The Hundred-and-Twenty-First Letter: Echoes of Mercy, Whispers of Love

Dear Daughters,

What might be hard for you to imagine is that someone who knew me as a 17-year-old in high school–active in her charismatic mega-churchy youth group–might not recognize me now if they came across these letters or my Instagram account. 

In the twenty (gasp! Twenty!) years since I graduated from high school, I’ve changed a lot. Everyone does, of course

In the essentials, I can easily see how I am the same. But a lot has certainly changed.

Even things I wouldn’t have expected to–spiritual things like how I express my faith and understand the Kingdom of God, as well as life-choice things and priorities–have changed. 

Trust me, I never could have expected to be a homeschooling mom. Not. At. All.

But yeah, things change, and I love that it still surprises me sometimes.

For example, as an adult, I have come to love the old hymns. Your dad grew up singing them, and though I was certainly exposed to a lot of them in childhood (and I come from a harmony-singing family), I wouldn’t have really considered myself a hymn singer twenty years ago.

Or at least, twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have considered hymn-singing “real” worship. Because let’s face it, hymns didn’t feel “alive” to me as a teenager, due to my very limited conception of what an active and alive faith looked like.

Very limited.

You, on the other hand, only know a worship that involves hymns. And we sing hymns a lot in our home. (We sing a lot of all kinds of music in our home.)

I really am going somewhere with this, I promise.

For some reason, I decided to be more intentional about teaching you hymns this school year as a supplemental and fun thing to do together. This week, we’re working through our second Fanny Crosby hymn of the year. We started with To God Be the Glory, and now we’re on the second verse of Blessed Assurance. We often sing the hymns we are learning as prayers at meals to practice them, and we work through them slowly, adding each verse and talking through the theology that it expresses. We define old, rich words and discuss their implications and metaphors (and yes, also talk about gendered views of God—you know the sorts of things I can be preachy about).

Two things have surprised me about this practice so far:

First, somehow, even knowing that I was going to explain them to you word by word and line by line, I didn’t anticipate this part of our day being such a theology lesson for you: atonement theories, salvation for the “vilest offender,” perfect submission, what mercy is, or, oh, hey, look, those three metaphors in a row add up to the Trinity! (I do love talking about the Trinity.)

I myself am learning to see more in these hymns I have long known, even in the familiar ones, than I expected to, and, here’s the other thing, I’m carrying their metaphors with me.

When Fanny Crosby writes about visions of angels descending from heaven and bringing with them “echoes of mercy, whispers of love” from above, I get to tuck that away and wonder about it. I get to, and I do.

Because I might not be literally seeing angels around me, or having a divine visions of God, but certainly there are ways I can hear echoes of mercy if I listen for them, even in these monotonous and ordinary days that seem to drag on and on.

Certainly those whispers of love are audible even here, even in this time of divisive political rhetoric, news stories of racial injustice and trauma, more and more people dying from a global pandemic.

Let me be honest, girls: I’m not doing a great job at hearing them right now, the echoes or the whispers.

These days, I’ve been feeling distracted or unsettled or heavy laden or all of the above. It seems that somebody I love is always hurting. It comes through on my text threads. Every day.

Honestly, the whole entire world seems to be hurting. And the lack of empathy for others’ stories is sending my highly sensitive soul into a tailspin. Some days.

And, some days, it’s not nearly so dramatic. In fact, most days there is just too much plain old ordinary repetitive life drowning out the echoes of mercy and whispers of love.

But I know they’re there, girls.

I know it. Even when I’m struggling to hear it.

So, I guess what I mean is, if I can help tune your ears to hear it someday, I’ll consider that a win.

And if you also love to sing the old hymns, well, that’s even better. I’ll sing along.

Love,

Your Momma

The Hundred-and-Twentieth Letter: The One Where I Write About COVID-19 Yet Again

Dear Daughters,

And just like that, over three months have gone by since I wrote my last letter, and nearly five months since we started living a strict socially distanced life.

I would say that amount of time passing without me realizing it is surprising, but I gather this is pretty normal for COVID life, girls.

In our normal pre-COVID life, we had so many markers for keeping track of our days, weeks, seasons. But that is not now.

Now life is daily.

That’s the best way to describe it. (Right now at least. Today. Maybe I’ll change my mind tomorrow.)

Some days feel long and relentless and exhausting, and some days feel short and I blink and they’re over. And sometimes it turns out that every day is apparently two weeks at the rate that we are flying through summer.

I mean, does it even still count as “summer” if we started our new homeschool year in the middle of July week? I’m not sure, and I don’t really care.

March, April, May, June, July, and now here we are in mid-August.

There are many things I thought I would be able to do at the beginning of quarantine that I haven’t done (finished my novel draft, for example, or written more of these letters). 

And there are many things we have done during quarantine that have surprised me (the giant pool in the backyard, for example: we are not pool people; the herringbone brick patio I now can’t imagine our yard without).

And the truth is, there are many things that have remained completely normal about this summer: a huge box of peaches from The Peach Truck, five boxes of 25 pounds of tomatoes processed into marinara sauce, a weekly CSA of veggies and fruits from a local farm, reading and reading and reading, being outside and biking around the neighborhood, mowing the grass every week until that magic moment it gets so dry it stops growing, you two practicing your piano every day.

Some days we have followed a plan for the day. And sometimes we do not. Yesterday, before breakfast, you wanted to play outside, and it wasn’t hot yet, so I said yes. Actually, I said, go get dressed, I’ll bug-spray you, you can play outside all morning, and then we’ll come in and shower and have a half day of homeschool in the afternoon

(One of my flexibility improvisations this school year, with that mid-July start, is allowing half days of school in our schedule as necessary.)

The truth is, one day at a time is about all I can manage, doing the task in front of me, being attentive to you and your questions, circling our conversations naturally back through difficult and imperative conversations about love, community, racism, justice, poverty, courage.

Some days you are fearful. Some days you are brave.

Sometimes I am too. Both on the same day, even.

And we keep on.

Recently I heard someone say that the truth is, we don’t know where we are in the progression of this pandemic. Are we still at the beginning? Are we in the middle? Are we near the end?

The experts don’t know, and we don’t know either. 

There are days I am hopeful. Other days I am incredibly frustrated at the lack of care I see around me. 

But most days, the days I spend with you, right here in our house, our yard, our pop-up pool, I’m grateful. 

I soak in Vitamin D and your questions. We ride around the block and chant Shakespeare in iambic pentameter. We pay attention to butterflies and caterpillars and the heron that we’ve seen land on our neighbor’s house every few weeks this summer.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that in those things, I recognize grace. 

There is enough.

I’m grateful.

Really.

Love,

Your Momma

The Hundred-and-Thirteenth Letter: Keep Asking Questions

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Dear Daughters,

You ask the best questions.

I’ve written poems composed almost entirely of the questions you have asked me throughout the years.

Recently you asked, “How did Adam and Eve know how to speak if nobody taught them?”

It felt like the question came completely out of the blue: we were sitting down to lunch, I was skittering around as I typically do, getting all the random things to the table for a somewhat-balanced meal alongside our mid-day read aloud books, and out popped your question, before we even prayed.

Mom, how did Adam and Eve know how to speak if nobody taught them?

But then, as I began to unravel an answer for you, I realized the question wasn’t really out of the blue.

Last week, we read a biography of Helen Keller and talked a lot about what it would be like to learn to read or write or speak if you couldn’t see or hear. We talked about how grownups constantly point and name things for babies, and I mentioned how many times a day you ask how to spell something or what a particular word means. Just last week, we witnessed two women talking in ASL during lunch at Evans Orchard while we worked on our blind contour drawings of zinnias. We talked about what it means to be created in the image of God. We talked about John 1:1, that in the beginning was the Word. And that the Word is God.

In our house, girls, we talk about words a lot (like a lot a lot). We talk about the power of words and why words matter.

What I’m saying is, this question shouldn’t have surprised me.

No questions really should surprise me, I guess, but still I am always a little surprised at the connections your sponge-like brains are making between the things you are learning and the things you are doing and the things your dad and I are saying and the books we are reading.

And I was surprised that as we sat down to lunch, you might be wondering about Adam and Eve and how their brains worked.

I hope it is always the case that your dad and I work to cultivate a question-asking environment here in our home. And I hope that when you ask questions, we take them seriously, and we answer them.

So, when you surprised me with your question, I did what I always do. I looked you in the eyes and told you that you asked a great question. And then we dug in.

There are rarely simple, straightforward answers to your questions. Because, let’s face it, there are very rarely simple, straightforward answers to problems. That’s what life in this complicated and beautiful and broken world is. Beautifully complex.

And it’s worthy of questions.

Which is really what I mean, after all of these words. Keep asking, girls. Just keep asking.

We’ll keep answering.

Love,

Your Momma

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

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 Ninety-Eighth Letter: Seasons Change

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Dear Daughters,

I probably overuse the word “season.” Seasons of the calendar year. Seasons of the church year. Seasons of life. Seasons of parenting. TV shows. Growing seasons. Canning seasons.

Repetition. Change. Growth. Death. Winter. Advent. New Life. Planting. Premieres. Easter. Sowing. Learning to read. Summer. Harvesting. Finales. Canning. Frost. Fall. Repetition.

Yes, I do love that seasons change. I’m especially partial to autumn and all of its cliched crispness in the air and stunning leaves. Even the satiny red leaves of our sweet gum tree out front almost make up for the annoying sweet gum nuts that litter our driveway the whole year long.

Seasons change, and some seasons come back around, but we’re never quite the same as we were the last time through.

That encourages me.

I mentioned in my last letter that I was recently asked to share about my faith journey and vocation by a professor friend who teaches theology at our local college. When I asked her what she was expecting from me during the hour I was to share, she mentioned that I might want to read some of my writing and display some art.

The art part was relatively easy to decide, especially because I knew I wanted to share the logos and graphics I’ve designed for local organizations. (That fits into vocation, right?)

But the writing part wasn’t as obvious to me as I started sifting through the myriad places my writing about vocation exists: on my computer, in notebooks of all sorts, in these letters, of course, in the collection of poetry your dad and I published last year.

I started reading and reading and reading.

And, I’ll be honest, what I should read to the class didn’t become much more clear.

What did become clear was just how quickly seasons can change.

When I started writing letters to you online, I was working through a lot of issues related to mothering and vocation and survival. I was just beginning my creative journey and hadn’t started making art yet. I was in my early thirties but trying to figure a lot of things out. I was dissatisfied but probing. And I certainly would have never imagined the life I have now, especially the homeschooling part of it. I even wrote an early letter about how excited I was for you to be going to school some day. That I would rejoice to see you go.

This was only four years ago, girls.

In the poems I skimmed, I uncovered so much wonder and hope, conviction and transformation, grief and anxiety. I have poems from before you were born, often saved in Word documents in a monthly file I used to email to my writing group. I have poems of pregnancy, poems of labor and delivery. I see glimpses of both of you as babies in those words, a life deep with metaphor even in those exhausting, mind-numbing months of postpartum haze. Your own growing vocabulary and ability is sprinkled throughout many of the poems, too, as well as references to the toys strewn across the floor, so many cups of tea, my Pyrex bowls, and our fixer-upper house. There are lots of poems about your dad, and also poems about relatives we’ve lost over the last decade.

Through it all, girls, I can trace my growing appreciation for what life is now, in this current season.

This current season.

And I am grateful that seasons change.

That you didn’t stay babies, for example. (I mean, I’m seriously grateful on that one.)

That I’ve released a lot of the weight I initially felt about mothering and the cynicism I felt about others who seemed to find holiness here.

That I now call myself an artist and a writer and not feel awkward about it.

That my life is full to the brim with vocation and meaning.

In rereading my own words, I can recognize how I myself have changed in both ordinary and extraordinary ways.

There was a time when I couldn’t manage to take you both to the grocery store at the same time, but I now know I can single-parent on airplane flights and 10-hour road trips.

Girls, I wonder sometimes how you will remember this season of life, what glimpses you’ll remember from childhood that will carry you through later seasons. I can’t know, of course.

But I do know that at least you’ll have these letters.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

The Ninety-Second Letter: Cowbirds, Toilets, & Trinitarian Motherhood

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Dear Daughters,

I once heard a youth pastor use the metaphor of an overflowing toilet for the love of God. As in, I kid you not, “God’s love is like an overflowing toilet.”

Even as a teenager, I thought that was a strange metaphor, and certainly a strange way to connect with teenagers, except for maybe on an awkward shock-value level. Regardless, I was thinking about it yesterday morning, and as it’s probably been at least twenty years since I heard the metaphor, I guess it was successful to some extent. It sure stayed with me.

That said, our toilet overflowed yesterday morning. Just after your dad left for commencement, of course.

From the bedroom, I heard a weird glup-glup-glup sound while I was getting dressed, and when I went to check it out, the toilet was completely full. The sound was the overflow drain trying to keep pace. (It wasn’t.) By the time I ran downstairs to grab the plunger (and some rags), the whole thing had spilled out onto the floor.

It was a great morning, let me tell you.

As I cleared everything out of the bathroom, soaked up the standing water, and disinfected the whole floor—twice—and paused to cut a door in your cardboard playhouse and help rig a blanket for the other fort and overall was continuously interrupted by both of you who had no concept of what a disaster an overflowing toilet is, I had a lot of time to think. And that’s when the whole God’s-love-as-a-toilet crossed my mind.

Because of course, I cleaned up the mess. I plunged the toilet. I paused to answer your questions and help you with your fort and your house and talked about why the bathroom was now smelling like the public pool. Yep, I got down to business and took care of the problem.

Because an overflowing toilet is a problem. And it doesn’t take much human intervention to stop it. And then it’s super messy to clean up.

So the metaphor of God’s love being like an overflowing toilet only goes so far. Because God’s love isn’t a problem, right? It can’t be plunged out of existence.

I’m going somewhere with this, trust me.

It’s Mothers Day weekend, you know. And I did not particularly want to spend my Saturday morning disinfecting a poopgerm bathroom floor. I did not want to move furniture out of the bathroom by myself. I did not want to pause in my efforts to help you. But I did it, because I’m the mom.

*

If God’s love is like anything, it’s like the love of a mother.

Because of course it IS the love of a mother.

The Bible is so chock-full of images of God as mother that it’s surprising to me how often Christians ignore them and focus instead on God the father. Creator God birthed the world into existence. The image of protection in Scripture is often maternal—the mother hen, the mother eagle. The image of provision in Scripture is often maternal—the Psalmist finds nothing uncomfortable about talking about God’s followers nursing at God’s breast or as weaned children sitting on God’s breast in peace. In fact, that is held up as the highest peace there is—a weaned child on the breast of her mother.

Oh, girls, how I wish it weren’t radical to hear God talked about as mother, because it hasn’t always been that way! Early Christian mystics mixed gendered metaphors for Godall the time—and even for Jesus, who was literally a man—and it isn’t awkward. It’s beautiful and mysterious and everything that God is.

*

We found a cowbird egg in a finch’s nest outside on our front porch, so our science project Last week was researching cowbirds and learning about this parasitic bird species. We learned that if the cowbird egg hatches in this nest, the purple finch momma bird is going to raise it as her own, even though the cowbird is so obviously not her own in size. It’s a much larger bird.

I’ve been thinking about how hard that momma finch is going to have to work to provide enough food for this baby that isn’t hers. It’s going to be dominant in the nest. Her other babies will suffer. (The truth is that they will likely die from malnutrition or are pushed out of the nest.)

It’s heartbreaking.

Some bird lovers say that you should remove the cowbird egg from the nests of other birds. But cowbirds are actually protected under the Migratory Bird Protection Act, according to the wise internet, so you aren’t allowed to. But even if you were allowed to remove them, it isn’t an easy call, at least for me, to remove the cowbird egg.

The cowbird momma bird placed that egg in another bird’s nest because that is what she does for her species to survive. She doesn’t have her own nest. She watched the nest and at the perfect time of another bird laying her eggs, she placed her own into that safe and snug home to be hatched and raised by another momma.

That’s heartbreaking, right? It isn’t just me?

Girls, the story of motherhood is often heartbreaking.

*

God tells Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.

As a mother who has experienced loss, I read this verse as a testament to the fact that God knows intimately the loss and pain of miscarriage.

If God indeed knows life before it is formed in the womb, then that same God is well acquainted with grief. Because the womb is a place of grief and loss for many women.

God mourns with those who mourn.

It seems to me that Scripture is heavy with images of God understanding the burdens of motherhood. Both the Old and New Testaments speak about God’s children, adopted children, wayward children, barrenness, broken promises, heartbreak. It’s all there.

*

My next-door neighbors have a robin’s nest above their front door.

On Friday, they told us that the robin used to fly off the nest and yell at them every time they came out on their front porch but that they they were worried because they hadn’t seen her in a few days. They were debating what to do about this nest, not knowing if the mother would come back, not knowing if it had already been too long since she’d been there.

My neighbor reached up and brought the nest down so we could see into it.

And there they were—Four bright blue eggs. Amazing, perfect, motherless eggs.

*

I was thinking about my momma this morning and all the other women I know who’ve lost their moms.

I was thinking about friends with fresh infertility grief while the children’s choir sang this morning.

I was thinking about my single parent friends who are mothering alone day in and day out. Those with spouses who travel the majority of the week. Those who share custody.

Those who feel heavy with the burden of failing marriages and uncertainty about the future, about their children’s futures.

Those who are waiting for fostering relationships to become permanent through the courts but already feel permanent in their hearts.

Those who feel like failures at parenting. Those with wayward children. Those with chronically sick children.

Those who are mourning.

Those who feel alone.

*

Girls, the story of motherhood is not just one of using the plunger when you don’t feel like it or the constant stream of questions that interrupts any sort of productive and coherent writing project.

It’s not just about hand-print art projects brought home from preschool or getting your favorite meal one day of the year that has been arbitrarily chosen as a day to appreciate you.

The story of motherhood is also one of heartbreak.

Real life tells us that.

The Bible tells us that.

But the Bible also tells us something else if we take seriously the metaphor that God is our mother.

Because the God revealed in Scripture is also a mysterious Trinity.

God is community.

God the mother does not stand alone.

God the mother does not provide alone.

God the mother does not grieve alone.

And that is the Mothers Day message on my heart today.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

 

The Eighty-Fourth Letter: Greasy Linoleum, The Promised Land, & All The Things

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Dear Daughters,

Your dad dropped the metal spatula into the narrow crack between the counter and the refrigerator this evening.

Our normal solution to items falling into this crack—yes, it happens often enough to have a “normal” solution—is to use the tongs or the yardstick to fish the dropped items out. The spatula, however, had fallen on its side with the flat part against the linoleum so that it would not come out without turning it first. And we couldn’t get a grip on it to turn it, which is really just way too long of a story to tell you this:

The whole refrigerator had to get pulled out away from the wall.

I’m pretty sure we haven’t pulled that refrigerator out since I painted the cabinets, and that was before either of you were born.

Oh my goodness was there dirt and grime and grease and general fuzzy-stickiness.

In fact, there were solidified nasty drips of who-knows-what down the side of the refrigerator up to the level of the counter. Because clearly we drop a lot of things down that crack. And the linoleum under the frig had a top layer of dust but an under layer of sticky, greasy, black stuff.

Yuck.

Your dad got out the Pine Sol and began cleaning the side of the frig while I used the vacuum behind it to get the loose stuff up. Then he gave me the soapy bucket of water to begin scrubbing the floor while he dished up dinner for the two of you. Appetizing, I know.

As I scrubbed at that floor, as the water in the soapy bucket turned so dark it could be mistaken for black tea, I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be grand if this were enough?”

What I mean is, I like a well-cleaned house.

I like the feeling of a rewarding project accomplished, and I happen to consider a clean bathroom a rewarding project. I like taking the time to, say, prepare a nice meal, organize a junk drawer, sort a closet, get on my hands and knees and scrub the grease off of linoleum, or paint the aforementioned cabinets.

What I mean is, I actually like housekeeping and housetending and doing the tasks of daily life that keep a house tidy and running smoothly.

They are wonderful and rewarding tasks.

And I often wish they felt like enough.

It’s the same with mothering, girls. Mothering is rewarding and beautiful (and tiring and exhausting and infuriating and mind-numbing sometimes, too, but mostly rewarding), especially now that you’re turning into miniature human beings.

I have friends who so rock the mom thing, and so rock the clean-house thing, and so rock the house-decorating-project thing, and so rock the keeping-their-kids-clothes-sorted-by-size thing. I envy that a bit, to be honest.

I want that to be enough, and to find joy and completeness in that, because those are beautiful and fulfilling things. And many of those rockin’ friends really are fulfilled and happy and thoughtful.

But: me.

I remember sitting in my friend’s minivan after I became a mom and feeling so utterly not fulfilled with motherhood and telling her that I keep swinging back and forth between two extremes: one, wanting to be content in this new season—to just get acclimated, stop complaining, accept it for what it is—and, the other extreme, being content to be as Abraham was, which means not being settled, living as a stranger in the promised land, living in tents, not having much except God’s promise of what would be eventually.

I told my friend that I didn’t want to be comfortable, that I wanted it to feel strange, wanted to be the stranger, because I knew that there was more than this to my calling.

More than the greasy green linoleum.

More than the clean house.

Yes, more than mothering.

And, girls, I still believe that, but I can see a little more clearly than I could in those early months of mothering. I’m not so swallowed up by the misery of it all. (That sounds awful, but it was a tough time at first.)

I can see how this—all of this beautiful messy life of house and mothering—doesn’t just live in a tent alongside all the other beautiful messy things I do: the writing and painting and designing and loving and leading and teaching and serving and laughing and encouraging and following up and showing up.

No, the mothering and the wife-ing and the house-making are right inside the tent with me. I can’t be a stranger from them.

That said, tonight, girls, tonight I wished longingly for a life that could focus on one single thing, rather than a million things.

It’s a life that nobody has, not really.

Especially in this culture, where it seems everyone is trying to do all the things and be all the things and post pictures of all the things on social media.

Still, tonight I wished for a life that after the floor got wiped down, the rag hung up, the frig scooted back, I didn’t feel compelled to pick up my laptop and write you a letter, didn’t have a freelance project to work on, didn’t have a chapter of a book to read for homework, didn’t need to read Amos and prep for the Bible study I lead tomorrow, didn’t feel like I needed to touch base with a half-dozen friends and acquaintances going through tough times, didn’t have two art commissions to paint.

I won’t do all those things tonight.

But I could.

Don’t get me wrong: I love those things and I love my full life and I love being called to do the work of the Kingdom and seeing that Kingdom-work all around me in each poem written, each banner handlettered, each text sent, each chapter of the Bible pondered and discussed.

I love it.

But sometimes I just want to put on my PJs and snuggle up next to your dad and watch Madam Secretary.

And ignore all the things.

And sometimes, girls? Sometimes I do.

Love,

Your Momma