The Hundred-and-Twelfth Letter: A New (Home)School Year

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Dear Daughters,

We started school this week, so I guess this is the requisite back-to-school post.

I knew this year would have a different feel to it since both of you are home every day and officially “in school.” The past two years, the Goose has always been at preschool two or three days each week, but now she’s in Kindergarten, and the Bean is in second grade.

I realize it’s only been two years since I led a child through Kindergarten curriculum, but apparently I’d managed to forget just how hands-on it can be. Still, we’re making progress each day with figuring out how our schedule will (or won’t!) work. All I can say is, I assume parents who homeschool a half-dozen kids at home are significantly more organized than I am.

I spent a lot more time planning this year, knowing that homeschooling two would be considerably different than homeschooling one child, especially when the first child was an independent and focused child like the Bean. This summer, I worked on a daily, subject-by-subject schedule, printed off our state’s academic standards by subject for each grade, and wrote a report about what we accomplished during our last school year, organized by subject and addressing the surpassed academic standards.

I’ve even read a few books about classical education to get my mind kickstarted, and let me tell you, I would never have imagined spending my free time reading philosophy of education texts would be something I would choose to do.

I also spent time this summer considering what I want our homeschool goals to be—not according to academic achievements or tasks I want you to be able to accomplish, but rather related to the larger, grander life pursuits I want you to reach for, and of course the habits we need to cultivate to get there. So I thought I’d include that here, in this letter, so that years from now, that doesn’t get lost in the abyss of school files.

But first, this week:

It’s been tiring, and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised I’ve ended up with a summer cold.

Our days felt long, and each afternoon, I needed to hear the nudge I felt: whatever you do is enough.

Just because we don’t check off every box, every day, doesn’t mean we aren’t rocking this thing called homeschool. What it more likely means is that I have too many boxes on our to-do list. (I should probably apply this principle to my “real,” non-homeschooling life, too.)

This week, in addition to homeschooling, I was also working on an exciting project for a local nonprofit and also spending time brainstorming plans for what an afterschool reading program for public school students might look like this fall. I was also thinking about our church involvements, mowing the grass, sucking on cough drops, and buying school supplies. I was also getting up early to run with our neighbor… or getting up early to not run with my neighbor, like this morning… or not getting up early at all because this cold is kicking my butt. This week I was also checking in with friends and family in far-flung places, and checking in with friends right here in our little town, and making plans to spend time at the library with your new homeschool co-op teacher in order to assuage some of your fears.

I was also evaluating what it is I should be spending my limited time on, but also offering myself a lot of grace.

Because, let’s face it, this week I also lost my temper too many times, wanted to run and hide too many times, and drank too many cups of tea. (Just kidding on that last one.)

I’ve said this before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again: at some point every day, I want to quit this homeschooling thing. (Of course, at some point every day, I want to quit this motherhood thing, too, but that’s an issue for another day!)

I want to quit, but I don’t. And part of the reason I don’t is because I have not just all the feels but all the conviction: conviction about educational philosophy, conviction about how I want you to spend your days, conviction about cultivating your habits of attention. I love hanging more knowledge on your pegs of learning, making connections between the various subjects we’re studying, and giving a big-picture education.

I want you to work hard and rest well and you yourself see the connections between what you’re reading in books and what you’re seeing in the world.

And yes, I want you to see me juggling a thoughtful life with the tug of Kingdom work always refocusing me. I want you to see how much grace we need to get by, offered to one another and to ourselves. There are so many things I love about homeschooling that are unexpected surprises to me.

I started out with practical reasons to homeschool: because you were an early reader, because I wanted art and music to be central to your curriculum, because the public school schedule doesn’t line up with the college schedule, because we travel to see family and I want a portable education.

But now, it’s all these other things, too.

Girls, do you want to know what it is I hope and dream for you on this homeschooling journey?

These are the goals I typed up this summer and tucked into our daily schedule binder that (I hope) are shaping how we do school this year:

to cultivate

            compassion & empathy

            courage & wisdom

            wonder & curiosity

to love

            God

            one another

            other people

            beauty

            books

            learning

to foster a joy (and proficiency) of reading all things: all subjects, all genres

to nurture an interdisciplinary worldview by making connections between disciplinary knowledge, especially as connected to the “pegs” of our classical curriculum

to incorporate creative expression through music and/or art every day

to develop the ability to converse with others, especially those different from us

to exemplify how Kingdom-work is incorporated into daily life and rhythms

It’s a list of ideals, I guess. But you know what? I’m okay with that.

At the very least, it’s where we’re headed on this homeschooling journey.

Here’s to another year, girlfriends!

Love, 

Your Momma

 

The Hundred-and-Eleventh Letter: The Myth of Neglect

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Dear Daughters,

Earlier this spring, we had a lovely assortment of flowers and plants on our front porch. We had marigolds, ferns, and gerbera daisies, as well as a few others whose names I never got to know.

At first, we had a struggle with a squirrel repeatedly unearthing some of the potted plants. That was finally solved after I dumped hefty amounts of chili powder into the pots, though the cause and effect cannot be scientifically proven. Eventually, the gerbera daisies quit  blooming, though I continued to water them to keep their greens lush. Then, after hosting two rounds of lovely finch eggs in the fern on the north side of the porch, the fern got infested with some sort of mite and had to be disposed of. In recent weeks, the plants began to shrivel, I watered less as we got busy with other projects, the heat got worse, and here we are, with a less-than-welcoming front porch of dried-out plants.

During the recent spate of hot and sunny days, when we had to run errands during the day, I would park the car in the front of the driveway to take advantage of the house’s shade, and so we were using the front door more often than usual. (Normally we park in the back and use the back door.)

Using the front door means I can’t blame the plants’ neglect on my lack of noticing.

Nope, I noticed.

And I decided I was not interested in making time for the outdoor aesthetics of the house that were not absolutely necessary when there was so much work to be done inside the house (the kitchen renovation), inside my head (homeschool planning), and inside my heart (encouraging and loving my people and my community, which I take seriously as Kingdom work).

The plants moved to the bottom of the priority list–actually, right off the priority list–and other things were taking precedence.

Because we are always, girls, always making choices about what is important to us and how we are spending our days.

What I mean is, I could easily make a list of all the things I’ve neglected this summer. Here are five things off the top of my head–

  1. The Garden: Take a step around the corner of the house, for example, and note the knee-high weeds in the garden that barely constitutes a garden.
  2. The Novel: Just last week at reading camp, one of the other volunteers asked me if I was still working on my novel. Gulp
  3. Writing Goals: I had pretty high expectations for what I would be able to do this summer. I have myriad ideas for poems, letters to you here as well as in your individual journals, Instagram posts. 
  4. Photobooks: I am behind in making photobooks. At the very least, I thought I would have by now made the annual school-year-art-project photobooks for both of you.
  5. The Summer Routine: I really thought I would get into a routine to give our summer structure. I did not. And it seems silly to me now that I ever thought this was a possibility.

But am I neglecting these things? That isn’t exactly true. Or at the very least it is misleading to characterize it as neglect.

Most of us use the word neglect (as in, I neglected to do that) as a way to distance ourselves from the action. It’s not exactly saying that we accidentally didn’t do it, but it is usually used to suggest that we didn’t have much choice in the matter. In fact, I would say “neglect” is most often used to say that we were too busy to get around to doing it.

And maybe we were “too busy.” But I’ve written before about the myth of busyness, and that we all have the same amount of time and many of us need to take more responsibility for how we are choosing to spend our time. It’s one of my things.

I feel similarly about neglect. Did I neglect the marigolds in this little pot in the photograph?

All I can say for sure is this: I didn’t make caring for them a priority because I made something else a priority instead.

And if I start labeling things as “items I’ve neglected,” I’m suddenly dealing with the baggage of an unfinished and impossible-to-finish to-do list. It turns the freedom of choice and priorities into guilt and shame. Yes, I know we could all be doing more and being more and squeezing more in. But we shouldn’t be doing that. Squeezing in more. Feeling bad about what we aren’t choosing to do.

No, girls, don’t frame your priorities like that. Don’t catalog the things you’re neglecting. Focus on the things you’re choosing to give precedence during this season. Embrace those things, and let the rest fall away.

Focus on the things you’re called to do. (And stop cataloging what others are or aren’t doing.)

And when in doubt, always choose the Kingdom work of hospitality. That’s one of my soap boxes, too.

Because Kingdom work is, for real, always a priority.

As is going upstairs right now to listen to you put on a homemade puppet show performance of the song “Baby Shark.” You already gave me a handful of pennies to pay my price of admission.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

The Hundred-and-Tenth Letter: Ordinary, Extraordinary Summer (Part 2)

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Dear Daughters,

I am apparently the type of mom that, after a day of playing outside and getting hot and sweaty, sends you in for showers before dinner, but just after you go inside, I grab a pitchfork and unearth the first round of our potatoes that grew out of the rotten potatoes in the cupboard, and the whole thing is so miraculous, that first revealing of golden globes of grace (look at that alliteration!), that I just can’t resist calling you back outside to see the harvest for yourself, to let you dig right down into the dirt with your own hands, even though when I holler up to you from the back door to come, you tell me you’re already stripped of your dirty clothes and in the shower, so I tell you to put anything on, even clean clothes, I don’t care, because you have got to come pull these potatoes from the ground yourselves.

Yes.

I am apparently that type of mom. Who knew? I surprise even myself sometimes.

I’m told I give off a vibe of being practical and plan-y, but really, what I want to be is full of wonder and spontaneity. 

Yes, what I want to be. I’ve been trying this summer to be more attentive and open to possibility, rather to my plan.

I’m also apparently the type of person to whom an acquaintance from church I don’t know really well says, “You look like someone who likes kale. Do you like kale?”

In fact, I do. And I eat kale. I like giving off the kale-eating, green-smoothy-drinking vibe.

But I am also the sort of person who can only handle finding so many little caterpillars in her bag-full of kale she so graciously receives from this acquaintance, even if she’s drowned a whole bunch of them by washing the kale thoroughly.

So there you have it. I’m not always full of wonder, even if I do find the life cycle of caterpillars fascinating and the lacy holes they are able to make in kale quite lovely.

Yes, I’m working on being attentive this summer. Not always succeeding, of course. There are moments every day when I want to pull my hair out and just throw in the towel on this whole parenting thing (figuratively!), but no more than all parents, I think, and probably less often than a lot of my friends who are counting down the days until the school year starts.

So in an attempt to just be flexible and attentive, I didn’t make a big summer plan, apart from our calendar obligations. I didn’t make a summer bucket list. I didn’t plan all the fun things. I never really got around to making much of a daily routine for us, as good as that looks in other people’s lives on Instagram. Summer just kept speeding on by at full speed.

We went to as many library programs as we could, we had VBS, a week off, then I taught for a week of Faithways Academy, had a week off and a homeschool practicum, then tore out our kitchen the following weekend, then had reading camp for a week, and then had another week off. And here we are, at the end of July.

The kitchen is still in-progress.

But it’s been a summer.

The eldest is reading a mile a minute.

The youngest is complaining that her best friend is reading too much and isn’t playing with her enough.

Early on, I did make a list of a few things I hoped we could do together over the course of summer, ways to be intentionally creative. I called it (on the post-it that marks where the list is in my planner) a “making things list.” Making things. We did a few of those things. Not many. I encouraged you to go ahead and get out your clay and use it all up. (It didn’t work–the eldest still saved a few colors for later.) We made hand sewn pillows. (They were supposed to have buttons on them as well, but you didn’t want buttons.)

I didn’t have you work on your stories I had planned. I didn’t make a photobook of your art projects from last school year. I didn’t plan a schedule for next school year.

We didn’t do any science experiments this summer, which I kind of cheated by calling that “making” things anyway, but we did follow a free art tutorial to draw the Saturn V rocket this week in honor of the anniversary of the moon landing.

We didn’t practice baking and cracking eggs, but we did make hardback junk journals, even though the youngest just wanted to make one out of a paper bag instead with no pages, and she insists on calling it her iPad.

We didn’t learn to knit or crochet, not even arm-knit, which I was pretty sure I could teach you, but we did tie-dye, and your dad even tie-dyed one of his old white shirts, so we can be matchy-matchy if we want.

Our adult schedule shifted a bit this summer too. We had to cancel potlucks because of the kitchen renovation, but I did help with a bereavement meal and look forward to taking food to a friend who just had a baby. We also graciously accepted a meal in the worst of the chaos. And you’ve eaten the majority of your weekday lunches at the summer meals program at our local elementary school.

Apart from the potatoes and some volunteer tomatoes, we didn’t garden at all, which is unusual for us, and the raised beds are covered solid with weeds and grass, and even our little slate patio around the grill is more than ankle-high with weeds, but we do have mint going gangbusters, and until the crazy heatwave a week ago, we had a healthy batch of oregano. I call that a win.

I’ve continued to mow and water my orchids inside, but I let the pots on the front porch shrivel up.

I have not been writing you letters as often as I’ve been getting ideas, but we did have a tame turkey loose in our neighborhood last week and it was hysterical the way it was trying to get into everyone’s front doors.

We still have huge chunks of torn-out green linoleum on the back porch, but you two worked together to make an incredible tent out of kingsized sheets in the guest room while we were working on the kitchen.

And I’m good with all of it. 

All of it.

Every single ordinary, extraordinary thing that did get done and that didn’t get done. That was planned and that was accidental. That made us laugh and that made our hearts heavy. That bloomed and that shriveled.

I’m good with it.

Though I do sort of wish I had written a few more letters because all of this attentiveness has been giving me All the Ideas!

Love,

Your Momma

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

 

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