The Hundred-and-Fifteenth Letter: Hope Nonetheless

Dear Daughters,

I have long teased your dad about his tendency to overbuild. When he built our compost bin, for example, I joked that it would be a great tornado shelter, because it was way more massive than I had envisioned it. 

But the truth is, he builds things well: well-planned and built-to-last.

When we bought our house ten years ago, a large maple tree towered in the backyard. She was massive, but we knew she wouldn’t live long because she was hollowed out, a large dark gaping hole at her heart, a cave of sorts. She reached high to the sky, though, and every season would drop thousands of helicopters, a last gasp at life, it seemed.

Over the years, I wrote many poems about that tree, so rich in symbolism with the hole in her heart and leaves dancing in the wind, reaching for the sky. 

You can see what I mean about the symbolism.

A few summers ago, knowing she wouldn’t be safe for much longer, your dad decided to cut back her huge limbs and build a treehouse of sorts around her.

Now, I thought he was going to build a treehouse which was the equivalent of slapping a few pieces of plywood up there and nailing them into the tree and calling it good.

Needless to say, that is not what he was planning. And even his plans, which were already pretty heavy-duty, had to be revisited: as soon as he tried to mount anything to the tree, he realized she was not able to support any amount of weight. She was even more rotted than we knew; the cave in her heart wasn’t just from the bottom, but also from the top. (In fact, there was a possum residing up there, but that’s an amusing story for another day.) 

So in order to build a treehouse “in” the tree, the structure would have to be completely self-supporting, surrounding the tree. Completely self-supporting.

And so it is.

In fact, it has been mentioned a time or two that the treehouse is likely to outlive the tree.

It is a tall treehouse: tall enough that we adults can walk under it with a push mower.

It is a strong treehouse: strong enough to bear adult weight, though most adults don’t feel comfortable up so high, we’ve learned.

Your dad added a basket and pulley system; the ladder rungs are intentionally wide to keep tiny tots (mostly) from climbing it; and even with the limbs cut back and the bark barely holding on these days, the tree has enough mass to partly shade the back of the treehouse through the hottest part of the day.

What I mean is, the treehouse has been a resounding success, drawing neighborhood kids into the yard, entertaining you both for hours at a time. It is your restaurant and your kitchen, your secret area, your garden, your mess of sand and buckets. I don’t even know the half of it, because I don’t go up there.

But this week, as I sat in the yard and looked at the tree—still hollow, even more so than before, the bark now crumbling off, somewhat due to the neighbor kids, and the strong limbs chopped off and broken—she seemed forlorn, resigned, maybe even sad.

Or maybe that’s not fair. Maybe she was none of these things.

Maybe it was just that seasons change in unexpected ways, especially when you are settled into a rhythm that seems to be working, and you’re pretty sure you know the direction things are going.

But then they don’t go that way.

These are heavy feelings.

Because though she no longer reaches to the sky, her new life as a playground—you are both able to climb to the very tippy top of her chopped-off limbs and perch there, frighteningly high—somehow, miraculously, this new life simultaneously gives me hope while my heart feels the weight of sadness. Isn’t that a strange paradox?

Yes, she gives me hope, nonetheless, that there is a new season to be discovered, even as some things get more and more crumbly around us.

Girls, I thought this would be a letter about Covid-19 and how I’m processing it, but as it turns out, it isn’t. 

Or at least it isn’t only about that.

I’m reading a lot of Jan Richardson’s poetry blessings these days, mostly from her collection Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons. Richardson’s words are helping guide my thoughts during this extraordinarily Lenten upheaval we are all living through.

Her blessing, “Rough Translations,” in the Lent section of the book, opens with these lines:

Hope nonetheless.

Hope despite.

Hope regardless.

Hope still.

– Jan Richardson, from “Rough Translations,” Circle of Grace

Girls, these are the words that were on my mind this week while you were playing in the yard on a bright day of sunshine as schools were being closed around the country, and I was studying the broken and beautiful tree (from my comfortable, albeit overbuilt, wooden swing), and somehow it seems fitting to end with them, too, I think.

Hope nonetheless, girls.

Hope nonetheless.

That’s enough.

Love,

Your Momma

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 Ninth Letter: Seasons of Grump & Maundy Thursday Do-Overs

photo 1Dear Daughters,

It’s Maundy Thursday, and the truth is, I haven’t felt very Lenten.

It hasn’t felt like Holy Week this week since, on Sunday, I stayed home with a double-ear-infected child and missed the palm-branch waving. I’m kind of grumpy about that. I’ve been kind of grumpy that it’s spring break for the public schools this week and so nobody else seems to care it’s Holy Week either. I’ve been kind of grumpy about the fact that all of us are sick for the seventeenth time this year, and I’m a little tired of following children around the house with tissues while hardly being able to breathe myself without coughing up a lung.

So there’s that. Lots of grump.

And then this morning it was warm, so I said we could go outside and play for a little bit. The toddler ran out onto the deck in socks because the neighbors were already outside getting into their van (and she’s an unashamedly nosy creature, which she gets from her mother), and then before I even had time to pour myself a cup of tea, she hollered that it had started raining and scurried her little feet back inside.

Sigh.

Some seasons are just grumpy seasons. Days, weeks, months, years. Call it Lent if you want. Or call it life. I call it motherhood. That’s how it feels to me.

And then it rains and you feel even grumpier until you hear those drops on the back deck and the windows on the north side of the house and you remember something. Something you’d forgotten. You like rain. You do.

I do, at least.

I’d almost forgotten because it has been awhile since I’ve been able to enjoy it.

In that hazy, previous life before children, I would open the windows when it rained and squat down by the floor and breathe in that strange beginning-of-downpour scent and open up the laptop or the journal or get out the scrap paper and write. I used to run in the rain or walk in the rain or just reach my hand out the door and feel the rain on my bare skin.

With little ones circumnavigating me during all waking hours, however, this just doesn’t happen anymore. Rain means I stay inside and incubate germs. And get grumpy about it. Windows stay closed because the draftiness generates whininess and goose bumps. With little ones, the only rain I hear is the white noise machine imitation of rain.

Three years into this business of motherhood, and I’m pretty tired of the white noise, girls. Pretty darn tired of it.

But: rain.

Rain has always Inspired me. Capital-I Inspiration. There’s something alive and refreshing and starting-the-day-or-week-or-month-or-season-over that happens when it rains.

And I need those do-overs.

I need to be reminded, as I remind you when you grump about the weather, that God created the world to work this way. Rain nourishes the ground so the lettuce seeds in the garden can germinate. Rain nourishes. Seeds germinate.

We get a do-over.

Lent’s nearly over and, I’ll be honest, it’s unlikely that the upcoming weekend is going to be very meditative for me. Good Friday. Holy Saturday. Easter morning. They’ll come, I’ll go through the motions, tissues and cough drops in hand, maybe get around to filling that antibiotic prescription, and then they’ll be over. I’ll probably be a little grumpy. Or a lot grumpy. But, girls, that’s okay. That’s the way it is sometimes.

Because today, today, I did open the windows downstairs for a little while. I did listen.

And when your feet got cold, I put socks on you.

Love,

Your Momma