The Hundred-and-Ninth Letter: Ordinary, Extraordinary Summer (Part 1)

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Dear Daughters,

Today is a perfect day.

It is not too hot, the tree branches are swaying in the breeze, and the dappled shade in the yard is in constant, gentle motion. I’m sitting on a plastic Adirondack chair squarely in the middle of the yard as I write this. The two of you are playing with a neighbor in the yard, going back and forth between treehouse-restaurant-sand-baking and balancing on the slack line your dad set up before he left for work this morning.

This morning, I got up and met a neighbor outside for a run—okay, not a “run” per se, but a series of jog/walk intervals for thirty minutes. We all had breakfast. Your dad left. The Bean worked on your math workbook while I read some Magic Schoolbus books to the Goose that are due back at the library tomorrow.

We got a little lost enroute to a juggler performance in the low-income part of town, and since you’re oblivious to the adult categories of suburbia and poverty and income distribution, you told me how beautiful the neighborhood was we were circling around and meandering through–beautiful, you said, because it was so green (overgrown, I would have said, unmown grass, shaggy bushes, but beautiful in your eyes).

I ended up pulling out my maps app to get us to the right park, and we enjoyed the free “outreach” program provided by our library.

We got home in time to braid hair and lather up sunscreen, then leave again to meet another neighbor family and their double stroller at the corner to walk down to our local elementary school’s summer meals program for chicken patty day. After lunch, we played on the playground, eventually walked back up the enormous hill for quiet reading time at home, and now here we are, living an ordinary summer afternoon.

Ordinary and extraordinary, I think.

It’s been cool enough to have our house windows open all day without the A/C kicking on. I’ve got a fresh-mint-and-oregano seltzer water in a mason jar beside me, my old paint jeans fraying at the knees, a wrist brace for a tendonitis flare-up after a painting project yesterday, and my feet bare, with just a hint of a flip-flop tanline, enjoying the dancing clover.

Did you know that, girls? That clover dances? There’s so much to see when you look for it.

As my laptop battery runs out, we’ve got a plan for homemade stromboli for dinner, which is basically the same as homemade pizza and we just had that three days ago, but whatevs. I need to move my Adirondack chair a few feet back because the shade has shifted and my jeans are getting toasty, though the breeze its still amazing. Your dad has a meeting tonight, and we’ve already picked a readaloud book for the time he’s away. You’ll need showers for sure after all of this outside-sunscreen-sandy time. Later, we’ll stick a star sticker on a handprint canvas to mark the passing day, a just-started-yesterday tradition we’re working to incorporate into this ordinary, extraordinary season. Your dad will close the day out with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which you’re listening to for the first time.

That’s what the day is, girls.

Today.

It’s not profound in its parts, but it is in the whole, mostly because I’m paying attention, I guess.

I don’t always pay attention. I don’t even know if I do most of the time, but sometimes, sometimes I do. Sometimes I notice.

And sometimes I write it down.

Love,

Your Momma

 

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The Hundred-and-Eighth Letter: In the beginning was the Word

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Dear Daughters,

In the beginning was the Word.

In the beginning, God created.

In the beginning, God spoke words.

We have a small canvas in our dining room that your uncle painted about twenty years ago. It kind of looks like a dark cliff with a reddish brownish sky behind it, and there are words painted across the bottom in such a way that they run off the canvas. It looks like this

In the beginnin—
        God cre—

To be honest, it’s not excellent art. Even your uncle would say so. But it fits well up there among the abstract paintings you’ve both painted over the last few years and some of my early handlettered canvases.

I like it because it lets the creative act be in process—perpetually in process. 

Yes, in the beginning, God created.

But in the now, God is still creating.

And CS Lewis, in Mere Christianity, points to God’s ‘eternal now’ existence to show that our “today” is as present to God as that first day of creation was/is.

So in the beginning, God created.

And right there with God, was the Word.

And the Word was God.

***

We just wrapped up our second year of homeschooling. The year before that, during our foray into this new season, we learned the first seven verses of John 1 in both English and Latin. I can still say them and sing them. Who knows if you can.

Here are verses 1 through 3:

In the beginning was the Word.
And the Word was with God.
And the Word was God.
This was with God in the beginning.
All things were made through Him.
And without Him, nothing was made, that was made.

What does it mean that the Word was God? That the Word was with God? That Jesus is the Word?

Because that’s of course how the church has interpreted these verses, that Jesus is the Word of God. And Jesus is God. And the Trinitarian God is eternal, so from before the beginning.

Goodness, it can hurt your head if you let it, trust me.

But what about this idea that Jesus is the Word?

Well, let’s see. Creation is spoken into existence. (Or sung into existence, if you’re reading The Magician’s Nephew.) And Scripture tells us that all things were created through Jesus. Through the Word.

Without Jesus, nothing was made. Without the Word.

Without words.

***

Now, I get that I’m a writer, and a handletterer to boot, so I have a particularly high view of words. Of the written word, the spoken word, the crafted word.

I love words.

And I’ve been thinking about what difference it makes to my own faith journey and to the Christian church as a whole that we attest to Jesus being called the Word of God.

I’m teaching a weeklong class this summer on worship and hand-lettering, and I’ve called it “Worship, Welcome, and the Word.”

I chose that title last fall when I decided on the theme for the class, and back then I wrote up a blurb to explain the theme, but it wasn’t until recently that I really sat down and started thinking through and preparing for our class time discussions.

What does it mean to our worship services that Jesus is the Word, and that the Word was with God from the beginning—that the Word was God?

When we talk about churches we attend, Christians in general—or at least evangelical Christians—tend to talk about preaching and about worship style.  Why do we do that? Why do we choose churches based on this criteria? But that’s what we do. Is the preaching good? we ask. What’s the music like? 

I want to move beyond that. And I think we do that by the middle W in my class title—Welcome. 

Thinking about Jesus as the Word, and thinking about worship through the lens of words, can really open up our discussions of worship and the role it plays in welcoming others into the Kingdom.

We are quick to put Jesus at the center of our services—which is, of course, important!—but we tend to focus on Jesus as the way to heaven, or Jesus as teacher, or Jesus as shepherd, or Jesus as the suffering servant. All good things. All important.

But what about Jesus as the Word?

I’m still working out how this matters, because I have this hunch that it does.

Our worship services are full of words, aren’t they? Preaching and praying and singing and making announcements and reading lots of words from the 

Bible, the Word of God, we call it—it’s a very wordy faith. We hang words on our church banners, print them in our bulletins, and post them on our Facebook pages. Words, words, words.

The Gospel message is more than lowercase w words.

It’s about the power of the Word and how that transforms the power of our words.

The words we use when we talk to one another, yes, within the walls of our church, but even more so when we are outside of the church being The Church. Yes, maybe in those moments and conversations and relationships most of all are when the words we use reflect the Word.

Or should reflect The Word.

Words can welcome.

Words can exclude.

Words can wound.

Words can warm.

Words can draw boundaries and lines in the sand. (Jesus literally drew lines in the sand one time—remember what happened next?)

Words can offer safe spaces for vulnerable conversations, me-too words saying you are welcome here in this space, and yes, I know it is hard.

Girls, I really think words matter. How we write them, how we say them, how we feel them deep inside when we’re struggling to pray. All of this. All the words. And they matter because Jesus is the Word.

The Word now. The Word from the beginning.

This matters.

And when there are no words, there is still The Word.

In the beginning.

Now.

Love,

Your Momma

The Hundred-and-Sixth Letter: Fancy Cursive & Plain-Jane Hospitality

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Dear Daughters,

A few weeks ago, I made you a framed poster of the cursive alphabet for our homeschool room. Considering that I am a hand-lettering artist, making such a simple poster ended up taking a lot more deliberate focus than I expected. You know why?

Because I am in the habit of making my own cursive too fancy.

When you were first learning cursive—by which I mean, when you first started imitating the writing that you saw me painting on my canvases—you did it the way of faux calligraphy, like you saw me doing. You thickened your downstrokes. You added flourishes and curly-cues at the end of words. It was adorable, you trying to make your words look like mine. But when we actually started school for Kindergarten, and I wanted to teach you how to practice cursive as part of our handwriting lessons, I had to get you writing regular old plain-Jane cursive.

And it was hard.

For both of us.

It was hard for you because you wanted to make it look fancy. You saw what I was doing and wanted to do it too. (That’s hard for grownups, too, trust me.)

It was hard for me because I could hardly remember how plain cursive looked. It had been a long time since anyone expected me to make my cursive so ordinary, so normal, so everyday.

And so there I was a few weeks ago, writing out the cursive alphabet in pencil, and erasing, and doing a letter again, and erasing, and doing that letter again, simpler this time, sometimes even asking you, “Is this the way your handwriting book has you make a letter ‘W’?” that I found myself feeling the weight of a metaphor.

Girls, it is often during these sorts of tasks, as I lean over a table, eraser in hand or pencil tucked behind my ear, doing something over and over again, that I feel like I figure things out. Call it a nudge of the Holy Spirit, call it the synchronicity of the Universe, call it just the results of thoughtful attention, but I often get my best, deepest thoughts just then, during an ordinary, repetitive task, and often when you are underfoot.

So here it is: the cursive-writing-is-like-hospitality metaphor.

It is hard, in this busy life, to offer ordinary, everyday, plain-Jane hospitality.

It seems to me that when we get in the habit of seeing our homes in terms of picture-perfect Instagram boxes, or when we think HGTV and dinner parties and Fixer-Upper as real-life, or when we simply aren’t living up to our own standards of how much laundry needs to be done or dishes need to be washed or self-care needs to happen because life is so full and we just don’t have time to squeeze in any kind of dinner-planning or invitation-offering or front-door-opening, well, that’s a good sign we have succumbed to the problem of fancy-cursive hospitality.

If our lives are too full to fit in hospitality, it’s because we’re making hospitality too fancy.

And we have forgotten what hospitality is.

It is not a gift given to a certain few.

It is not meal planning and fresh flowers and multiple courses of food.

It is not waiting until the green linoleum is replaced or the yard is neatened up or we finally take the plunge and hire someone to clean our bathrooms for us. It is not waiting until the kids are no longer having quiet time in the afternoons or we have a weekend open where we can actually catch up on XYZ or get to that specialty store to buy that special thing or maybe even just to vacuum the floor. We wait and we want the perfect time and the plan because we like plans and there is so much to do all the time but trust me there has got to be a break here somewhere and then I promise I will finally plan to invite those people over…

No, girls, just no.

Hospitality in the plain-Jane form is this: living life alongside other people. Simply inviting them in to what life already is.

That’s the part that’s easy to forget.

Yes, that part when we invite folks into what our life is, not what we want it to be or what we think it is for other people or what it might be for us in an ideal world on an ideal day at the end of an ideal week.

But to what life is. Today.

Because there is no such thing as an ideal day at the end of an ideal week.

For the record, I’m not talking here about radical invite-strangers-to-your-dinner-table hospitality. I mean, I do think we are called to that, and I can be kind of preachy about it, too, but that’s not what I mean here.

No, I’m talking about opening our normal life to share a normal minute.

And not making it fancy.

I’m talking about a potluck of chili and fixins and assorted desserts and water and coffee and too many people to fit comfortably in the house so thank goodness it ended up being 60 degrees and sunny today. I’m talking about mud in the grass and three families who can’t make it because of illness and one child who gets sick outside before her momma even gets a chance to eat the peanut butter pie she brought. I’m talking about just-met-them-last-night new friends chatting with known-for-a-decade old friends, and we’ll figure out how to let people wash their own dishes even though that makes things awkward kind of hospitality.

And, girls, let’s be real: I’m also talking about genuinely not feeling like doing it but doing it anyway, even after we realize it’s the same weekend as a million other commitments and we’ll be out late the night before and it’s the beginning of a long, busy month, and the week before is the polar vortex, and does anyone even care if it’s the Super Bowl, is that a good reason to cancel, no, okay, let’s just do it, and we do and it is good because that is what hospitality is.

Yes, that is what non-fancy, plain-Jane hospitality is.

Y’all, shared life on a normal day will never, ever be convenient.

But we do it anyway.

Because I want you to know how to write cursive.

And I want you to know how to share your life.

And I want you to know it is all hard.

Really hard.

But all good, too.

Love,

Your Momma

The Hundred-and-Second Letter: Love Wins (Advent 2)

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Dear Daughters,

This week, I’ve been thinking about love.

That is, I’ve been thinking what it means that God is love.

Silent night, holy night. 
Son of God, Love's pure light.

I’ve also been thinking about what it means for us to love.

People look east and sing today: 
Love, the Guest, is on the way.

I’ve been wondering what it means that God created us to love and showed us how to love selflessly, and that the testimony of Scripture absolutely never lets God’s own people off the hook when it comes to loving others.

And wonders of his love,

I don’t know, maybe it’s because you’re playing all the Christmas carols all the time on the piano, so our typical moratorium on Christmas music during Advent has been a little flexible.

and wonders of his love, 

Or maybe it’s because in Advent we live in this already/not-yet time of believing Jesus came once as a baby and will come again at the end, and in the middle we get to be his Body, the hands and feet of Jesus, as I have maybe said once or twice or a thousand times. We get to do the works of love. We get to be love. We get to be Jesus to the world.

and wonders, wonders of his love.

Girls, I’m also thinking about love a lot because there is so little love coming across the news feed these days. There’s lots of talk about walls and rules and danger and fear. There’s lots of talk about systems getting abused and people not pulling their own weight. There’s lots of talk about guns and money and campaign promises and security and who is going to pay for what.

And into this, girls, we also proclaim that Love, the guest, is on the way.

Love, the Guest.

We’ve actually had a lot of guests in and out over the last two weeks. We made special treats for them. We sat out hot cocoa and coffee and made little signs about the heavy cream being in the frig. We turned on music, lit candles.

We made our space welcoming.

And of course we’re getting ready for overnight guests next weekend and then also the following weekend. Your dad washed the sheets. I made the bed. Tomorrow you’re going to pick up all your toys in the guest room. We took our guests’ preferences into account at the grocery store, as we planned our meals, as we thought about scheduling and logistics.

We want our guests to know they are welcome in our home.

But what does it mean to welcome capital-L Love as a guest? That’s part of what I’m thinking about.

God is love.

Love, the Guest, is on the way.

In addition to our normal Advent activities this year, we’ve been reading about work being done by our denomination’s missionaries all around the globe and right here at home. I picked up a booklet at church that is a year-long prayer initiative, and every day during meals, I try to read to you about a particular missionary family in a particular place doing particular work.

Given the worldwide refugee crisis, I shouldn’t be surprised at what I’m about to tell you, but I’ll admit I have been. Almost every single missionary we have read about–those in Asia, in Europe, in Africa, as well as those in Virginia and North Carolina and Texas–nearly every single one works with displaced peoples, refugee settlement and advocacy, building community with the least of these, for the least of these.

In this day and age, with millions of displaced persons around the globe, this is so obviously to me the work of the Gospel.

Every day, I am talking with you about immigrants and refugees. We talk about those who choose to move and those who are forced to move. We talk about why it’s hard for them to find new homes. We talk about some very big, very hard-to-understand issues. You ask a lot of good questions, and sometimes there are no good answers.

Every day, we are talking about how difficult it would be to have to move and restart our own life somewhere else.

We are praying for these displaced families, and for those who work with them, and when I hear your little voices pray for such big things, every day I can’t help but wonder, here in my own little world, in my own little town, in my own little house: what does it mean to love the least of these?

What does it mean to make space for Love?

What does it mean to live the Gospel?

And specifically, this week, what does it mean to love during Advent? What does it mean to love as we prepare for the coming of Jesus as a baby, and also the coming of Jesus at the end of calendar time?

Because that’s kind of the best thing about Advent: that it’s both. It’s what connects the last week of the church year–Christ the King–with the baby in the manger and with  God’s plan of love from the very beginning.

Advent means “coming” or “arrival,” of course.

And the well-known refrain from the early church is right at the heart of all three “comings” of Advent:

Christ has come. Christ is coming. Christ will come again.

You know what God’s creation of the world teaches us? That Love is at the beginning of the story, searching for us, asking where we are when we most want to hide.

You know what God’s coming into the world as a most-vulnerable baby born to an oppressed people in the “fullness of time” teaches us? That God’s love is perfect.

You know what Christ the King Sunday taught us? That Love wins.

Love’s pure light was from the beginning.

The wonders of God’s love are echoing all around us.

Love will win.

Girls, it already is winning. I see it in you.

Turn off the news.

Love,

Your Momma

Big News!

we live here announcement

P.S. If you enjoy reading the letters I post regularly to my daughters here on the website, I hope you’ll consider helping me spread the word about my most recent book project. It’s the second fifty letters in a tidy 180-page paperback. It makes a great Christmas present!

The Hundred-and-First Letter: Personality Types & Praying in Walmart (Advent 1)

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Dear Daughters,

I have long given up pretending that I am not an introvert. I tell people all the time that though I masquerade as an extrovert—I am fine with public speaking, for example, and am friendly with strangers and crowds—the truth is that I am introverted at my core and all those extroverted outward-focused activities completely wear me out. My energy comes from being quiet. In my quiet, restful house. Writing. And drinking tea. With a stack of novels nearby. And probably some paint splatters.

What I sometimes fail to tell people, because it doesn’t come across as very polite, is that I would pretty much always prefer to stay home than go out. And I would pretty much always prefer to be alone, or with your dad, or just with you, than to have anyone else in my personal space. Even my friends. Because friends are still other people, and other people wear me out.

And so, you might be thinking, why the heck do I insist on inviting people into my personal space? And not just theoretically but actually. Why do I not just leave invitations vague instead of nailing them down or, what’s worse, keeping them open as standing invitations? These are good questions, and I’ll tell you the answer.

The Kingdom of God.

You see, I don’t think our personality types let us off the hook when it comes to the Kingdom of God. I’ve been kind of preachy about this lately.

The truth is, the Kingdom of God requires a lot of us. It requires all of us. It requires the things that are hard for us, and the things that are easy for us.

Some parts of Kingdom work are hard for extroverts. Sabbath-keeping, for example. Contemplation and introspection and a radical prayer life.

Sabbath-keeping is not so hard for me, girls. I require rest and set-aside time to function. So that part of the Ten Commandments? Easy-peasy for this INFJ.

But you know what is hard for introverts? Opening our front doors. Putting down our novels and our journals and maybe even pausing in our prayers to look someone in the eye and let her know she is valuable to the Kingdom. Or how about leading a women’s Bible study in the middle of every week that is already full? Or inviting neighbors over for a St. Nicholas Day party after your daughter’s piano recital? Or inviting your writing group in for a Christmas-card-making get-together the same week?

Or all three, because that was last Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday?

When I am in my thoughtful Advent groove, I’m all peace, joy, contemplation, isn’t the Kingdom of God wonderful, and oh that’s right I should invite people over to show them the love of Jesus, and so I do.

But then it comes down to it and I really don’t feel like having people over. I really don’t feel like showing up. Again. I really don’t feel like it because I know I will be exhausted and I don’t even care, God, that it will be fun and worthwhile and holy because these are Kingdom tasks.

So there you have it.

Advent blessings. Doing it. Not wanting to do it. Doing it anyway. Rewarding Kingdom work. Still needing a nap, please go home.

And after those three days, we had choir practice Saturday morning and then I needed to go to Walmart to finish up some Christmas shopping. (There are two parts of that errand that I resented—going to Walmart for anything, and doing my Christmas shopping when I have been in such an Advent groove.)

So I went to Walmart and wandered patiently around even though there were workers restocking in the aisles I needed in and one aisle was completely closed for cleaning purposes (and wouldn’t open for 24 hours—at Walmart! On a Saturday!). I still kept my cool and even made chitchat with other shoppers to help defuse everyone’s stress. Your dad would have totally made fun of me for being a busybody but I don’t care because I am sure God shows up when I talk to strangers.

But I couldn’t help myself, girls, and eventually the frustrations of being in a place I didn’t want to be, doing an errand I didn’t want to do, started to get the best of me. Picture this: I had a fifty-gallon Sterilite tub propped on top of my cart. I know this sounds ridiculous and unbelievable, but you’ll have to trust me. Your dad needed a giant plastic tub thing with a lid for storing firewood in the basement, and I had a 36-roll or some kind of giant number of toilet paper rolls in the cart on top of all the art supplies and blinking tooth brushes I’d grabbed you, and the 50-gallon tub is big enough for both of you to sit in it, and that was blocking my view as I pushed my cart around. Yes, this is funny, I understand. But my mood was not amused at this point. I made it to the checkout and the woman in front of me had so many items. I couldn’t see how many at first because of the tub (obviously), but she just kept loading her items on the conveyer belt. The cashier had to go and get a second cart to start loading with filled bags because even though the conveyer belt was overflowing with items—everything from baby bouncer toys to groceries—the woman’s cart was still relatively full of other items. (I kid you not, more than twenty minutes passed from the time I texted your dad to say I was checking out until I was actually checking out.) All of that to say, I kept taking deep breaths and every time I thought, I should change check-out lines, I said to myself, no, you’re fine, you’re not in a hurry, be patient. But my frustration finally, finallystarted to get the best of me, and I started to think unkind thoughts toward this person who was taking so long to check out.

This is not a big deal, obviously. Except for this: it is a big deal.

What I mean is, it’s totally normally to get frustrated and judgey at the person in front of you in the checkout at Walmart.

We’ve all been there, done that.

But that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. Not Kingdom-of-God acceptable. Not all-people-are-made-in-the-image-of-God acceptable. Not as-much-as-you-have-done-it-to-the-least-of-these acceptable.

And as I was standing there and thinking about how this woman was intruding on my time to be all thoughtful and Adventy and taking me away from my family and making me feel bitterness about Christmas shopping and Walmart when I was having such a good, full, loving-others week, well, I knew I was in dire straights.

So I started praying for her.

Your dad teased me about this later when I told him I had no other choice but to pray for her. But whatever.

Of course, I didn’t know that woman’s story. Without knowing her, I prayed for her to have peace, and to know the fullness of this season, the beauty of Jesus. I prayed for her to know what it was to be loved, and for her not to feel the stress of Christmas. But I mostly just prayed for her heart.

Girls, I still don’t know her. I didn’t suddenly meet her and find out her life changed because I prayed for her. There’s no miracle here. I will probably never see her again.

But that time (more than twenty minutes!) I spent waiting in the Walmart check-out line? It was Kingdom work, girls. I promise. It was Advent work.

It changed me and my little INFJ heart.

And that’s what I wanted to tell you this first week of Advent.

Love,

Your Momma

The Ninety-Ninth Letter: Hospitality (Worth Saying Again)

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Dear Daughters,

I’ve noticed that there are two areas of normal life practice that I approach in significantly different ways than many of my friends.

One is stranger danger — this idea of seeing others as potential threats to my children.

The other is hospitality — the idea of welcoming others into our space.

They’re two sides of the same coin, as the cliche goes. Because hospitality applies to welcoming strangers in as well as friends. And if we are constantly in a defensive mode related to strangers, how can we ever welcome them in?

Recently it came up in conversation with a friend that she definitely doesn’t have folks into her home unless it is clean. And not just picked up a bit, but clean clean. Whether it’s family or friends or whathaveyou, she and her husband always clean if people are going to come over, even if they’re just stopping in quickly to pick something up.

I, too, understand the desire to present a clean house to others. I absolutely do. It’s why I make you pick up your toys before we have a planned gathering of friends.

But our house is never clean. Not in a thoroughly clean-clean sort of way. Your dad and I don’t make cleaning a priority, and we don’t plan to any time soon.

And not inviting others in is not an option for me.

Not only do we have folks regularly over to our house for meals and book discussions and I have friends in at least weekly to share a cup of tea or talk about our creative journeys, but we are also often opening our door to neighbors stopping by spontaneously for a chat–and then staying awhile.

Recently while we were preparing to host a group for a meal and theology discussion, I was just finishing up getting food together and standing before a sink of dirty dishes, knowing that there was a mess elsewhere in the house that needed to be dealt with. I heard one of you say that a neighbor and her two kids were at the door.

“Well, let her in!” I hollered from the kitchen.

So they came in, and I chatted while I finished washing dishes and putting dry ones away, and the green linoleum stayed sticky, and the only vacuuming that had happened in awhile had been done by the six year old.

But it didn’t matter.

We talked about preschool evaluations, buying organic food, Halloween candy, and she offered to take your astronaut costume back to our other neighbor who lent it to us. When she got ready to leave, one of her children wanted to stay and help with your puzzle instead of leaving. Which was fine with us, and he so he stayed.

Girls, that’s what neighbors do. We open the front door, even when we have a sink of dishes and a group of people arriving within the hour. We don’t pretend we’re not home. We don’t make excuses for why our homes aren’t clean.

We say, hey, y’all, welcome to real life! 

A messy house is the best way to make people feel welcome in your space.

Also, I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: the Gospel doesn’t let you off the hook.

There’s nowhere that you can find in Scripture where God says, “Yeah, this care you must provide to the exile, widow, stranger among you? Don’t worry about doing that if your house isn’t clean. I totally understand messy houses. You’re off the hook.”

No, God says, welcome them to your mess.

Hospitality is about the mess.

If you are only welcoming others into a clean house, you are not welcoming them into real life.

I know a lot of people believe there is such thing as the “gift” of hospitality. People say that sort of thing to me, as if hospitality comes naturally to me. But this idea that some people are good at it and some people aren’t? I don’t see that in Scripture either. Hospitality in Scripture is the default of the people of God. There’s no choice.

And there are whole treatises and books written on how early Christians were known for their hospitality because it was so countercultural. The earliest inns and orphanages and hospitals were Christian people caring for people that the rest of the world thought were sketch. (Obviously, right? Look at the word “hospital.”)

We offer hospitality because God has offered us hospitality by welcoming us to the Table. There’s a reason some traditions call the bread of communion the “Host.”

I have said this so many times, girls, but every time I feel the urge to make an excuse for the state of our house, I know I need to hear the message again.

I am preaching to my own heart.

Because, even for me, the easy option is not to open the door. It’s what I would prefer. I am not an extrovert. I would rather not invite people over. I would rather just say “we should get together sometime” and leave it open and be noncommittal, rather than “how about coming over for tea at 10 am tomorrow?”

But if we’re not welcoming others in, well, there’s no other way to say it: we’re not welcoming Jesus in.

Love,

Your Momma

The Ninety-Seventh Letter: Sacrament and the Trinity

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Dear Daughters,

One of our professor friends recently asked me to be a special guest in a theology class she teaches called “Women in the Christian Tradition.” All of her other special guests this semester have been ordained ministers, but she asked me, a non-full-time-minister, to come and talk about how faith informs and shapes my vocation — as artist, writer, mother, wife, daughter, friend. Every part of my life.

Basically, she knows I’m a thinker, even an over-thinker, so she knew I would have plenty to say.

And of course she was right.

I certainly talked about my vocation in descriptive terms: writer, poet, novelist, handletterer, painter, copyeditor, liturgist, logo-designer, homeschool teacher, small group leader, ordained deacon, after-school program volunteer, INFJ, Highly Sensitive Person, collector of stray people.

And I shared my faith journey, how experiences in both conservative, progressive, charismatic, and liturgical communities have enriched my spiritual life and given me important signposts that keep me on the path. How I’ve learned that at the heart of our faith is a radical call to love, and if we say we take Scripture seriously, we can’t get around that.

And then I talked about how my faith has given me some important lenses through which I see the world and my role in that world as part of the Kingdom of God.

Girls, it wasn’t until I sat down before the class and started jotting down notes to organize my thoughts (in my normal non-linear free-writing way) that I began to articulate some of these connections. And those connections surprised me.

Don’t get me wrong: I certainly write a lot about faith and vocation. I write it, I think it, I say it. 

I write a lot about attentiveness and why it matters.

I write a lot about sacrament and how fruitful it can be to see grace in ordinary, mundane moments.

And I also write a lot about the Trinity. When I pray in church, I pray Trinitarian prayers. When we light our three candles at home on the dining room table, I’ve taught you to say “Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer” or “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

(In church last week, one of the hymns had the words “Holy Spirit” in it, and so I leaned over to the Bean to whisper, “Holy Spirit, like in the Trinity,” and you looked at me, confused, and said, “Um, yeah, I know that.” As if of course you know the members of the Trinity like they’re your BFFs.)

But still, still, I was surprised, even knowing that I write on these topics all the time, I was still surprised as I jotted down notes to share with this class how intertwined these ideas are. I was surprised at the extent to which how I see my vocation is shaped by the particular ideas of sacrament and the Trinity, and all of this is wrapped up in attentiveness.

When I use the terms ‘sacrament’ and ‘sacramental,’ I am circling around the definition of capital-S Sacrament, that is, a visible sign of invisible grace, but I don’t mean that exactly.

I mean more a sacramental imagination, a way of seeing the world and all of my ordinary, lived experiences as places where I can point to the grace of God breaking through. Because, of course, I believe that God does break through into normal, ordinary experiences. And so this idea of seeing the world with sacrament-tinged vision really has shaped me and continues to shape me.

A sacramental understanding of lived experience is, I’m pretty sure, how I survived those early years of motherhood, and is the reason I have written nearly 100 of these letters. I want you to see that this lived and ordinary life we live is worthy of notice. It’s holy. And it matters.

But maybe it’s harder to see how I instinctively connect the Trinity to this idea of vocation. I mean, let’s be real, a lot of Christians say they “believe” in the Trinity but most of us are actually trying to explain it to our children using heretical ideas that got people killed in the early centuries of the faith. Because the Trinity is hard to get. Hard to understand. Harder still to articulate. Anyone who pretends otherwise hasn’t really spent much time in the New Testament, especially the Gospel of John. Besides, even the Eastern and Western Churches have disagreement over the doctrine of the Trinity.

I have struggled for a significant portion of my adult life to understand why it matters at all as a doctrine and instead have taken on faith the idea that it mattered to the early church so clearly it must matter.

In recent years, I’ve taken to using Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer as a way to help me understand the Trinity. And I promise you that it’s not solely as a way to avoid using gendered words for God, though you know these things also matter to me.

No, it’s more like this: when I think about God as Creator, and God as Redeemer, and God as Sustainer, it makes it more clear to me what it means that we have the image of God, the imago dei, in us. 

When I pray to a God who creates, who redeems, and who sustains, I better know how to live in the world. I better know how to fulfill my vocation as a little-c creator, a little-r redeemer, a little-s sustainer.

When we see that our calling is to be creators, we recognize a call to create beauty from chaos. That is the story of Genesis. That is what is needed as we look at the chaos in our world today. Do you feel overwhelmed in the chaos, girls? Create beauty.

When we see our calling to be redeemers, we recognize a call to work for justice, for restoration in all its forms, but especially on behalf of those least able to work for it themselves. The most vulnerable. Just as, in our vulnerability, Jesus came to show us how to live and how to offer our lives. But even more: he came to set things right.

When we see our calling to be sustainers, we recognize a call to restore community, to reach outside of ourselves. We acknowledge that we do not serve alone, we do not get by alone, we cannot turn inward to find God but outward. God is community.

And we cannot do any of this–we cannot see the glimpses of grace in the ordinary, we cannot be the people of God in the world living fully into the imago Dei--without attentiveness.

We must be attentive to God’s work (yes, as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer) in the world.

And we must be attentive to see the work that needs to be done–where beauty can rise from the chaos, where there is injustice and unjust systems, where our own conveniences and privilege stand in stark contrast to the lives of the most vulnerable, where there are broken communities in need of healing, of hope, of love.

So, girls, I am convinced that even as we witness God’s grace breaking through into ordinary lived experience, the call to action remains great.

Because it is a call to love.

When we pay attention, that’s what we find is at the center of our vocation as the people of God.

A call to love.

Love,

Your Momma

 

The Ninety-Fourth Letter: Withered like Grass

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Dear Daughters,

I hope when you are adult the word “hashtag” doesn’t really exist, or rather I hope at least that English language speakers have moved on to some other bizarre way of articulating their feelings. But hashtags are indeed a thing right now in this strange world where social media influences language choices.

There’s one hashtag in particular that’s been annoying me: #bloomwhereyouareplanted.

That is, bloom where you’re planted.

At first glance, it probably seems like something I’d endorse, doesn’t it? No matter your circumstances or current situation, find and live a beautiful life. Yada yada yada.

The thing is, flowers don’t control their blooming. And just because they’re blooming doesn’t mean they’re healthy.

(For example, trees and plants that are under stress often bloom and go to seed in a desperate attempt to survive. Our large maple tree that was completely rotted at its core was still producing helicopters this spring.)

Now, if the focus were on roots, that I could potentially get behind. I do think we need to work on sending our roots down deep to find nourishment. But whether that results in blooms? I’m not sure. Sometimes it doesn’t rain, girls. Sometimes the sun is scorching hot. Sometimes, sometimes, sometimes.

Today I picked up my Bible and read a Psalm in which twice—TWICE—the psalmist mentioned feeling “withered like grass.”

When I read that, it really rooted itself in my heart. (See what I did there? What can I say, I amuse myself.)

I thought, YES, that is how I feel. That is how I have been the last few days. Withered. Exhausted. Run down. Unsettled. I’ve not been sleeping well and I’ve been unfocused. I can’t pinpoint a cause, but probably hormones, because that’s life. One of my friends suggested maybe it’s related to the lunar cycle. Who knows. But “withered like grass” felt like a good way to describe how I have been feeling.

Except—and this is the problem with overthinking everything—I’m pretty familiar with grass these days, so I really started thinking about what it meant to be withered like grass.

There are two different reasons why grass “withers,” as far as I can tell. One is because of lack of nourishment. Not enough rain. Too much heat. Grass will stop growing and then turn brown. It gets hard and scratchy. (When we lived in Texas, one time when your dad fell while playing ultimate frisbee in the grass, he had a huge gash in his leg because the grass cut his leg open. The grass!)

But grass also withers in the winter time.

That’s just seasonal, girls. Winter is dormancy, and it’s heading toward Spring, and lots of beautiful things are happening under the surface, but it’s STILL BROWN AND SCRATCHY AND UGLY.

So a seasonal withering doesn’t necessarily feel good but is totally a normal part of the spiritual life. It’s worth acknowledging. And it probably hurts, but there’s beauty coming.

But back to that first kind of withering—that lack of rain and too much sun kind—the withering that comes from being undernourished? Well, if one thing this summer has taught me from mowing the lawn is that as soon as the rain comes, that grass can shoot right up. It doesn’t seem to matter just how long it’s been. That grass will grow more than an inch a day. It will crowd out the vegetable plants growing in the raised beds. It will need to be mowed twice a week and still look shaggy.

There is so much metaphor packed in here, girls. You know I love a good metaphor. And I don’t even care if my unpacking of the metaphor is poor exegesis.

Because I’m feeling withered.

But that’s not a hopeless place to be. That’s what I’m trying to say.

Love,
Your Momma

The Ninety-Third Letter: Make Space for Stories

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Dear Daughters,

A friend I’ve gotten to know this last year wept beside me yesterday as she shared about her mom’s death and the dark times that followed the loss. We were sitting in our homeschool practicum training together—not exactly the space you’d expect vulnerable sharing to take place—and I ended up needing a tissue, too, just sitting beside her, touching her shoulder, listening to her words.

The thing is, I hadn’t known that piece of her story until yesterday, because even though we’ve shared classroom life together for the last year, even though I’ve been to her house and bought eggs from her and eaten weekly packed lunches across the table from one another, there was never really an opportunity to share our stories. There was always lots of chaos and kids and chatter and distraction and pretty much no vulnerability.

Girls, today is Fathers Day. I could write about how amazing your dad is or how amazing my two dads are or about God the Father, but instead I want to talk about our stories and why we need to do better at offering them, listening to them, and providing space to hear them.

This morning I saw the daughter of a friend weeping in church, and because I do know a piece of her story and the pain related to fatherhood in her testimony, my heart felt heavy for her. So heavy. I wanted to say, it’s okay, this is a heavy day, it’s a complicated day, go ahead and cry in church, you are welcome here. I wanted to say so many things.

Then I started looking around our sanctuary and my heart felt even heavier because even though I saw folks I see every single week, I realized how many people’s fatherhood stories I don’t know—mourning fathers, absent fathers, broken families—and how much pain there certainly was right alongside me in the pew. (Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure there was plenty of joy alongside me, too, but on Hallmark holidays, the silent stories are usually sad and complicated ones.)

Girls, I’ve been thinking about this idea of not knowing others well enough to really know their stories.

But if we don’t know people’s stories, we can’t be part of their story. We can’t rejoice with them. We can’t mourn with them. We can’t remember with them.

We can’t do life with them. Not really.

And we certainly can’t be the Kingdom of God to them.

One of the (unexpectedly) best things about being a writer is that when I share something personal in a public forum, I’m nearly always tracked down afterwards so folks can offer me a “me, too” story in response. Sometimes it’s a text or an email or a direct message. Sometimes it’s catching me in the hall at church or sending me a letter in the mail.

But I’ve found that by going first, by being vulnerable, especially in a public way, it provides an opportunity for others to share the hard things.

It might seem like everyone wants to keep private things private—I myself am a pretty private person and it doesn’t come naturally to me to share vulnerably—but when someone realizes that you’ve been through the same thing, cried the same tears, felt the same frustrations, prayed the same prayers, they often do want to tell their story.

Because we’re never as alone as we think we are.

It is hard though.

It’s hard to share the hard things. It’s hard to even make the space for the relationship that leads to the conversations that enables the honesty.

It’s so much easier to just say we’re okay.

But please don’t, girls.

Please make the space for the hard conversations. The honest conversations. The relationships that empower others to be vulnerable.

There’s no easy how-to for any of that, of course. It’s not something I can do for you, and I don’t know how it happens.

But I do know that those relationships, those stories, are where the Kingdom of God is.

I’m sure of it.

Love,

Your Momma