The Ninetieth Letter: Sunshine & Being Brave

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Dear Daughters,

I sat on one of our plastic Adirondack chairs this afternoon while you were having quiet time. The sun was shining—hot enough that my jeans started to feel prickly—and the breeze was blowing gently, kindly, so I sat and listened to the birds, to the dripping of melting snow under the deck, to the animals scurrying around the yard, to car doors slamming and traffic sirens in the distance. I thought maybe I could even feel my freckles getting darker.

I exaggerate, of course.

I knew the warmth was short-lived because even though the seasons changed over to Spring this week, we have a winter weather advisory scheduled for tonight, and tomorrow will likely be unpleasant. I wanted to enjoy it while I could.

That’s not the whole story though.

Two days ago, and for a few days before that, I would not have been able to appreciate the sun or the birds or the distant traffic and the hot jeans.

The first part of this week felt heavy on my chest, metaphorically and literally. My chest did feel weighed down, like it was difficult to breathe. I was tired and close to tears—oh, who am I kidding? I was actually in tears—quite a bit. I made myself do the things I had to do, I showed up when I had to show up, and I tried to be honest when my friends asked how I was. But life was hard, girls. Very hard. Some days, weeks, seasons are like that.

I have a lot of good people who care about me and are vulnerable with me and support me when I’m able to say that I’m having a rough go.

But it’s still hard to say it.

To really say it.

And, honestly, sometimes I don’t want to say it out loud because I would rather just pretend things are okay. Sometimes that is the easier option, I’ll admit.

It’s one thing to have a bad day and to say, “Today is a bad day, tomorrow will be better,” but it’s another thing to be able to say, “This is more than a bad day, and I don’t have hope that tomorrow will be better.”

That’s how I felt earlier in the week.

Getting a shower on those days was a huge achievement. I didn’t do any writing. I set my goals low and often didn’t achieve them. I was glad when things were cancelled for the weather. I didn’t sleep well, didn’t feel well.

And then yesterday, I woke up and something had shifted. It was just a little shift, but homeschooling felt manageable. We got a lot done, and we had fun. We ran an errand to WalMart after preschool pickup, and you know how I feel about WalMart, which means that surviving that errand helped me feel like I was WonderWoman and there was hope I could get through anything.

That little glimmer of hope made a big difference in the day yesterday.

Today, as I sat out on the deck in the sunshine with my eyes closed, I was thinking about bravery.

I’ve read a lot of books recently about brave women, in both fiction and nonfiction. I’ve read you a lot of books about brave women, because I’m making an effort to get nonfiction books from the library for you. And your dad reads real-life-hero stories to you from the Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls before bed each night.

And when I’m thinking about real-life brave women, I wonder if I am brave like them.

I wonder if I would have courage in Nazi-occupied France during WWII.

I wonder if I would continue to send you to school in Pakistan and risk your safety when girls were forbidden to be educated.

I wonder if I would be brave enough to point to injustice and say NO.

I wonder if I would be brave enough.

Girls, I wonder if I am brave.

My normal day-to-day life doesn’t require much bravery, to be honest. Not in any of the big ways. Not in any of the life-at-risk ways. Not in a Nazi-occupied Europe kind of way.

But sometimes, sometimes, just living life is brave.

Just trying not to be afraid is brave. Just the trying. Even if not succeeding.

Just showing up is brave.

Just sitting in the sunshine and finding gratitude for a day that does not feel too heavy is brave.

Just reading a novel is brave, picking up a paintbrush is brave, chopping vegetables, opening your front door, answering “How are you?” honestly.

Just writing these letters is brave.

And sometimes, sometimes, that is enough.

Love,

Your Momma

 

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The Eighty-Ninth Letter: Juice & Crackers

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Dear Daughters,

One of my favorite vignettes from Anne Lamott’s memoir Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith is this passage:

Our preacher Veronica said recently that this is life’s nature: that lives and hearts get broken—those of people we love, those of people we’ll never meet. She said that the world sometimes feels like the waiting room of the emergency ward and that we who are more or less OK for now need to take the tenderest possible care of the more wounded people in the waiting room, until the healer comes. You sit with people, she said, you bring them juice and graham crackers.

You bring them juice and graham crackers.

I was thinking about the life-as-trauma-unit-waiting-room again this morning as I wrote a letter to God, working through the weight of the world I was feeling. I wrote about my friends who are in dark seasons, in despair and crisis, illness and loss, sadness and frustration.

When I make prayer lists, there is no shortage of concerns to jot down. Everywhere I look, it seems, every time I pick up my phone to catch up with a texting conversation, there is a burden to help shoulder, to help lift, to come alongside.

And in striking contrast to those struggles and suffering is my life of relative ease.

That’s what I was writing about this morning: life isn’t fair.

My day was bursting with accomplishment yesterday because I crossed off myriad items from my to-do list and even did a few extra things I’d been wanting to make space for but hadn’t managed to in weeks. I was light and joyful and grateful. But my phone buzzes every hour to remind me to pray for my loved ones. And, in addition to those interruptions, my mind kept drifting to the news I’d received yesterday morning of a close friend’s loss and sorrow.

So my day kept swinging back and forth between helium balloons floating into the sky and boulders rolling off the edge of a cliff.

Those are strange metaphors, I guess, but that’s kind of the point. I struggled to process the paradox of life and grace in this broken and beat-up world. And I was still processing it this morning when the juice and crackers quote came to mind.

It doesn’t seem fair that my life is full of good things and opportunities to use my vocation and glimpses of the holy in the ordinary while my friends are struggling to put one foot in front of the other.

It doesn’t seem fair that I can write about beauty in this life and seeing grace in the clutter of childrearing and homeschooling and writing creatively—and really see it and feel it and know it—while my friends are processing death and illness and the NICU and hospice.

I am not more deserving of grace.

They are not more deserving of suffering.

This I know for sure.

So how am I to live in this tension of grace and suffering, being attentive to beauty while also coming alongside dark and difficult journeys? What right do I have to speak life into seasons of death when my commitment to writing about the sacred butts up against the lived reality of so many of my friends?

Well, girls, this morning as I remembered Lamott’s trauma unit metaphor and jotted it down in my notebook again to try to inspire myself to be one of those “more or less OK” people who shows up to “sit with people,” who brings “them juice and graham crackers,” I thought of something I’d never noticed before.

Juice and crackers are communion.

The body and blood of Jesus.

When we show up, we don’t just bring ourselves.

We don’t just bring snacks.

We bring Jesus.

How have I never noticed that before in all the times I’ve referenced this quote?

We are Jesus in those moments, those moments when he seems the most far away, when we feel like all we are doing is showing up and waiting, the body of Christ is there already.

And it is sufficient.

And as if that weren’t enough of an epiphany for one day, girls, you helped me connect it back to my sacred ordinary life, outside of metaphor, a few hours later.

You asked for graham crackers for your snack this morning during read aloud.

You called them the “yummy crackers.”

But I knew what you meant, even if you didn’t.

You meant Jesus.

Because he’s here, too.

Love,

Your Momma

The Eighty-Eighth Letter: Daffodils, The Oscars, & Me

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Dear Daughters,

This may sound shallow, but I wish I were the kind of person who saw all the Oscar-buzz movies, threw a party on Oscar night, and cast a pretend ballot for the nominees I thought would win, all the while drinking champagne. Because I love movies and the Oscars and reading about celebrities and subscribing to Vanity Fair (and Vogue, go ahead and judge), but let’s be real:

I fell asleep at 9 pm last night.

Also, many modern movies make me feel all panicky and unsettled inside and can’t be watched before bed, so I tend not to have actually seen any of the new releases. I just read about them in my magazines instead. It’s not the same.

Girls, I’m okay with the me I am, the woman who falls asleep. Because she is also the woman who cuts off her daffodils and brings them inside, the woman who makes the most stupendous dippy eggs, the woman who adores the kiddos she works with at an after school reading program, who has found such joy in homeschooling you and watching you become a stellar reader, the woman who makes beautiful things and writes beautiful things and loves people well and reads good books and is always asking questions.

But I’ll be honest that I do have glimpses sometimes of a me I wish I were, a me that I’m not.

It’s not a jealousy thing. It’s not, “Hey, look at what that woman over there is doing, I wish I were doing that.” It’s not, honest. It’s not that I want to do more and achieve more and have more.

No, it’s more like I have an idea of a person I want to be if I were an imaginary version of myself.

For example, she would be better at caring for her skin and her teeth and exercising, but I would want her to be someone who does it because she enjoys it. Because it brings her joy. (I’m not great at these things, and honestly I kind of resent them as necessary parts of self-care. My imaginary self would not.)

This fictional woman doesn’t necessarily have a clean house (though that would be nice, especially if she enjoyed cleaning, as some of my friends do), but she probably doesn’t lose her temper nearly as much as I do. She would be better at some things (gardening, for example) and less stressed about other things (replaying conversations in her head, for example), but overall, it’s more the fun things I think about. I wish I were someone who liked camping, for example, but I really just don’t. That’s a pretty random example, isn’t it? Let’s see… I wish something like pedicures or massages sounded like fun, rather than one more thing to schedule. (I can’t even get doctors appointments scheduled, so I’m rather hopeless.) I wish road trips sounded like adventure rather than to-do lists. I wish I liked shopping. I wish I could listen to podcasts, but I can’t. They take too much attention and I can’t multitask. I prefer silence. Ah, yes, there’s another one, I often wish I didn’t need so much silence, and I wish I could multitask.

Ah, and there is irony in admitting this one: I wish I didn’t over-think everything.

I wish I weren’t burdened down by the struggles around me, didn’t have physical reactions to stress, that I could just let things go. I wish I didn’t need to process process process.

But that’s the me I am, the woman who falls asleep watching the Oscars and instead just reads about the highlights the next day.

Girls, don’t get me wrong. Here in my mid-30s, I’m at peace. With my daffodils on the dining room table. With my dippy eggs for breakfast. We did readaloud and learned telling time and had piano lessons this morning and I had reading camp this afternoon and leftover beef stew for dinner and I’m about to pick up a good novel.

So there is peace here.

Still, I do want to be someone, someday, who doesn’t fall asleep during the Oscars.

But I have a solution for that. Someday, maybe, we can watch them together and you can keep me awake.

Love,
Your Momma

 

The Eighty-Seventh Letter: Lent & Unseasonable Weather

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Dear Daughters,

“It’s not SUPER cool, Mom. It’s AWESOMELY cool.”

That’s what the 5 year old said, watching the storm clouds moving in this morning while we sat outside on the deck in the unseasonably warm weather before the rest of the family was up. We were listening to the birds, admiring the colors strewn across the sky, watching the squirrels dance in the trees.

What is “unseasonable” weather anyway? Well, probably 80 degrees in February with your kids playing in the sandbox in shorts while you sit out at the picnic table trying to finish up a freelance project.

That was us yesterday. Obviously.

But I’m not complaining about it.

What I have been complaining about in my heart is how unseasonal my heart is feeling about Lent.

But then I had an epiphany in my letters to God this week.

I was asking what it’s means to be thoughtful during Lent, to be intentional in this season of life and this season of liturgy, and this is what I started to write:

Lent — it comes from words about lengthening, about Spring, about lengthening days.

Lengthening days mean plants leaning toward the light. The ground and the world waking from slumber. Our hearts awakening from winter.

Is it somber? Sure, we acknowledge our own finitude and our utter dependence on God, that it isn’t all of our striving and achieving that brings the trees to blossom but God’s utter transforming, life-giving, ever-creating, ever-new power.

And God doesn’t just do the minimum. God doesn’t just create a world in which water and sunlight miraculously cause plants tho break out of their seed pods and burst up through the mud of early spring, but a world in which the byproduct of human breath is the exact thing plants “breathe in” and vice versa. And the same word for that breath is the Holy Spirit, not coincidentally.

No, God remains graciously able and willing to transform ash into green palms, while we are only able to live a life of the opposite—green palms turning to ash. We are unable to keep the world spinning. We are unable to burst forth blooms. We are unable to turn death into life.

We are unable.

But we live the season of Lent, and that is not only ash and death and sin and mourning. That is a season of lengthening days and new life and hope and giving up our independence in favor of unseasonably warm weather and rain storms and barefoot-in-the-sandbox.

Lent is not just singing “Were You There?” at the Ash Wednesday service, it is also learning “What Wondrous Love Is This?” as a new bedtime hymn.

Lent is not just a finger sliced open from the serated bread knife yesterday, it is also the tulips bursting through the ground over the weekend.

Lent is not just the broken egg in the carton leaking all over the frig, but the beauty of the thwp-thwp-thwp of the flock of birds circling overhead this morning.

Lent is not just the anxiety and pink eyes and snotty noses and allergy medicines and children’s nightmares and waking to find Billy Graham had passed away, but a child who loves our current readaloud book because, she says, “I can picture everything that is happening!”

Lent is ash, but Lent is palms.

Lent is death, but Lent is life.

It’s a both/and.

Every year.

No matter the weather.

And there’s nothing unseasonable about that.

Love,
Your Momma

The Eighty-Sixth Letter: Changing Seasons

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Dear Daughters,

Today is Fat Tuesday.

Where I grew up, we called it Fastnacht Day, and even the secular world ate donuts in those parts. Seriously, radio DJs across central Pennsylvania broadcast from outside fire houses and various hometown businesses selling “fastnachts” as fundraisers on this particular Tuesday morning every year. (The senior women in my mom’s rural Methodist church took pre-orders in the weeks leading up to Fastnacht Day, and you could request the cinnamon sugar variety or just regular old boring ones.) Fastnachts are a particular kind of donut, and truth be told I didn’t really like them that much.

But I do feel a bit nostalgic about donuts on Fat Tuesday, and I’m a fan of enjoying a little splurge on the day before we head into Lent, as it was in the earliest custom of celebrating Mardi Gras.

Oh, hey, I guess I should mention that I’m not eating grain, dairy, sugar, or legumes right now. Yeah, it’s a sad day for me. Probably been my least-fattening Fat Tuesday on record.

But I have been thinking a lot about seasons and how they change.

I’ve been thinking about how your dad and I try so hard to live the liturgical calendar in meaningful ways, but every time it circles around, life keeps circling around, too, keeps making the experience richer but also, some years, more exhausting.

This year mostly feels full, rather than chaotic, but full to the brim, and my shoulders, I’ll admit, are a little tired with helping my loved ones bear burdens. In all the good ways, I mean.

It’s what life is like when you’re living the Kingdom, living the seasons alongside others, witnessing the mountains and the valleys of the journey.

So many journeys.

Seasons change.

Life changes.

But we keep putting one foot in front of the other, whether or not we ate donuts on Fastnacht Day.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday.

Tomorrow is also Valentines Day.

Friday is Chinese New Year.

Your cousins are coming to stay with us this weekend.

A week ago, a friend had a tiny, tiny premature baby who weighed less than two pounds.

Yesterday my amazing friend came home from the hospital.

Today, one of you woke up with pink eye.

Next week is our homeschool co-op’s Spring Break.

The week after that, a friend is scheduled to have her fourth C-section.

Another dear, sweet friend is embarking on an adoption journey that will take many months and much hard work.

One of your dad’s cousins is getting married in a few weekends, and we’ll get to spend good time with the extended Wise clan.

Your grandparents will be here the following weekend.

One of my childhood BFFs is changing jobs and moving to a new state at the end of Lent.

Right now, as I type this, multiple friends are praying for parents with late-stage cancers, waiting, seeking peace.

Friends I’m journeying alongside have chronic illness, mental health struggles, children making difficult decisions.

A friend is beginning her dissertation.

A friend is working on her marriage.

A friend is starting a business.

So many friends with so many seasons and so much change.

Life changes.

And we keep on going, together.

Sometimes eating fastnachts. Sometimes gathering for prayer.

Sometimes just showing up, or sending a text, or opening your door to your neighbor, looking that stranger right in the eye and asking how she is doing.

Sometimes just breathing, putting a stamp on a postcard, closing your eyes and enjoying the sunshine on your face.

Welcoming in a child with pinkeye, celebrating Chinese New Years with a dancing dragon while eating Thai food on Fat Tuesday.

This is how you live community.

This is how you love your people.

You live in the season you’re in.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

 

The Eighty-Fifth Letter: Snow Day

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Dear Daughters,

There is no snow on the ground today, but the public schools called off because of potential ice hazards.

I heard the rain in the wee hours of the morning, the rain that was supposed to turn over to wintry mix and ice, and I couldn’t stop from checking my phone when I got up to go to the bathroom whether schools were cancelled.

That’s probably a weird compulsion, my wanting to know about cancellations that don’t really impact my life at all, other than the fact that our church activities get cancelled if school is called off on a Wednesday. But as a general rule, our family is not impacted by the public school cancellation policy. It’s one of the beautiful things about homeschooling.

But, still, I always check the delays and closings tab on the local news website because I have to know if schools are closing. It’s silly.

I think it’s probably because I remember what it’s like, that excitement of finding out school had been cancelled for the day. I remember lying in bed in the still-dark morning, trying to listen for the scrape of snow plows on our usually busy street where I grew up in central Pennsylvania. The traffic sounds were slower on those mornings, more muffled, but it was the scrape I was listening for.

I can still hear that sound clearly in my mind, even though here in Kentucky our street rarely gets plowed, and when it does, it’s usually a pick-up with a plow hooked onto it.

Y’all, it’s not the same thing.

Later you can tell me how mean I am about this, but I don’t actually give you snow days “off” this year. Not completely off at least. If there’s actual snow on the ground, I do let you take breaks to go play in it. And we make hot cocoa. And we spend a lot of time looking out the windows. Still, I make you do our minimum school activities of reading, piano practice, and having family readaloud time.

Even on “snow” days.

On Monday, I was brushing about an inch of light, super-fluffy snow off of the car to head to piano lessons. (Public schools had cancelled but the slush had already melted off the roads by 10 am.) As I cleared the car, I noticed just how beautiful the snow was. I could see the little crystals of snow stacked up with air between them, or so it looked to me as I fluffed them away with the broom.

When I pulled the car forward so that your door lined up with the sidewalk your dad had salted before he left for work, to keep you from traipsing through the snow, I was thinking about how rarely I have to drive in bad weather, and how my perspective about what constitutes “bad” weather has significantly changed since I was a teenager.

What I mean is, I’m a big wimp.

One time when I was in high school, after a two-hour delay, I was driving to school with my friend Olivia in the passenger seat. There was a lot of snow on the roads, way more than I would drive in now, and at one point, I pulled from a minor neighborhood road onto a busier street that headed down hill, and as I made that turn, the car just drifted right off the road into a snowbank on Olivia’s side. Well, first, the car glided completely out of my control into head-on traffic but then turned the other way and drifted into a snowbank without, thankfully, hitting any other cars. But there we were when the car came to a stop, us hyperventilating a bit, the car smushed into the snowbank.

I wonder if Olivia still remembers that one.

I wonder why the heck I was allowed to drive my car in that kind of weather.

I am pretty sure I would have a panic attack now if anyone asked me to drive with that much snow on the road. I am not exaggerating.

Because my perspective has changed. Also because I’m a wimp now. No shame.

During my undergraduate years at Houghton College, I can remember going out to my car, parked behind Walldorf House, and needing to clear more than a foot of snow off the top of it. Clear a path to the exhaust pipe, clear off the whole area around the drivers-side door, turn the car on so it would start melting ice as it warmed, and then the long slow process of pushing the heavy snow off the hood, the windshield, the roof. I have rarely seen snow like that as an adult. Thank goodness. My mental health is more stable because of it.

The problem really is that we moved to Texas the summer after we graduated from Houghton. And after four years in Texas, we moved to Kentucky, where we’ve been now for almost ten years. And okay, in Kentucky we occasionally get crazy ice but rarely the kind of snow I used to have to dig my car out of.

I won’t compare the quality of the roads or the abilities of the drivers by region because it isn’t fair. Kentucky’s resources for winter care of the roads are limited.

But I’m honestly happy to live in a place that basically shuts down at the threat of snow. The flexibility of our normal days, your schooling, my working, our life together, makes it so that snow days and hot cocoa add a beauty to our life, not a stress. If the roads happen to be “bad,” or its too cold for the 1999 Volvo’s engine to start, your dad just bundles up and walks to work.

And if school is cancelled on a day when there is absolutely no bad weather, like today? Well, we just go about a normal day.

Except church was cancelled.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

 

The Eighty-Fourth Letter: Greasy Linoleum, The Promised Land, & All The Things

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Dear Daughters,

Your dad dropped the metal spatula into the narrow crack between the counter and the refrigerator this evening.

Our normal solution to items falling into this crack—yes, it happens often enough to have a “normal” solution—is to use the tongs or the yardstick to fish the dropped items out. The spatula, however, had fallen on its side with the flat part against the linoleum so that it would not come out without turning it first. And we couldn’t get a grip on it to turn it, which is really just way too long of a story to tell you this:

The whole refrigerator had to get pulled out away from the wall.

I’m pretty sure we haven’t pulled that refrigerator out since I painted the cabinets, and that was before either of you were born.

Oh my goodness was there dirt and grime and grease and general fuzzy-stickiness.

In fact, there were solidified nasty drips of who-knows-what down the side of the refrigerator up to the level of the counter. Because clearly we drop a lot of things down that crack. And the linoleum under the frig had a top layer of dust but an under layer of sticky, greasy, black stuff.

Yuck.

Your dad got out the Pine Sol and began cleaning the side of the frig while I used the vacuum behind it to get the loose stuff up. Then he gave me the soapy bucket of water to begin scrubbing the floor while he dished up dinner for the two of you. Appetizing, I know.

As I scrubbed at that floor, as the water in the soapy bucket turned so dark it could be mistaken for black tea, I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be grand if this were enough?”

What I mean is, I like a well-cleaned house.

I like the feeling of a rewarding project accomplished, and I happen to consider a clean bathroom a rewarding project. I like taking the time to, say, prepare a nice meal, organize a junk drawer, sort a closet, get on my hands and knees and scrub the grease off of linoleum, or paint the aforementioned cabinets.

What I mean is, I actually like housekeeping and housetending and doing the tasks of daily life that keep a house tidy and running smoothly.

They are wonderful and rewarding tasks.

And I often wish they felt like enough.

It’s the same with mothering, girls. Mothering is rewarding and beautiful (and tiring and exhausting and infuriating and mind-numbing sometimes, too, but mostly rewarding), especially now that you’re turning into miniature human beings.

I have friends who so rock the mom thing, and so rock the clean-house thing, and so rock the house-decorating-project thing, and so rock the keeping-their-kids-clothes-sorted-by-size thing. I envy that a bit, to be honest.

I want that to be enough, and to find joy and completeness in that, because those are beautiful and fulfilling things. And many of those rockin’ friends really are fulfilled and happy and thoughtful.

But: me.

I remember sitting in my friend’s minivan after I became a mom and feeling so utterly not fulfilled with motherhood and telling her that I keep swinging back and forth between two extremes: one, wanting to be content in this new season—to just get acclimated, stop complaining, accept it for what it is—and, the other extreme, being content to be as Abraham was, which means not being settled, living as a stranger in the promised land, living in tents, not having much except God’s promise of what would be eventually.

I told my friend that I didn’t want to be comfortable, that I wanted it to feel strange, wanted to be the stranger, because I knew that there was more than this to my calling.

More than the greasy green linoleum.

More than the clean house.

Yes, more than mothering.

And, girls, I still believe that, but I can see a little more clearly than I could in those early months of mothering. I’m not so swallowed up by the misery of it all. (That sounds awful, but it was a tough time at first.)

I can see how this—all of this beautiful messy life of house and mothering—doesn’t just live in a tent alongside all the other beautiful messy things I do: the writing and painting and designing and loving and leading and teaching and serving and laughing and encouraging and following up and showing up.

No, the mothering and the wife-ing and the house-making are right inside the tent with me. I can’t be a stranger from them.

That said, tonight, girls, tonight I wished longingly for a life that could focus on one single thing, rather than a million things.

It’s a life that nobody has, not really.

Especially in this culture, where it seems everyone is trying to do all the things and be all the things and post pictures of all the things on social media.

Still, tonight I wished for a life that after the floor got wiped down, the rag hung up, the frig scooted back, I didn’t feel compelled to pick up my laptop and write you a letter, didn’t have a freelance project to work on, didn’t have a chapter of a book to read for homework, didn’t need to read Amos and prep for the Bible study I lead tomorrow, didn’t feel like I needed to touch base with a half-dozen friends and acquaintances going through tough times, didn’t have two art commissions to paint.

I won’t do all those things tonight.

But I could.

Don’t get me wrong: I love those things and I love my full life and I love being called to do the work of the Kingdom and seeing that Kingdom-work all around me in each poem written, each banner handlettered, each text sent, each chapter of the Bible pondered and discussed.

I love it.

But sometimes I just want to put on my PJs and snuggle up next to your dad and watch Madam Secretary.

And ignore all the things.

And sometimes, girls? Sometimes I do.

Love,

Your Momma

The Eighty-Third Letter: The Stranger Is Jesus

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Dear Daughters,

I woke up this morning with the weight of a nightmare still hanging around me. I was glad it was nearly time to get out of bed because there was no sleeping to be had after that point. I had dreamt that one of you had gotten abducted out in front of our house. It was strange to watch the whole scene unfold in my dream, and as I woke I was determined to talk to you about stranger danger. I got out of bed, went to the bathroom, headed downstairs, squeezed a lemon into my water, and I was still thinking through the best way to approach the subject with you without making you afraid.

The thing is, I don’t want you to be afraid.

I don’t want you to think every person you don’t know might kidnap you.

I don’t want you to fear the stranger.

This whole stranger-danger thing? I’m just not convinced it’s a good way to raise you, even as my nightmare tapped into one of my own deepest fears–not being able to keep you safe.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for being honest and forthright with you about the struggles of life in our broken world. In our house we talk about injustice and poverty and racism. But there’s always a pressure in my chest when I think about trying to talk to you about stranger danger.

And I’ll sound a little preachy on this point, but it’s because of Jesus.

The narrative of scripture reinforces that idea that the stranger is Jesus. From the old Testament story of Abraham welcoming the angels, to Jesus talking about himself being served when we clothe the poor, visit the imprisoned, feed the hungry, it seems to me that the vocation of Christians is to love even in the face of potential dangers. That when we welcome those who are other, those who are different, those who are most in need of hope, we welcome Jesus.

I’m convinced this is not a metaphor.

Today in Sunday school, we talked about the last chapter of Luke, the resurrection appearances of Jesus, including one of my favorite narratives of all of the Gospels: the road to Emmaus. There is such richness to the story, which reads like a parable because it is so full of meaning. The two disciples are met by Jesus on a 7-mile journey, but they don’t recognize him as the risen Christ. Still, he walks along with them. Jesus asks them why they are sad and discouraged, and they respond with surprise,

"Are you the only stranger 
in Jerusalem who has not heard...?"

Are you the only stranger…?

Today, when I read this passage aloud, I heard this line differently than I have in the past. I heard the irony of the question.

Because, of course, Jesus is the stranger.

And then a few verses later comes the revelation of his true identity. How, how is it revealed?

Girls, it is only because the disciples have insisted on being hospitable to the disguised Jesus! They insist on him staying with them because it is late, they welcome the stranger, and then they let the stranger be the one who breaks the bread.

They let the stranger become the host.

They let the stranger offer something to them.

And the stranger is revealed as Jesus in one miraculous moment of bread-breaking. That means bread-sharing, girls.

A shared table. With a stranger.

The choir sang a rendition of O Holy Night today in church as part of the cantata. The line

Chains shall he break, 
for the slave is our brother

gets me every time.

It’s so radical because the slave is the complete other, right? Someone at the bottom, oppressed, at the mercy of captors. It is a good reminder that someone we would recognize as completely other than us is our sister. That the vulnerable is our brother. That the poor is our sister. That the broken and abandoned and lost is our brother. That the lonely is our sister.

That the stranger is our brother.

The stranger.

Jesus is our brother.

Jesus is the stranger.

You know what else is a refrain of scripture, right up there alongside the stranger being Jesus? The command to fear not.

Fear not.

And get this, Jesus had to say that to his disciples, his friends, even when they did recognize him. Because he was showing up in ways they didn’t expect.

Think about that for a minute.

 

Truly, He taught us to love one another,
His law is love, and his gospel is peace.

So, yeah.

I’m going to teach you to fault on the side of love, rather than fear.

I’m going to teach you to fault on the side of kindness, rather than distance.

Girls, I’m going to teach you to fault on the side of welcome and hospitality, rather than avoiding the stranger.

Love,

Your Momma

The Eighty-Second Letter: Advent, Action, Deportation

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Dear Daughters,

This morning I wrote a letter in support of a young man in our community who has been notified that his application for asylum has been denied. Soon he will be deported.

He is a hard-working young man who came to the United States while still a minor. He has been in school, is active in his church, and wants to go to a four-year college.

One of our closest friends is the ESL teacher at the high school where this young man attends, and it’s through our relationship with her that we’ve met a great group of kids, including this student. These young people often get lost in the system, fall through the cracks. But because of people on the front lines—public school teachers are amazing, girls—this young man has thrived.

Girls, political questions about citizenship, illegal immigration, amnesty, DACA: I won’t pretend these aren’t difficult and murky and complicated. I’ll be honest. I don’t know any easy solutions. I don’t. But attempts to simplify the conversation down to illegal-immigrants-have-broken-the-law-case-closed twist my insides into a knot.

Because we are talking about people with stories.

Because we are talking about people with difficult journeys.

Because we are talking about laws that are not always fair and just.

Because we are talking about a system that is broken.

Also, this:

At the very center of my faith, the very center, is the acknowledgement that I as a human being am unable to keep God’s law, that I am in need of grace, and that nothing I could ever do can earn that grace. It is pure extravagance, this love that I believe has been offered to me and to you. It is unconscionable. It makes no sense. I am unworthy.

That is the message of this Advent season. Or rather, it is one of the messages. That in this season of waiting and expectation, we come to realize just how dark the world is without a savior, just how great our need is. How little we are able to do to help ourselves. It’s the opposite of the pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps mentality. The absolute opposite.

Another message of the season is that we are in an already/not yet period of waiting for the second coming, and in this transitional time, while we wait, we are the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. The compassion that God extends to us is to be extended to the world. The light of the world—the light that we believe arrives on Christmas morning—is already lit within us, and we are to shine that light to the world.

Oh girls, I can’t deny that the older I get, the more I see my faith as deeply intertwined with my political convictions. I wish it weren’t the case. I wish I were getting more complacent. Sometimes I think that would make life easier.

But having stronger convictions doesn’t mean I know the political answers. I don’t have solutions, so there are people who will see my opinions and actions as naïve and unhelpful. These are the people who can be heard to say, “Well, do you have a better idea?”

No, I don’t. Sorry, girls. I read my Bible. I pray. I act. I love. And I am convinced the whole system is broken.

And I am convinced that I am undeserving of the grace that has been offered to me.

And I am convinced that I am called to offer that grace to others.

I am called to be compassionate, called to love, called to seek out and serve those with no voice. The least of these.

And I am convinced that anyone who is in relationship with people who are different from them—anyone who is in community with refugees, illegal immigrants, struggling single moms, dads working two or three jobs, teenagers working full time hours after school, elementary students in an after school reading program who go to bed hungry every night—if you are in relationships with these people, these people who are as created in the image of God as you are, then you, too, will not see the world in simple terms.

Because you cannot vote in favor of cutting funding to children’s health insurance if you work in a free children’s clinic, like the one hosted by our church. You cannot make blanket statements about “illegal aliens” being criminals if you visit the trailer park to hand out cleats to children involved in an intramural soccer program. You cannot talk about lazy homeless people if you become friends with the women and children at your local transitional home. You cannot vote against restoration of felon’s voting rights if you have spent time alongside ex-cons trying to find housing and jobs that aren’t substandard. You can’t make arguments about the fairness ordinance at your city council meeting, unless you have had LGBTQ folks sitting at your dinner table.

I can see that I’m getting preachy here, girls, but I don’t apologize. Because I promise you, if you build relationships with people who are different from you, you will be changed. I’m not saying you’ll know how to proceed, but you will be changed.

You will see story. You will see journeys. You will see struggle. You will see love. You will see hope.

And you will offer it. You will love and laugh and smile and offer yourselves and your gifts. And you will write letters to your legislators when the opportunities arise.

You will act.

But, even more important, you will act in love.

That is the call of Advent. Not just to wait but to act.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

The Eighty-First Letter: Busyness & Keeping the Lights Along the Shore

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Dear Daughters,

Brightly beams our Father’s mercy 
from his lighthouse evermore, 
but to us he gives the keeping 
of the lights along the shore.

This morning began at 4 am when the fire alarm in the downstairs hallway began to chirp. After the third chirp, I woke your dad. He stumbled into the hallway to wait with me for the sound because I can’t reach the alarm in the upstairs hallway. After another chirp, it was obvious that it was coming from the downstairs hallway, which I could have reached.

After a drink of water, we went back to bed. I tried, at least. A little while later, I heard crying in the hallway, and knew it was you. Whenever you need to go to the bathroom, you wake up your big sister and ask her to come with you. Half asleep, she agrees, crawling down out of her bunk bed. She always wants to deposit you in front of our door, but you don’t want to be left alone in the dark. That’s where I found both of you this morning. I sent number one back to bed and accompanied number two to the bathroom, and then you asked to crawl into bed with us.

When I am struggling to sleep, I like having you there to focus on. I rub your back. Listen to your breathing. Accept the arms you reach toward me. I often fall asleep deeply to your steady breathing at that point, and my back aches as a result the next day. This morning was no different. You and I slept that way until long after your dad and big sister got up. I woke to the Bean practicing her piano, which I assume was your dad’s way of gently waking us up.

Let the lower lights be burning! 
Send a gleam across the way! 
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman, 
you may rescue, you may save.

Mondays always feel like they are full of promise to me. I’m good at to-do lists, and this week’s is long, as we head toward Thanksgiving next week. There’s art to work on, some pieces that need to be finished by this weekend, writing deadlines fast approaching if I want to meet some personal goals, and normal homeschooling and church commitments, of course, which are myriad this time of year. There’s company at the end of this week, and other company next week. The preschool Thanksgiving feast is Tuesday. Wednesday night is the community-wide meal served at the elementary school. There’s our own potluck Thanksgiving meal, followed by a regular Thanksgiving meal tailored to our own preferences. And more pie, because, pie. Always pie. There’s deacon family communion next Sunday. Today is the last day of the after-school reading camp I volunteer with, but that means a special program on Wednesday to celebrate the students’ achievements. Tomorrow night we’re celebrating birthdays with friends and Thai food, so there was cake to be made, cake I hadn’t planned to make until 4:30 pm when I realized if I were to ice it tomorrow, it would need to be cooled tonight. Tomorrow morning is our weekly co-op, and there is no time in the morning. Friday is your dad’s birthday. Sigh.

The promise of Mondays? Well, it usually fades at some point while jotting down my lists and checking the calendar and texting back and forth with your dad about the to-do items we forgot. Signing up for health insurance. Renewing the car registration. Ordering more contacts. And we still haven’t decided about the organic, heritage breed turkey.

Dark the night of sin has settled, 
loud the angry billows roar. 
Eager eyes are watching, longing, 
for the lights along the shore.

Girls, there is always more to be done than I am able to get done. More than anyone is able to get done. People are busy, and everyone says so, and everyone is tired. The more I think about real relationships and being vulnerable and cultivating a community that supports one another, the more convinced I am that the go-to answer to “how are you?” being “busy, busy” is really hurting our communities. It’s pretty much as unhelpful as “fine” in shutting down all conversation. Yes, I know, life is busy. Everyone is busy. But how are you?

And what I want to say is this: I’m at the point in my life where I’ve decided to embrace busy-ness as an opportunity to only focus on the lighthouse light, to focus on keeping the lower lights burning.

What I mean is, because there is always going to be more to do than I can do, I’m going to go ahead and say yes to lighthouse things. And not worry about items that fall off the list. (Or rather, that get put on next week’s list and the week after and the week after.) Instead of saying no, today I agreed to help with worship planning. I agreed to think about new banners for our sanctuary. I said yes to texting and keeping in touch with broken souls and loved ones in transition and doing happy dances alongside those who are rejoicing.

And today I decided to take you to Starbucks for cake pops after piano lessons. Because YES. Cake pops. Snowperson cake pops. And peppermint mocha. After sitting for twenty minutes in the drive-through line, listening to “Oh, Babylon,” “Lower Lights,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and “This Little Light of Mine” at your request, I’ll have you know, from the hipster hymn compilation CD we have in the car. (Yes, we still have a CD player.) And as those songs played, and you conjured up sweet dreams of cake pops, and analyzed the behavior of all other cars in line, including the SUV with the enormous dog in the backseat, I started making a list of all the beautiful and ordinary things filling up my life. Some are to-do list items that are now checked off. Some are just extraordinary ordinaries. Some are just grace-in-the-mundane altars-in-the-world. But this list is much more life-giving than a to-do list of items that won’t be getting done this week.

Let the lower lights be burning!

It’s a list of things like that we always holler and clap when we drive under the railroad bridge in our town.

Like that today when we left the house, there was a leaf plastered to the hood of the car with its stem sticking straight up in the air, and it cracked both of you up the whole drive to piano. It never blew away.

Like watching the five year old learn to draw a Treble clef in her piano theory book.

Send a gleam across the way!

Like how I overheard child number one helping child number two get dressed this morning: “No, you need to sit up in that chair. No, this chair. Give me your foot. Okay, here’s your first sock.”

Like that your babysitter today helped you draw and cut out an assortment of animals for a pretend zoo. It includes but is not limited to a goldfish and a blue whale, a worm and a cow, a baby chicken and two goats.

Like that I came across the three year old this morning sitting in front of the frig playing with letter magnets humming her nursery rhyme songs to herself.

Some poor fainting, struggling seaman…

Like knee-high polkadot socks.

Like snowboots with crunched up leaves inside them.

Like using coconut oil on my face instead of lotion.

you may rescue…

Like finding a small Tupperware of buckeyes and bourbon balls I froze last Christmas in the freezer.

Like avacados being eighty-eight cents at the grocery store.

Like sitting across from your dad, while he reads Dorothy Sayers, and I drink a hot toddy and write you a letter.

you may save.

Like life.

A busy life. A full life. A beautiful life.

Say yes, girls. There is always time for lower-light things. For lighthouse things.

Love,

Your Momma