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

The Hundred-and-Thirteenth Letter: Keep Asking Questions

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Dear Daughters,

You ask the best questions.

I’ve written poems composed almost entirely of the questions you have asked me throughout the years.

Recently you asked, “How did Adam and Eve know how to speak if nobody taught them?”

It felt like the question came completely out of the blue: we were sitting down to lunch, I was skittering around as I typically do, getting all the random things to the table for a somewhat-balanced meal alongside our mid-day read aloud books, and out popped your question, before we even prayed.

Mom, how did Adam and Eve know how to speak if nobody taught them?

But then, as I began to unravel an answer for you, I realized the question wasn’t really out of the blue.

Last week, we read a biography of Helen Keller and talked a lot about what it would be like to learn to read or write or speak if you couldn’t see or hear. We talked about how grownups constantly point and name things for babies, and I mentioned how many times a day you ask how to spell something or what a particular word means. Just last week, we witnessed two women talking in ASL during lunch at Evans Orchard while we worked on our blind contour drawings of zinnias. We talked about what it means to be created in the image of God. We talked about John 1:1, that in the beginning was the Word. And that the Word is God.

In our house, girls, we talk about words a lot (like a lot a lot). We talk about the power of words and why words matter.

What I’m saying is, this question shouldn’t have surprised me.

No questions really should surprise me, I guess, but still I am always a little surprised at the connections your sponge-like brains are making between the things you are learning and the things you are doing and the things your dad and I are saying and the books we are reading.

And I was surprised that as we sat down to lunch, you might be wondering about Adam and Eve and how their brains worked.

I hope it is always the case that your dad and I work to cultivate a question-asking environment here in our home. And I hope that when you ask questions, we take them seriously, and we answer them.

So, when you surprised me with your question, I did what I always do. I looked you in the eyes and told you that you asked a great question. And then we dug in.

There are rarely simple, straightforward answers to your questions. Because, let’s face it, there are very rarely simple, straightforward answers to problems. That’s what life in this complicated and beautiful and broken world is. Beautifully complex.

And it’s worthy of questions.

Which is really what I mean, after all of these words. Keep asking, girls. Just keep asking.

We’ll keep answering.

Love,

Your Momma

The Hundred-and-Twelfth Letter: A New (Home)School Year

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Dear Daughters,

We started school this week, so I guess this is the requisite back-to-school post.

I knew this year would have a different feel to it since both of you are home every day and officially “in school.” The past two years, the Goose has always been at preschool two or three days each week, but now she’s in Kindergarten, and the Bean is in second grade.

I realize it’s only been two years since I led a child through Kindergarten curriculum, but apparently I’d managed to forget just how hands-on it can be. Still, we’re making progress each day with figuring out how our schedule will (or won’t!) work. All I can say is, I assume parents who homeschool a half-dozen kids at home are significantly more organized than I am.

I spent a lot more time planning this year, knowing that homeschooling two would be considerably different than homeschooling one child, especially when the first child was an independent and focused child like the Bean. This summer, I worked on a daily, subject-by-subject schedule, printed off our state’s academic standards by subject for each grade, and wrote a report about what we accomplished during our last school year, organized by subject and addressing the surpassed academic standards.

I’ve even read a few books about classical education to get my mind kickstarted, and let me tell you, I would never have imagined spending my free time reading philosophy of education texts would be something I would choose to do.

I also spent time this summer considering what I want our homeschool goals to be—not according to academic achievements or tasks I want you to be able to accomplish, but rather related to the larger, grander life pursuits I want you to reach for, and of course the habits we need to cultivate to get there. So I thought I’d include that here, in this letter, so that years from now, that doesn’t get lost in the abyss of school files.

But first, this week:

It’s been tiring, and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised I’ve ended up with a summer cold.

Our days felt long, and each afternoon, I needed to hear the nudge I felt: whatever you do is enough.

Just because we don’t check off every box, every day, doesn’t mean we aren’t rocking this thing called homeschool. What it more likely means is that I have too many boxes on our to-do list. (I should probably apply this principle to my “real,” non-homeschooling life, too.)

This week, in addition to homeschooling, I was also working on an exciting project for a local nonprofit and also spending time brainstorming plans for what an afterschool reading program for public school students might look like this fall. I was also thinking about our church involvements, mowing the grass, sucking on cough drops, and buying school supplies. I was also getting up early to run with our neighbor… or getting up early to not run with my neighbor, like this morning… or not getting up early at all because this cold is kicking my butt. This week I was also checking in with friends and family in far-flung places, and checking in with friends right here in our little town, and making plans to spend time at the library with your new homeschool co-op teacher in order to assuage some of your fears.

I was also evaluating what it is I should be spending my limited time on, but also offering myself a lot of grace.

Because, let’s face it, this week I also lost my temper too many times, wanted to run and hide too many times, and drank too many cups of tea. (Just kidding on that last one.)

I’ve said this before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again: at some point every day, I want to quit this homeschooling thing. (Of course, at some point every day, I want to quit this motherhood thing, too, but that’s an issue for another day!)

I want to quit, but I don’t. And part of the reason I don’t is because I have not just all the feels but all the conviction: conviction about educational philosophy, conviction about how I want you to spend your days, conviction about cultivating your habits of attention. I love hanging more knowledge on your pegs of learning, making connections between the various subjects we’re studying, and giving a big-picture education.

I want you to work hard and rest well and you yourself see the connections between what you’re reading in books and what you’re seeing in the world.

And yes, I want you to see me juggling a thoughtful life with the tug of Kingdom work always refocusing me. I want you to see how much grace we need to get by, offered to one another and to ourselves. There are so many things I love about homeschooling that are unexpected surprises to me.

I started out with practical reasons to homeschool: because you were an early reader, because I wanted art and music to be central to your curriculum, because the public school schedule doesn’t line up with the college schedule, because we travel to see family and I want a portable education.

But now, it’s all these other things, too.

Girls, do you want to know what it is I hope and dream for you on this homeschooling journey?

These are the goals I typed up this summer and tucked into our daily schedule binder that (I hope) are shaping how we do school this year:

to cultivate

            compassion & empathy

            courage & wisdom

            wonder & curiosity

to love

            God

            one another

            other people

            beauty

            books

            learning

to foster a joy (and proficiency) of reading all things: all subjects, all genres

to nurture an interdisciplinary worldview by making connections between disciplinary knowledge, especially as connected to the “pegs” of our classical curriculum

to incorporate creative expression through music and/or art every day

to develop the ability to converse with others, especially those different from us

to exemplify how Kingdom-work is incorporated into daily life and rhythms

It’s a list of ideals, I guess. But you know what? I’m okay with that.

At the very least, it’s where we’re headed on this homeschooling journey.

Here’s to another year, girlfriends!

Love, 

Your Momma

 

The Hundred-and-Eleventh Letter: The Myth of Neglect

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Dear Daughters,

Earlier this spring, we had a lovely assortment of flowers and plants on our front porch. We had marigolds, ferns, and gerbera daisies, as well as a few others whose names I never got to know.

At first, we had a struggle with a squirrel repeatedly unearthing some of the potted plants. That was finally solved after I dumped hefty amounts of chili powder into the pots, though the cause and effect cannot be scientifically proven. Eventually, the gerbera daisies quit  blooming, though I continued to water them to keep their greens lush. Then, after hosting two rounds of lovely finch eggs in the fern on the north side of the porch, the fern got infested with some sort of mite and had to be disposed of. In recent weeks, the plants began to shrivel, I watered less as we got busy with other projects, the heat got worse, and here we are, with a less-than-welcoming front porch of dried-out plants.

During the recent spate of hot and sunny days, when we had to run errands during the day, I would park the car in the front of the driveway to take advantage of the house’s shade, and so we were using the front door more often than usual. (Normally we park in the back and use the back door.)

Using the front door means I can’t blame the plants’ neglect on my lack of noticing.

Nope, I noticed.

And I decided I was not interested in making time for the outdoor aesthetics of the house that were not absolutely necessary when there was so much work to be done inside the house (the kitchen renovation), inside my head (homeschool planning), and inside my heart (encouraging and loving my people and my community, which I take seriously as Kingdom work).

The plants moved to the bottom of the priority list–actually, right off the priority list–and other things were taking precedence.

Because we are always, girls, always making choices about what is important to us and how we are spending our days.

What I mean is, I could easily make a list of all the things I’ve neglected this summer. Here are five things off the top of my head–

  1. The Garden: Take a step around the corner of the house, for example, and note the knee-high weeds in the garden that barely constitutes a garden.
  2. The Novel: Just last week at reading camp, one of the other volunteers asked me if I was still working on my novel. Gulp
  3. Writing Goals: I had pretty high expectations for what I would be able to do this summer. I have myriad ideas for poems, letters to you here as well as in your individual journals, Instagram posts. 
  4. Photobooks: I am behind in making photobooks. At the very least, I thought I would have by now made the annual school-year-art-project photobooks for both of you.
  5. The Summer Routine: I really thought I would get into a routine to give our summer structure. I did not. And it seems silly to me now that I ever thought this was a possibility.

But am I neglecting these things? That isn’t exactly true. Or at the very least it is misleading to characterize it as neglect.

Most of us use the word neglect (as in, I neglected to do that) as a way to distance ourselves from the action. It’s not exactly saying that we accidentally didn’t do it, but it is usually used to suggest that we didn’t have much choice in the matter. In fact, I would say “neglect” is most often used to say that we were too busy to get around to doing it.

And maybe we were “too busy.” But I’ve written before about the myth of busyness, and that we all have the same amount of time and many of us need to take more responsibility for how we are choosing to spend our time. It’s one of my things.

I feel similarly about neglect. Did I neglect the marigolds in this little pot in the photograph?

All I can say for sure is this: I didn’t make caring for them a priority because I made something else a priority instead.

And if I start labeling things as “items I’ve neglected,” I’m suddenly dealing with the baggage of an unfinished and impossible-to-finish to-do list. It turns the freedom of choice and priorities into guilt and shame. Yes, I know we could all be doing more and being more and squeezing more in. But we shouldn’t be doing that. Squeezing in more. Feeling bad about what we aren’t choosing to do.

No, girls, don’t frame your priorities like that. Don’t catalog the things you’re neglecting. Focus on the things you’re choosing to give precedence during this season. Embrace those things, and let the rest fall away.

Focus on the things you’re called to do. (And stop cataloging what others are or aren’t doing.)

And when in doubt, always choose the Kingdom work of hospitality. That’s one of my soap boxes, too.

Because Kingdom work is, for real, always a priority.

As is going upstairs right now to listen to you put on a homemade puppet show performance of the song “Baby Shark.” You already gave me a handful of pennies to pay my price of admission.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

The Hundred-and-Tenth Letter: Ordinary, Extraordinary Summer (Part 2)

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Dear Daughters,

I am apparently the type of mom that, after a day of playing outside and getting hot and sweaty, sends you in for showers before dinner, but just after you go inside, I grab a pitchfork and unearth the first round of our potatoes that grew out of the rotten potatoes in the cupboard, and the whole thing is so miraculous, that first revealing of golden globes of grace (look at that alliteration!), that I just can’t resist calling you back outside to see the harvest for yourself, to let you dig right down into the dirt with your own hands, even though when I holler up to you from the back door to come, you tell me you’re already stripped of your dirty clothes and in the shower, so I tell you to put anything on, even clean clothes, I don’t care, because you have got to come pull these potatoes from the ground yourselves.

Yes.

I am apparently that type of mom. Who knew? I surprise even myself sometimes.

I’m told I give off a vibe of being practical and plan-y, but really, what I want to be is full of wonder and spontaneity. 

Yes, what I want to be. I’ve been trying this summer to be more attentive and open to possibility, rather to my plan.

I’m also apparently the type of person to whom an acquaintance from church I don’t know really well says, “You look like someone who likes kale. Do you like kale?”

In fact, I do. And I eat kale. I like giving off the kale-eating, green-smoothy-drinking vibe.

But I am also the sort of person who can only handle finding so many little caterpillars in her bag-full of kale she so graciously receives from this acquaintance, even if she’s drowned a whole bunch of them by washing the kale thoroughly.

So there you have it. I’m not always full of wonder, even if I do find the life cycle of caterpillars fascinating and the lacy holes they are able to make in kale quite lovely.

Yes, I’m working on being attentive this summer. Not always succeeding, of course. There are moments every day when I want to pull my hair out and just throw in the towel on this whole parenting thing (figuratively!), but no more than all parents, I think, and probably less often than a lot of my friends who are counting down the days until the school year starts.

So in an attempt to just be flexible and attentive, I didn’t make a big summer plan, apart from our calendar obligations. I didn’t make a summer bucket list. I didn’t plan all the fun things. I never really got around to making much of a daily routine for us, as good as that looks in other people’s lives on Instagram. Summer just kept speeding on by at full speed.

We went to as many library programs as we could, we had VBS, a week off, then I taught for a week of Faithways Academy, had a week off and a homeschool practicum, then tore out our kitchen the following weekend, then had reading camp for a week, and then had another week off. And here we are, at the end of July.

The kitchen is still in-progress.

But it’s been a summer.

The eldest is reading a mile a minute.

The youngest is complaining that her best friend is reading too much and isn’t playing with her enough.

Early on, I did make a list of a few things I hoped we could do together over the course of summer, ways to be intentionally creative. I called it (on the post-it that marks where the list is in my planner) a “making things list.” Making things. We did a few of those things. Not many. I encouraged you to go ahead and get out your clay and use it all up. (It didn’t work–the eldest still saved a few colors for later.) We made hand sewn pillows. (They were supposed to have buttons on them as well, but you didn’t want buttons.)

I didn’t have you work on your stories I had planned. I didn’t make a photobook of your art projects from last school year. I didn’t plan a schedule for next school year.

We didn’t do any science experiments this summer, which I kind of cheated by calling that “making” things anyway, but we did follow a free art tutorial to draw the Saturn V rocket this week in honor of the anniversary of the moon landing.

We didn’t practice baking and cracking eggs, but we did make hardback junk journals, even though the youngest just wanted to make one out of a paper bag instead with no pages, and she insists on calling it her iPad.

We didn’t learn to knit or crochet, not even arm-knit, which I was pretty sure I could teach you, but we did tie-dye, and your dad even tie-dyed one of his old white shirts, so we can be matchy-matchy if we want.

Our adult schedule shifted a bit this summer too. We had to cancel potlucks because of the kitchen renovation, but I did help with a bereavement meal and look forward to taking food to a friend who just had a baby. We also graciously accepted a meal in the worst of the chaos. And you’ve eaten the majority of your weekday lunches at the summer meals program at our local elementary school.

Apart from the potatoes and some volunteer tomatoes, we didn’t garden at all, which is unusual for us, and the raised beds are covered solid with weeds and grass, and even our little slate patio around the grill is more than ankle-high with weeds, but we do have mint going gangbusters, and until the crazy heatwave a week ago, we had a healthy batch of oregano. I call that a win.

I’ve continued to mow and water my orchids inside, but I let the pots on the front porch shrivel up.

I have not been writing you letters as often as I’ve been getting ideas, but we did have a tame turkey loose in our neighborhood last week and it was hysterical the way it was trying to get into everyone’s front doors.

We still have huge chunks of torn-out green linoleum on the back porch, but you two worked together to make an incredible tent out of kingsized sheets in the guest room while we were working on the kitchen.

And I’m good with all of it. 

All of it.

Every single ordinary, extraordinary thing that did get done and that didn’t get done. That was planned and that was accidental. That made us laugh and that made our hearts heavy. That bloomed and that shriveled.

I’m good with it.

Though I do sort of wish I had written a few more letters because all of this attentiveness has been giving me All the Ideas!

Love,

Your Momma

The Hundred-and-Ninth Letter: Ordinary, Extraordinary Summer (Part 1)

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Dear Daughters,

Today is a perfect day.

It is not too hot, the tree branches are swaying in the breeze, and the dappled shade in the yard is in constant, gentle motion. I’m sitting on a plastic Adirondack chair squarely in the middle of the yard as I write this. The two of you are playing with a neighbor in the yard, going back and forth between treehouse-restaurant-sand-baking and balancing on the slack line your dad set up before he left for work this morning.

This morning, I got up and met a neighbor outside for a run—okay, not a “run” per se, but a series of jog/walk intervals for thirty minutes. We all had breakfast. Your dad left. The Bean worked on your math workbook while I read some Magic Schoolbus books to the Goose that are due back at the library tomorrow.

We got a little lost enroute to a juggler performance in the low-income part of town, and since you’re oblivious to the adult categories of suburbia and poverty and income distribution, you told me how beautiful the neighborhood was we were circling around and meandering through–beautiful, you said, because it was so green (overgrown, I would have said, unmown grass, shaggy bushes, but beautiful in your eyes).

I ended up pulling out my maps app to get us to the right park, and we enjoyed the free “outreach” program provided by our library.

We got home in time to braid hair and lather up sunscreen, then leave again to meet another neighbor family and their double stroller at the corner to walk down to our local elementary school’s summer meals program for chicken patty day. After lunch, we played on the playground, eventually walked back up the enormous hill for quiet reading time at home, and now here we are, living an ordinary summer afternoon.

Ordinary and extraordinary, I think.

It’s been cool enough to have our house windows open all day without the A/C kicking on. I’ve got a fresh-mint-and-oregano seltzer water in a mason jar beside me, my old paint jeans fraying at the knees, a wrist brace for a tendonitis flare-up after a painting project yesterday, and my feet bare, with just a hint of a flip-flop tanline, enjoying the dancing clover.

Did you know that, girls? That clover dances? There’s so much to see when you look for it.

As my laptop battery runs out, we’ve got a plan for homemade stromboli for dinner, which is basically the same as homemade pizza and we just had that three days ago, but whatevs. I need to move my Adirondack chair a few feet back because the shade has shifted and my jeans are getting toasty, though the breeze its still amazing. Your dad has a meeting tonight, and we’ve already picked a readaloud book for the time he’s away. You’ll need showers for sure after all of this outside-sunscreen-sandy time. Later, we’ll stick a star sticker on a handprint canvas to mark the passing day, a just-started-yesterday tradition we’re working to incorporate into this ordinary, extraordinary season. Your dad will close the day out with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which you’re listening to for the first time.

That’s what the day is, girls.

Today.

It’s not profound in its parts, but it is in the whole, mostly because I’m paying attention, I guess.

I don’t always pay attention. I don’t even know if I do most of the time, but sometimes, sometimes I do. Sometimes I notice.

And sometimes I write it down.

Love,

Your Momma

 

The Hundred-and-Eighth Letter: In the beginning was the Word

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Dear Daughters,

In the beginning was the Word.

In the beginning, God created.

In the beginning, God spoke words.

We have a small canvas in our dining room that your uncle painted about twenty years ago. It kind of looks like a dark cliff with a reddish brownish sky behind it, and there are words painted across the bottom in such a way that they run off the canvas. It looks like this

In the beginnin—
        God cre—

To be honest, it’s not excellent art. Even your uncle would say so. But it fits well up there among the abstract paintings you’ve both painted over the last few years and some of my early handlettered canvases.

I like it because it lets the creative act be in process—perpetually in process. 

Yes, in the beginning, God created.

But in the now, God is still creating.

And CS Lewis, in Mere Christianity, points to God’s ‘eternal now’ existence to show that our “today” is as present to God as that first day of creation was/is.

So in the beginning, God created.

And right there with God, was the Word.

And the Word was God.

***

We just wrapped up our second year of homeschooling. The year before that, during our foray into this new season, we learned the first seven verses of John 1 in both English and Latin. I can still say them and sing them. Who knows if you can.

Here are verses 1 through 3:

In the beginning was the Word.
And the Word was with God.
And the Word was God.
This was with God in the beginning.
All things were made through Him.
And without Him, nothing was made, that was made.

What does it mean that the Word was God? That the Word was with God? That Jesus is the Word?

Because that’s of course how the church has interpreted these verses, that Jesus is the Word of God. And Jesus is God. And the Trinitarian God is eternal, so from before the beginning.

Goodness, it can hurt your head if you let it, trust me.

But what about this idea that Jesus is the Word?

Well, let’s see. Creation is spoken into existence. (Or sung into existence, if you’re reading The Magician’s Nephew.) And Scripture tells us that all things were created through Jesus. Through the Word.

Without Jesus, nothing was made. Without the Word.

Without words.

***

Now, I get that I’m a writer, and a handletterer to boot, so I have a particularly high view of words. Of the written word, the spoken word, the crafted word.

I love words.

And I’ve been thinking about what difference it makes to my own faith journey and to the Christian church as a whole that we attest to Jesus being called the Word of God.

I’m teaching a weeklong class this summer on worship and hand-lettering, and I’ve called it “Worship, Welcome, and the Word.”

I chose that title last fall when I decided on the theme for the class, and back then I wrote up a blurb to explain the theme, but it wasn’t until recently that I really sat down and started thinking through and preparing for our class time discussions.

What does it mean to our worship services that Jesus is the Word, and that the Word was with God from the beginning—that the Word was God?

When we talk about churches we attend, Christians in general—or at least evangelical Christians—tend to talk about preaching and about worship style.  Why do we do that? Why do we choose churches based on this criteria? But that’s what we do. Is the preaching good? we ask. What’s the music like? 

I want to move beyond that. And I think we do that by the middle W in my class title—Welcome. 

Thinking about Jesus as the Word, and thinking about worship through the lens of words, can really open up our discussions of worship and the role it plays in welcoming others into the Kingdom.

We are quick to put Jesus at the center of our services—which is, of course, important!—but we tend to focus on Jesus as the way to heaven, or Jesus as teacher, or Jesus as shepherd, or Jesus as the suffering servant. All good things. All important.

But what about Jesus as the Word?

I’m still working out how this matters, because I have this hunch that it does.

Our worship services are full of words, aren’t they? Preaching and praying and singing and making announcements and reading lots of words from the 

Bible, the Word of God, we call it—it’s a very wordy faith. We hang words on our church banners, print them in our bulletins, and post them on our Facebook pages. Words, words, words.

The Gospel message is more than lowercase w words.

It’s about the power of the Word and how that transforms the power of our words.

The words we use when we talk to one another, yes, within the walls of our church, but even more so when we are outside of the church being The Church. Yes, maybe in those moments and conversations and relationships most of all are when the words we use reflect the Word.

Or should reflect The Word.

Words can welcome.

Words can exclude.

Words can wound.

Words can warm.

Words can draw boundaries and lines in the sand. (Jesus literally drew lines in the sand one time—remember what happened next?)

Words can offer safe spaces for vulnerable conversations, me-too words saying you are welcome here in this space, and yes, I know it is hard.

Girls, I really think words matter. How we write them, how we say them, how we feel them deep inside when we’re struggling to pray. All of this. All the words. And they matter because Jesus is the Word.

The Word now. The Word from the beginning.

This matters.

And when there are no words, there is still The Word.

In the beginning.

Now.

Love,

Your Momma