The Seventieth Letter: Taking Off the Sunglasses

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Dear Daughters,

Last week, at breakfast, the three-year-old announced, “When you wear sunglasses, it looks like rain. But when you don’t wear sunglasses, it looks sunny.

She was referring to our walk home from preschool pick-up the day before, which was a relatively sunny day with a few whispy clouds scattered across a bright blue sky. She had looked up from her stroller to say that it looked like it was going to rain. Since this was clearly not the case, I told her it only looked like that because she was wearing sunglasses.

A few hours after her profound announcement at breakfast, I was pushing that stroller again on a run, and I began to hear those words as a metaphor:

When you wear sunglasses, it looks like rain.

When you don’t wear sunglasses, it looks sunny.

I started thinking about how, sometimes, when we wear sunglasses to protect our eyes, to protect our vision, our skin, ourselves, we mis-see. We see the sky as threatening when it isn’t.

Apparently I get philosophical as I’m pushing forty pounds of kid up hills during my running intervals.

I started wondering: How often do I innocently attempt to protect myself and my children and my world–in the guise of what’s best for the girls, what’s best for our budget, what’s practical or impractical about the radical command to love our neighbors when there really isn’t anything practical about that kind of love? When I do that, when I try to be safe, well, then I end up seeing a threat where there is none.

Sometimes we see stranger-danger instead of who-is-my-neighbor. We prefer to see friendship with likeminded folks rather than awkward conversations with those who are hurting. We prefer to see a cheery “I’m fine” instead of an honest answer to how-are-ya’ll-today. We prefer to see new and glossy rather than hand-me-down or recycled. We prefer to see how expensive that local organic tomato is rather than the slave-industry-riddled cheaper off-season tomato in the grocery store.

We see and we do not see, while we are protecting our eyes.

Yes, this feels like a metaphor. And now I find myself preaching.

Sigh.

This week, your new baby cousin was born. She came early and quick. She’s a beauty. Sunday will be mothers day. Yesterday, a friend told me she was unexpectedly pregnant. Also yesterday, another friend told me she was disappointingly not pregnant.

There is so much depth and pain and joy wrapped up in these things. So much sunshine. So much rain.

This week, I dropped my iPhone–gently! It barely fell from waist height!–and the back of it splintered into myriad pieces. I shouldn’t have felt so broken inside when I saw the damage, but I did, I’ll be honest. I felt the frustrations of things and accidents and what-the-heck. And then a friend told me her daughter is unaccounted for this week, and my annoyances are put in perspective.

But loss is hard. It weighs us down. And there is so much heartache. So much brokenness. So much frustration of living in this broken world.

This weekend we went to IKEA and ate meatballs and bought some shelving and stuffed animals and water pitchers. While there, I got a text from a friend with a history of trauma and mental illness. It’s striking to be so #IKEAFORTHEWIN and yet so utterly grounded in conversations of brokenness and sadness and pain.

This week, the college students wrap up their semester and some of our sweet friends are graduating. And these young people give me hope. They are strong in their convictions. I know a twenty-something about to leave for the Peace Corps. These friends don’t just think they might change the world–they actually are changing the world. They inspire me, with their offerings to the broken world.

This week, I got overwhelmed by world events and national news. As I do a lot these days. It seems to be compounding. And so this week we once again turned to late-night television (that is, a day after it airs, on YouTube, because ain’t nobody staying up that late in this house), and your dad and I laugh together because we might otherwise cry, but laughter is good for the soul.

Girls, sometimes the problems seem so big.

And sometimes they don’t.

Sometimes I think all I need to do is take off the sunglasses.

And sometimes I can actually see the world the way it is.

The way it was meant to be.

Created. Holy. Pure grace.

Well, I think I can see that sometimes. That grace. That voice of God.

I can hear it in your words, for sure, as they echo in my heart when I’m still enough to listen.

I can hear it in my friends’ voices shared in mom groups and Bible studies, over texts and e-mails and Facebook messages. Sure, it’s easiest in the laughter and joy and friendship and wholeness.

But I want to be able to see it in the broken places.

I’ll confess that I’m not there yet, not this week. I’m struggling to see it.

But grace is there, too, in the struggle. That’s where it is most evident, I think.

So I’ll keep looking. And, of course, I’ll keep listening to your voices.

I definitely need to hear them.

Love,

Your Momma

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The Sixty-Ninth Letter: Mow Like a Girl

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Dear Daughters,

 

I’ve always been a little ambivalent about gendered household chores.

What I mean is, part of me kind of resented as a teenager that I was tasked with cleaning the bathroom while my brother was tasked with mowing the lawn at my dad’s house. I’m pretty sure I brought this up with my dad at some point, and he said, “Well, do you want to mow the lawn?”

And the truth was that I didn’t. I had no interest in mowing.

Granted, I didn’t have an interest in cleaning the bathroom either, but it was faster, and in the long run, I’m glad I now have that standard of clean seared into my soul. (I mean, we don’t maintain that standard of clean, but you better believe I will hold you to it when you’re old enough for it to be your job!)

I will say, as a sidenote, that I was pretty awesome at the riding lawnmower at my mom’s house. But that isn’t so important here.

Your dad and I got married the summer after we graduated from college, so I never lived independently and, as a result, never had to handle All the Household Tasks.

Egalitarians that we are, we split most things quite easily: cooking, laundry, washing dishes. But once we bought a house, I left all the “man tasks” to him: fixing stuff, building stuff, mowing the grass. And I used to do a lot more of the cleaning, though I think that was mainly because it bothered me more than it bothered him. And by that I mean I noticed dirt more than he did. (Now that we live in the chaos that is life with small children, he does the lion’s share of the cleaning as well.)

The thing about leaving the “man tasks” to your dad is that I am not helpless. Both of us are aware of this.

I knew how to swing a hammer and use a drill, long before I met your dad. My dad raised me to know these things. Mr. Acri, an art teacher at my high school, was always impressed that I was one of the only girls to help build set during the musical season, and our sets were often pretty extravagant. (Like all those pinball machines frames we built the year we did Tommy? Oy.)

So I knew I could do these things, but your dad did them better. And he still does. He’s got a whole workshop full of electric tools that I have no interest in learning how to do. (Though I’m struck now that I did actually learn to use complicated tools in Industrial Technology class back in high school, as well, so I’m fairly confident that in a pinch, I could figure these things out.)

But, say, the weedwacker? No idea how to use it.

I’m pretty sure that the first time I mowed our grass—and this is embarrassing to admit—was when I was super pregnant with the Goose. That means I was in my thirties. I know I wasn’t mowing the lawn when I was pregnant the first time around because I remember our friends coming over while your dad was out of town and mowing the grass for me. And then they gave me a pedicure. Seriously.

So, I was super pregnant the second time and ready for the baby to arrive, and that’s when I mowed the grass. Was it because I wanted to try to prompt the labor? I honestly don’t remember, but maybe so.

You know how mowing the grass made me feel?

Like I could do anything.

I’m serious. I was like, oh my goodness, I should be on Survivor because I AM AMAZING. I JUST MOWED THE GRASS.

I feel like this occasionally when I do physical labor. It’s probably ridiculous, but it’s true.

Also toward the end of that second pregnancy, I remember wanting to start our garden, so I got out a shovel and began to turn over the dirt in the garden by hand since we don’t have a tiller. I was seriously all I AM SO AMAZING.

And then I got too close to a rabbit’s nest we didn’t’ know was in that section of garden and the baby bunnies jumped up and ran away and I was so overwhelmed with emotion and startled I began to cry. Sigh.

So there’s that.

But still: I AM SO AMAZING.

Now, the thing is, I have plenty of friends who do All The Tasks, and they do them All The Time. These women, in my book, are superwomen. No joke. I am proud of myself to remember to put the trash to the curb on Monday mornings. But some of my friends? SUPERHEROES.

Since the Goose was born, your dad has taken on some additional responsibilities at work, and so his time at home is less flexible than it used to be when he was a regular old professor. To try to make up for this difference in schedule, we have occasionally paid strapping young lads to mow our grass for us, but it just isn’t as convenient to have to plan around that.

Also, exercise. Mowing the lawn is incredible exercise. Especially because our mower is not self-propelled, and it has quite a vibration to it. So it’s an arm and abdominal workout, given the size of our yard, to maneuver that push-mower around.

And so? I do it now.

Not every time, of course. Just sometimes. Last week we split it. But yesterday? All me, girls. I’m feeling it today in my shoulders.

You know what I was thinking about yesterday while I mowed the lawn, while you played in your playhouse and scurried about and complained when I asked you to please pick up sticks?

I was thinking about how I want you to see your momma doing All the Tasks.

I want you to be a woman who knows how to use a lawnmower. Who feels AMAZING because you can do AMAZING things.

Maybe even use a weedwacker?

Well, we’ll see.

I’ll ask your dad.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

The Sixty-Eighth Letter: Death and Life and Alleluia

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Five Easters ago, taken a few short weeks before the first Bean was born.

Dear Daughters,

Yesterday was Holy Saturday.

We transplanted oregano I had rooted in water from last year’s herbs and then had nursed all winter long in small pots scattered around the house. It felt like an appropriately liturgical activity, getting our hands dirty together, trying to teach you to be gentle with the roots, appreciating the way new life can come from cuttings of old plants, watering the fresh soil. We’ll see if they survive.

Your dad also built a 20-foot long raised bed to plant our ten baby tree saplings in. They’ll live there for this next year or two and then get placed into their forever homes, flowering beautifully as so many central Kentucky trees do. You played with earthworms while your dad and I broke up the soil.

We had neighbors over in the morning for an Easter egg hunt, which I confessed on social media I didn’t feel much like doing (okay, not really at all) but was grateful we did, hopeful in the building of relationships, so strong as I am in the conviction that loving our neighbors has become such a cliche in Christians circles that we forget Jesus actually might mean our literal neighbors.

We let you open some Easter gifts while Facetiming with family.

We ate Thai food for dinner with friends.

Your dad prayed at dinner, mentioning our particular prayers for those who are mourning, those who are dying, those to whom the whole world feels dark and lonely and sad. He mentioned that we wait this day, Holy Saturday, knowing what death feels like, knowing that Jesus has died, but also knowing that because of this death we know life and freedom and light. Life gets the final word. But we dwell in the death for a season because we must.

Yesterday, the mother of one of our sweet friends from church died.

Yesterday.

Yes, yesterday while so many children across our town and state and country were picking up Easter eggs and gorging themselves with candy, our sweet friend lost her mother.

This is the tension of Holy Saturday.

This is the already/not-yet tension at the heart of our faith.

This is the reason I love the liturgical calendar so much.

We don’t always “feel” the seasons we are walking through. And sometimes we feel them too much. Life in this broken world is real and painful and dark. And carrying lilies down the aisle this morning at church will not change that.

It just won’t, girls.

Now, the truth is, most of us will pretend that it does. Most of us will open Easter baskets, get all fancied for church, take posed family photos in front of beautiful flower beds (if the isolated thunderstorms in the forecast don’t gather overhead), and we will stand when the congregation stands and we will sing “Christ the Lord is risen today,” and we will ring our bells every time Alleluia is said. And I, too, will ring a bell. My grandmother’s beautiful pink glass bell.

But I will also remember my grandmother’s death, and I will remember the year I carried a lily down the aisle for her, and I will see my friend who lost her mother a few weeks ago carry a lily down the aisle for her, and I will remember when you toddled down the aisle and carried a lily for my grandfather, and I will hug my friends with broken marriages and sad hearts and anxieties about their children and their parents’ health, and we will all say Alleluia even though we are hurting inside.

Because being the people of God, saying “He is risen indeed,” doesn’t mean life doesn’t hurt big time.

And when you’re an INFJ like I am, a highly-sensitive person, an empath, and you feel the weight of the world’s burdens like I do?

Easter doesn’t make that go away.

So my tears will probably flow over a bit today, because Easter is so full with love and beauty and grace. But we only have it because of death and suffering and darkness.

I feel like I want to say that to you every Easter, my sweet girls.

I want you to open your Easter basket and love the beauty that is inside (and it’s not candy, by the way–none–just art and silly putty and puzzles and rubber frogs because why not). I want you to love the banners and the procession and the bells and the orchestra. I want you to learn to chime in “Risen indeed” when someone greets you with “He is risen!”

But when you are older and reading these letters, I want you to know that it’s okay when you don’t feel like Easter.

And I want you to keep in mind that there are others around you pretending to feel like it, pretending that their hearts aren’t broken and full of sadness.

And that’s okay, too.

He is risen, girls.

He is risen indeed.

Alleluia.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

The Sixty-Seventh Letter: A Tale of Two Friendships

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Dear Daughters,

So the thing is, once you’re a grown-up, and especially a mom, it’s really hard to make tried-and-true friends. Most conversations devolve into talking about your children: how big ya’ll are, how sick you are, quirky things you say and do.

I’ve never liked playdates for this very reason. I don’t like to sit and talk with other moms about being a mom.

Additionally, I don’t think that kind of chatter leads very often to friendship because there’s so much more to my life (to anyone’s life) than being a mom. For another thing, it’s plain old boring. Oh, and it’s also just annoying to walk that line between competition/judgement and appreciating one another’s experiences. Maybe that’s a mom thing, maybe that’s a woman thing, or maybe that’s a human nature thing, but it’s ridiculous. I think I was over that before you were even born.

Yes, it’s hard to make friends as a grown-up.

I have two close friends from childhood. Seriously, from elementary school! And we’re still good friends. I’ve actually texted with both of them multiple times today, believe it or not. Sure, we’ve had close seasons, and we’ve had seasons when we’re not that close, but when I finally emailed them to tell them I’d had a miscarriage but that I was now pregnant again and anxious and didn’t really want to talk on the phone about it but please pray for me, you know what they did? They said, “We’re coming.” And they came. Both of them. From different states. Because that’s what friends do.

And I have two other close friends from college. These women and I have shared quite a bit of grown-up life experience, and in the fifteen years since we’ve been friends, there has been some serious heartache and trauma in our lives. The change-your-life, knock-you-down, give-up-hope trauma that is hard to talk about, hard to witness your friends living through. But these are also the kinds of experiences that shape relationships and draw us into forced openness and vulnerability. This is how we heal, I think. And this is what friendship is: life through the dark hole of suffering, offering to shine in a flashlight when our friends are ready.

But since graduating from college and stepping outside the intensive relationship-building that can happen during that unique season, I got married and moved to two different states in twelve years. Two homes and new cities where we had to plant our own roots and make community and didn’t have family to flee to when we were lonely and wondering whether we would ever find anything in common with “these” people. (If you didn’t know this, people from Texas are really into Texas. People from Kentucky are really into Kentucky. So neither place felt like home.) I felt like a stranger.

But in both of those places, as my roots went down deeper and deeper, as we invested in our neighborhoods and churches and relationships, even as I felt alone, I grew friendships. It surprised me.

It’s hard for me to figure out how this happened. I would call up one of my old friends and feel like she really “got” me, and then look around at my relationships and think “nobody here gets me” and feel really, genuinely discouraged.

But I did grow friends. I still am growing them. And I think I’m getting pretty good at watering that soil and sprinkling on the MiracleGro or compost. (Let’s face it, sometimes you need the poop to get things growing.)

The more I’ve gotten to know women in my community, the more I’ve realized that lots of us are lonely and in need of true, deep, vulnerable relationships. It’s gotten me thinking a lot about friendship.

And I’ve decided adult friendships are hard for two reasons:

  • they take a lot of intentionality
  • they require longterm shared experience

What I mean by the first reason is that friendship does not grow by accident. If you aren’t working on a relationship (and by “working on,” I mean being intentional with keeping in touch, remembering what’s going on and following up, reaching out, showing emotional support, being transparent and vulnerable when you yourself are hurting and broken, and not being crabby when she doesn’t offer back what you think you deserve–there’s the rub), your friendship will not last. I’m not saying that if you do these things, this is friendship magic, but well, it kind of is magic. Be the friend want to have. That’s how grown-up friendships work.

What I mean by the second point—that friendships require longterm shared experience—is that you shouldn’t discount the value of staying put.

When I moved to the middle of small-town America eight years ago, I was planted (unwillingly!) right into the middle of a deep and long-lasting and multi-generational community. It was easy to feel sorry for myself as an outsider who didn’t understand all the inside references to major life events of folks I was living and worshipping alongside. But I stayed put. And I stayed put. And I stayed put. And soon I found myself living alongside an amazing community of women who, simply by being here in community with them, became my friends and support system and biggest cheerleaders.

Some of my closest friends in Kentucky have grown out of two separate groups I’m part of. One is a women’s small group at church that meets weekly, and usually at least one of us is crying at some point during our time together. (It’s also important, in growing friendships, to carry tissues.) We read books and study scripture together and talk about ideas together, but I think our sharing about real-life pain and being vulnerable when life is hard is why the soil has been so fertile for friendship.

The other group is my community of creative friends. (Some women overlap these two groups.) I meet monthly with a group of women who share our writing and our lives. It goes hand-in-hand, because we write what we know and experience. In the years we’ve been meeting, there have been losses of love and family, serious illness, empty-nesting, and both of your births. We’ve been through a lot, and we write about a lot, and we continue to gather even when we haven’t written anything because that is what friendship is.

Let me tell you two quick stories of friendship as examples of the surprising ways it can grow.

The first is relatively recent, but one that feels like a soul-mate friendship. A woman visited our church the Easter before I was about to have baby girl number 2, literally the Sunday before I went into labor. I must have been huge and uncomfortable. I saw her and her family across the aisle from me and took note of her little girl’s hair because it was so cute. A few weeks after my delivery, I ran into this woman at the library, which I had braved because my mom was in town. We chatted briefly. But then, you know, I had two kids at home and didn’t leave the house for months. Nearly a year later, I ran into her again at the library and mentioned church to her but she said she was going elsewhere, and I didn’t push it. A few weeks after that, I was about to start a new women’s ministry at my church and was pretty sure the Spirit was nudging me to tell her about it. I’m pretty good at ignoring those nudges, though, so I did. But then she came over to me and asked me straight up about church, that she was looking for a community. So I told her about the ministry after all. That was more than two years ago. She’s now active in our community, one of my closest soulmate friends, your Sunday school teacher, and part of my weekly women’s group. Her daughter is one of your sweet friends. As it turns out, she confessed to me after we’d been friends for awhile, that whole year when I was MIA and not going to the library very often, she was trying to track me down. She was feeling in need of community, and remembered my funky glasses, short hair, and Keen boots, and thought I might be someone she wanted to get to know. I say all of that, girls, to to point out that you never know how the Spirit will nudge you, and you never know how much the folks around you need a community until you reach out.

This second story is one of friendship that grew between me and an older woman in my church over many years. She is one of my close friends now. The first time I saw her was while she was giving a children’s sermon at church about recycling paper bags. She struck me as quirky but not someone I’d have much in common with. She wore fancy hats to church. She was a science and nature teacher and made funky art. (This makes it sound like we would be fast friends, but you’ll have to trust me that we weren’t.) At some point, she joined the monthly writing group I was part of, and I slowly began to get to know her. She loved the gentle stories and poems I wrote about my family, especially about my maternal grandmother who suffered from Alzheimers and had failing health, and my friend always encouraged my “sacrilegious religious” poetry. When Grandma passed, before you were born, I was touched at a card my friend sent me about the special bond between grandparents and grandchildren. She remembered losing her own grandmother, and knew the pain I was feeling. Then, after you two were born, she showered me with support, with handmedown gifts, with love, with encouragement to write my own story for your sake. It was through those interactions that our friendship really grew roots. I credit her with my writing to you so regularly, though she denies it has much to do with her. In the years I have known her and lived life alongside her, we have shared loss and illness and brokenheartedness, but we have also shared stories and hope and the healing that comes through articulating grief and pain. I also got my first pimento cheese recipe from her. We’ve organized public combined poetry readings and I love the way our stories intertwine so well. And that can all be traced back, I think, to her reaching out to me when I felt such a deep loss after my grandma died.

So I’ll say it again: grown-up friendship is hard. It takes lots of work. But when we have the courage to cultivate it, it is worth it.

I guess what I’m saying is that this is my prayer for you:

May you have soul-friends. May you have old friends. May you make new friends. May you have friends who have walked through your season of life before you. May you have friends you can pull along on the journey. And may you have flash-light holding friends when you need them.

Because you will need them

You will need all of them.

Love,

Your Momma

The Sixty-Sixth Letter: Tiny Wonders

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Dear Daughters,

I found a set of fairy wings on the kitchen floor a few days ago, and when I picked them up–because a corner of one of the wings had been a few inches under the stove–they dragged a bunch of other stuff out, too.

A huge dust bunny, of course. That’s a given in our house. (No shame.) Also some shriveled Cheerios, and we haven’t bought Cheerios in some time. And then the top half of an acorn. Just the little cap.

See, last fall, a friend of mine had dried and shellacked dozens of acorns to serve as autumnal decoration at our shared poetry reading, and afterward she asked you if you wanted them to play with. You, of course, did. Some of them were spraypainted gold.

You love small things.

You have little treasure boxes and assorted bags where you keep your special items. You’ve kept those little acorns for many months now, though occasionally I find one crunching under my feet in the shaggy rug in the living room.

Acorns are just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.

Anything small can make the cut, as far as what you ask to keep to play with. Clips or rubberbands. Coins of assorted countries’ currency. Little tiny snips of paper you cut out around words you’ve written with hearts. Rocks. Beads. If we let you, you try to sneak the plastic ring from the top of milk jugs.

And that’s not to mention all the small plastic cartoon figurines from myriad television shows that we’ve inherited from friends. So many small things. Everywhere. Underfoot. Under furniture. Hidden amongst the plastic dinnerware of your play kitchen. Piled in the bathtub of your dollhouse.

You love small things.

Of course, now that dandelions are showing up in the yard, you’re pretty obsessed with them, too. You pick them and want to put them in vases and make me smell them, you count them, you get excited when we walk by neighbors’ yards that are covered densely dotted with yellow. You think those people are really lucky to have such a pretty yard.

We’ve also got little purple and white flowers blooming on weeds throughout our yard. Because that’s the kind of yard we have. It’s mostly groundcover, not grass. These tiny flowers suit you perfectly.

A few weeks ago, the preschooler’s show-and-tell assignment was to bring something that could fit in your pocket. Your pockets are pretty small. You selected a plastic Coca-Cola bottle cap with the tiniest of snail shells tucked inside of it. I had to put them into a plastic bag so they wouldn’t get lost in your backpack.

You’d found the snail shell in the sand under the deck, sand that I repeatedly ask you not to play with but you can’t resist scooping up and “watering” out of your drink cup. You asked if you could bring the shell inside, and I agreed, once I was pretty sure there was nothing living in it.

And so it went to school with you for show and tell.

This tiny wonder of a snail shell.

I love your love of the tiny.

I love your wonder.

It frustrates me too, of course. I’m not going to lie.

It’s one thing to be asked to stop and smell the roses but dandelions? I don’t always want to smell them, especially after you’ve been twisting and yanking on the onion grass in our yard and all I can smell is that garlicky yuck I know you’re smearing on your pants as you come jogging over to me.

I don’t want to slow down to watch the bugs crawling on the deck, the ants dismantling an old goldfish cracker, the “spider” which is probably some other random insect but the toddler calls everything “spider.”

I don’t always feel like pausing to listen to a noise that is so quiet and distant it really doesn’t matter to me. But it matters to you. And you want to have a conversation about what it might be.

Yes, I can be a stereotypical grown-up who loses my patience with these interruptions. I’ll admit it.

But some days: some days I do pause, take notice, listen.

Some days I squat beside you, invite you up onto my wooden swing, garlicky hands and all.

Sometimes I encourage you to try to feed the robin in our yard who I know will always be just out of reach.

Sometimes I come over and inspect that hole by the picnic table and chat with you about chipmunks and snakes and why you may not poke your stick down there.

Some days I count out your “monies” with you, whether they are US currency or not.

Some days I agree to go hunting for the Katerina Kitty Kat figurine, or O the Owl, or the particular Daniel Tiger you’re looking for. (For some reason you prefer the one with the white T-shirt, rather than the red T-shirt or the red sweater. Why in the world do they make so many variations?) But I help you look under the couch cushions.

Some days.

Some days, I wonder at the tiny. Because you remind me to.

And most days, at some point, I wonder at your wonder.

But every day, girls, every day:

I wonder at you.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

The Sixty-Fifth Letter: Enough to Go Around

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Dear Daughters,

Last fall, my women’s Bible study group at church began working through the Gospel of Mark together. I particularly enjoyed reading N. T. Wright’s Mark for Everyone commentary, guiding the group’s discussion, and unpacking the tricky passages.

I’ve read Mark before, both in snippets and straight through in one sitting, and I’ve certainly heard a lot of sermons preached on it. In fact, Pastor Bob preached through the book of Mark over the course of one liturgical year in recent memory. Your dad even translated it when he was studying Koine Greek as an undergraduate.

So it’s very familiar to me. And at 16 chapters, it’s the shortest Gospel. It’s all in a rush, it seems, especially when you read straight through it.

But reading Mark as a group this time, especially with all of the summarizing and re-hashing of the themes every week last fall, really illuminated the Gospel for me in a way that caught me off guard. It’s not just short and speedy and simple. Nope, it’s downright radical, girls. Seriously. It’s upside-down Kingdom, challenge the status-quo, packed-full-of-symbolism radical. This is powerful stuff, this Word of God.

It’s always good to be reminded of that.

My group took a break from Mark to read a different book this spring, but we picked it up again during Lent, starting with Mark 10. To kick off our discussion, I asked my friends to think back over the first nine chapters of the book and reflect on what stood out to them.

I’m sure it was no surprise when I told them the three things I had been carrying in my heart these last months because, quite honestly, when I’ve got something on my heart, I preach it. All the time. You’ll know this about me someday.

The first was the radical pull-back-the-veil, reveal-things-as-they-really-are nature of Jesus’ baptism scene. How radical would it be for us to hear God’s message to Jesus as a message about our own calling as God’s beloved children? “You are my beloved child,” God says. You are. YOU.

The second was the Gerasene demoniac’s healing. This has always struck me as a strange one, the focus often on the demons requesting to go into a herd of pigs—talk about crazy stuff in the Bible! —but N. T. Wright points out something I had never thought about before. This man, this Gentile who had been tearing his body apart because of possession and illness, is not just healed by Jesus, but commissioned by Jesus. Jesus tells him to go back to his community—most likely a Gentile community, given the location—and tell what God has done for him. This man, this nobody, is actually the first apostle to the Gentiles. How powerful is that?

And then, lastly, the bread. Oh, the bread. I’ve been preaching about the bread every time I can.

God’s message throughout the Gospels is a message of abundance and provision. It’s the message throughout Scripture, of course, but it comes up powerfully in the life of Jesus.

Here in Mark, the disciples see Jesus perform radical miracles of the body and spirit, they hear him teach and explain a radical Kingdom of God, and they are sent out and tasked with doing miracles themselves. Mark tells us they do it. They actually cast out demons without Jesus there with them.

Then they witness Jesus doing another crazy thing for a crazy big crowd of people. They even help him do it. God transforms a measly amount of bread and fish into enough food for over 5000 people, and there are twelve baskets of bread leftover. Leftover, post-miracle abundance.

But then, and this is what stays with me: a little while later, the disciples are freaking out when a storm comes up and they’re on a boat without Jesus. But Jesus, once again being his radical self, comes walking out on the water to them. Mark says Jesus “intended to pass them by,” which evokes a lot of things, including Moses being permitted to see the full revelation of God from behind as God passes by him in the cleft. The disciples here are seeing something they cannot believe, and it scares them. When things calm down a big, Mark says, in passing, that they were scared and confused because “they didn’t understand about the bread.”

They see God in the flesh, but they did not understand about God’s provision. They saw bread multiplied for the masses, but they did not understand that God had sent the true Bread of Life who was big enough, strong enough, enough enough. They were themselves able to cast out demons, but they doubted the ability of God to cast away their fears.

If only they had understood about the bread.

If only they had understood about God’s provision.

If only they had understood about God’s abundance.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last few months.

Do I understand about the bread?

Do I recognize the message of abundance the Gospel announces to the world? This is not a name-it-and-claim it abundance. This is not a reward-for-good-behavior abundance. This is not a give-and-you-will-be-blessed abundance.

This is the sheer, undeserved, over-the-top abundance of grace.

And it is for everyone. Not just you, girls. Not just me. Not just other pew-dwellers.

This abundance is offered to the most ornery of political leaders.

This abundance is offered to the shut-in across the street.

This abundance is offered to the registered sex offenders in our neighborhood.

This abundance is offered to the mom of the kid at preschool that kind of grates on your nerves.

This is radical abundance. There is enough to go around. It won’t run out. And offering it to others does not lessen the value of it, the generosity of it.

We Christians say we believe in the grace and love of God, but I worry that we don’t act like we believe in it.

I don’t think we act like we believe that it applies to others, that much is darn sure as far as I witness Christian behavior in my own community and on my own Facebook newsfeed, but I also don’t think we act like we believe it in our own lives.

And still I wonder:

Do I understand about the bread of heaven? Do I understand that this life is not my own? This house is not my own? That you are first and foremost daughters of God more than you are my daughters? Yes, I think that is the message of scripture.

This world is not ours. Our lives are not ours.

Everything we have is undeserved. And there is enough to go around.

If only they had understood about the bread…

I don’t know, ya’ll. I might still be preaching this message when you’re grown-up and reading these letters.

If I’m not, remind me.

Love,

Your Momma

The Sixty-Fourth Letter: All Y’all Be Perfect

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Dear Daughters,

“If Jesus lived in the south, he would have said something like, ‘All y’all be perfect, as my father in heaven is perfect.”

One of the things I love about being in community and attending church with professional academics and theologians is that even our children’s moments occasionally talk about Greek. You, girls, don’t realize how special this is, nor how unique it is that many of the adults who move in and out of your daily life hold doctorates in their fields, your dad included.

On Sunday, one of our dear friends, whom you call “Mr. Roger,” offered the children’s moment. Mr. Roger’s children’s moments always begin with a small paper sack that he shakes a little bit and asks you kids to guess what it is in it.

This week, it was rocks. But not just any rocks.

These three rocks had been picked up by Mr. Roger from a river in the mountains of Chile. These rocks were nearly perfectly round. Rounder than eggs. They were beautiful.

Roger talked about how these rocks probably broke off of the mountains thousands of years ago, and that they used to be rough and jaggy. But over time, rubbing up against the other rocks, they got smoother and smoother and rounder and rounder.

At this point, I was pretty sure I knew where this mini sermon was going because who hasn’t heard it before? You know, iron sharpens iron, or something like it. How great community is because it makes us into better people. Yada yada yada.

Except that isn’t what Roger said.

The verse Roger wanted to talk to you about was Matthew 5:48: “Be perfect, therefore, as your father in heaven is perfect.” Roger said that the implied “you” in that sentence (“YOU be perfect”) is actually a plural in Greek, that what Jesus is really saying there is “You all” be perfect, or “Y’all.”

And that maybe we should even say, “All y’all be perfect.” 

Roger unpacked the verse for you like this:

Maybe the only way we become perfect, the only way we are even on the road to being perfect, is when we are rubbing up against one another, getting our sharp edges made smooth. Maybe it’s impossible to do it alone.

And maybe we can’t even begin to be the person of God Jesus is talking about unless we first become the people of God.

Um, girls, for the record, this is not the message I like to hear.

I talk a lot about community and how important it is; it’s kind of my schtick. People expect it of me. In our church and group of friends, it’s basically like, “Hey, we need to talk about community (or outreach, or hospitality, or loving people, or life together), so I guess let’s ask Elizabeth to talk about that.”

But the truth is, I find community very, very hard.

I don’t like this notion that maybe part of my job in the whole scheme of things, the whole be-perfect-like-God-is-perfect calling of Christians, is to help sand down other people’s rough edges, and I definitely don’t want to think my rough edges need to be sanded down. I’m pretty good at sanding myself, thankyouverymuch.

But there it is, in Mr. Roger’s translation of the verse:

All y’all be perfect.

As my father in heaven is perfect.

That’s a high bar even just to aim at, let alone work toward.

Notice there’s no “if you feel like it,” no “if it’s easy,” no “if church makes you feel good, that’s extra great for you then,” no “but if you want to leave your church, that’s okay, too.”

I’m serious, girls. These are tough words.

But then again, the words of the cross are. 

And the words of the cross are the words we most need to hear during this season of Lent.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

 

The Sixty-Third Letter: How the Whole30 Confirms What I Know to Be True About Myself

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Dear Daughters,

You know what I’ve been thinking a lot about for the last week? What’s been on my mind every few minutes? Especially in those minutes where I calm my mind and try to find peace?

Nope, nothing holy or sacred or inspirational or Lenten, but rather:

A hot, steaming cup of PG Tips black tea with milk and sugar.

Also, bagels and cream cheese.

Also, peanut butter.

Also, bread.

Also, cheese.

Also, beans in my chili.

Also, rice with my curry.

SERIOUSLY, GIRLS.

Here’s the deal.

I am giving a no-dairy, no-legume, no-sugar, no-grain eating regimen a try in order to figure out why I just don’t feel well physically, emotionally, the whole gamut. It’s a regimen known as the Whole30, but a rose by any other name… Or something like that. I’m always messing up colloquial sayings. It makes me endearing.

You know what doesn’t make me endearing?

How much I feel like griping about all the food I’m not allowed to eat.

Because guess what?

I get to eat a lot of really amazing food on this regimen, and, well, let’s face it, I just don’t even care most of the time.

Like for breakfast the other day, I had a fried egg sauteed with broccoli and spinach and herbs d’provence. Do you know how good it was? Do you know that this is the exact sort of thing I would order in a restaurant if I went out to eat for breakfast? Seriously. The exact thing. Except probably with cheese. But what I wanted to eat was a bagel and cream cheese, and so I felt grumpy about it.

Do I love vegetables and fruits? Do I love seeds and nuts and eggs? Yes, I do! I love these things. But this last week, I’ve felt a bit resentful of them.

And so I’m realizing something about myself, once again.

I am absolutely a selfish human being. It’s been about as blatant as it can be. I want what I want when I want it, and I don’t want to be told I shouldn’t get it.

Even when it is for my own good.

I have done my fair share of fasting in my lifetime, and I think fasting is an important discipline that Christians these days don’t like to adopt because it makes us uncomfortable, but as silly as it sounds, this has been worse for me than fasting.

The truth is, I’m a week into this thing, and I’m actually feeling pretty good. I’ve been a little less grumpy the last few days about my decision-making, and I haven’t been craving my hot tea near as much. (For the record, hot tea is allowed on the Whole30, but I want mine with milk and sugar something fierce, so I had to rule it out for myself.)

So there’s been some progress.

But, girls, I am so selfish, and it’s become so striking to me, and I am feeling pretty convicted about it.

After getting married and then, eight years later, having babies, all of which taught me in painful ways just how selfish I am, I can only think of one other experience that has caused these emotions to well up in me like this.

Offering radical hospitality.

I’m serious. This selfishness down in my gut I’m dealing with this week is similar to the feelings I’ve had when we have had others living with us.

I have long said that offering radical hospitality has been the best way to learn how selfish and prideful I am. (And if you’ve ever heard someone tell me that I had a “gift” for hospitality, you’ve heard this schpiel before. I have a low tolerance for this whole “gift” business when it comes to hospitality. Hospitality is hard work. I have a “conviction” of hospitality, but I don’t think it’s any easier for me than for anyone else.)

Because when people who are not your family are all up in your stuff, in your business, eating your food, and not putting your utensils back where you want them to be, and leaving only one scoop of peanut butter in the jar…

And now I’m back to peanut butter again. 

Shocker.

These seemingly unrelated things–marriage, parenting, the Whole30, and radical hospitality–have really dug into the core of who I am as a profoundly selfish person. They are ways we intentionally limit ourselves, where we say for the sake of the end game, whether that be for our relationships or health or the kingdom of God, we will be vulnerable and needy and frustrated and have to deal with it even though we will want to give up sometimes.

But there can be no wimping out.

You don’t change your mind about your beloved spouse because he leaves the back door open in all kinds of crazy weather.

You don’t give the baby back to the hospital because she keeps interrupting you while you’re trying to type up a blog post.

You don’t kick people out when you’ve invited them in.

And you don’t quit this eating routine for the sake of peanut butter.

Instead, instead you make homemade almond butter with a little olive oil and sea salt to smear on your banana.

Because, I mean, come on, a selfish girl’s still gotta eat.

Love,

Your Momma

The Sixty-Second Letter: On Princesses and Dinosaurs

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Dear Daughters,

While breastfeeding the eldest, I read a lot of books. Given that she took forever to eat, and I didn’t have an older child constantly jabbering at me, it was not long before I coopted your dad’s Kindle and learned to love the one-handed ebook. I also got a lot of hardback books from the library, because they were heavy enough to lay open on my lap unassisted. It was all about logistics for me.

One of those library books was called Cinderella Ate My Daughter, a journalist’s well-researched discussion about early childhood gender formation in America, and the way, in particular, young girls learn the narrative of what it means to be a woman from media, marketing, and culture. Despite the title, it’s not just about princess culture (or American Girl culture or modesty or Disney movies, though all of that is in there), but about the messaging and potential concerns about the differences in the ways boys are marketed to (as explorers, geniuses, adventurers, tough guys) and girls are marketed to (cute, sassy, pretty, glam, even bratty).

It’s not that most of this was new to me, as I’d researched early childhood gender socialization as an independent study while a sociology major during undergrad. Gender socialization and how we learn to be well-rounded human beings in our communities is a topic that is important to me and has been for some time. It’s one I’ve spent a lot of time reading about and thinking about. I rarely talk about it, though, because it’s something other moms don’t particularly want to talk about.

So that’s a little bit of background.

Recently a friend gave us some hand-me-down princess dresses—and plastic heels, and a necklace, and fancy gloves.

You two love to wear these dresses.

I took a picture of you on that first day we opened the bag of hand-me-downs and sent some of my friends an accompanying text: “And so it begins…”

It’s been pretty cute that you don’t really know how to “play princess” because you don’t have context for it. (To the extent you know the names of the princesses, it’s from books and your friends at preschool.) So for now, “playing princess” is very similar to “playing family,” which means you basically assign roles to everyone and then set up the area where you are playing into a house. And then you move on to playing other things while wearing your princess dresses and clunking around in the plastic heels.

You call the shoes “tap shoes.”

A few months ago, a woman stood beside me in a very long line at a consignment sale as we watched a little boy being silly. Very silly. Goofball silly. Rambunctious and active. This woman turns to me, sees that I’m holding girls’ clothing, and sighs, saying that girls are so much easier at “this” age, but once they are teenagers, well, she’s heard that reverses itself.

While I was pregnant the first time, so before I knew if I was having a boy or a girl, more than one of my boy-mom friends said they preferred the crazy and chaos and rambunctiousness of boys who are “all boy” to the “drama, drama, drama” of teenage girls.

I hear “he’s ‘all boy’” all the time, by the way. And there is a general understanding about what “all boy” means—rambunctious, loud, active.

And I hear all the time that boys are so much easier than girls in the long run.

One of my best friends—who is a mother of boys and a girl–has said in a joking voice that one thing about raising boys that is preferable to raising girls is that with a boy, you only have to worry about one penis; with a girl, you have to worry about all the other penises.

I mean, it’s funny, right?

On the surface level, it is. I get that. It’s funny.

But all of these conversations about what boys are like and what girls are like make me uncomfortable as a mother of daughters but also as a woman and as a human being created in the image of God.

This cultural myth of the dramatic teenage girl who is such a handful and can’t be controlled and doesn’t get along with her mother?

I just don’t get why that’s the dominant narrative we continue to tell ourselves and expect in our families.

It’s like the terrible twos.

We expect it, we label it, and as it turns out, we embrace it. We are resigned to it.

I’m not saying middle school and high school aren’t rough. They’re tough years. They’re hormonal years. They’re the years children learn to be adults by figuring things out for themselves.

But I’m not dreading those years with you, girls. I’m not.

I think it’s foolish to assume we can’t get through it with grace. Yes, of course it will be hard in ways I can’t even imagine now, but I will not assume you will be unmanageable. I will not assume you will be disrespectful. I will not assume that the drama, drama, drama will come.

That’s not fair to you.

The thing is, I wasn’t a dramatic teenager. And I have plenty of friends who never got sassy and bratty and dramatic. I don’t ever remember slamming my bedroom door or wishing my parents would just die. That’s a trope.

And you know what? Even at your preschool, I know boys who are not rowdy and chaotic but serious and gentle.

I don’t mind that you wear the princess dresses around the house. (Though we do have a rule that they can’t be worn outside the house—none of this princess dress to the grocery store nonsense.)

Your dad pointed out that the littlest reminds him of Monica from FRIENDS in the episode where she cleans her apartment in the wedding dress. It cracks us up.

I don’t need to go on a rant about princess culture generally and the Disney princess movies in particular. I’m sure by the time you’re reading these letters, you’ll know where I stand on those things. I think they are troubling, but lots of things are troubling. It doesn’t mean you can’t wear the dresses. As long as princesses are just one thing you play among other wonderful and imaginative things, I’m okay with that.

I will say in brief that the main problem with the whole princess thing to me is the way it becomes the dominant narrative through which some little girls can see the world.

But you are not those little girls.

You walk around in Cinderella’s dress with yellow plastic heels, and you’re still growling with your hands up as claws, saying you’re a big, scary bear.

You wear your dresses while you’re putting together a puzzle of the Amazon rainforest, or while you’re building a tent with the old king-sized sheet hanging off your bunk-beds, or while you’re coloring with markers in a coloring book that is not princess-themed.

Yesterday, the littlest put a canvas bag over her shoulder and said she’s a mommy dinosaur going to the grocery store. Because of course mommy dinosaurs need to go to Kroger.

We have a small princess figurine who gets carried around with Daniel Tiger and Katerina and Miss Elaina. It’s pretty great because the princess is usually a stand-in for Teacher Harriet. I’m good with that.

Yes, as long as princesses are just one narrative among others, just one story among others, just one game among others, I’m good with that.

So, go ahead and wear those dresses.

Wear those tap shoes.

Heck, strap on fairy wings.

I don’t care what you sport as we read Rosie Revere, Engineer, and Ada Twist, Scientist, again and again and again. Those your favorite books at the moment.

I’m good with that.

Love,

Your Momma