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


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.


Your Momma

The Fourth Letter: Big Eaters


Today for lunch, the toddler ate a bowl of vegetarian chili, 1/3 of an avocado, a scoop of cottage cheese, and two banana cookies. And that wasn’t an exceptional meal for you.

Then, after the six-month-old woke up and nursed—yes, first you nursed—you still seemed hungry so I heated up the leftover baby oatmeal in the frig and mixed it with unsweetened applesauce. I started with what I considered to be a hearty bowl for you, considering you only began solid foods a few weeks ago, but it wasn’t until after your second bowl that you even turned away from the spoon to hint you may have had enough.

You both like to eat.

When your dad and I lived in Texas, we had dinner at the apartment of some of our friends, and they mentioned in passing that since they invited us to dinner, they knew they had to make a lot extra.

Our reputation for eating had apparently preceded us.

We’re big eaters, ya’ll. Big eaters.

Now, most people wouldn’t know that from looking at us because we’re exceptionally tall and slender. But we come from eating families.

It’s no wonder that the toddler is in the nearly 100th percentile for both height and weight and already has your daddy’s strong and lean figure.

Baby girl, you will catch up soon, I’m certain, though you were two pounds smaller at birth than your big sister. You’ve already outgrown the sizes she wore last Christmas at nearly 8 months old.

I remember meeting a coworker of my mom’s when I was maybe twelve or thirteen—old enough to be a lot taller than my mom, strikingly tall for my age. The friend said—out loud—in reference to me: “Just think of all the extra weight she could carry!” Or some such ridiculous thing to say to a young woman.

But she was right, of course. My being tall has led people to exclaim that I was “all baby” both times I was pregnant, despite my having gained over fifty pounds each time. It’s an optical illusion, I’d say, because there is no polite way to continue that line of conversation.

You will probably be big girls.

I always hated the word “big.”

It’s what everyone said about me, for as long as I can remember. Big and solid. Big.

And we ate a lot.

We do eat a lot.

We’re eaters.

I love this about us.

But I wonder how to raise girls who love to eat who don’t think about food all the time, and calories, and pants sizes, and all the silly baggage of growing up as a woman in our ridiculous culture.

And there is baggage.

I have a husband who loves the extra fleshiness that carrying two babies brings, but I still drag around a couple suitcases worth of baggage when I look in the mirror these days or see pictures of myself. I hate that because I know it’s silly.

And I hate it because every time I catch myself being unhappy, I think about you and how I want you to love your bodies, your strong limbs, long torso, and broad shoulders.

I also hate it because it reminds me of those I know and love who carry heavier bags on this self-image journey.

In the last two years, I have known two beautiful and exceptionally talented women—and I mean head-and-shoulders-above-the-rest-of-their-class kind of talented—who’ve been treated for eating disorders at in-patient facilities. Two in two years.

It breaks my heart as the mother of young girls, because I know for these two who did begin treatment, these I know about, there are probably dozens of others in my community struggling, too, those I don’t know.

I look at the healthy and amazing and inspiring college students I see walking around our local college campus, and I want to ask them if they know they are beautiful.

And by beautiful, I don’t mean skinny or stylish, air-brushed or pearl-adorned.

I mean inspiring and vibrant, intelligent and passionate, articulate and fun, wearing their skinny jeans and Toms shoes and colors and cuts I never thought would come back in style.

And the young women I know who also love to eat? Those who come to our house and eat the meals we serve and ask for seconds? Those who come to our Sunday school class and eat a donut? They make me happiest.

Because here I am, raising you, my beautiful, big girls, to be eaters.

Of course, I’m also raising you to know that you are beautiful and to be confident, with your solid frames and muscular legs, your clear blue eyes, and brown curly hair, and your dimples. I hope you keep the dimples.

I so tall, Mommy,” the toddler tells me, as you make faces at yourself in the mirror. You love mirrors. Love them.

I know I can’t make you confident, but I can soak you in confidence, even now, sending those roots down deep to nourish you through the difficult years. Those difficult years will certainly come. But now, even now, I tell you how smart and gorgeous and funny and strong you are. How proud I am of you for the little things—the alphabet, the playdough, the painting, the singing for the toddler; the rolling, cooing, grabbing, observing, and jabbering for the chubbalub babe-ster.

And yes, I even tell you how amazed I am at the quantity of food you can pack away. Because it is awesome.

Stand tall, my girls.

Now let’s go eat a snack.

Your Momma