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

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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-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-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

The Seventy-Ninth Letter: We Live Here

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Dear Daughters,

I cleaned the house a little bit last weekend before your grandparents arrived.

(I hope that sentence doesn’t startle you in a HOLD THE PHONE, YOU DID WHAT? sort of way, because I’d like to believe that by the time you read this letter we are back in a season of regular cleaning and you are able to do your part in that. I spent lots of Saturdays in my teen years cleaning the bathroom and mopping the floors, and I expect you’ll have those chores, too. But yes, for right now, it’s VERY unusual for me to spend time cleaning.)

In fact, I overheard a conversation between the two of you playing make-believe family not that long ago:

Youngest: I have the purse, so I’ll be the mommy.

Oldest: Okay, I’m cleaning, so I’ll be the daddy.

Truth spoken like no other. If the cleaning happens in our house, it’s usually your dad who does it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m good at picking up and putting away—that I do regularly—but I am not the move-the-furniture-deep-clean parent. Not in this season.

And let’s be honest, this weekend, I didn’t clean thoroughly. There was no mopping involved. But I did vacuum the rugs on the main floor and in the bedrooms upstairs, which is a little tricky since our vacuum is prone to overheating and shuts itself off after about 1.5 rooms. I also moved the chairs out from under the table and swept up all the crumbs with a broom. Same in the kitchen. I did a quick wipedown in the bathrooms. I looked around for dust bunnies in the corners and wiped them up with a rag. I didn’t venture to look under the furniture though.

And of course I had a much longer list that I didn’t get to: dusting, dry mopping, wet mopping, cleaning the laundry room.

It’s not that I feel pressure to clean when we have company coming—okay, I do, but not a lot of pressure—it’s mostly that I use company as an occasion to do the things I should probably be doing anyway.

As your Dad’s grandmother reportedly says, “If you’re coming to see me, come on over. If you’re coming to see my house, let me know in advance so I can clean it.”

The thing is, I just don’t clean very much.

There are lots of reasons for this.

One is that I have other priorities for my limited waking hours. I have friends who prioritize cleaning and I’m all for that for them. But if I prioritized cleaning, something would need to give: my time hands-on with you, my hands-on art time, my writing, my reading, my keeping up with community, my volunteering, my sleep, my sanity. I’ve prioritized all of these things over have a clean home.

Knowing all of this, my mom has asked in the past about gifting me with a cleaning service. (I also have lots of friends who pay for someone to clean their homes in order to maintain a standard of clean in the midst of very busy schedules. That’s totally fine.) But girls, I just don’t feel comfortable with that in this season of our life either. I have a hard time articulating why, and I’m hesitant to say this because I don’t want it to sound judgy, especially if you someday have a cleaning service, but the truth is, I really feel like if having a clean house were a priority for me, then I could make time for it in my own schedule. And if I’m not willing to sacrifice reading a novel or painting a canvas (that is, the time I make for doing things I love) for a clean house, then it isn’t important enough to pay someone else to do it. So no. Not in this season.

But there’s something else going on here, too: I really want to be okay with a lived-in, messy house. I don’t want my house to be put-together and clean all the time because that is not real life. I want toys on the floor when someone unexpectedly knocks on the door.

Yeah, okay, I’d rather there not be dishes in the sink and crumbs on the counter and the toilet unflushed, but that’s because I’m prideful. I don’t want others to think I’m messy.

A messy house keeps me humble. On my best days. (On my worst days, it’s a different story.)

Girls, most of the time, I wish it didn’t bother me at all. I wish I could look around and see how amazing our space is, how fortunate we are to have a house that feels like home. It’s quirky and eclectic. It’s comfy and welcoming. It has room for guests. It’s got most of the important things spot on, and who cares about the green, sticky linoleum, right? (Okay, I do. My socks were totally sticking to the floor while I made dinner last night.)

Yes, I wish the mess and the dirt didn’t bother me.

And some days, I even wish I could learn to love the dirt itself.

I wish the smeared yogurt on the table from breakfast, the dried piece of playdoh, the determined old-house spiders that keep making a thin web in the corner by the front door—I wish I could look at all of those things and say,

We live here.

We eat here.

We play here.

We love here.

This is us.

Love,

Your Momma

The Seventy-Eighth Letter: To-Do Lists & Kingdom Work

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Dear Daughters,

I’ve jotted lots of notes to myself in recent weeks listing items I want to write to you about. Memories I want to capture. Nuggets of wisdom that seem worthy of recording. What I’m learning about life, about mothering, about myself.

The problem is that I know that the things I manage to record for you in these letters and in your individual journals take on significance. Those writings begin to outweigh actual memories—in a way they become the actual memories in this season.

And that’s okay, but it makes it hard to start writing sometimes. Especially when what I want to write feels ordinary, a brief glimpse of the sacred in the midst of what is an otherwise ordinary life.

For example, Tuesdays are exhausting. I’m writing this on Tuesday. I’m exhausted. I had a rough night last night insomnia-wise, and this morning our weekly homeschool class met, which means I lead two and a half hours of activity for a group of nine 4-6 year olds. They are a sweet bunch of kids, and I’m enjoying it significantly more than I expected to (or than anyone who knows me at all expected me to). Even the rowdy kiddos are charming and kind and I have such compassion for them.

There is probably nothing short of providential intervention going on there, by the way, stepping in and giving me patience, offering me glimpses of the holy in the midst of squirming and interrupting. I believe in providential intervention, even on this small scale.

That said, Tuesdays still exhaust me, even though it’s fun and rewarding Kingdom work.

We got home this afternoon, and I painted while you had some brief quiet time. After that, I offered to let you go outside and play. I’m convinced that unstructured full-body creative play is key to your brain and body development as well as your creativity, and it’s one of the reasons I homeschool.

As usual I have a long running to-do list, but I decided to put it aside and rest myself. I made a cup of tea, grabbed a book I’m reading, post-its, a pencil, and my planner-prayer guide-journal, and sat down on the back deck. As I breathed and reflected and enjoyed my tea, I decided I did want to write you a letter after all, so I went inside to get my laptop.

I began to write.

And then I was interrupted.

As usual.

The youngest came over to announce that her sister “FOUND AN ANT CAWWYING SOMETHING WIWWY WEIRD! YOU HAVE TO COME SEE!”

Seriously, child? (This is what I thought to myself.) I do not want to come over there to check out an ant. I’ve seen ants. You’ve seen ants. They’re kind of all the same. I’m doing some important meditative work here. Also, I’m writing you a letter. You will appreciate this someday. Sigh.

And then, and then I felt this little nudge I’ve been feeling a lot the last two weeks. It’s a small and quiet question that I feel deep in my heart:

What is important to the Kingdom of God?

I’m serious. I can feel that question in my heart. What is important to the Kingdom of God? It comes in striking contrast to however I am feeling. And you know what I always hear as the answer? It’s always clear as day. It’s this, as cheesy and obvious as it seems:

People are important to the Kingdom of God.

It’s like a little catechism question that just pops up out of nowhere.

What is important to the Kingdom of God?

People are important to the Kingdom of God.

Okay, let’s be real. It’s decidedly not out of nowhere. It’s been popping up whenever I’ve been frustrated or worn out or just want to do what I think is important. Because if it’s on a to-do list, it must be important, right?

It has happened when I’m all set to work on a big project and a text comes through from a friend asking if she can stop by.

It has happened when I’m outside and a neighbor walks by who wants to talk.

It has happened at book group meetings, reading group meetings, church meetings. (Maybe it’s because of my general distaste for meetings that makes me in need of the Spirit’s nudge.)

It’s happened often enough that I told your dad about it. He and I have long kidded about my ability to collect “stray people,” as he calls them. Whether they are strangers or friends or neighbors, people I encounter in my ordinary life often stop and talk. And I mean talk about serious things, not just fluffy chitchat.

Why is that?

And why is my instinct always to be a little bit annoyed on the inside, even when I know it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be?

Well, that’s probably why I am continuing to learn this lesson, here in my thirties. And that’s probably why the nudges aren’t slowing—if anything, they’re coming more and more often.

What is important to the Kingdom of God?

People are important to the Kingdom of God.

I had a meeting a few weeks ago and it was running long and I really just wanted to go home and go to bed but clearly someone needed to get something off her chest and needed someone else to listen to her. I heard the question again. What is important to the Kingdom of God? People…

I came home from that meeting, apologized for being late, and posed the question to your dad: What is important to the Kingdom of God? We chuckled and sighed. Yeah, yeah. We both knew the answer.

The thing is, you are people. You are the Kingdom work in front of me. So are my neighbors. So are strangers who cross my path. So is my friend whose mother is dying of cancer out of state, my pregnant friend in Texas, my grandmother who deserves another hand-written letter.

And yes, of course my art and my writing and my editing and my long to-do list are ALSO kingdom work. They are. Using my gifts for the Kingdom is Kingdom work.

But this. I keep hearing it.

What is important to the Kingdom of God?

People are important to the Kingdom of God.

I can’t get away from that still small voice nudging me to this conclusion:

Interruptions are as important to the Kingdom of God as the to-do list is.

It happened yesterday when the five-year-old really wanted to make a craft out of your Solar System coloring page you’d brought home from the library last week. You had conceived of the whole idea yourself and brought me a paper towel tube and the string, but you needed me to cut holes in the tube, figure out how to fish the string through, look up the order of the planets which I should know but don’t. It was a minor request but I was planning to finish up my class prep and begin dinner, and the craft was not urgent but I had already put it off twice when you asked me before. I also knew it would take longer than you thought. I knew it would eat up the rest of the afternoon until your dad came home. Because these things always do.

But then came that nudge again.

What is important to the Kingdom of God?

People are important to the Kingdom of God.

Sigh.

So we made the Solar System with the blue sun. And it did take the rest of the afternoon. And we ate dinner late.

But it is such a privilege to see your mind figuring things out, dreaming up crafts, seeking answers to questions you are barely able to articulate yourself. If I can’t pause and acknowledge the beauty of you, of life alongside you, I probably shouldn’t be preaching a Gospel of sacramental living to the world.

And now back to the “wiwwy weird” thing that the ant was carrying this afternoon.

Well, I got up, put down my laptop—which by the way was down to 4 percent battery and I just hadn’t realized it—and she was right. It was pretty weird. It was a yellowjacket. The ant was carrying a yellowjacket up the trunk of a large tree in the corner of our yard. We watched it together for awhile climbing on the tree bark, and we wondered about God’s creation and how we never cease to be amazed.

What is important to the Kingdom of God?

People are important to the Kingdom of God.

Love,

Your Momma

The Seventy-Second Letter: On Productivity & To-Do Lists

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Dear Daughters,

Sometimes I write drafts of letters to you and then don’t share them. It’s usually when I’m feeling rather blah about life on a particular day, when I’m not feeling productive or focused on the tasks at hand but instead just want to crawl into bed and read my book and let you watch a show on the iPad. (Unfortunately for me, you don’t actually want to watch shows when you could be doing fun things like building a playground out of our living room furniture or running around the yard making soup from grass and weeds and sticks and leaves.)

On those blah days, sometimes albeit rarely, at the end of the day, I catalog what the day has been, and sometimes, it helps me to cultivate gratitude. Because I know, even when I don’t feel like it, that in every day, life has been accomplished.

In every day, grace has been offered and received.

In every day, there is reason to refocus my eyes.

But most days, when I most need that, when probably all I need to do to see is blink a few extra times, I don’t manage to. My day feels blah. Nothing seems profound. What I write is bland.

Tuesday was one of those days, the first day home after our vacation. I was having one of those days with all the feels. It’s now Friday, and I’m only slightly better. But I re-read what I drafted on Tuesday night, and I can see now that it wasn’t nearly as low of a day as it felt in the living of it.

Because in the living of it, I couldn’t see the holy of it, not at first.

But now I can.

So I’m offering Tuesday’s letter after all.

Here’s what I wrote on Tuesday night, after you were in bed, while your dad practiced his upright bass in the basement, as I tried to refocus:

Today did not feel like a productive day. I started it off bright and early with a to-do list of things I might want to consider accomplishing.

I did very few of those things.

At the very least, I should have done some laundry.

No, at the very least, I should have emptied out my suitcase from our trip last week. We got back last night close to 11 pm, and I’m pretty tired today, but there are damp swimsuits in a grocery bag inside that suitcase, so yes, I should have emptied it. I didn’t. It’s still on the bed as I type this.

And lest you think I might sneak in a sense of accomplishment when I head upstairs in a few minutes to go to bed: don’t worry. I will simply move it onto the floor and add it to the to-do list for tomorrow.

Today I took the eldest to her fifth year well visit and we waited 45 minutes for the doctor. I wasted the time at home before and after the appointment by chatting with your babysitter, instead of using that expensive time to check items off my to-do list. While we chatted, I drank hot tea with milk and sugar, even though I’m pretty sure both of those things are bad for me.

After the sitter left, I had thought we would go to lunch with your dad but then he ended up too swamped with work, and honestly I didn’t really feel like eating out after the airport food we ate yesterday. So, instead, I scrounged up a lunch that didn’t require a grocery run: tuna salad and crackers (and an apple, pickle, and cheese) for you, carrots and almond butter for me.

During lunch, I texted a few friends to let them know we’re back in town and ask how they are. I was without cell service on vacation. I chatted on the phone with Ms. Ashley, both of us lamenting what we were not doing and mentioning what we should be doing.

We finished lunch and I let you color for a few minutes before quiet time began. The youngest surprised us by writing her name legibly.

I planned to mow the grass during quiet time this afternoon, and even slathered myself with SPF 50, changed my clothes, put on a visor and old sneaks, and filled the mower with gas. Then the mower engine didn’t sound right and kept banging and puffing out black smoke. It puttered out when I tried to force it to mow under those circumstances. I called your grandpa to ask for advice, and we decided I probably couldn’t fix it. I came inside, still covered in sunscreen, and drank another cup of tea and read my novel. Actually, I also registered you both for VBS, and registered myself for Lexington Poetry Month. I did not pay bills, though it’s the end of the month and they’re all waiting for my attention on the table.

After the youngest kept coming downstairs for unimportant reasons, and then began crying in bed when I told you to stay upstairs, I decided to load us in the car and accomplish at least one thing officially on my list. We went to Wilson’s Nursery to buy tomato and basil plants. It’s nearly half an hour away but I didn’t care. I packed a snack and waters for you, grabbed your sunglasses, and we left. I let my phone tell me how to get there so I didn’t have to think about it.

Then, because Wilson’s was having a Memorial Day Sale all week, I ended up buying ten vegetable plants, including peppers and cucumbers, three basil plants, and six mini succulents. I thought I would make a little succulent pot for our neighbors who just brought their preemie baby home from the hospital, and who can ever have too much basil?

We got home, and then walked over to our other neighbor-friends’ house and borrowed their mower. I was still determined to mow.

But first: garden.

You tried to help by getting garden rakes and shovels from the shed, but let’s face it: you’re just not that helpful and very likely to injure yourselves as the two of you maneuver a shovel with a handle as long as you are.

Your dad arrived home and got the mower running (by sheer force of will, it seems to me), and mowed half the yard while I was still transplanting and figuring out where to put ten veggie plants when we already have our raised beds pretty full of lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, beans, and baby blueberry bushes surrounded by carrots. I decided the hydrangea beds across the yard can each house a tomato plant. (The hydrangeas have turned a stunning magenta while we were away—who knew?—but wilted quite a bit in today’s heat. I hope they will recover when we water.)

I accidentally broke off a cucumber stem. I picked the green beans that have popped into existence in the week we’ve been gone. I weeded the herb bed. The oregano is now two feet tall and the thyme is circling the mint to win the award for most invasive herb we own. I pinched the smallest leaves of my new basil plants to stimulate growth. Your dad snipped off our leaf lettuce that is getting out of control, and we decided the grownups will eat salad for dinner. He sent you in with an armful of lettuce to put in the sink. I finished transplanting the succulents and tried to decide if the pot needs a bit of decoration before giving it away as a gift.

Seven o’clock was quickly approaching at this point, and we hadn’t eaten dinner. I ran inside to rinse the basil leaves I removed during transplanting, and I smushed a spider that crawled out of the sink’s lettuce.

Under the lettuce, the sink was full of the dirty dishes I did not wash today. Even the breakfast dishes were at the bottom of that pile.

While your dad watered the produce and baby trees and hydrangeas (and previous years’ Easter lilies, which seem to be blooming too), an AT&T salesman stopped by to try to sell us new internet service, even though he came to the door earlier in the day and I had told him ‘no’ once already.

I mowed the remaining half of the yard—and paused to chat with the neighbor and see how the baby is doing–and then mowed the part outside the fence while your dad prepped dinner. And fed you both dinner. I returned the mower.

Your dad was nearly finished with your bath by the time I sat down to eat my salad.

I joined in for bedtime routines of singing and praying and tucking-in, ran downstairs for the forgotten fuzzy blanket, gave permission for a final bathroom run.

And then I showered.

I started the day with a shower today, thinking I was off to a productive start. I ended the day with wet hair once again and don’t feel the least productive.

Because it’s too easy to judge productivity with the lists that didn’t get done.

We have two cucumber plants, two pepper plants, six tomato plants, three basil plants, three small pots of succulents to keep and one large to give away that we didn’t have before today. And our grass is mown. I checked in with friends and caught up a bit.

And when your dad turned on my iPad this evening—my special iPad for my hand-lettering and digital design work that seemed to go on the fritz and have severe hardware issues while we were away—well, he turned it on and miraculously it worked.

I feel like that’s something worth adding to my list of achievements for the day. Even if it had nothing to do with me.

Because I’m kind of thinking now, having typed up the day, that very few of my daily achievements have much to do with me anyway.

It’s all sacred, girls. These little moments.

It doesn’t matter what gets crossed off the list.

I haven’t looked at the list in hours. It got pushed to the back of the counter at some point earlier today and I haven’t grabbed it since.

I’m not complaining. Lists help keep me organized. I love making them. I love crossing things off of them.

But, y’all, lists aren’t life.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

 

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

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