The Forty-Ninth Letter: Sharing Our Table

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Dear Daughters,

A few days ago, the preschooler told me that we needed to invite some people over for dinner because we hadn’t had anyone over in such a long time.

This was said very dramatically, as most things you say are these days.

I told you that you were right—we really should invite people over for dinner because it is always good to share our table—and I told you that you were wrong—because it hadn’t been a long time. Just last Thursday, we had a table full of college students here eating vegetarian chili and cornbread. And the week before that, we’d shared Thai food with your crazy aunties, some of our best friends. And on Wednesday nights we eat dinner at church with a room full of people.

We share our table pretty frequently. Maybe it’s more than the average family. I don’t know what is “normal” for other people.

Still, I think you’re on to something.

Because we don’t share our table as often as we should.

Back before we had children, your dad and I went through a phase of setting an extra place at the table at meal times. I think this was when we had a friend living with us, but even so, the extra place was intentionally extra. What I mean is, if our housemate was joining us for a meal, we’d set two extra places.

The extra plate was symbolic. You could say it was the place set for Jesus, who offers us hospitality as the Host and comes to us as the stranger, but I’ll admit that sounds a little cheesy.

I’d rather like to think of that extra place setting as a symbol of our willingness to share our table, as an act of faith saying there will always be enough, as an act of flexibility in hospitality, being “light on our feet” as our old church used to say. There was a lot tied up in that extra plate.

But it always felt a little forced, a little too symbolic maybe, and we didn’t keep up the tradition.

And now a few years have gone by.

When your dad and I are being thoughtful and deliberate in our home life these days, when we aren’t too overwhelmed by the chaos of life in general, we share our table pretty often. We invite people in, we deliver food out.

But when life happens and we get busy and less thoughtful, less deliberate, when we have weeks like the last few, it gets really hard to even notice when the table is empty. When it’s just the four of us. When deciding what to make for dinner feels like a chore. It’s easy to forget how much excess we are keeping to ourselves.

It’s in those seasons of chaos that your dad and I decide to do outrageous things like schedule a new college ministry—a weekly reading group—to meet at our house on Thursday nights, and commit to offering dinner to the students who come early for it. Every week.

We knew when we kicked off the reading group last week that it wouldn’t always be convenient, and that was kind of the point. The things that are important aren’t usually convenient, because they take time, and they force us to focus on other people. Not ourselves. Not just our little family.

Probably most weeks I wouldn’t feel like standing in the kitchen for an hour chopping vegetables to put into a crockpot of soup or using quiet time to make fresh bread, but we have this conviction, even in the chaos, that it is important to do the inconvenient thing, to allow ourselves to be inconvenienced for the sake of community, for the sake of cultivating relationships, of being hospitable, of saying, yes, you are welcome here, alongside us, even when we are tired from insomnia or harried from a long work day or scattered because our children are in pajamas and running around like crazy animals or we haven’t packed any of our suitcases yet and we are leaving the next day for a weekend in Pennsylvania. (Sigh. Let’s pretend those are all theoretical situations.)

And so the crockpot is full of potato soup as I type this.

And I’m pretty tired.

And here I sit, looking forward to an evening of table sharing, and I still don’t think we share our table often enough.

Because these are the questions I can’t get away from:

How often did Christ share a table with others? How often did he break bread and bless it and provide nourishment? How often did he eat with the unlovely, the broken, the most in need? And, maybe most convicting, how often does he welcome me to his Table? 

That’s how open our dining room table should be, girls. That’s how open our hearts, our lives, our homes should be.

But the potato soup is a start.

And there will be fresh bread this afternoon.

Love,

Your Momma

 

The Forty-Fifth Letter: Funerals & Eulogies

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Dear Daughters,

I’ve been to a lot of funerals in the last few years. Between your dad and me, we’ve lost six grandparents since moving to Kentucky. That’s a lot. And our church community has lost a significant number of members in recent months.

So I’ve been to a lot of funerals in my life.

And I’ve heard a lot of eulogies.

A friend of mine who is a few years older than I am–so she’s in her late 30s–told me she has never been to a funeral.

Talking with her got me thinking back to the funerals of my childhood. The first one I remember was the funeral of my maternal great-grandmother: Grandma Ebersole. My memory of her is mostly of the later years of her life, when she was small and frail and lived with my grandma. She dressed plainly, I believe with a head-covering. Her hair was white. She was little in stature, and for me to think that, given that I was a child, albeit a big child, is telling. She must have been small.

I don’t remember much of that funeral, except that there were distant relatives around and it’s the first time I remember becoming aware that my mom had cousins and used to be a kid once, just like I had cousins and loved to play with mine.

My great-uncle “Woody” died when I was a little bit older. He was my paternal grandma’s brother. And also my great-grandma Woodward, my paternal grandma’s mom, passed away. Because they both had lived in Ohio, and I used to visit them both in the summers along with my cousin Angela, those funerals run together a bit. But I was old enough to feel those losses as someone who, well, as someone who remembered.

At Grandma Woodward’s funeral, the Family Circle sang. My dad offered the eulogy. I remember hearing my dad’s voice breaking, and realizing again the way intergenerational relationships work–he had been this woman’s grandson, and she had been his grandma, and he had been a boy once, and that meant that my grandparents would die, and I would be a grown-up with my voice cracking as I remembered their lives, too. Some day.

I am now that grown-up.

I still tear up when I try to talk about my grandparents who have passed away.

I’m tearing up now, just writing about it.

(This probably won’t surprise you, when you’re older, because already you see my cry all the time, over books or articles or sad news or happy news, and you come over to me and rub my arm or my back to offer comfort in the only way you know.)

I’ve attended funerals as a family member of the deceased, and I’ve attended funerals as a friend of the deceased, and I’ve attended funerals as a mere acquaintance, which makes it sound less than what it is–a member of the community that did everyday life alongside the deceased.

The last two funerals I’ve attended have been that kind–funerals of folks I know through church, who have had an impact on me because of their service to our congregation and to the wider community. I knew these women as strong and courageous and independent. I knew them as encouragers who always asked how I was feeling when I was pregnant, who checked in on me when you both were born, who always commented on how big you were getting.

But I didn’t realize how little I really knew them until I went to their funerals. I only witnessed, in my years here in Kentucky, a small glimpse of their whole lives. It was an inspiring glimpse, but it was only a small fraction of their story.

They had both lived such incredible stories.

And we live in a small town, so their stories affected so many other people’s stories.

That’s what you find out at funerals.

You go from knowing how a person interacted with you to knowing how she changed your whole community.

My friend who has never attended a funeral told me she feels a little morbid about attending funerals, like when people she knows lose loved ones and she wonders about whether she should go. She feels like it’s kind of weird to watch others who are mourning.

I don’t feel that way. In fact, as I sat in a funeral at our church last week, listening to the stories of a life that had worked to bring about the Kingdom of God, I thought to myself: I should really attend more funerals.

Maybe that’s how we can learn to be better human beings.

Maybe that’s how we can witness the genuine loss that every death brings to a community.

Maybe that’s how we participate in the beautiful heartache that is life in community, the sacred ordinary of life lived alongside others, the scars we feel on the hands and feet of Jesus as we offer our own hands and feet to the world.

And maybe that’s how we start thinking about what our own eulogist would say about us.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

The Thirty-Fifth Letter: Metaphors & Daily Life

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Dear Daughters,

We purchased a vintage Sears Kenmore sewing machine at a yardsale before the eldest was born. It was missing a piece, a screw, something minor that enabled it to fold down into its sewing table. It had a needle though, and it seemed to work when we plugged it in, and yet until this week I had never threaded the bobbin. This might be a metaphor.

Our memorial Easter lilies and tulips brought home from church have been knocked over repeatedly, sometimes multiple times a day, petals blown off during high wind warnings, leaving bald stamens full of pathos. We’ve brought them inside for the myriad freezes since that exceptionally warm Easter morning a few weeks ago. Then they go back out onto the porch steps, looking forlorn. Everything feels like a metaphor.

The thing is, the dailiness of daily life often feels hard, even knowing that others have it harder. Friends with chronic illness. Friends mourning spouses. Friends with crumbling marriages. Friends with infertility.

Meanwhile, my daily life is sunshine and seeds explained to a preschooler. Death and heaven and Jesus and God in a 3-year-old’s terms; a toddler alongside me in the pew at a funeral.

Daily life is sunshine transforming the smell your scalps from baby shampoo into wood chips. I don’t know why, but it’s true for both of you. You smell like wood chips, like bark mulch, deep in your hair, when you’ve been outside. We don’t have wood chips in our yard.

Daily life is novels read with a 30-pound toddler on my lap drinking milk, playing with my phone, using a wet wipe to swab the book down.

It’s reading and painting rather than writing, most of the time, but when I do write, it’s laying in the grass alongside both of you, half of my note pages covered in preliterate scribbles. I always bring two extra pens outside. My writing these days is jotted notes and ideas rather than poems or stories, reserving brilliance for some other day, some other season, some other unimaginable-for-now life.

Daily life is hot jeans in the sunshine, and barefeet sensing the cold mud through the warm, early-spring grass. Also perhaps a metaphor.

Daily life is squeezing freelance work, which is kind of drudgery, and creative work, which is not, into two mornings a week and an hour in the afternoon. The schedule doesn’t work well, dissatisfies and exhausts me, without pointing to a better solution for today. For this week. This month, this year.

I can sing the theme songs for Dinosaur Train, Doc McStuffins, Daniel Tiger, and Dora the Explorer. This is not a metaphor.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Most of us spend so much time thinking about where we have been or where we are supposed to be going that we have a hard time recognizing where we actually are. When someone asks us where we want to be in our lives, the last thing that occurs to us is to look down at our feet and say, ‘Here, I guess, since this is where I am‘” (An Altar in the World, 56).

Looking down at my feet, I see chipping toenail polish, and I see, well, I guess I see hope. I see hope in the daily, when I’m not too exhausted and worn down by it.

You sometimes play together these days, for example, sometimes keep out of my office while I’m trying to squeeze a little more work in the day, sometimes keep out of the kitchen, off my legs, sometimes don’t tug on my clothing or put items in my back pockets for safe keeping.

There is hope in these small victories, these small glimpses of independence.

There is also hope when you do crawl up onto my lap again, require a nose-wipe or new ponytail or snack, ask another question that cannot be answered, want me to read another book, or even the same book, again and again.

Yes, most days, there is hope and beauty. Most days I love something, even if it is simply that the day has ended and you are asleep.

I do love this whole sunshine, hot jeans, and mud-cold toes combination, which I would experience less, without you itching to be in the yard.

I love the wood-chip smelling hair, the goofy songs the preschooler sings while she swings, that the toddler asks for “Swing Low” to be sung before bed.

I love that you eat lentils and tofu as well as chicken nuggets, that the preschooler’s face is sprinkled with freckles, like mine.

I love that the toddler wants to cuddle even when I’m drenched in sweat, that you both cheer me on–“Go, Momma, Go! Go, Momma, Go!”–when I run with the stroller.

And I love that there is still a me here, beneath this mom-ness. A lover of a good story, a hot cup of tea. I still love new pens and fresh, college-ruled paper, and the art aisle at Walmart, though I still despise Walmart. I love big, blank canvases, country music in the car, toe-nail polish, and big earrings. I love eye-liner, Post-It notes, to-do lists, and flip-flops. I love cutting things out of magazines and unbaked cookie dough. I like singing and laughing and flannel sheets under down comforters. I myself love a good snuggle.

The daily life is this, all of this.

And most days, I love its dailiness.

Love,

Your Momma

The Thirty-Fourth Letter: Where, O Death?

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Dear Daughters,

We live a few blocks away from a funeral home, so I’m reminded every other day or so of the reality of death and suffering. On long walks, we pass by cars full of mourners, with you two happily in the stroller eating your snack, oblivious to what’s going on. On our way to head out to eat for dinner, on the way to Lowe’s for a quick construction run, on my way to reading group, heading to a playdate, picking up your dad from work when it’s raining: those who have experienced recent loss are nearly always present. I drove by black-clad mourners on my way to get a soy latte this morning.

I have always found this reminder of death in the midst of life helpful. It’s a proverbial wake-up call each time, that whatever is on my mind or burdening me at the moment is fleeting and that there is real suffering all around me.

I love our church’s Easter tradition of carrying lilies down the center aisle in memory of loved ones who have passed away the previous year. The preschooler carried one this year, in memory of my grandfather who died on Christmas Eve. The plant swayed as she walked, but she made it safely to the altar.

As the lilies pile up in the front, filling up the absence left when the altar is stripped at the end of the Good Friday service, our congregation stands and sings “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.” I can never sing the song, of course, because as I watch my friends carrying down lilies–or those years I’ve carried them down myself–I think of all the loss we’ve experienced as a community. I think of all the meals we’ve delivered. All the prayers we’ve prayed.

My throat catches, and I don’t sing. Our loved ones die, and we feel so much pain.

The lyrics to many of the great Easter hymns, including “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” have a line or two echoing the sentiment of 1 Corinthians 15:55: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (sometimes the King James Version just says it best).

I counted at least three references to that verse in the songs we sang Sunday morning. And, I’ll confess, it kind of annoyed me each time.

A friend of mine who lives many states away texted me an update about her dad, who is having significant health problems and was in ICU. She was travelling back from visiting with him, and she concluded with, “I’m exhausted and sad. But He is risen, so there’s that.”

So there’s that.

Where, O Death, is now thy sting?

One of my strong and beautiful friends lost her husband suddenly last year. She carried a lily down the aisle at church.

Where, O Death, is now thy sting?

A vibrant 26-year-old mother in our town was diagnosed with two forms of terminal cancer this week. She was given three to six months to live.

Where, O Death, is now thy sting?

I can tell you where. It’s right here.

Right.

Here.

People are hurting all around us, girls. It is hard to live in this world and know pain and love people who know pain. And we get numb to these words of Scripture–O death, where is thy sting?–and it kind of makes us, okay, me, mad. Or sad. Or frustrated. Or helpless.

All of it.

Sometimes I think we sing Where, O Death, is now thy sting? followed by Alleluia (adding a little salt in the wound) without remembering that many among us don’t feel encouraged by the creeds. And I’m talking about those of us who do have faith in eternal life, who do sincerely believe that eternal life brings relief from suffering. We know it intellectually, and we might even know it on a deeper level, but it doesn’t always ring true to experience.

What we feel is the very real sting of death.

The very real sting of our loved ones being diagnosed with cancer. Of babies dying. Of marriages crumbling.

I have faith, girls. Most days, I have it in spades. But I have faith alongside a healthy dose of reality, which is that life in this world hurts a lot of the time, and I don’t want to pretend that’s not the case.

I am careful when I write condolence cards because it’s too easy to be trite.

Of course, Easter reminds us that death does not get the last word. I appreciate that message. But I think we need to be careful where we go from there.

Easter does not tell us that we won’t feel the very real pain of losing loved ones in this life.

We can believe and have hope in eternal life and in the good God whose own creation sings praises, while we also say, no, I’m sorry, there is a sting of death.

Part of me hopes that you feel the sting of death a lot, girls. Because that means you’re really living in the world and loving people.

And I hope when you see full parking lots at funeral homes, you are able to pause and reflect on the death and suffering that coexist with your own lives, that trump your own annoyances and frustrations and pride and self-centeredness.

But I also hope that when you see Easter lilies, you remember why we carry them down the aisle on Easter morning. I hope you remember this little nugget of the truth of Easter that sometimes gets buried: even when we’re sad and exhausted, He is risen.

Because there’s that.

Love,

Your Momma

 

The Thirty-Third Letter: On Being (Not) Afraid

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Dear Daughters,

The truth is, it is easy to be afraid.

A little over a year ago, a talented, vibrant young woman who graduated from our local college was brutally murdered while serving overseas. It was an absolute tragedy that shook the community. An incident like that is like a weight on your chest that you can’t shake off.

In the wake of that tragedy, I tried to write a letter to you about how fear feels different as a parent. I thought about your futures, all the things I can’t control, and wanting to keep you safe. But I couldn’t write it. I couldn’t get beyond the notes I’d jotted down quickly, a list of things that seemed worthy of parental fear: diseases, child predators, kidnapping. Social media, bullying, pornography. Rape, domestic violence, rampant drug use in our community. The list went on and on. There were too many what-ifs, too many potential tragedies, too many sadnesses and risks.

It’s so easy to be afraid.

The other day, I couldn’t see the toddler in the yard and the preschooler didn’t know where she was, so I began to search frantically. The driveway. The front of the house. The side of the house. Looking down the street. Hollering her name. Within a minute or two, I found her, happily in the corner, behind a bush. She was fine. I was sobbing. Why, oh why, was my first instinct that she had been kidnapped?

It doesn’t make sense, except that I was operating out of worst-case-scenario, TV-drama fear.

Listen to me. Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s a smart instinct, this fear, that it’s protective, that those gut reactions to distrust others or suspect the worst in others are good because they keep us safe.

I’m sorry, but noI do not believe that.

I stopped watching crime drama many years ago because I found that it was making me see every stranger as a potential predator. That is not hospitality, girls. That is not “welcoming the stranger.”

We have become too afraid.

I hear it in my friends’ voices. I hear it in news reports. I hear it, perhaps especially, tossed about by our political leaders.

Fear people who are different than you.

Be afraid.  

There is not enough. Save your money. Stock the pantry. 

Protect your own. Build walls. Close your blinds.

“Stranger danger.”

I’m so tired of these messages. So tired of the politicians’ preying on our fears. So tired of hearing people I know acting as if these fears are natural and good and help to keep us safe.

No.

Sigh.

I guess what is prompting all of this is just how frustrated I’m feeling about the underlying message of political conversation these days. Normally, I ignore politics as much as possible and, because we don’t watch television, I never even see campaign ads. But the primaries of 2016 have been over-the-top attention-worthy–I can only imagine what your history books will say someday–and I’ve felt compelled to read about what is happening, what is being said, what is being believed.

The bad news is that much of what I hear and read is based on fear. Ill-informed, selfishly motivated, circle-the-wagons fear.

The good news is that this fear is so over-the-top, so exaggerated and obvious, that it has helped me to put my own fears in perspective. I’m serious. When I inwardly accuse politicians (or would-be politicians) of fear-mongering, I feel compelled to consider whether I myself operate out of fear.

And I’m afraid I do.

Sunday is Palm Sunday. Next week is Holy Week.

Do you know what the message of our faith is, girls?

It’s so different from the message of the politicians. It is so different from the message of the 24-hour news cycle. So different from a message of fear.

It’s this:

Love.

Do not be afraid.

There is enough.

Give your lives away. Be vulnerable. Welcome the exile, the widow, the orphan.

The stranger might be Christ.

I’ll confess, these truths don’t typically guide my days. My days are, more often than not, too full of anxiety and discontent and worry. More than I’d like to admit.

But, still, I want my instinct to be fear not.

I want my instinct to be yes, there is enough.

I want my instinct to be the stranger is Christ.

I want my instinct to be love.

That’s Holy Week, girls.

Love,

Your Momma

The Twenty-Sixth Letter: The Family Circle

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Dear Daughters,

Occasionally when the toddler is quiet, I send the preschooler to go find her and report back to me what is going on. The other day, I was told that baby girl had found some pretty ribbon she wasn’t supposed to have.

Well now, we don’t have much ribbon lying around the house, so I knew I needed to go check on the situation.

That “pretty ribbon” was the innards of a cassette tape.

I’m not completely sure where the cassette had been stored, but she’d found it, and she’d pulled on the ribbon. And pulled. And pulled. And pulled. It was creased and knotted.

I was determined to save that tape. With a clicky pen, I wound and wound it back up, only to discover–when the cassette player kept eating the tape and rudely spitting it out at me–that I’d wound it the wrong way. After a texting conversation with your uncle Stephen about the engineering of cassette players, I persevered.

And so, after years of this cassette tape being hidden away in some box–a box apparently within reach of a toddler–I’ve been listening to some of my favorite old timey music again.

This is a Family Circle tape, girls. Family Circle.

My parents and aunts and uncles, in the 1970s, had some radical Jesus-movement-conversion experiences, or so I take it. And, coincidentally, they could all sing harmony. So they did what any group of vocally talented, excited-about-Jesus twenty-somethings would do: they started a traveling gospel music group.

The Family Circle eventually ended up with a painted Coach bus, complete with living space and multiple bedrooms inside, matching outfits for the adults, and kids who could sing off-key kids songs. After my youngest cousin was born, there were 13 of us in that bus.

I was born into the middle of that, bless their hearts.

On weekends and various vacations throughout the year, we travelled as far north as New Hampshire, where my grandfather owned a campground, down the coast to Florida, where he was a snowbird in the winter, and played at churches and campgrounds for love offerings. We had a dark green velvety tablecloth on the merchandise table–records, cassettes, eventually CDs were for sale. I don’t know why that very-seventies tablecloth sticks out in my memory.

Like many of my cousins, I had my own song for awhile, called “My Mommy Told Me Something.” But we kids mostly sang group songs like the old Gaither “I am a promise, with a capital ‘P,’ I am a promise, full of possibility…”

My nuclear family withdrew from the group when I was in elementary school because of my parents’ marital difficulties, but the Family Circle kept singing for many decades, even after all the cousins were grown.

They came out of retirement to sing at Pappy Sands’s funeral a few years ago. That was the last time I’d heard any of the old songs.

But gosh, I love the old songs.

What’s extra special about this cassette to me is that my parents’ voices are on it. I can hear my mom’s steady alto throughout. And on one song, I can hear my dad’s two-line baritone solo.

I could not believe the wash of emotions I felt when that tape began to play for the first time.

I’ve known these songs my whole life–every word, of every song. As long as I could sing, I’ve been singing this music.

But these last few weeks, I’ve been hearing these songs differently. I hear them and realize that all my aunts and uncles are grandparents now. Their voices are so young on these recordings. So clear and so young.

My cousins’ children are older than I was when we left the group, and yet I remember so clearly the conversations we had back then, young as I was, squished into the dining area of the bus. I remember sitting up beside my dad on the big red velvet navigator chairs. I remember my bottom bunk across from my cousin Justin. I remember watching movies in the back and getting foot massages from Aunt Diana, who was a reflexologist. I remember singing the Twelve Days of Christmas–each of us having our own day in order of our ages, so the kids all got to sing many times and the parents–my dad was the twelfth day–hardly had to sing at all. I was “two turtle doves.” Justin was the youngest then.

I’m glad I found this tape. I haven’t seen some of my cousins in years, and we won’t be traveling home to Pennsylvania at Christmas this year because of your dad’s job. But this tape reminds me how much I love these people, and how much I miss these people.

This is a special part of my story, and I hope you can feel how it is part of your story, too. Because that’s how our memories should be, girls. I want you to know my stories.

And I want you to know my songs.

Which is why I keep playing this tape. It probably doesn’t have many years left, you know.

I talked to my aunt on the phone the other week and asked if she had copies of some of the old Family Circle sheet music. I was thinking maybe I’ll find a way to sing it some day.

Maybe.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

The Sixteenth Letter: Eleven Years In

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Dear Daughters,

Eleven years ago today, your dad and I got married in a tall stone church on State Street in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It was a hot June weekend in the Susquehanna River valley, and the roads near the church were roped off for a race. I saw family members who’d gotten stuck in traffic sneaking in just before I walked down the aisle.

We said in our wedding vows that we would serve God together, side by side.

Side by side.

Side by side for eleven years. Towering over most other human beings.

Two states, three graduate degrees, two apartments, two houses, four cars, two daughters, in eleven years.

We’ve lost five grandparents and found four nephews and two nieces in eleven years.

We’ve sanded down hardwood floors, painted and mudded walls and more walls and more walls, built a deck, planted gardens, strapped IKEA boxes on top of the Outback, dealt with motion sick babies. Eleven years.

We’ve walked with friends through divorce and remarriage, infertility and miscarriage. We’ve watched all ten seasons of FRIENDS an embarrassing number of times. We’ve entered the world of smart phones. Eleven years.

We’ve been published and—more often than not—received rejection letters. We’ve applied for jobs and not gotten them. We’ve gotten liturgical, begun eating locally, and started buying fair trade chocolate. Eleven years.

We’ve read a lot of books, written a lot of poems, attended a lot of Over the Rhine concerts. We’ve stopped drinking any tea in the morning that isn’t PG Tips. We eat Thai food on Tuesdays. Eleven years.

We’ve gone to Italy and slept in an airport in Atlanta. We’ve roadtripped it to the Grand Canyon and rented cars in Seattle. We’ll always call Pennsylvania home, but have managed to plant deep roots wherever “here” is. Texas. Kentucky. Eleven years.

We’ve gotten a little preachy on our soapboxes, stronger in our convictions, and urgent in our causes. We also go to bed earlier. Eleven years.

We’ve started going gray. Taking a little longer to recover from hard work days. Wrinkling around the eyes when we smile. Eleven years.

I’ve asked your dad many times over the last eleven years—“Do you think everyone has as much fun as we do?”

Because we have a lot of fun.

Not that there haven’t been tears and frustrations and anger and tears. Lots of tears. Life is hard and marriage is harder. Those months and years after having babies? The hardest. At least for me.

And eleven years in? Still hard.

But still fun, too.

I can’t imagine being side by side with anyone else.

I don’t know what our marriage will look like to you, growing up in this house. You’ll see the tears sometimes, and you’re both already such sensitive and sweet girls. But you’ll also hear the laughter and joking, the singing and dancing. You’ll see the book reading, you’ll hear the soapboxes, you’ll eat the tofu. And you’ll probably tower over everyone, too.

Regardless, as your dad and I serve God together, side by side, I love knowing that we’ll have you toddling along behind.

Stay close.

Love,

Your Momma

The Sixth Letter: Everything Is a Letter

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Dear Daughters,

Maybe it is because I’m a writer, but ever since I’ve been a mom—or at least, ever since I came out of the post-partum haze of will-I-survive-this and why-does-anyone-have-more-than-one-child chaos—I’ve wanted to write everything down. For you.

And by “everything,” I mean everything. Everything about me, about you, about the world, about your grandparents, the important things in life, love, loss, brokenness, joy, good books, beauty, creativity, sacrament.

Everything.

It’s ridiculous. And ambitious. Impossible. Overwhelming.

Not that I don’t write a lot, trying to take a stab at this “everything.” I do. I jot notes, mostly, notes and bullet points and sentences and paragraphs, things that are important that someday I can flesh out a bit more, someday when we aren’t in survival mode, aren’t fighting pink eye, aren’t dealing with diapers and potty training, aren’t picking goldfish out of the carpet.

Those somedays probably won’t come.

I realize this.

But I also realize something else—there is a sense in which everything I write and live and do already is a letter to my daughters.

I have a journal for each of you where I write notes about what you’re doing, how you’re growing, the funny things you say, when your teeth come in and you crawl and walk and faceplant. So those are letters to you. Real letters. You’ll read them some day.

But those poems I write? I think they are letters to you, too. Even the poem about the man in the coffee shop who reminded me of a piano player we knew in Texas, the poem about slicing open an avocado, the chamomile poem that became an epigraph for my friend’s novel—someday you will read these poems and others and yes, I really think so: they are letters.

When I highlight in the Richard Foster book I’m teaching in that Wednesday night class at church, when I jot notes in the margins, these are letters to you, too, aren’t they? They would be, at least, if I were gone and you were looking through my things.

I remember my mom looking through her mom’s Bible after she passed away, and the same for my dad, looking through his dad’s Bible, and they talked about what their parents had underlined, poring over it, wondering about it. Will you read through the verses I’ve underlined? Will they be meaningful to you? Will you wonder about me and my conviction and my pain and my joy?

Or, creases on the binding of my favorite books—will you look at those pages some day?

Splashes of food on the recipes in my cookbooks? A note about adding extra broccoli or one-and-a-half-ing the cake batter to make a layer cake?

The handprint Jesse Tree we made this year that hangs on the back of the basement door?

And what about those things I hang onto? So many things. In closets and drawers and boxes in the basement. Old T-shirts I save that are steeped in memory–races I’ve run, theatre productions of your dad’s, second-hand-thrift-store-thread-bare T-shirts from high school. That collection of old Pyrex bowls, my grandma’s glass bell, our wedding quilt. The index card love notes your dad used to hide in my things when he went out of town.

It matters to me that you’ll “read” these things some day. I think about it and about what you’ll discover and learn and love.

So, daughters, while I’ll keep jotting those ambitious notes about the important things in life, keep hoping that someday, someday I’ll write even more, I’ll also just keep living life.

Because I have this crazy hunch that life, all of it, is itself a letter.

Your Momma