come over there to check out an ant. I’ve seen ants. You’ve seen ants. They’re kind of all the same. I’m doing some important meditative work here. Also, I’m writing you a letter. You will appreciate this someday. Sigh.

And then, and then I felt this little nudge I’ve been feeling a lot the last two weeks. It’s a small and quiet question that I feel deep in my heart:

What is important to the Kingdom of God?

I’m serious. I can feel that question in my heart. What is important to the Kingdom of God? It comes in striking contrast to however I am feeling. And you know what I always hear as the answer? It’s always clear as day. It’s this, as cheesy and obvious as it seems:

People are important to the Kingdom of God.

It’s like a little catechism question that just pops up out of nowhere.

What is important to the Kingdom of God?

People are important to the Kingdom of God.

Okay, let’s be real. It’s decidedly not out of nowhere. It’s been popping up whenever I’ve been frustrated or worn out or just want to do what I think is important. Because if it’s on a to-do list, it must be important, right?

It has happened when I’m all set to work on a big project and a text comes through from a friend asking if she can stop by.

It has happened when I’m outside and a neighbor walks by who wants to talk.

It has happened at book group meetings, reading group meetings, church meetings. (Maybe it’s because of my general distaste for meetings that makes me in need of the Spirit’s nudge.)

It’s happened often enough that I told your dad about it. He and I have long kidded about my ability to collect “stray people,” as he calls them. Whether they are strangers or friends or neighbors, people I encounter in my ordinary life often stop and talk. And I mean talk about serious things, not just fluffy chitchat.

Why is that?

And why is my instinct always to be a little bit annoyed on the inside, even when I know it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be?

Well, that’s probably why I am continuing to learn this lesson, here in my thirties. And that’s probably why the nudges aren’t slowing—if anything, they’re coming more and more often.

What is important to the Kingdom of God?

People are important to the Kingdom of God.

I had a meeting a few weeks ago and it was running long and I really just wanted to go home and go to bed but clearly someone needed to get something off her chest and needed someone else to listen to her. I heard the question again. What is important to the Kingdom of God? People…

I came home from that meeting, apologized for being late, and posed the question to your dad: What is important to the Kingdom of God? We chuckled and sighed. Yeah, yeah. We both knew the answer.

The thing is, you are people. You are the Kingdom work in front of me. So are my neighbors. So are strangers who cross my path. So is my friend whose mother is dying of cancer out of state, my pregnant friend in Texas, my grandmother who deserves another hand-written letter.

And yes, of course my art and my writing and my editing and my long to-do list are ALSO kingdom work. They are. Using my gifts for the Kingdom is Kingdom work.

But this. I keep hearing it.

What is important to the Kingdom of God?

People are important to the Kingdom of God.

I can’t get away from that still small voice nudging me to this conclusion:

Interruptions are as important to the Kingdom of God as the to-do list is.

It happened yesterday when the five-year-old really wanted to make a craft out of your Solar System coloring page you’d brought home from the library last week. You had conceived of the whole idea yourself and brought me a paper towel tube and the string, but you needed me to cut holes in the tube, figure out how to fish the string through, look up the order of the planets which I should know but don’t. It was a minor request but I was planning to finish up my class prep and begin dinner, and the craft was not urgent but I had already put it off twice when you asked me before. I also knew it would take longer than you thought. I knew it would eat up the rest of the afternoon until your dad came home. Because these things always do.

But then came that nudge again.

What is important to the Kingdom of God?

People are important to the Kingdom of God.

Sigh.

So we made the Solar System with the blue sun. And it did take the rest of the afternoon. And we ate dinner late.

But it is such a privilege to see your mind figuring things out, dreaming up crafts, seeking answers to questions you are barely able to articulate yourself. If I can’t pause and acknowledge the beauty of you, of life alongside you, I probably shouldn’t be preaching a Gospel of sacramental living to the world.

And now back to the “wiwwy weird” thing that the ant was carrying this afternoon.

Well, I got up, put down my laptop—which by the way was down to 4 percent battery and I just hadn’t realized it—and she was right. It was pretty weird. It was a yellowjacket. The ant was carrying a yellowjacket up the trunk of a large tree in the corner of our yard. We watched it together for awhile climbing on the tree bark, and we wondered about God’s creation and how we never cease to be amazed.

What is important to the Kingdom of God?

People are important to the Kingdom of God.

Love,

Your Momma

The Seventy-Seventh Letter: Hatred, Privilege, & the Kingdom of God

IMG_0179

Dear Daughters,

Yesterday, while hatred and violence were trying to force the last word in Charlottesville, Virginia, things were relatively normal for a Saturday in our little town.

Your dad and I had quiet time on the deck while you woke slowly, drank milk, watched your goofy Wonder Pets show. We all ate breakfast at the pace of grace, chatted about our plan for the day: mowing the lawn and working outside, making a second batch of tomato sauce, sorting through your clothing and changing out the hand-me-downs that have recently been showered on us, organizing an upstairs closet to fit in some of the keepsakes we brought home from Pennsylvania last week. It looked to be a normal and uneventful yet productive Saturday.

I drove the Bean to the market to buy a cantaloupe, our 3 dozen eggs, two quarts of peaches, and a large box of canning tomatoes. As you strapped yourself back into the car—you love that we’ve finally permitted you to start sitting in a booster seat and can buckle your own seatbelt—you asked me what the tall brick building was over there. Our weekly farmer’s market takes place in a large parking lot downtown, behind the courthouse. The building you were asking me about was the detention center.

I wasn’t sure how to answer you because I know from other conversations that you get anxious when I talk about police officers arresting people, about folks breaking the law and going to jail, about the various reasons that people make poor decisions and end up getting in trouble. In general, I think honesty is the best policy in these conversations, but when possible, I try to keep your eyes from filling with tears.

You are both my sweet, sensitive girls, and you get your teariness from your momma.

So I heard myself explaining in the simplest terms possible that it was a detention center and that it was where police officers brought people who had broken laws, where those people came while the officers and detectives tried to figure out what happened and why it happened. (I don’t exactly know what goes on in a detention center, quite honestly, but this seemed like an okay answer to me.)

You started to get nervous about people getting arrested—this always seems to haunt you, that someone you know and love will get put in jail. I don’t know where these fears come from, especially since you’re pretty much in a bubble with no media exposure and don’t really understand what “jail” is, but those fears are there.

And so, yesterday morning, as we drove the half-mile home from the market, only a few hours before the violence would come to a head in Charlottesville, with me completely unaware of what was happening a few states away, I assured you and reassured you that you didn’t need to worry.

You didn’t need to worry because everyone you love follows the law and respects all people, I said, because it’s only people who don’t obey the law who get in trouble, because a police officer’s job is to enforce the law, and there is nothing arbitrary about that. The message I was telling you to calm your fears is that our system is trustworthy.

And yet, even as I said those things, I could feel the weight on my chest growing, that sense of foreboding, knowing that the world I described is not the real world.

Well, the thing is, it is the real world for you because you are privileged. You are white. You have hyper-educated parents with huge doses of social capital not just in this community but in the world at large. You live in a white-dominant town and nobody sees you as a threat. I can assure you that you have no reason to fear the police, to fear jail, because it is only a slight exaggeration when I say that you do have no reason to fear.

But

But

But

The world is a broken place.

And what is true for you is not true for all children.

There are streets in our very own small town where children do have reasons to fear that their parents may well be victims of crimes and also perpetrators of crimes, where they may even be suspected of crimes simply because of their poverty or their skin color.

This is the world we live in.

And it is absolutely unacceptable, girls.

It is absolutely unacceptable that in our country of freedom and “blind” justice and equal opportunity, you–we–have a special place of privilege because of our skin color and economic class.

You are my beloved children, but I will tell you this straight up: you are not more special than any other child born to any other parent anywhere on this planet. You are not more special than a child in a refugee camp in Syria or a victim of sex-trafficking in the Philippines. You are not more special than a Black child in Charlottesville or the son or daughter of a white supremacist in Kentucky.

You are all—we are all—children of God.

This morning in church we heard a sermon that was quite unusual for our (let’s face it) mostly-boring, mostly-white, mostly-old, hymn-singing church. Our pastor denounced injustice publicly and articulately, condemned all perpetrators of violent crime, criticized those within the church and our government who excuse violence as a means to peace—even on the national level, and challenged us to never be silent in the face of injustice. Our pastor was riled up, and rightly so.

And then our church, this mostly-boring, mostly-white, mostly-old, hymn-singing church, stood and clapped and I’m pretty sure even cheered a bit when he was done.

Girls, our church pretty much only claps for children’s choir performances. And we definitely don’t give standing ovations.

But we did today, and it wasn’t because we were applauding for our pastor. We were standing and clapping because HE SPOKE TRUTH. The Kingdom of God that Jesus tells us about in the New Testament—over and over and over again with word pictures and stories and miracles and healings—that Kingdom has NO ROOM FOR HATRED.

That Kingdom is real and it is here and as long as we call ourselves Christians we better be breaking the bonds of injustice that have tied up communities all across this world.

I have so many words and all the feelings and I don’t know what else to do but preach to you and to anyone else who will listen.

If a sermon on justice can get my church on its feet, well, you better believe it’s a message worth shouting from the rooftops.

Violence is unacceptable.

The message of the Gospel is peace.

In Christ, there is no longer male nor female,

Jew nor Greek,

Black nor white,

American nor refugee,

North Korean nor South Korean,

gay nor straight…

we are all children of God.

We are all children of privilege.

We are all children of peace.

Love,

Your Momma

The Seventy-Sixth Letter: Afterthought Seeds & Garden Confessions

imagejpeg_0

Dear Daughters,

Deep breath.

I went out to pick veggies in our garden this afternoon and when I saw a weedy-looking tree sapling growing by the carrots, I pulled it out vigorously and tossed it into the yard with some other weeds. (I was a little surprised a sapling had grown up without my noticing it before, but I was pleased with my effort to rip it out.)

A minute later, I noticed another one just like it on the other side of the carrots, and that’s when I realized I had just yanked one of our two baby blueberry bushes.

Sigh.

Because it has been one of those days, the whole episode feels like a metaphor somehow:

Trying so patiently to grow something beautiful and then in a moment of carelessness, long before the seasons it will take to bear fruit, yanking it out by the roots.

And then haphazardly trying to bury it back down in the ground again, digging down to the good soil with your fingernails, watering deeply and thoroughly with a gallon-jug from the recycling bin.

Praying you haven’t done too much damage.

So much metaphor.

Girls, your dad and I have a reputation for being gardeny people, and I will confess to you that much of that reputation is decidedly undeserved. Clearly.

Sure, he grew up on a farm, and sure, I remember weeding at Grandma Lehman’s house in the summers, trying to learn the difference between weeds and flowers that she seemed to just know instinctively. I never could figure it out. Clearly.

But much of what your dad and I do know about gardening comes from trial-and-error-flavored conviction, and it started in some rather not-garden-friendly soil in Waco.

Since those early days of gardening as newlyweds in the Texas heat, we have gardened on and off, more or less, depending on the year. Some years we tilled up a huge plot in the yard. One of those years the whole plot flooded during heavy rain and our seeds washed away. Some years we helped out with our church’s community garden. Some years we’ve supported local farmers rather than grow our own veggies.

But we have this reputation as foody, gardeny, earthy people. Probably because your dad taught food ethics and had the students involved with a garden on campus property. And probably because people in Kentucky all know who Wendell Berry is. Probably also because I’ve written articles about the unexpected blessings of community gardens. And probably because I can be kind of preachy about things like fresh foods and cooking from scratch and the Mennonite cookbooks and, well, you know. You know I’m preachy.

Still, I confess to you, I feel like a newbie every time I plant a garden. Why can’t we ever get zucchini and squash plants to grow? Why do we never get enough cucumbers to pickle when other people we know have prolific harvests? Why did our cabbage shoot to two feet tall and then get eaten by bugs? Why does the basil planted at our house never grow to the heights of the same basil we plant at the community garden at the church?

I will never know the answers to these questions. (Except the cabbage one. I asked a farmer at the market about that and he gave me some advice.)

And also, I feel like an amateur because no matter how much we do end up growing, no matter our successes and failures, I am completely astounded by the miracle of every single flower that appears on our plants. And when it comes to harvesting actual vegetables we can eat? I mean, girls, I am as excited about it as you are. It feels so undeserved. It feels like privilege. It is.

I mean, how the heck do these seeds work? How does good soil and some watering and some sunshine produce such undeserved bounty? It’s no wonder so many parables are about seeds and growing and provision and the Kingdom of God.

If I’m not careful, I’m going to start preaching again.

And you get so excited about the green beans in particular. You’re proud of yourselves that you can take your little red sandbucket over to the garden and find yourself a snack.

This year, we have a raised bed the length of the house. We’ve got the aforementioned blueberry bushes, which will hopefully remain plural, and I did buy some other veggie plants on sale late in the season, but much of what is growing out there right now in the muggy heat of this late-July day was from afterthought seeds dug out of our freezer, tossed into the ground without much planning.

Without much planning and without expectation that they would grow. (We didn’t know if the freezing had preserved the seeds or not. It was trial and error in that regard too. We don’t remember when the seeds were originally purchased.)

The dozens of beans you’ve picked this year all came from those afterthought seeds.

I’m astounded.

I’m serious. Every time that something grows, I am astounded at the miracle of it.

I really am.

Today, after pulling out that blueberry bush and chiding myself—half embarrassed and half angry, I’ll admit—the garden yielded a half-dozen carrots, a cucumber, a handful of beans, and four cherry tomatoes.

It’s not much but it’s still hope incarnate.

It’s the Kingdom of God, right here in our garden.

It’s God’s faithfulness exhibited in the goodness of creation, the goodness of wonder and taste and dirt and roots.

It’s poetry, girls. Poetry.

And so, I’m clinging to that goodness, that faithfulness, that hope: maybe the blueberry bush will make it.

Maybe.

Because this whole gardening business is just chock-full of metaphor. Even the mess-ups.

Love,

Your Momma

The Seventy-Fifth Letter: Shame on Me

IMG_1645

Dear Daughters, 

I am tall, brown-haired, freckled, and strong-willed. I am a writer, a poet, a blogger, and an editor. I am a friend, a mother, a Christian, and a Baptist, begrudgingly. I am a sister, a daughter, a painter. I am creative, a runner, hungry, tired, and thirsty. I am thirty-three, glasses-wearing, not showered, and relatively comfortable in my own skin. I am a reader, not an athlete, a tea-drinker, empathetic, and a complainer. I am someone who sees people, a lover of school supplies, a sender of notes through the mail, and a Subaru Outback driver. I am good at memorization, an academic at heart, someone who gets furious at injustice, and impressed by the things a three-year-old can learn. I am a lover of fresh paper. I am in a tiring season of life, trying to find balance, and trying to figure out what balance is. I am kind of phobic about people germs on grocery carts and not phobic about actual dirt. I am annoyed easily and not as patient as I should be. I am a pretty awesome mom. I am talented, smart, and healthy. I am a texter.

What a random list, right?

It almost reads like a poem. (Well, maybe except the last add-on one about being a texter.) It’s not a poem, though. It’s actually a list of fifty “I am ____” statements.

I grouped the bulleted list of fifty items into sentences so there was less repetition as I typed them up, but this is otherwise exactly the order the statements came to me during a brainstorming and freewriting exercise while sitting in an Artist’s Way class session back in the fall of 2015.

A few months after making this list for the Artist’s Way, I was on a guided retreat and tasked with the exact same thing: jotting down fifty “I am ____” statements as quickly as possible.

And then this last spring I made the list yet again—not fifty this time, but twenty-five—for a different writing project.

Yes, three times I’ve done this basic exercise in three years.

Try it a few dozen times. Fill in the blank: I am _____. And then do it again and again and again.

Are you curious how similar my three lists are, over that amount of time?

I sure was, so I just dug out those old notebooks and compared them. (This is the benefit of keeping old notebooks of nonsense writing.)

Of the fifty, only eleven items made it onto all three “I am ____” lists: tall, mother, daughter, sister, friend, tea-drinker, poet, empathetic, freckled, glasses-wearing, and driver of an Outback.

Seriously. Those are apparently some of the things that come to my mind when I need to make a long list of things related to my identity, especially if I have to make the list quickly. That I’m freckled. The type of car I drive. That I drink tea. That I’m empathetic.

You know what didn’t show up on any of the lists?

The glaring absence from each of the lists that I’m feeling convicted about?

It’s so obvious and so absent that, I’ll confess, it makes me a little unsettled deep in soul.

That I’m white.

Not once did it cross my mind to include “white” on these lists.

Girls, I’ve been thinking about race a lot lately, and I’ve been really convicted about the fact that I have the privilege to not think about it if I don’t want to.

I don’t know how to go about writing this letter, but I know I need to write it. I need to write it because I want you to know that even in my determination as a parent to provide you with books and movies with non-white, non-male protagonists, even in my attempts to be open and welcoming to our community, even in the ways I teach you that Jesus tells us to care for those who are not in positions of power, yes, even in all the ways I parent you so that you see every person as worthy of your time and attention and love, you are coming into the world to a place of privilege. I don’t want you to take that for granted or pretend that it’s not the case, and I don’t know how to go about talking about it without feeling awkward and embarrassed. I don’t know how to talk about it except to talk about it.

And keep talking about it.

This year, it’s been impossible for me not to think about race, and I’m not only referring to media coverage and the general socio-politico-cultural climate that has so polarized discussions in the media. Race and ethnicity played a huge role in the election last year and continue to play a huge role in recent months—discrimination, charges of reverse discrimination, immigration, refugee policy. And I can see with my own eyes the way race divides our country—it divides our town, it divides neighborhoods, churches, friend circles, accessibility to education and healthcare and myriad things I can’t possibly take into account because I am so blinded by the ways my race protects me. From talking to your grandfather who witnesses on a regular basis the way racism plays a role within the prison system, I know our justice system is struggling, too, though it’s easy to pretend America has all that justice-is-blind stuff figured out.

Girls, because so many systems are broken, and because we are broken people, race divides us.

Achingly and painfully.

And I’ll be honest: I’m embarrassed about my lack of thoughtfulness on the subject.

Achingly and painfully.

I’m embarrassed that I take my whiteness for granted, that it’s not even an afterthought. It’s a three-years-after-I-write-the-list-thought.

What I mean is, I didn’t even notice the absence on all three lists.

What I mean is, shame on me.

I guess what’s even more embarrassing is that what’s gotten me thinking about race this year is not current events so much as the books I’ve been reading for pleasure. Because I’m a literary nerd through and through, I think about the books I read a lot. Story is the way to my heart.

Of the twenty-one books I’ve read this year, just over half have been explicitly about race. After the first handful of them, I began to think that it wasn’t just a coincidence. Every time I opened a book, the dividing power of race was leaping off the page, and it’s been convicting. I’ve been wondering in recent weeks if the universe was trying to send me a message about race and my place of privilege.

The most recent selection was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, but I’ve managed to read books—selected by my two non-overlapping reading groups—about the modern African American experience (both fiction and nonfiction), the Nigerian immigrant experience in the USA and the UK, race in the 60s, the Vietnam War, growing up Chinese in the USA, a leper colony in Hawaii, the slave trade and Ghanaian tribal warfare, and apartheid in South Africa.

Most of these books have been excellent. And most of them have challenged and convicted me, especially the way I take for granted the extent to which my own whiteness protects me.

I have no idea what it is like to not be white.

And I’ll say it again: shame on me for not even noticing.

Shame on us for pretending we know what it is like to be “other,” when we have never experienced otherness, when we are surrounded by people like us, in the pew, on our streets, when we—I’m talking about our close community—are more educated than the average American, healthier than the average American, with a safety net of community and family, with an inherent trust that the system has got our back and that justice is blind.

That this is how I experience the world—and I’m sure you will too—is, plain and simple, privilege.

Let’s not shy away from the shame of privilege.

It should make us uncomfortable.

But—and hear this, too, alongside the shame—it should not swallow us up.

I have a friend who always quotes Mr. Rogers on this: “Look for the helpers.”

That is, look for those folks who are working already to remedy injustice, to shine light into the darkness, to bring justice to the powerless.

Remain convicted, girls, that the world needs changing, and do not let yourselves off the hook, but also, also do not give up hope that it can be changed.

Though we have a long way to go for any of this brokenness to even begin to be healed, a long embarrassing heartbreaking overwhelming way, I promise you that there is hope to be found even now in the small cracks of light shining into the darkness.

There is always hope to be found in the midst of brokenness and injustice.

I’m not naively optimistic when I say the healing of divisions is possible.

I see the message of the Gospel—the clear, impossible-to-ignore message—of the Kingdom transforming the powers of this world, flipping the systems of injustice and holding those in power to account for the mistreatment of the less privileged. I believe that the church has a role to play in preaching the light into the darkness, and I think we can see prophetic voices in our own day calling for justice and, what’s more, tangibly working for it in towns across our nation.

I also see hope in the work of nonprofits trying to bring a fairness ordinance to my town and petitioning for the rights of ex-convicts, those organizations tutoring young elementary children in reading and other basic skills and offering mentorship relationships, my friends who are unflinching in their calling and petitioning of politicians who aren’t walking the streets of neighborhoods and seeing firsthand the effects of poverty and prejudice on their constituents. There is hope in these books that I’m reading, these books that won’t let me off the hook, that force me to see a world I can so easily ignore, that send story deep into my bones.

And I see hope in you.

I see how free you are of the cultural baggage of fearing the stranger. I see how it breaks your heart when we talk about people being treated unfairly. I see how you can’t fathom why people are mean.

Last night, we were watching a Charlie Brown movie as a family, and there were some bullies being mean to Charlie and his friends. You kept asking if they were really being mean or just pretending, and so your dad told you that they really were being mean, but if you would look closely, you would see that usually mean people are really just sad inside. He wanted you to have empathy, even for the unjust, and yet be aware of the reality of brokenness and cruelty.

You took this to heart, and I know you kept thinking about that because you asked me about it this morning, about how people can be so sad that they are mean to other people. I didn’t know what to tell you. But your lack of understanding in the face of injustice and sadness offers me a glimpse of the Kingdom.

Girls, the world is so broken. We can’t shy away from identifying injustice, even if it means calling out our own privilege and shame at the way we have benefited from the broken system. I want you to call a spade a spade, and to see me doing the same.

Don’t be discouraged by how broken the world is. See that brokenness, call it out as the injustice it is, and work to fix it. And when your are most frustrated, most broken-hearted, most anxious and afraid, I want you to look for the helpers. Gather them around you. Encourage one another to keep going. They need you.

And I need you.

Keep me on task, girls. Don’t let me off the hook.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

 

The Seventy-Fourth Letter: The Me I Want You to Be

IMG_1571

Dear Daughters,

Last week, the five-year-old announced that you wanted to be just like me when you grow up. You were watching me hand-letter a sign, as you are prone to do, standing there mesmerized, and so I knew what you meant: that you wanted to be an artist like me, that you want to learn to hand-letter, that you want to be a painter who makes beautiful things. Some day.

But, I’ll be real, when you said you wanted to be just like me, my first thought was about all the ways I hope you are not like me. I thought about how often I lose my temper, for example, how I can be unreasonable with my expectations. How I worry too much, get anxious and listless and unsettled inside. How I need to self-talk myself down off the ledge. How I’m selfish and prideful and really want to flee some days. Maybe even every day at some point, if I’m honest with myself.

Sure, I would love for you to be an artist or a writer, or an academic like your dad, but more than that, I want you to be many other important things. I want you to be brave and vulnerable, courageous and compassionate, calm and trustworthy and loving, truth-seeking and honest, full of conviction and kind, articulate and dissatisfied with the status quo.

I am some of those things, but I am not all of those things.

I’m not saying I’m a failure when I get worried, when I snap at you and scold you and am unreasonable. I’m a good mom, and I know I am. But I wonder sometimes how to teach you to be brave when I myself do not feel brave, to teach you not to worry when I myself am worried, to teach you to love strangers when I myself want to be by myself.

And the truth is, I can only take it one day at a time, one moment at a time. And in some of those moments I will fail.

Right now I am sitting outside at the picnic table and the two of you are playing explorers in the yard. (I want you to love being outside, even though it’s not my favorite thing.) You’re picking green beans and putting them into your sandbucket. And you’re eating them. (I gave you permission. I want you to love the garden and fresh food and crunchy beans.) You’re hot and sweaty already. (I want you to know it’s okay to not always be comfortable.) You’re crawling up the slide backwards. (I want you to know it’s okay to be creative in interpreting the rules.) You’ve got bug spray on your legs and sneakers on your feet. (I want you to know how to care for yourself.)

Yesterday you were barefoot and sliced your foot open on a broken walnut shell. I was working on a poem up on the porch but you began screaming and sobbing about blood, and that was the end of poetry for the day. I was annoyed, even as I cared for you, but I want you to I know that I will always choose you over any project in front of me, even if I do it begrudgingly some days. I am still becoming my best self; there is still work to be done. Your foot is still hurting today.

In recent weeks, I’ve had some opportunities to show you in small ways what brave and courageous looks like, even when I have not wanted to. I flew with the two of you to visit your grandma at her beautiful island home. The trip requires two flights to get there, and two flights with two children and one adult is not exactly my favorite traveling situation. (Also, less importantly, I played with you in the ocean despite my ridiculous and unaccountable fear of sharks.) And then last week, I drove the two of you to Pennsylvania so you could see your new cousin, two sets of grandparents, a great-grandma, and your great-great-grandma. Girls, this kind of trip, no matter how many times I do it and no matter how many times it turns out okay, is tough for me. On Wednesday night before we left, I lay awake in bed for hours and tried to think of all the reasons I could to back out of our trip. For hours.

But we went and we got to see some loved ones. We got to meet your brand-new cousin and get baby snuggles, finally got to meet my college friend’s husband. We went to Perkins with Great-Great-Grandma and she gave you each four quarters. We ate candy and peanut-butter-banana sandwiches with Great-Grandma and her dogs made you cry. I got to see a childhood best friend and her girls, and we took a picture with our matching Subarus.

In other news, I also turned the wrong way on the turnpike and had to go thirty miles out of my way. I went west instead of east on interstate loop in bumper-to-bumper traffic and made an already-too-long trip even more interminable. I kept my cool both those times. I really did. Outwardly.

But this is life: I did lose my temper a few times in the car, by the end, especially on the way home when interstate construction extended our drive by four hours. I yelled and even cried more than once. Literally cried. I was not at my best, but I’m a work in progress.

I feel like I’m still recovering, two days later. Maybe it’s because there had been so much weight following me around while I was trying to be brave for you and pretend I was not as overwhelmed as I was. I don’t single-parent well.

Yesterday, I didn’t unpack and do laundry. (For the record, the basement flooded twice while we were gone, so laundry would have been impossible given the furniture piled up in the laundry room. Your dad is the real superhero who vacuumed up dozens of gallons of water twice, moved furniture, propped up carpets, made myriad Lowe’s runs, and now has fans blowing on everything.)

By the end of the day yesterday, the sink was full of dirty dishes and I did not wash them. I did not even look at the to-do list from before the trip that I knew was mostly incomplete. I did not pay the stack of bills, even though I knew that the end of the month was approaching. I saw the pile of crafts and artwork that had accumulated at the end of the school year and planned to take photos of all of them so I could finally, finally toss them out. But I didn’t. I left the table and the buffet covered in art and mail and craft supplies.

But you know what I did do? Your dad and I said morning prayers together. I took a shower. I took you to gymnastics class and then to the playground to play just for the fun of it. While on the playground I surprised myself by showing you how I can still hang from my knees on the monkey bars. When we got home, I cut a jar full of day lilies, a few branches of rose of sharon, and flowering thyme to put on our dining room table. I did not clear off the table first. Not a bit. I chose to add beauty instead of organizing the chaos. Then I went back outside and cut three jars of fresh oregano and basil to keep them from flowering, and I brought them inside to the windowsill above the sink. Then I went back outside and cut some fresh mint to brew sun tea on the back porch. During quiet time, I hand-lettered some postcards. You followed me around and commented on everything I did.

And I did not mention to you how I was feeling overwhelmed and inadequate. I did not tell you about the things I was not accomplishing.

Instead, I helped you see that life is in the one-moment-at-a-time experiences of cutting flowers and pinching basil and picking green beans and making beauty.

Because I really believe that if I show you that often enough—what bravery feels like, what beauty feels like, what love and compassion feels like—even if I’m floundering inside, well, I really believe that I will someday become those things myself.

And then you can be just like me when you grow up.

I’ll be okay with that.

Love,

Your Momma

The Seventy-Third Letter: First Fruits, Time, & Hospitality

IMG_8569

Dear Daughters,

At the beginning of the growing season, every leaf of oregano feels extravagant. The first snap peas, the early lettuce and spinach, and then later, that first red tomato or first summer squash. But as with most things, by the end, when it’s hard to keep up with the produce, when you can’t even give the extras away because everybody has too many tomatoes and too much zucchini, when I am already snipping large handfuls of oregano every day to eat on my eggs, well, at that point, it’s hard to be appreciative of what is before us.

I’ve been thinking about first fruits, about God’s command to the Israelites in Deuteronomy to bring a basket of the first fruits of their harvest to recognize publicly God’s faithfulness to them in the fulfillment of promises. I read that passage this morning and I heard it differently than I’d heard it before, maybe because we’re still savoring every fresh green bean, still astounded at Kentucky tomatoes showing up already at the farmers market. We’re in a season of first fruits.

Girls, it’s hard to give the first fruits away. They’re what you’ve been waiting for. They don’t even taste the best, to be honest, usually those first fruits are picked too early because we are impatient, but we savor them nonetheless, not really wanting to share. So giving them up willingly and publicly? That’s sacrifice.

And then I began to think of the less-literal “first fruits” of my life. Like, say, tithes. I’ve preached this before, being raised in a home that took tithing seriously, tithing off the top, even tithing off my birthday presents and allowance because I was taught that none of what I had was mine to begin with. It was God’s. So yeah, I get that. Financial first fruits.

I am a generous person with my finances. I am also a generous person with food. I love to bake things and give them away. I like to deliver goodies to my neighbors, and I like to involve you in the process.

Already you know the joy of giving. I have also sorted through your belongings: your toys, your clothes, divvied them out among folks we know with younger children, who would want what, where to donate.

We talk about the least fortunate in our house and I want you to know that it is important to give as if nothing belongs to you. These are all interpretations of first-fruits. (Though I suppose hand-me-downs sound like last-fruits, the truth is that most of what you have is also hand-me-down, so we’re going with the analogy anyway.)

But, I’ll confess, I did come up with a doozy of a first-fruit that isn’t so easy to quantify and isn’t so easy to say I’m a pro at giving away. Know what that is? My time.

Seriously, girls, am I willing to give the first fruits of my time?

Let’s go here:

How about when I’m tired and grouchy? When my to-do list is long? When the neighbor swings by unexpectedly? When we get that text inviting us to come and splash in the kiddie pool? When a friend needs a ride to the bank? When the mailman wants to chat? When I really want to go for a run? When, for crying out loud, I really just want to go to the bathroom by myself or drink my hot tea hot?

Is that too much to ask?

I usually feel this well up in my soul in capital letters, but I’ll scale back here, though I do think this needs to be said again.

Is it too much to ask to keep some time to myself?

Well, I cry a little bit inside when I pause and consider it, because guess what?

The answer is yes. It IS too much to ask.

My time isn’t mine to begin with. So when I squeeze a few minutes extra out of a day, metaphorically speaking, am I using it for me or for others? (To be clear: It’s not that I’m down on self-care. Sometimes I do need a nap. Self-care is important. That’s a topic for another day.)

But I know that I personally need to be careful because it’s not my instinct to give time away. It’s my instinct to turn inward, to look at all I need to do, and see others as an interruption, even to see you as an interruption sometimes, when I’m being honest.

And people are not interruptions.

Your dad and I decided to host weekly picnics this summer. It won’t be convenient. Community rarely is. Sometimes people won’t show up. Sometimes people will show up and there won’t be enough food. Sometimes you’ll get sand in your hair because one of the littler kids dumps it on your head. Sometimes it will be hot and buggy and nobody will want the fire to be lit for s’mores.

When I sent out the email announcing the picnic to a variety of folks we know from around town, church, the college, our neighborhood, one of my friends emailed back: “I’m so impressed by your energy!”

Say what?

What is this energy of which you speak?

Me? I don’t have energy. Not enough, that’s for sure. And it’s not my instinct to not invite people in. (Okay, that’s not true. My instincts are pretty spot-on: I’ve got the instinct to invite people in. It’s just that I usually can talk myself out of it for all kinds of practical and very good reasons. Which is why we decided on the standing invitation, because you can’t talk yourself out of it once it’s been put out there into the universe.)

Girls, I really believe that if we had a first-fruits view of time—that it isn’t ours to begin with but that symbolically the little that we do have, that first bit of extra and abundance we are lucky enough to harvest in our too-busy lives, needs to go back to God for kingdom work and community building—well, the kingdom of God would be a much more hospitable and welcoming place.

We would have real community. We would have relationships with people who are not like us. We would welcome the stranger into our midst and that stranger would become a friend. We would not hoard our time into vacations and extravagant hobbies but into conversations over fences. Church wouldn’t just be a building on the corner (and definitely not across town from the suburbs where we reside) but also a front porch swing where our shared stories transform into holy moments.

Our tables would be more often shared than not shared. Bread would not be broken in front of a television but over a firepit. Cookies wouldn’t be eaten in seclusion in a closet so children didn’t hear the chewing (no idea who does that) but delivered to the neighbor who just had the new baby or the mom trying to get by while her husband is on the nightshift.

Girls, we all have people in our lives who need a bit of our time. And I’m not saying we need to squeeze community and hospitality into already busy lives. I’m saying we’ve got a certain amount of time allotted to us and the first-fruits don’t belong to us and our binge-watching Amazon and Netflix.

And that’s not the message I want to hear most days.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

The Seventy-Second Letter: On Productivity & To-Do Lists

IMG_1426

Dear Daughters,

Sometimes I write drafts of letters to you and then don’t share them. It’s usually when I’m feeling rather blah about life on a particular day, when I’m not feeling productive or focused on the tasks at hand but instead just want to crawl into bed and read my book and let you watch a show on the iPad. (Unfortunately for me, you don’t actually want to watch shows when you could be doing fun things like building a playground out of our living room furniture or running around the yard making soup from grass and weeds and sticks and leaves.)

On those blah days, sometimes albeit rarely, at the end of the day, I catalog what the day has been, and sometimes, it helps me to cultivate gratitude. Because I know, even when I don’t feel like it, that in every day, life has been accomplished.

In every day, grace has been offered and received.

In every day, there is reason to refocus my eyes.

But most days, when I most need that, when probably all I need to do to see is blink a few extra times, I don’t manage to. My day feels blah. Nothing seems profound. What I write is bland.

Tuesday was one of those days, the first day home after our vacation. I was having one of those days with all the feels. It’s now Friday, and I’m only slightly better. But I re-read what I drafted on Tuesday night, and I can see now that it wasn’t nearly as low of a day as it felt in the living of it.

Because in the living of it, I couldn’t see the holy of it, not at first.

But now I can.

So I’m offering Tuesday’s letter after all.

Here’s what I wrote on Tuesday night, after you were in bed, while your dad practiced his upright bass in the basement, as I tried to refocus:

Today did not feel like a productive day. I started it off bright and early with a to-do list of things I might want to consider accomplishing.

I did very few of those things.

At the very least, I should have done some laundry.

No, at the very least, I should have emptied out my suitcase from our trip last week. We got back last night close to 11 pm, and I’m pretty tired today, but there are damp swimsuits in a grocery bag inside that suitcase, so yes, I should have emptied it. I didn’t. It’s still on the bed as I type this.

And lest you think I might sneak in a sense of accomplishment when I head upstairs in a few minutes to go to bed: don’t worry. I will simply move it onto the floor and add it to the to-do list for tomorrow.

Today I took the eldest to her fifth year well visit and we waited 45 minutes for the doctor. I wasted the time at home before and after the appointment by chatting with your babysitter, instead of using that expensive time to check items off my to-do list. While we chatted, I drank hot tea with milk and sugar, even though I’m pretty sure both of those things are bad for me.

After the sitter left, I had thought we would go to lunch with your dad but then he ended up too swamped with work, and honestly I didn’t really feel like eating out after the airport food we ate yesterday. So, instead, I scrounged up a lunch that didn’t require a grocery run: tuna salad and crackers (and an apple, pickle, and cheese) for you, carrots and almond butter for me.

During lunch, I texted a few friends to let them know we’re back in town and ask how they are. I was without cell service on vacation. I chatted on the phone with Ms. Ashley, both of us lamenting what we were not doing and mentioning what we should be doing.

We finished lunch and I let you color for a few minutes before quiet time began. The youngest surprised us by writing her name legibly.

I planned to mow the grass during quiet time this afternoon, and even slathered myself with SPF 50, changed my clothes, put on a visor and old sneaks, and filled the mower with gas. Then the mower engine didn’t sound right and kept banging and puffing out black smoke. It puttered out when I tried to force it to mow under those circumstances. I called your grandpa to ask for advice, and we decided I probably couldn’t fix it. I came inside, still covered in sunscreen, and drank another cup of tea and read my novel. Actually, I also registered you both for VBS, and registered myself for Lexington Poetry Month. I did not pay bills, though it’s the end of the month and they’re all waiting for my attention on the table.

After the youngest kept coming downstairs for unimportant reasons, and then began crying in bed when I told you to stay upstairs, I decided to load us in the car and accomplish at least one thing officially on my list. We went to Wilson’s Nursery to buy tomato and basil plants. It’s nearly half an hour away but I didn’t care. I packed a snack and waters for you, grabbed your sunglasses, and we left. I let my phone tell me how to get there so I didn’t have to think about it.

Then, because Wilson’s was having a Memorial Day Sale all week, I ended up buying ten vegetable plants, including peppers and cucumbers, three basil plants, and six mini succulents. I thought I would make a little succulent pot for our neighbors who just brought their preemie baby home from the hospital, and who can ever have too much basil?

We got home, and then walked over to our other neighbor-friends’ house and borrowed their mower. I was still determined to mow.

But first: garden.

You tried to help by getting garden rakes and shovels from the shed, but let’s face it: you’re just not that helpful and very likely to injure yourselves as the two of you maneuver a shovel with a handle as long as you are.

Your dad arrived home and got the mower running (by sheer force of will, it seems to me), and mowed half the yard while I was still transplanting and figuring out where to put ten veggie plants when we already have our raised beds pretty full of lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, beans, and baby blueberry bushes surrounded by carrots. I decided the hydrangea beds across the yard can each house a tomato plant. (The hydrangeas have turned a stunning magenta while we were away—who knew?—but wilted quite a bit in today’s heat. I hope they will recover when we water.)

I accidentally broke off a cucumber stem. I picked the green beans that have popped into existence in the week we’ve been gone. I weeded the herb bed. The oregano is now two feet tall and the thyme is circling the mint to win the award for most invasive herb we own. I pinched the smallest leaves of my new basil plants to stimulate growth. Your dad snipped off our leaf lettuce that is getting out of control, and we decided the grownups will eat salad for dinner. He sent you in with an armful of lettuce to put in the sink. I finished transplanting the succulents and tried to decide if the pot needs a bit of decoration before giving it away as a gift.

Seven o’clock was quickly approaching at this point, and we hadn’t eaten dinner. I ran inside to rinse the basil leaves I removed during transplanting, and I smushed a spider that crawled out of the sink’s lettuce.

Under the lettuce, the sink was full of the dirty dishes I did not wash today. Even the breakfast dishes were at the bottom of that pile.

While your dad watered the produce and baby trees and hydrangeas (and previous years’ Easter lilies, which seem to be blooming too), an AT&T salesman stopped by to try to sell us new internet service, even though he came to the door earlier in the day and I had told him ‘no’ once already.

I mowed the remaining half of the yard—and paused to chat with the neighbor and see how the baby is doing–and then mowed the part outside the fence while your dad prepped dinner. And fed you both dinner. I returned the mower.

Your dad was nearly finished with your bath by the time I sat down to eat my salad.

I joined in for bedtime routines of singing and praying and tucking-in, ran downstairs for the forgotten fuzzy blanket, gave permission for a final bathroom run.

And then I showered.

I started the day with a shower today, thinking I was off to a productive start. I ended the day with wet hair once again and don’t feel the least productive.

Because it’s too easy to judge productivity with the lists that didn’t get done.

We have two cucumber plants, two pepper plants, six tomato plants, three basil plants, three small pots of succulents to keep and one large to give away that we didn’t have before today. And our grass is mown. I checked in with friends and caught up a bit.

And when your dad turned on my iPad this evening—my special iPad for my hand-lettering and digital design work that seemed to go on the fritz and have severe hardware issues while we were away—well, he turned it on and miraculously it worked.

I feel like that’s something worth adding to my list of achievements for the day. Even if it had nothing to do with me.

Because I’m kind of thinking now, having typed up the day, that very few of my daily achievements have much to do with me anyway.

It’s all sacred, girls. These little moments.

It doesn’t matter what gets crossed off the list.

I haven’t looked at the list in hours. It got pushed to the back of the counter at some point earlier today and I haven’t grabbed it since.

I’m not complaining. Lists help keep me organized. I love making them. I love crossing things off of them.

But, y’all, lists aren’t life.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

 

The Seventy-First Letter: The Day Before Mother’s Day

IMG_3194

Dear Daughters,

The preschooler has been hiding her Mother’s Day craft from me so it will be a surprise tomorrow morning. And you haven’t finished your homemade card yet so you solemnly requested that I not look at it tonight after you go to bed. (It’s hiding under a book on the desk serving as our coffee table.)

Your excitement about Mother’s Day is sweet. You really want to make it special. You told daddy that the perfect Mother’s Day gift is jewelry. So instead he let you pick out some hydrangea bushes for me at Lowe’s this afternoon.

The thing is, I’m not a huge fan of Mother’s Day. I am offering our community prayer tomorrow morning in church with the express purpose of cramming it full of the complexity of motherhood in this world—not just the happiness and kids’ crafts and beautiful brunches and bouquets of tulips, but also the loss and suffering so intertwined with giving birth and raising children, the pain of women who cannot care for their children, the millions of mothers in refugee camps around the globe. That’s the grittiness of raising children in this world.

It’s hard. And it hurts.

And too often we just talk about the warm fuzzies and macaroni glued on construction paper. (I can say that because I’m pretty sure the craft you’re hiding in your backpack does not have macaroni on it.)

This morning I took you both to the grocery store with me. It’s not ideal on a Saturday morning, but it’s what we had to do since Daddy had to be at graduation. As we waited in the checkout line, I heard the bagger ask the woman in front of me if she was a mom. He asked her that: “Are you a mom?” And what’s worse is that she didn’t understand him, so he asked it loudly three times. I wanted to cringe. I didn’t know this woman’s story, but I felt my stomach sink on behalf of my myriad friends who struggle with infertility. When it was my turn to checkout, the bagger boisterously wished me a “Happy Mother’s Day!” since it was obvious I had children, and I wanted to just pause and ask him to be a little more gentle with his well-wishing. But there is no way to do that kindly. And it is easier to just let these things slide. Maybe I should have. I don’t know.

Right now, I have friends who are trying to get pregnant, who have accidentally gotten pregnant, who are pregnant after suffering much previous loss during pregnancy, are single but wanting children, are recently divorced but wanting children, have prodigal children, are waiting for foster children to become adopted, have recently lost mothers or grandmothers, have mothers who are quite ill.

Mother’s Day is complicated, girls.

So, the thing is, I didn’t mean to write all of those above paragraphs. What I planned to write was this:

Today I went for a four-mile run. About one mile into it, I passed an older woman looking into a window of a jewelry store on Main Street. Her husband was coming over to look in the window, too, and as I watched, he leaned in and put his arm around her, his face next to hers, as they looked at the jewelry inside.

It was such a sweet gesture, it felt intimate.

And I wondered if she hoped for some new jewelry for Mother’s Day.

And I hoped she would get it.

About another mile into the run, I passed a woman and two children sitting out on their front lawn on a large quilt. She was a young mother, and it was a tiny front lawn along a relatively busy road, but the weather was beautiful, so I commented on it as I huffed by. It was such a sweet scene, this young mother and her children. Maybe I caught them in a good moment. Maybe she had just yelled at them or maybe the older child had just thrown a tantrum. Regardless, it was a scene that made me happy, a Mother’s Day moment.

And then about a mile after that, I passed a perfectly round, twiggy bird’s nest lying on the ground. In the grass, alongside the sidewalk. Beside it were two broken blue eggs, presumably robin eggs. The nest was so perfect, it didn’t look real. But the eggs, the broken eggs. They were real.

And that is Mother’s Day, too. It’s real. It is joyful and beautiful. It honors strong women. It reminds us of our blessings—generations before, generations behind.

But Mother’s Day is also hard and sad and rife with pain. Some of us have lost mothers and grandmothers. Some of us have lost children. Some of us desire children. Some of us don’t.

Beauty and sadness.

Joy and brokenness.

Holy and… holy.

It’s all holy, this chaos of feeling and emotion.

Because lived experience is.

I love you, girls. I’m spoiled to be your momma on Mother’s Day and every day.

Love,

Your Momma