The Forty-Second Letter: The Basil Metaphor


Dear Daughters,

Every year, we plant basil in our herb garden here at home, and we plant basil in our plot at the community garden. We haven’t been successful growing it from seed, even when we start it early, inside, in egg cartons and yogurt containers, so we buy already-healthy plants and transplant them. We watch them in the early part of summer and pinch off the new growth, as we were taught by a master gardening friend. It stimulates the basil plants to grow bigger and healthier.

Every year, the basil at the community garden thrives. By the end of the season, we are harvesting grocery bags full of basil. I’m not exaggerating. I toss that into the food processor with some olive oil and garlic and we end up with dozens of small jars of frozen pesto in our chest freezer each fall.

Meanwhile, every year, the basil in our own small, corner herb garden shrivels. It never gets big and bushy. We occasionally get enough leaves off of it to garnish homemade pizza on Friday nights, but never enough for a batch of pesto.

This year, I bought well-established plants from a nursery, multiple plants of the same variety, the same height. I planted them in both places.

It didn’t matter that the plants started out the same.

It didn’t matter that they came from the same seeds.

On Wednesday, your dad went over to weed at the community garden, and he said the basil was healthy and bushy over there already. The scent of the first fruits he brought home and put in a mason jar on the windowsill above the sink lingered around the kitchen all day yesterday.

The basil in our herb garden remains small and sad. We suppose it has to do with the amount of sun our small garden gets, compared to the bright sun at our church, with the nutrients in the soil–or lack thereof, with the rain, with circumstances beyond our control.

The plants are the same.

The seeds are the same.

You know, the plants that grow big and healthy didn’t do anything special to make that happen. They aren’t more deserving of the sunshine and the rain. God doesn’t love the community garden basil more than the basil in our small plot at home.

There has been a lot of terrible news in our country this week. It’s the kind of news that just tears me up inside, knots up my stomach, and brings tears to my eyes. I’ll be honest, there are moments when it even makes me afraid to be a parent of young children, as I worry about the future, your future, in what seems like impossibly complicated situations, full of pain and fear and sadness and mistrust.

All I want to do is hold you and protect you and keep you safe. I want to nurture you and water you and offer you sunlight. I want you to grow and thrive.

That’s what all mommas want, girls. That’s what all parents want, no matter where they are planted. 

I’ve been thinking about how absolutely undeserving I am to have children who are safe and healthy and loved. I’ve been thinking about how afraid I am sometimes, how worried I am sometimes, it makes me realize just how spoiled I am, how my perspective is all off.

I take for granted where we’ve been planted. It’s a life of safety and security, of relative ease and comfort. And we are so undeserving.

What if our family had been planted in Syria? What if we were Muslim refugees?

What if we were victims of racial violence? What if we didn’t feel safe in our neighborhood? What if we weren’t sure that the police were trustworthy?

What if we were living on the streets of San Diego and afraid? What if you couldn’t go to school because you had to walk for miles to get our drinking water? What if we were in rural Asia before a storm hit?

The news stories I read about–those are real people’s stories, real families’ stories. Those could be our stories. We are not special.

Because it doesn’t matter where people are planted.

The seeds are the same.

We are all children of God.

We are all made in God’s image.

We are all worthy of respect. We are worthy of sunshine and rain and hope. We are all worthy of beauty.


Your Momma




The Thirty-First Letter: I Am Enough


Dear Daughters,

Sometimes when I’m putting on my makeup in the morning, you ask me about why I do it and why you can’t, and I say it’s a grown-up thing, and then you ask why Daddy doesn’t ever put makeup on, and I’m suddenly confronted with these vast and complex webs of gender and feminism, and feeling the weight of every sociology class I’ve ever taken, I bumble around more than I like and don’t give you good answers.

There aren’t good answers.

It’s tricky to suggest that the makeup makes me prettier or more put together or whatever ridiculous social construct is motivating me to do it, while at the same time emphasizing that you are so stunning, my beautiful girls, so stunning without it. And I’m not even someone who wears a lot of makeup–certainly not every day. It’s easy for me to leave the house without makeup on and not think twice about it.

But I hear you ask why I wear make-up, and I’m torn. If I believe you are gorgeous without it, why not live like I believe I’m gorgeous without it?

Another example: You’ve asked about why I pluck my eyebrows. Because they’re beastly, I want to say.

But I don’t say it. I don’t want you to hear me voice dissatisfaction with myself. (I get the irony here. Ideally there wouldn’t be dissatisfaction with myself.) And yet I tweeze tweeze tweeze to avoid the unibrow. Our genetics are against us, girls.

When we talk about my squishy belly, I pretend to not care that it’s there, to keep you from hearing my inner thoughts, and instead talk about how I carried you inside my belly for many months. I want to help you to see that all bodies are amazing and beautiful. My body is amazing. Your body is amazing.

All bodies are.

Squishy bellies and all.

A friend of mine asked me to take a picture of myself last week with “I am enough” written on my hand, so she could compile a series of photos to raise awareness for Eating Disorder Awareness Week. It was a worthy cause, and an important message on so many levels, so of course I did.

But, well, see, she asked in the morning. While I was in my pajamas. With bedhead. And no makeup on. Actually, I did have makeup on because I hadn’t washed my face from the day before, but I hadn’t brushed my teeth. I wasn’t really feeling like “enough” at the moment.

But then I realized that was the point. So I took the picture.

What does it mean to be enough? To believe that I am enough? That I’m enough of a mom. I’m beautiful just the way I am. That I’m complete. That striving for more isn’t necessary. Maybe all of these things. And a million other things.

I think the point is that there isn’t reason to be dissatisfied. There should be a wholeness to my existence, not a comparison with others or with my former self or future self. Do I live like I’m enough?

I’m not completely sure what that means.

I kept thinking about it throughout the day and then at some point in the afternoon, when I looked back at the picture, I didn’t see my bedhead and unbrushed teeth. I saw those words on my hand.

I AM enough.


Maybe because I had inexplicably capitalized them when printing with the Sharpie on my hand, I suddenly heard the echoes of scripture.


That’s what God says when Moses asks God who God is. I AM.

A present-tense, living God.

Jesus says I AM the bread of life. I AM the light of the world. The gate. The good shepherd. The resurrection and the life. The way, the truth, and the life. The vine. I AM. I AM. I AM.

I AM enough.

It’s a big statement.

I am enough, for sure. Fearfully and wonderfully made, the psalmist says.

But it’s not about me. My life’s not about me. Your life isn’t about you either.

The world will tell you differently. You’ll be told you’re the center of the universe and you should do what makes you feel awesome, but at the same time it will bombard you with messages telling you that you aren’t worthy, that you aren’t complete, that you aren’t enough. You’ll wonder sometimes about your looks, you’ll compare yourself to your friends, to celebrities, to your enemies. I can’t even imagine what the world of social media will look like in ten, twenty years. But I know that you’ll be challenged and nudged and prodded and made to feel less than fearfully and wonderfully made. So much less.

But girls, listen to me.

You are beautiful. You are strong. You are courageous, gifted, intelligent. You are loved and you will love. You are called. You have the image of God in you. You will create and redeem and sustain. This I know.

You are part of something bigger.

And that’s what makes you enough.

I want you to know it. I want you to feel it. I want you to believe it. I want you to live it.

You are enough, girls.

More than enough.


Your Momma