The Forty-Seventh Letter: What You’ll Be When You Grow Up

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Dear Daughters,

When I was in high school, my Spanish teacher told my friend Katie and me that she hoped her daughter would grow up to be like us one day.

Señora actually said that.

Her daughter was probably in early elementary school then, which means she is now older than we were when we were in high school. Sigh.

But on that day, we were staying after school to help with something in her classroom. It might have been when we were seniors and our classes were officially over but we were there hanging out before graduation. Taking bulletin boards down. Filing away books. We were nerds like that, so it’s imaginable.

And we’d had Señora for a few years. She knew us pretty well.

Still, I remember being surprised at her comment, surprised that she thought so highly of us. That she wanted her daughter to be like us.

That’s huge, right?

Well, I know now what it is like to be a mother with daughters.

I know what it is like to see strong, smart, beautiful women, so confident and courageous and determined to make a difference in the world, so full of conviction and love, to see those young women and think of you and of what you will be in the world, do in the world, how you will live in the world, how you will love in the world.

Because that’s what Señora was really saying. She was talking more about her daughter than about us.

Sort of like how in these letters when I’m talking about myself and telling my random stories, I’m really talking about you, my dreams for you, writing my stories for you.

Because you are the words of my stories, the strokes of the brush in my paintings, the captions in my photos, the tap-tap-tap of the keys right here in front of me as I type this.

I can’t believe there have been nearly fifty letters so far. Every day, sometimes multiple times a day, I think of an idea for a letter. But life usually gets in the way, so I tuck those ideas down into the pockets of my heart, or if I’m lucky the pages of a journal, and hope to revisit those thoughts some day.

And some days I do.

I’m still friends with Katie. She’s got two little girls herself, her youngest almost exactly the same age as you, Goose. Less than a week difference in your birthdays, I think. I’m guessing she knows what it’s like to wonder about their futures, because that’s what we moms do. On our lesser days, we think of all the bad things that could happen. But on our better days, it’s not worry. On our best days, it’s all dreams of grace and courage and confidence and love.

That’s the you I want you to see as you read through these letters. The you that I can already see you to be, the you that embodies all the wonder and sacrament and joy and heartache of being the hands and feet of Jesus in the word.

You know what?

Katie texted me a picture the other day. The caption for the photo came through before the photo itself did.

Guess who I found at Panera today?!?!? Katie exclaimed, with her typical excitement. And when the picture popped up, you know what it was?

It was Katie standing beside Señora.

And that’s when I remembered what she had said those sixteen years ago to a younger version of myself.

And that’s when I wanted to write you this letter.

Love,

Your Momma

The Forty-Fourth Letter: I’m Still Patriotic

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Dear Daughters,

A half dozen years ago or so, I received a phone call from a federal agent because a friend of mine worked for the government and needed security clearance. The government was looking into her history, which had involved much time spent overseas, and so the agent wanted to ask longterm friends about her. I was happy to chat with him because my friend is top-notch: brilliant, amazing, compassionate, and talented.

In the midst of our long conversation–it was a lot more thorough than I had expected it to be–the agent asked if I would use the word “patriotic” to describe my friend. Patriotic.

“They asked me if you were patriotic,” I told her later.

“They did?” she asked me. “What did you tell them?”

It’s such a strange thing to evaluate about someone else.

Because my birthday is just before Independence Day, I’ve always had a soft spot for fireworks and the red-white-and-blue combination of colors.

Whenever I’m in an airport going through customs, I feel a little twinge of pride to be able to queue up in the “U.S. Passport Holder” line.

My grandfather was a 101st Airborne paratrooper in World War II, and he earned a Bronze Star for defending a bridge with a bazooka. By himself.

I was raised in a family that votes, and I vote.

As a kid, we went on myriad Washington DC daytrips from central Pennsylvania and saw the famous monuments, went to the Smithsonian Museums. I remember my dad lifting a woman up so she could trace someone’s name from the Vietnam War Memorial.

I remember singing “Danny Boy” as part of our high school honors choir concert at a local church for Veterans Day.

I never had a problem saying the Pledge of Allegiance in high school. I was, however, less than thrilled with my fellow students who not only did not say the Pledge but refused even to stand.

Here’s a random side note: because our high school principal, who led us in the Pledge over the loud speaker every morning, didn’t pause after “nation” in the typical way of most Americans (“one nation [pause] under God [pause] indivisible [pause]….”) and instead said “onenationunderGod” quickly, I still say it differently than most people.

 

Though I don’t come across as very political, these days, I’ll confess I’m still sentimental about songs like “Proud to Be an American.” My Uncle Larry always sang it back when we were part of the Family Circle, our family’s traveling gospel group.

The thing is, I am proud to be an American.

The other thing is, I think Americans get a lot of things wrong.

But it doesn’t mean I’m not patriotic, not a good citizen.

I am patriotic.

And I’m a political moderate. At least, I assume I am a moderate because about half of what I hear from one side sounds crazy and about half of what I hear from the other side sounds crazy.

To listen to the news, you wouldn’t think that I exist. You’d think there were only extreme views of conservative or liberal. I even hear this among my friends who feel strongly about politics, by the way. Everything is us versus them.

I don’t know what happened to an America that allowed for a diversity of voices, but it’s not today’s America as far as I can tell.

Girls, there is a lot of unpleasantness in the political news cycle these days.

That’s the understatement of the year, by the way.

Many months of political campaigning has culminated in the Republican National Convention this past week. The Democrats will have theirs next week. The upcoming fall is guaranteed to be nasty and cruel. We’ve succeeded in choosing two of the most polarizing candidates in American history. So many accusations. So much hostility.

So much unhappiness.

 

I’m tempted toward fear and anger sometimes, embarrassment sometimes, sometimes just paralysis because a remedy seems impossible.

But then I hear the preschooler recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which I’ll confess it had never crossed my mind to teach you. You learned it last fall at your twice-weekly preschool at a local Baptist church. You pause after the “one nation” like all good little Americans do. One nation. Under God. Indivisible. With liberty and justice for all.

And then at the end, right after “justice for all,” you raise your voice and begin singing.

AMEEEEEEERICA, AMEEEEEERICA,

God shed his grace on theeeeeee,

and crowned thy gooooood

with br00000otherhood from sea to SHINING SEA!

 

And in the in the midst of that off-key loveliness–especially since for many months you sang “motherhood” instead of “brotherhood”–how can I not be patriotic?

How can I not think about my grandfather risking his life with his bazooka poised to take out a tank singlehandedly? How can I not be grateful?

How can I not think of the woman on my dad’s shoulders, tracing a loved one’s name? How can I not be grateful?

How can I not remember the Lincoln and Washington Monuments, the Smithsonians? How can I not be grateful?

How can I not hear Uncle Larry singing “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free”? How can I not be grateful?

I am patriotic. I am a political moderate. And I know that the double stroller doesn’t fit through the door of our polling location–because I vote.

But I always give you the sticker.

Love,

Your Momma

 

The Thirty-Sixth Letter: Hope, Accomplishments, Extravagance

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Dear Daughters,

I read a novel recently about a woman with a head injury who suddenly had no memory of the last ten years. She thought she was 30, but she was actually 40. She thought she was newly married, but she was in the process of getting divorced. She had no knowledge of her three children’s existence.

But the poignancy of the novel, for me, was her realizing the person she was discovering herself to be at 40, whom she was seeing with fresh eyes since she didn’t have any memory of turning into that person, well, she didn’t like her 40-year-old self. She had become the exact kind of woman she always kind of resented.

It sounds pretty contrived, now that I’ve tried to summarize it in a few sentences, but it really got me thinking. Would the me I was 10 years ago recognize the me I’ve become? What would my 23-year-old self think of my 33-year-old self? (She’d probably be surprised to find I had birthed two babies, for example, which was not on my to-do list.)

My first full-time job out of college was being the assistant to the director of recruitment and academic technology at Baylor’s Graduate School. On my annual self-evaluation that first year, I put as a 5-year goal “Write the next great American novel.

I was kidding, of course, and my boss told me I should probably change my answer, but the truth was that I knew that job wasn’t my forever job, and it seemed ridiculous to pretend my five-year-plan had much to do with that position.

You’ll notice I haven’t yet written a novel. But I do have a chapbook of poems, so that’s something.

I got an email this week from a high school acquaintance. Since I’m not on Facebook, this sort of thing doesn’t happen very often. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen this woman since we graduated 16 years ago, and even in high school we weren’t really close friends. We had Phys. Ed. together one year, I do remember that.

She sent me a message through my website, a brief note to say simply that she’d had a conversation recently about faith and hope with one of her friends, and it reminded her of the speech I gave at our graduation in 2000. She wanted to encourage me that my words had stayed with her this decade-and-a-half.

The speech I gave at graduation. Whew. That feels like a long time ago.

I was a really outspoken Christian in a large public high school, and so my speech–I was valedictorian–offered the gospel message, to no one’s surprise. It offered hope. It was a little cheesy, of course, quoting Mother Teresa and Emily Dickinson and others, but it offered hope. And it got a standing ovation.

Because hope is always a good message.

Some days it makes me grimace a little to think about my high school self, because let’s face it, I’m not so preachy these days. I have a quiet faith, a thoughtful faith, a compassionate faith.

But, the truth is, I’m still proud of the young woman I was. At my ten-year high school reunion, people I barely knew came up and and told me how meaningful my friendships with them had been. Because I was sincere at 18. I cared about people. I was compassionate and confident, kind and smart. I was tall without slouching. I was voted “Most Likely to Win the Nobel Peace Prize” of my graduating class.

Sometimes I think about what I’ve accomplished in the 16 years since I’ve graduated, and it doesn’t seem like very much. Not compared to friends from high school who, for example, work for NASA. And unless there are Nobel prizes for being able to push a double jogging stroller with 75 pounds of child in it, I’m pretty far from that sort of achievement.

Most days, I’m okay with that.

Most days, I look around our house of IKEA furniture and hand-me-downs, decorated quirkily with my paintings and your paintings, and I’m okay with this life your dad and I have built together. I’m okay with the physical world of it–our modest house and yard, our cars, our neighborhood, our church–and also the intangible parts of it–our friends and loved ones, our community in which we’re invested, the people who cross our lives unexpectedly but deserve our time, our attention, our eye contact. (It’s those intangibles that really matter. It was those intangibles that mattered when I was 18, when I was 23, still matter at 33, and will when I’m 43.)

Most days, when I think about raising two human beings in this world, two little human beings who are such mini-me’s already, I know that if you ended up turning out like me, I’d be proud of you. And even if I do nothing else with my life except raise you to be compassionate and courageous, I’ll be proud of myself.

Most days, when I sit in the swing outside and watch you play in the yard, creating impossible and nonsensical games together, I’m okay with the peace that comes from late-morning sunshine and a flexible season of life that allows me to enjoy it.

Many days, I’m even embarrassed by the extravagance of it.

Because my life is extravagant, here in the sunshine, great American novel or not.

I don’t know that my 23-year-old self would be able to recognize that sort of extravagance.

But I do, at 33. And I hope someday you do, too.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

The Thirty-Fifth Letter: Metaphors & Daily Life

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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.

Love,

Your Momma

The Twenty-Eighth Letter: Bread in the Wilderness

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Dear Daughters,

I was thinking recently about the Israelites in the wilderness, after Moses tells them that God is going to provide bread for them to eat. The next morning, they wake up and there’s this flakey stuff on the ground, and Exodus tells us that they didn’t know what it was. They called it manna, which literally means, “What is it?”

It didn’t look like bread, girls. It was nothing like bread.

We lose the wordplay that emphasizes this part of the story when we call it simply manna today. We hear manna mentioned in sermons and don’t think much of it. But when we say, “God provided manna,” we aren’t saying “God provided sustenance,” we’re saying, “God provided something unrecognizable.”

They called it “What is it?”

Or, you could say, they called it “What the heck?”

Actually, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that calling it manna was a bit like calling it “Are you kidding me, Moses?” A bit like calling it “I don’t know what ya’ll are thinking, but this ain’t no bread.”

This was not the bread that was promised.

Those of us who grew up steeped in scripture and in church tradition hear the word “bread,” and we hear all the connections and metaphor we’re meant to hear—not just Jesus as the bread of life, but the last supper and communion and the bread and grape juice, the loaves of bread that multiplied to feed five thousand families, the breaking of bread that opens the eyes of the disciples in Emmaus to see that the risen Jesus is among them, Elijah promising the widow that her flour will never run out.

There’s a lot of bread in scripture. A lot of provision in scripture. A lot of promise in scripture.

But this flakey stuff the Israelites find all over the ground?

It doesn’t look like bread.

It doesn’t look like what was promised.

I was thinking about all of this on a grumpy day a few weeks ago. It was one of those days I didn’t particularly feel like being a mom.

Are you kidding me, Moses?

I didn’t feel like reheating my tea in the microwave again, eating my lukewarm egg on cold toast, choosing between leaving the bathroom door unlatched to let you come toddling in or closing the door and listening to you knock, knock, knock, Momma, Momma, Momma

This ain’t no bread.

I didn’t feel like the incessant chatter requiring my constant response that is conversation with young children—in the car, at the dinner table, whispered in bed at 5 am.

What the heck?

I didn’t feel like giving up my quiet time in the afternoon to a crying toddler, didn’t feel like playing playdough or getting bundled up to go outside or coloring in coloring books, didn’t feel like letting you “help” make the cookies.

This is not the bread that was promised.

Yes, that’s what I was thinking. This is not the bread that was promised.

And what I meant was: This is not fun.

This is not what I want provision to look like.

This is not the bread I want to eat in this season.

I want to go and bake my own bread, thank you very much. I want cinnamon rolls and French toast and bagels and a sub from a central Pennsylvania pizza place.

So there. Honesty for you.

Sometimes, this is not the bread I want to eat, and so I am not very grateful.

Sometimes it feels like all I’m doing is scraping the flakey stuff off the grass every morning and pretending it’s nourishment.

I figure that’s okay. I’m in good company. Forty years later, it was still nourishing the Israelites, this not-what-I-thought-was-bread stuff, this are-you-kidding-with-me stuff.

Because, of course, it was the Israelites who had it wrong. They didn’t recognize it, but it was exactly what was promised.

It was bread.

It was provision.

It was hope.

It got them through the desert.

But I can guarantee you one thing—they sure were tired of it by the end.

Love,

Your Momma

 

The Twenty-Seventh Letter: Funerals, Faith, & 2015

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Dear Daughters,

My grandfather died on Christmas Eve. He was 92, a decorated World War II veteran, and an overall former badass.

Yes, I can say words like that even though you aren’t allowed to.

In my memory, he was a calm, pinochle-playing, itchily-mustached, white-haired handyman who, right on cue, hollered “What?” whenever I declared “Red” was the color I wanted to play in Uno. I never knew the tough guy he used to be: the red-haired, hard-drinking, angry, physical beast he was before he met Jesus. Those were a lot of the stories we heard at the funeral—stories that woven together spoke of a life of transformation.

During the service, some of my cousins shared poems they’d written about him, and afterward an old friend of the family approached me. “I was surprised we didn’t hear anything from you,” she said. I hadn’t shared anything because I hadn’t written anything.

The truth is, I haven’t written much this last year.

I’ve painted and colored and brainstormed and blogged and read lots of really good novels, but my own creative writing has been a struggle. It’s been a difficult year to be present and attentive, to cultivate the practices necessary for introspection and revelation and seeing the world sacramentally.

Whew. This last year. It was a doozy.

I’m sure it was a beautiful year, too—your first school year, first haircut, first flower girl dress for the eldest; first words, first steps, first birthday for the baby—but it’s hard to remember all those moments of grace. As much as I hate it, the beautiful moments are not the ones that stand out in my memory. It’s the heartache I most remember, I most carry with me. It’s the sobbing on the phone with friends and family who are hurting. It’s the texting conversations about mental illness and unspeakable pain, the sitting in doctors offices to try to share burdens, the taking food to friends who have suffered so much this year. It’s the insomnia and what-if’s and not understanding how yet another person in my close circle of friends could possibly be diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, could possibly be carrying this pain for so long, could possibly…could possibly…could possibly…

That was what 2015 felt like to me, girls.

And then Pappy died Christmas Eve and I went back to Pennsylvania to be with my family, to give hugs, to be present. And in the midst of mourning, I heard stories of hope and transformation, stories of courage and Coca-Cola, stories of heartache, loss and love, fatherhood and forgiveness.

These were stories of faith.

Of faith.

I hear those stories and I’m a little bit jealous.

It’s not that I don’t have faith. I do.

And it’s not that I find it harder to believe in, say, the tenets of my faith or God’s faithfulness or the redeeming narrative of scripture, when I am confronted with the world’s pain, with my loved ones’ pain. No, my instinct is still to believe.

It’s just that, well, some days it’s hard to remember how to have faith. Hard to know what that looks like.

Sometimes, I think it simply looks like surviving the day.

Sigh.

2015 was full of a lot of those days. Days of mere survival.

And that’s okay. We made it through, girls.

We made it.

Love,

Your Momma

 

The Twenty-Fifth Letter: Boom Boxes & What I Can’t Imagine

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Dear Daughters,

One of your lift-the-flap children’s books features a boom box hidden behind two cabinet doors. I honestly don’t know why. The book is nonsensical: under the pillow flap is a banana, for example. It’s silly.

When we lift those flaps to reveal the boom box, I’m never quite sure what to say. “There’s the boom box…radio…music-playing thing,” I trail off.

You don’t know what a boom box is. Obviously.

Though we are hipster enough to play music on a record player occasionally, we primarily stream it on our “devices.”

Back in the 90s, I had a boom box in my bedroom as a teenager. It had a double cassette player and a CD player. I used it to make mix tapes for your dad when we dated in college.

Believe it or not, our 1999 Volvo station wagon has a working cassette player in it. That feels comforting to me. We still have those mix tapes.

My point is this: I’m not very old.

This was not very long ago.

I wrote a poem once about saving a set of encyclopedias for you, despite their obsolescence. Because I loved encyclopedias growing up, loved their pictures, loved the feeling of research. I still do.

In seventh grade, we learned how to write a research paper. It involved reference books and card catalogs and hand-written notecards.

We couldn’t even imagine a world of the Internet.

This was not very long ago.

I was the first of my friends to have a cell phone in high school, and all it did was make calls. I remember my dad’s first car phone, with a huge bag of cords inside on the floor and a giant magnetic antennae outside.

We couldn’t even imagine a world of tweeting and texting, weather apps and Amazon video, Facetiming and asking Siri how to roast pumpkin seeds–all on our phones.

This was not very long ago.

My high school graduation present was a 35 mm camera.

The learn-to-type games we played as kids came on floppy disks. The actual bendy kind.

I was incredulous that wi-fi was a thing when I first heard about it, was confused when USB drives came around, and thought “Twitter” was one of the lamest words I’d ever heard.

This was not very long ago.

It’s not like I lived through the transition to automobiles from the horse-drawn carriage, girls. Nothing that drastic.

Except maybe more drastic.

Because the world has gotten so much smaller in the last thirty years. And also bigger.

Our lives are more public and we’re also more capable of keeping our real selves hidden. We’ve gotten more vulnerable and also more equipped to rally and proclaim. We’ve gotten stronger voices and also more polarizing discourse. We’ve come to expect a diversity of choices and are also more dependent on a global economy. We have so much knowledge at our fingertips and also learn about news instantaneously, errors in reporting and all.

It’s inspiring and frightening, these changes.

I can’t imagine the next thirty years. How can I?

I can’t imagine what life will be like for you. How can I?

In the 1990s, a boom box was pretty amazing.

As I type this, the two of you are watching a PBS show on the iPad about dinosaurs. (For the record, even the dinosaur names have changed since I was a child.) The toddler already knows how to turn off the iPad and begins to swipe the screen. You know which icon gets you to look at pictures, know that the little triangle in the middle of a screen means that a movie can play if you press it, know that talking to faraway grandparents means you get to see them. You even pretend to “text” with your phone toys.

What will life be like for you, girls?

I wonder about it, and I’ll be honest:

It frightens me sometimes.

It gives me hope sometimes.

Sometimes even at the same time.

But I try to focus on the hope part.

You are watching PBS, after all, not princesses. That’s hopeful.

Love,

Your Momma

 

The Twenty-Second Letter: Labor Day & Marking Time

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Dear Daughters,

I shared a story in church a few months ago that I hadn’t shared widely prior to that morning. It was kind of a big deal, standing at the pulpit, telling my story.

We’d decided as a church to “mark time” together during the liturgical season of Ordinary Time–that long, uneventful season from Pentecost to Advent–by sharing stories of the ways we individually keep track of time, the significant events in our lives that have shaped the way we see the world. These can be beautiful moments, but usually, if we’re honest, it’s the painful ones that we remember most vividly. The painful ones that keep coming back to us.

After I shared my story, a friend of mine, someone who is also a writer, asked me if I was planning to write the story out to share it more publicly. I said no, probably not, because while I’m pretty comfortable with strangers reading things that I write, I’m aware that much of what I write for public consumption has been tweaked and edited in such a way as to distance myself from the message. Most of what I write isn’t personal, even when it may seem personal.

There is something about being vulnerable I just don’t like. But my friend thinks that it’s important for us as writers to be as vulnerable and honest as we can because that is what offers hope to the world. Hope to the world.

She really thinks that voicing our pain and our trials and our struggles–being honest when life is hard–and saying me, too, is the way we offer hope.

So.

Maybe there is hope here.

This is the story I told our church:

On Labor Day 2013, I was six weeks pregnant and I had a miscarriage.

I called my doctor, and we decided that it was a textbook case and as long as nothing out of the ordinary seemed to happen, I didn’t need to go to the hospital or even make an appointment for his office–which was good, because I didn’t feel like sitting in a doctor’s office, crying my eyes out. I could barely talk to my mom on the phone to relay the news.

This was the week of our revival at our church. I went to every service but I didn’t tell anyone who superficially asked how I was doing.

I had never experienced loss like that before, though many of my friends had. It was a difficult and dark time, to put it in the most generous terms possible, and I decided, within days, that I never wanted to be pregnant again. My eldest daughter, my sweet girl, would be enough. I couldn’t risk this kind of heartbreak again. I wasn’t strong enough. I cried a lot.

A week later, I was dry heaving on runs and throwing up, and so I did go to the doctor. I found out that there were two embryos in my uterus. A nonviable embryo, which had caused the miscarriage symptoms, and an embryo with a heartbeat. It was good news, shocking news, and also nerve-wracking news. There was reasonable concern about this pregnancy, and it was considered high risk.

You might not know this about me, but I am a worrier. And not just a little bit. A lot. So this whole “high risk” business was excruciating. It weighed me down. Every day. I came to terms with every worst case scenario I could think of. And I still worried.

I worried in Advent as I began to share the news that we were pregnant. As friends and family expressed excitement, I worried inside. I couldn’t be excited because I was afraid.

I worried through the season of Christmas when we had our ultrasound and found out the baby would be a girl. Even her on-screen health didn’t reassure me very much.

I kept worrying through Epiphany and then Lent began. Would she come early, like her sister, and be a Lent baby, or during Easter? I wasn’t the only one wondering. My OB didn’t think I’d make it past Palm Sunday.

She arrived April 25, the Friday after Easter.

Our baby girl’s first name means “light.”

Her middle name means “pearl.”

Two of Jesus’s images for the Kingdom—a light in the darkness, the pearl of great price.

All of that—the darkness and light, the worry and the pearl of great price—is wrapped up in Labor Day for me.

Love,

Your Momma