The Fifty-Seventh Letter: What Was & What Will Be


Dear Daughters,

There are certain times of year, certain moments, certain markers, when I feel like I should write you letters in the hardcopy journals I keep for each of you. Your birthdays, for example. On every birthday, in an ideal world, I would write you a letter. First days of school, maybe. After significant world events, controversial elections, perhaps.

When you were really little, I often wrote updates after your doctors appointments, to record your growth and development. I was more attentive then, I suppose.

After I failed my thesis defense, I wrote a long letter to each of you about my embarrassment and disappointment but also about how you win some, you lose some, but you keep on keeping on. The next day, when I found out I didn’t actually fail my thesis defense, I went back and affirmed the message of the day before, even though the circumstances changed. You win some. You lose some.

Before I go on overnight trips away from you, I try to write you brief “I love you” notes in your journals, just in case. That’s my morbid what-if tendency sneaking through. I really do think to myself as I write, what if this is the last note I ever write to you?

But generally, I’ll admit, I’m not great at getting around to writing in your journals.

Before Christmas, I tried to catch up a bit. I really did try. But even now, typing this, I realize I forgot to mention you were Thing 1 and Thing 2 at Halloween. Don’t Halloween costumes seem like something you might enjoy smiling at when you’re a grownup reading through the journals? Maybe I’ll go jot that down. But probably not. Hopefully there will be a photograph in the Shutterfly book for the fall.

When Christmas itself rolled around, I thought I better write something to the eldest about your complex relationship with Santa–not believing in him and yet not completely convinced he doesn’t bring other kids presents. But it’s hard to capture that complexity and I gave up quickly.

And then here came New Years, and I thought, now this would be a perfect time to write about my hopes for the future in your journals because, well, because it’s New Years. And that’s the sort of thing people do as they head toward a new year.

Then suddenly it was actually January 1 yesterday, and I knew I better get to it. Except I didn’t know what to write. It’s unusual for me because truth be told I don’t tend to suffer from writer’s block. I usually jot down notes and then go with the flow but–gah!–last night, I couldn’t really get past the brainstorming, free-writing, list-making stage for my review of the previous year, let alone articulate a vision for the new one.

This was as far as I got: I made two lists, or quasi-lists. They were list-like but with lots of scribbles and doodles.

One was called “2016 was the year…” and the second was called “2017 will be the year…”

So, in lieu of a brilliant meditation on your mother’s growth over the last year and her hopes and dreams for the future, I present to you instead my stream of consciousness quasi-lists from my writers notebook:

2016 was the year…

I didn’t keep up with my planner, bullet journal, or morning pages. I read 40 books. Seriously. 40. I read all 7 Harry Potter books and watched all the movies. We had a new water line dug in our yard. The eldest got her hair cut pixie short and started preK. The youngest began writing her name and drawing people. We went to Oxford without children. The girls flew on an airplane, saw the beach, and built a sandcastle for the first time. I went to Sante Fe for an art workshop and met some amazing new friends. We went to Waco without children. Fear won in America. I realized I was less moderate than I thought. I began seeing my vocation as cultivating a sacramental life. I joined Instagram. I rejoined Facebook. Your dad finally had that shoulder surgery. We hiked the Natural Bridge path at Red River Gorge. We attended our town’s first Pride festival. I made an Advent calendar for the first time. I applied to be on Survivor. I got new glasses finally, the nerdy English major kind. I started writing my first novel. We became diaper-free during daytime hours (finally!). I read my poems and displayed my art publicly at the arts and cultural center. You got a dollhouse for Christmas and moved into bunkbeds.

2017 will be the year…

I run a half-marathon (okay, run-walk). I begin wearing a watch again. We invite more people in. We have regular potlucks. We build relationships with our neighbors. I serve more, offer more, to the least of these. I leave my phone alone throughout the day. I memorize the Magnificat. We develop a morning prayer and evening prayer habit. I set up my Etsy store. I cut out caffeine. I finish my novel. I self-publish at least one book. I only read books I already own. I develop a morning routine again, rising early. I go on a writing retreat (already scheduled!).

I mean, girls, the former is not exactly a list of achievements and the latter not exactly a list of resolutions. Will I even do these things? Will I not? Does it matter?

Because, let’s face it, no matter how much I work at it, much of the day-in and day-out of life is none of these things on my 2017 list.

None of them.

And that’s why I have a hard time writing you a letter about the year ahead. Or the year behind. Much of daily life cannot be catalogued into lists of achievements and milestones and goals or even hopes and dreams.

A large chunk of my daily life is reminding you to focus on your food during meals, chopping vegetables, wiping bums, singing and singing and singing and did I mention singing, and blow-drying my hair, which seems to be getting bigger and bigger the older I get.

Daily life is answering question after question after question, teaching you to read and think and create and love, taking you to preschool and picking you up, going to church, chatting with the mailman, pausing for conversations with strangers if they need to talk, making eye contact, buckling and unbuckling carseats.

Daily life is texting to keep up with friends, to check in and follow up, to remind them of prayers offered and ask for help when I need it.

Daily life is the pace of grace. I stole that from somewhere, but I am determined to embrace it. Daily life is not busy and doing and hectic and stress. It doesn’t have to be. It’s patience and love and gratitude and lying in bed next to you and play-with-me-momma and can-I-please-have-one-more-minute?

Daily life is lost tempers and apologies and exhaustion, but it’s also painting together and playing memory again, and the twelve days of Christmas going the whole way until January 5.

Daily life, for me, is lists upon lists jotted in all sorts of journals and notebooks and post-its and index cards, but no obligation to do and achieve, just to record and release and trust that what needs to get done will get done. Because if the neighbor needs to talk, that’s what needs to be done. Because the friend needs a ride to Walmart. Because the moms need to get together and vent and drink decaf coffee and affirm that we are not going crazy. Because a candle needs to be lit and we need to talk at a preschooler’s level about how wax works. Because the soup needs to be cooled and we need to talk about how ice melts. Because the magazine needs to be cut up, the dollhouse needs to be reorganized, the wooden mushrooms and the felt carrots in the play kitchen need to be sautéed, and the marbles need to swirl down their tubes and dance through the pinwheels and clatter to the floor.

What is daily is boring. What is daily is mind-numbing. What is daily can wear me out. But what is daily is also shaping us, teaching us, nudging us, and offering us grace.

This, I guarantee you, will be 2017.

We will live the pace of grace.

And I have my watch on already.

So that’s something.


Your Momma

The Thirty-Fifth Letter: Metaphors & Daily Life


Dear Daughters,

We purchased a vintage Sears Kenmore sewing machine at a yardsale before the eldest was born. It was missing a piece, a screw, something minor that enabled it to fold down into its sewing table. It had a needle though, and it seemed to work when we plugged it in, and yet until this week I had never threaded the bobbin. This might be a metaphor.

Our memorial Easter lilies and tulips brought home from church have been knocked over repeatedly, sometimes multiple times a day, petals blown off during high wind warnings, leaving bald stamens full of pathos. We’ve brought them inside for the myriad freezes since that exceptionally warm Easter morning a few weeks ago. Then they go back out onto the porch steps, looking forlorn. Everything feels like a metaphor.

The thing is, the dailiness of daily life often feels hard, even knowing that others have it harder. Friends with chronic illness. Friends mourning spouses. Friends with crumbling marriages. Friends with infertility.

Meanwhile, my daily life is sunshine and seeds explained to a preschooler. Death and heaven and Jesus and God in a 3-year-old’s terms; a toddler alongside me in the pew at a funeral.

Daily life is sunshine transforming the smell your scalps from baby shampoo into wood chips. I don’t know why, but it’s true for both of you. You smell like wood chips, like bark mulch, deep in your hair, when you’ve been outside. We don’t have wood chips in our yard.

Daily life is novels read with a 30-pound toddler on my lap drinking milk, playing with my phone, using a wet wipe to swab the book down.

It’s reading and painting rather than writing, most of the time, but when I do write, it’s laying in the grass alongside both of you, half of my note pages covered in preliterate scribbles. I always bring two extra pens outside. My writing these days is jotted notes and ideas rather than poems or stories, reserving brilliance for some other day, some other season, some other unimaginable-for-now life.

Daily life is hot jeans in the sunshine, and barefeet sensing the cold mud through the warm, early-spring grass. Also perhaps a metaphor.

Daily life is squeezing freelance work, which is kind of drudgery, and creative work, which is not, into two mornings a week and an hour in the afternoon. The schedule doesn’t work well, dissatisfies and exhausts me, without pointing to a better solution for today. For this week. This month, this year.

I can sing the theme songs for Dinosaur Train, Doc McStuffins, Daniel Tiger, and Dora the Explorer. This is not a metaphor.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Most of us spend so much time thinking about where we have been or where we are supposed to be going that we have a hard time recognizing where we actually are. When someone asks us where we want to be in our lives, the last thing that occurs to us is to look down at our feet and say, ‘Here, I guess, since this is where I am‘” (An Altar in the World, 56).

Looking down at my feet, I see chipping toenail polish, and I see, well, I guess I see hope. I see hope in the daily, when I’m not too exhausted and worn down by it.

You sometimes play together these days, for example, sometimes keep out of my office while I’m trying to squeeze a little more work in the day, sometimes keep out of the kitchen, off my legs, sometimes don’t tug on my clothing or put items in my back pockets for safe keeping.

There is hope in these small victories, these small glimpses of independence.

There is also hope when you do crawl up onto my lap again, require a nose-wipe or new ponytail or snack, ask another question that cannot be answered, want me to read another book, or even the same book, again and again.

Yes, most days, there is hope and beauty. Most days I love something, even if it is simply that the day has ended and you are asleep.

I do love this whole sunshine, hot jeans, and mud-cold toes combination, which I would experience less, without you itching to be in the yard.

I love the wood-chip smelling hair, the goofy songs the preschooler sings while she swings, that the toddler asks for “Swing Low” to be sung before bed.

I love that you eat lentils and tofu as well as chicken nuggets, that the preschooler’s face is sprinkled with freckles, like mine.

I love that the toddler wants to cuddle even when I’m drenched in sweat, that you both cheer me on–“Go, Momma, Go! Go, Momma, Go!”–when I run with the stroller.

And I love that there is still a me here, beneath this mom-ness. A lover of a good story, a hot cup of tea. I still love new pens and fresh, college-ruled paper, and the art aisle at Walmart, though I still despise Walmart. I love big, blank canvases, country music in the car, toe-nail polish, and big earrings. I love eye-liner, Post-It notes, to-do lists, and flip-flops. I love cutting things out of magazines and unbaked cookie dough. I like singing and laughing and flannel sheets under down comforters. I myself love a good snuggle.

The daily life is this, all of this.

And most days, I love its dailiness.


Your Momma