The Sixty-Third Letter: How the Whole30 Confirms What I Know to Be True About Myself

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Dear Daughters,

You know what I’ve been thinking a lot about for the last week? What’s been on my mind every few minutes? Especially in those minutes where I calm my mind and try to find peace?

Nope, nothing holy or sacred or inspirational or Lenten, but rather:

A hot, steaming cup of PG Tips black tea with milk and sugar.

Also, bagels and cream cheese.

Also, peanut butter.

Also, bread.

Also, cheese.

Also, beans in my chili.

Also, rice with my curry.

SERIOUSLY, GIRLS.

Here’s the deal.

I am giving a no-dairy, no-legume, no-sugar, no-grain eating regimen a try in order to figure out why I just don’t feel well physically, emotionally, the whole gamut. It’s a regimen known as the Whole30, but a rose by any other name… Or something like that. I’m always messing up colloquial sayings. It makes me endearing.

You know what doesn’t make me endearing?

How much I feel like griping about all the food I’m not allowed to eat.

Because guess what?

I get to eat a lot of really amazing food on this regimen, and, well, let’s face it, I just don’t even care most of the time.

Like for breakfast the other day, I had a fried egg sauteed with broccoli and spinach and herbs d’provence. Do you know how good it was? Do you know that this is the exact sort of thing I would order in a restaurant if I went out to eat for breakfast? Seriously. The exact thing. Except probably with cheese. But what I wanted to eat was a bagel and cream cheese, and so I felt grumpy about it.

Do I love vegetables and fruits? Do I love seeds and nuts and eggs? Yes, I do! I love these things. But this last week, I’ve felt a bit resentful of them.

And so I’m realizing something about myself, once again.

I am absolutely a selfish human being. It’s been about as blatant as it can be. I want what I want when I want it, and I don’t want to be told I shouldn’t get it.

Even when it is for my own good.

I have done my fair share of fasting in my lifetime, and I think fasting is an important discipline that Christians these days don’t like to adopt because it makes us uncomfortable, but as silly as it sounds, this has been worse for me than fasting.

The truth is, I’m a week into this thing, and I’m actually feeling pretty good. I’ve been a little less grumpy the last few days about my decision-making, and I haven’t been craving my hot tea near as much. (For the record, hot tea is allowed on the Whole30, but I want mine with milk and sugar something fierce, so I had to rule it out for myself.)

So there’s been some progress.

But, girls, I am so selfish, and it’s become so striking to me, and I am feeling pretty convicted about it.

After getting married and then, eight years later, having babies, all of which taught me in painful ways just how selfish I am, I can only think of one other experience that has caused these emotions to well up in me like this.

Offering radical hospitality.

I’m serious. This selfishness down in my gut I’m dealing with this week is similar to the feelings I’ve had when we have had others living with us.

I have long said that offering radical hospitality has been the best way to learn how selfish and prideful I am. (And if you’ve ever heard someone tell me that I had a “gift” for hospitality, you’ve heard this schpiel before. I have a low tolerance for this whole “gift” business when it comes to hospitality. Hospitality is hard work. I have a “conviction” of hospitality, but I don’t think it’s any easier for me than for anyone else.)

Because when people who are not your family are all up in your stuff, in your business, eating your food, and not putting your utensils back where you want them to be, and leaving only one scoop of peanut butter in the jar…

And now I’m back to peanut butter again. 

Shocker.

These seemingly unrelated things–marriage, parenting, the Whole30, and radical hospitality–have really dug into the core of who I am as a profoundly selfish person. They are ways we intentionally limit ourselves, where we say for the sake of the end game, whether that be for our relationships or health or the kingdom of God, we will be vulnerable and needy and frustrated and have to deal with it even though we will want to give up sometimes.

But there can be no wimping out.

You don’t change your mind about your beloved spouse because he leaves the back door open in all kinds of crazy weather.

You don’t give the baby back to the hospital because she keeps interrupting you while you’re trying to type up a blog post.

You don’t kick people out when you’ve invited them in.

And you don’t quit this eating routine for the sake of peanut butter.

Instead, instead you make homemade almond butter with a little olive oil and sea salt to smear on your banana.

Because, I mean, come on, a selfish girl’s still gotta eat.

Love,

Your Momma

The Sixty-Second Letter: On Princesses and Dinosaurs

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Dear Daughters,

While breastfeeding the eldest, I read a lot of books. Given that she took forever to eat, and I didn’t have an older child constantly jabbering at me, it was not long before I coopted your dad’s Kindle and learned to love the one-handed ebook. I also got a lot of hardback books from the library, because they were heavy enough to lay open on my lap unassisted. It was all about logistics for me.

One of those library books was called Cinderella Ate My Daughter, a journalist’s well-researched discussion about early childhood gender formation in America, and the way, in particular, young girls learn the narrative of what it means to be a woman from media, marketing, and culture. Despite the title, it’s not just about princess culture (or American Girl culture or modesty or Disney movies, though all of that is in there), but about the messaging and potential concerns about the differences in the ways boys are marketed to (as explorers, geniuses, adventurers, tough guys) and girls are marketed to (cute, sassy, pretty, glam, even bratty).

It’s not that most of this was new to me, as I’d researched early childhood gender socialization as an independent study while a sociology major during undergrad. Gender socialization and how we learn to be well-rounded human beings in our communities is a topic that is important to me and has been for some time. It’s one I’ve spent a lot of time reading about and thinking about. I rarely talk about it, though, because it’s something other moms don’t particularly want to talk about.

So that’s a little bit of background.

Recently a friend gave us some hand-me-down princess dresses—and plastic heels, and a necklace, and fancy gloves.

You two love to wear these dresses.

I took a picture of you on that first day we opened the bag of hand-me-downs and sent some of my friends an accompanying text: “And so it begins…”

It’s been pretty cute that you don’t really know how to “play princess” because you don’t have context for it. (To the extent you know the names of the princesses, it’s from books and your friends at preschool.) So for now, “playing princess” is very similar to “playing family,” which means you basically assign roles to everyone and then set up the area where you are playing into a house. And then you move on to playing other things while wearing your princess dresses and clunking around in the plastic heels.

You call the shoes “tap shoes.”

A few months ago, a woman stood beside me in a very long line at a consignment sale as we watched a little boy being silly. Very silly. Goofball silly. Rambunctious and active. This woman turns to me, sees that I’m holding girls’ clothing, and sighs, saying that girls are so much easier at “this” age, but once they are teenagers, well, she’s heard that reverses itself.

While I was pregnant the first time, so before I knew if I was having a boy or a girl, more than one of my boy-mom friends said they preferred the crazy and chaos and rambunctiousness of boys who are “all boy” to the “drama, drama, drama” of teenage girls.

I hear “he’s ‘all boy’” all the time, by the way. And there is a general understanding about what “all boy” means—rambunctious, loud, active.

And I hear all the time that boys are so much easier than girls in the long run.

One of my best friends—who is a mother of boys and a girl–has said in a joking voice that one thing about raising boys that is preferable to raising girls is that with a boy, you only have to worry about one penis; with a girl, you have to worry about all the other penises.

I mean, it’s funny, right?

On the surface level, it is. I get that. It’s funny.

But all of these conversations about what boys are like and what girls are like make me uncomfortable as a mother of daughters but also as a woman and as a human being created in the image of God.

This cultural myth of the dramatic teenage girl who is such a handful and can’t be controlled and doesn’t get along with her mother?

I just don’t get why that’s the dominant narrative we continue to tell ourselves and expect in our families.

It’s like the terrible twos.

We expect it, we label it, and as it turns out, we embrace it. We are resigned to it.

I’m not saying middle school and high school aren’t rough. They’re tough years. They’re hormonal years. They’re the years children learn to be adults by figuring things out for themselves.

But I’m not dreading those years with you, girls. I’m not.

I think it’s foolish to assume we can’t get through it with grace. Yes, of course it will be hard in ways I can’t even imagine now, but I will not assume you will be unmanageable. I will not assume you will be disrespectful. I will not assume that the drama, drama, drama will come.

That’s not fair to you.

The thing is, I wasn’t a dramatic teenager. And I have plenty of friends who never got sassy and bratty and dramatic. I don’t ever remember slamming my bedroom door or wishing my parents would just die. That’s a trope.

And you know what? Even at your preschool, I know boys who are not rowdy and chaotic but serious and gentle.

I don’t mind that you wear the princess dresses around the house. (Though we do have a rule that they can’t be worn outside the house—none of this princess dress to the grocery store nonsense.)

Your dad pointed out that the littlest reminds him of Monica from FRIENDS in the episode where she cleans her apartment in the wedding dress. It cracks us up.

I don’t need to go on a rant about princess culture generally and the Disney princess movies in particular. I’m sure by the time you’re reading these letters, you’ll know where I stand on those things. I think they are troubling, but lots of things are troubling. It doesn’t mean you can’t wear the dresses. As long as princesses are just one thing you play among other wonderful and imaginative things, I’m okay with that.

I will say in brief that the main problem with the whole princess thing to me is the way it becomes the dominant narrative through which some little girls can see the world.

But you are not those little girls.

You walk around in Cinderella’s dress with yellow plastic heels, and you’re still growling with your hands up as claws, saying you’re a big, scary bear.

You wear your dresses while you’re putting together a puzzle of the Amazon rainforest, or while you’re building a tent with the old king-sized sheet hanging off your bunk-beds, or while you’re coloring with markers in a coloring book that is not princess-themed.

Yesterday, the littlest put a canvas bag over her shoulder and said she’s a mommy dinosaur going to the grocery store. Because of course mommy dinosaurs need to go to Kroger.

We have a small princess figurine who gets carried around with Daniel Tiger and Katerina and Miss Elaina. It’s pretty great because the princess is usually a stand-in for Teacher Harriet. I’m good with that.

Yes, as long as princesses are just one narrative among others, just one story among others, just one game among others, I’m good with that.

So, go ahead and wear those dresses.

Wear those tap shoes.

Heck, strap on fairy wings.

I don’t care what you sport as we read Rosie Revere, Engineer, and Ada Twist, Scientist, again and again and again. Those your favorite books at the moment.

I’m good with that.

Love,

Your Momma

The Sixty-First Letter: Why Not All of It?

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Dear Daughters,

I’m a stickler about a few things.

One of them is tithing.

It is not a cool thing to talk about, especially not in my circles, but I was raised to take tithing seriously, and so I do take it seriously. When I was little, I’m pretty sure I was made to tithe off of my allowance and even off of the money we got in birthday cards. Yes, growing up, there was a strong sense of this money not being mine to begin with and so we gave back to God a portion, a tenth, in order to remind ourselves that it really all belongs to God, that none of it really belongs to us.

In today’s world, I think most of us could use a little more of those reminders that what we have is not really ours. That it is all gift. That we deserve none of it.

It might help us stay away from the what’s-mine-is-mine mentality that not only keeps us from helping our neighbors but also makes it difficult for us to see them as equally deserving of our own way of life.

It’s not polite to talk about money though, so I don’t say these things out loud, don’t say them in public.

But let me tell you a story.

The eldest has been joining us for “big church” for some time now, and I was reading an article recently about the importance of children seeing their parents–literally seeing us–give of our time and our resources. The article specifically mentioned letting children see their parents put money in the plate at church, if the family attends a church that passes the plate. It talked about the potential correlation between children who witness their parents giving of time and talents and tithes on a regular basis and those who grow up to be regular givers themselves.

After reading this article, I realized that it probably didn’t send the best message that I was often passing an empty plate. As I said, I do tithe, but I write a check once a month, because it’s our habit, instead of once a week. So the majority of weeks, we don’t drop something in.

As a result, I decided, if it’s a symbolic gesture for you anyway, I’ll start giving you a little bit of cash to put in the plate yourself. In the past, this always seemed a little silly to me.

And that brings me to the story for today.

On Sunday, I had grabbed some cash from my wallet that was all folded up on itself. I pulled two dollar bills off of the wad–there was only ten dollars in the wad, but it looked big to you–and I handed you the two single bills. You saw that I was putting the rest back in my wallet.

“But why not all of it?” you whispered to me.

I tried to shush you.

“WHY NOT ALL OF IT,” you whispered louder, assuming I hadn’t heard you the first time.

I tried to shush you again, and gestured toward the plate as it approached.

You really didn’t want to let it go. “But why? Why not all of it?”

And it was about that time that I heard those words in a new light, not as a literal question about that wad of cash, but a question to me about life and what it means to offer ourselves to the Kingdom of God.

Why not all of it?

Why are we not willing to give all of ourselves?

Why are we so quick to pull the two easy dollars off the wad and toss them in the plate and assume we’re good to go, that we’ve done our part?

God isn’t asking us to do our part. God is asking us to give our lives.

Why not all of it?

When we get mad about politics, we think it’s enough to start calling our representatives. But God wants all of us, not just our phone calls and emails.

When we get frustrated at broken institutions like our school systems, we think it’s enough to just protect our own interests and make sure we (and ours) succeed. But God wants all of us, not just our feeble attempts at safety and provision for our own families and neighborhoods.

When we look around at our empty sanctuaries, we think it’s enough to lament the absence of young people and resolve to make our services more relevant. But God wants all of us, not just our work to make Sunday morning more fun. God wants us to to be loving people, offering our whole selves to our relationships, inviting people into our lives, not just our sanctuaries.

When we look around and see that all of our friends look just like us and live in houses just like us, we think it’s enough to go serve in a soup kitchen or donate our leftover and used goods to a local shelter. But God wants all of us, which might hurt a bit. Actually, it will hurt a bit. I promise. It might mean selling that house. At the very least, it means inviting people who are different from us into that house and joining together over food and fellowship. It will take all of us.

Or, let’s take it to the real, everyday annoyances of life. Because that’s where we can really get uncomfortable. It’s too easy to shrug off the general, big problems.

What about when I get frustrated at the frequency with which the neighbors’ dog has been escaping their yard? I want to think it’s enough to put him back in the yard and grumble about it to your dad. But God wants all of me, all of my relationships, all of my time, not just my mediocre attempts at community.

What about when I lose my temper with you? I think it’s enough to say, well, that’s the way life is with young children, right? It’s tiring and exhausting and mind-numbing, and you really should have just listened the first time. But God wants all of me, not just my good days and prayer times and Bible reading. We should be growing in those tough moments too. We should be learning grace and offering grace.

What about when the stranger walks by our house in the middle of the day, when the kids with heavy backpacks get off the bus down the street and look discouraged, when the neighbors have forgotten yet again that it is trash day: am I just doing the minimum? Or am I offering my whole life?

Why not all of it? you asked.

And I guess what I’m trying to say is this: you’re asking a good question.

The Gospel requires all of us. 

Love,

Your Momma

The Fifty-Sixth Letter: Enough Space in the Manger

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Dear Daughters,

Your dad offered the children’s “moment” today at church.

(Yes, we are still old-school enough that we have a children’s sermon, but at least we try to sound a little less old-school about it by calling it a “moment.”)

Your dad is amazing, and I love how excited the eldest was to go up front with your daddy up there. You always love these weeks.

Your dad had all the children lean way back, as far as you could, and look up at the sanctuary ceiling. Then he had you rock back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, while he SHHHH‘d into the microphone.

SHHH. SHHH. SHHH.

Then he asked you what it felt like.

You see, the ceiling of our church is solid wood. I don’t know anything about wood building materials, but the visible ceiling is completely wood, with wooden boards one direction, all lined up, and then these big wooden beams, like a rib cage, across it.

Because of the shape of the sanctuary, it’s actually, incredibly, quite reminiscent of the inside of a boat.

SHHH. SHHH. SHHH.

Like the wind during a storm.

The church is a boat.

You kids got there really quickly. I was impressed. The church is a boat.

The capital-C Church is a boat, too. Or it should be.

The Church is a safe place in a storm, when Jesus is present; it is large enough to hold all of us, all who crawl on board.

That’s pretty cool.

And then your dad said something else, looking up at the ceiling again. Those wooden beams, the wooden structure, was a lot like a manger, too.

That SHHH. SHHH. SHHH. might be Mary’s voice, calming a baby.

And just think: we’re in the manger with Jesus.

It’s like the baby Jesus, this God-man, who was lying down on straw in this wooden framed manger, jumped up and flipped the manger on its head, to protect us, to keep us safe.

And there is space enough for all of us. Radical, upside-down, safe space, for all of us.

Enough space for the believer and the doubter, the cynic and the faithful, the college professor and the jobless, the worn-out mamas and the aging grandmamas, the teenagers who are less than pleased to be present and the elderly man taking a nap in the back pew.

And for those folks we are hesitant to include? Those who make us uncomfortable when we read about Jesus’ call to love our neighbors? Those people who are different than we are?

There is enough space.

In the manger.

In the boat.

That’s the message of Advent.

That is the message of the manger.

That is the message of our faith.

And that was the message of Faith Baptist Church this morning, during a children’s moment, with the kids lying on your backs, rocking back and forth, back and forth.

SHHHH.

SHHH.

SHH.

Love,

Your Momma

The Fifty-Fifth Letter: Paper Chains and Gratitude

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Dear Daughters,

One of our daily Advent activities last week was to make paper chains, the old-school kind made out of strips of construction paper. When I wrote that entry on our Advent calendar a few weeks ago, I didn’t have anything brilliant in mind. I thought it would be a fun way to decorate a little bit for Christmas, since we do it progressively throughout the season, but that was about it.

Then, the day we were to make it, I thought, I know! We’ll write down the names of people we’re grateful for, one on each strip. And I gave myself a little metaphoric pat on the back for being such an amazing mom.

And it was a good idea. We’ll probably make some sort of annual tradition out of it.

On the day we made the chains, though, I also said that we would pray for everyone as we wrote their names down. This did not really happen. And, quite honestly, “writing down people we are grateful for” turned into “listing everyone the four-year-old knows.”

It took a lot of prompting to just get the important folks written down–grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles–because the list got a little cluttered with the names of parents of the eldest’s friends, the names of children of my friends, the names of teachers and random people who go to church with us. Yes, it’s a pretty eclectic group of folks listed inside these paper chains that hang in the living room.

But there is beauty here, in the hodgepodge.

As I was prompting the eldest for names, I mentioned the girls’ great-great-grandmother. As it so happens, the youngest shares a name with this amazing woman. We love Great-Great-Grandma Troutman. She’s one of my favorite pen-pals, and we write back and forth every few months. She even sent me some money to buy some little gifts for the girls for Christmas. Great-Great-Gram is in her 90s.

We wrote her name down, and then, not to be left out, the eldest suggested we also write down the name of my maternal grandmother, with whom the eldest shares a name. I paused momentarily, thrown off-guard, because she passed away before you were born, and I had only been thinking in terms of friends and family members who are living. But the eldest didn’t notice my pause. She kept repeating it: “Momma, Grandma Clara, write her down, I’m grateful for her too!”

And, of course, we did write her down.

Because, of course, I am grateful to this beloved woman. I’ve written a lot about her, and think of her often. I miss her and, in some ways, am surprised sometimes to realize she is gone, surprised that my girls have never met her, surprised that she never knew me as a mother.

A few months ago, when I was asked to share my faith journey at church, I began thinking about my spiritual inheritance. I thought of my grandma and I thought of others who’ve nourished me on my journey. It’s so important to consider these things, girls. It’s important to know our roots.

And water our roots.

I think we do that by remembering and telling stories. I think we do that by loving other people in the ways we have ourselves been loved. I think we do that by realizing we are not special, we are not deserving of the love that has paved the way for our journeys, but we are fortunate that the love did indeed do just that.

Because it did. It does.

Yes, I am so grateful to my grandmother, to all of my grandparents and great-parents who’ve passed on but left pieces of them behind for me to ponder in my heart. There’s Ginny’s chocolate chip cookies and tapioca pudding. Grandma Woodward’s drawn out “niiiiiiiiice.” Pappy Sands’s Twin Tamarack campground and coach bus. Pappy Lehman’s Uno-playing and swiping of the shot glass from that bourbon tasting when he visited us in Kentucky. Jeanie-Beanie’s signature on our birthday cards that included her imaginary friends. Doc’s “slow, Catholic way” of parking his boat. I can hear him saying that.

And those are just the first few that come to mind.

There are also my friends, too, who have passed, who remain with me in real and special ways. I think of Katy, especially, with her teapot and cookies and linen napkins. Don reading his love poems at the church talent show. Marilyn always coming over to greet our guests at church, saying she was my Kentucky grandmother.

I have been fortunate to know and to love so many people, fortunate to have been loved by so many peopleAnd so have you.

It would be impossible to make a paper chain that captured all of this love, all of this gratitude.

But it makes me happy that we’ve got a small reflection of that love strung up in the living room. 

Two more weeks of Advent, girls.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

 

 

The Fifty-Fourth Letter: These Are Not the Best Moments

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Dear Daughters,

While on the road last week, enroute to Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania, we stopped at a Panera for dinner in West Virginia. (The two of you are always more happy with a bowl of macaroni and cheese than just about any other quick food options.)

As we waited for our little buzzer to light up and signal that our food was ready, I noticed an elderly couple looking at us from a nearby booth. I’m used to people looking at us when we are out as a family because, well, your dad and I are really tall.

Let me just say as a sidenote that I don’t feel abnormally tall most of the time, but given the number of strangers who comment on it, and the number of people who stare without commenting, and the number of strangers who obviously look down at my feet to see if I am wearing heels, well, I must look pretty tall out there in public, especially when I am with your dad, who is six inches taller than I am. And after bold strangers ask how old the two of you are, they are typically in disbelief at your height as well. Sigh. We’re a tall bunch.

My point is, when these strangers were studying us in Panera, I didn’t pay much attention to it. But then, after our food came, in the chaos of trying to make sure everyone had what they needed and dishing out the bowls of mac and cheese onto the plates so it would cool faster and tearing the top off the squeezey yogurt so you could eat them, the older man spoke to us, and he started off by saying something very strange.

“I really don’t like you,” he said.

Now, that is not normally how one strikes up a conversation with strangers, but I could sense that he was someone who needed to talk, and though his words were awkward, I had this hunch that maybe he was trying to be friendly, not abrasive, so I acknowledged him and encouraged him to continue.

“I seriously don’t like you. You know why?”

I didn’t, but I was sure he was going to tell us.

“I’m old.”

And by that, he meant that we were not old.

He proceeded to remind us, in a rambly sort of way, to enjoy these days when we are young and have young kids because he used to be young too and one day he woke up and he was old. He missed being young. He missed having his family around. He knew we couldn’t imagine it, but trust him, we needed to enjoy being young. We will be old before we know it. And, by the way, Happy Thanksgiving.

His wife came back, we wished him Happy Thanksgiving, and then they left.

My first internal reaction was sadness: I was sad that this man was sad, that even despite his attempt at humor, he was emanating regret.

But then, well, my sadness turned into less-than-compassionate annoyance. Here’s the deal, girls: as a mom of young children, I hear this message all the time.

All. The. Time.

And while I know it sounds ornery, I just need to get something off my chest.

One of my pet peeves is being told by strangers to “enjoy these days,” to appreciate the time I have with my children while they are small, to count my blessings because time goes by so quickly, before I know it my kids will be grown and out of the house. So enjoy it. Appreciate it. Cherish it. Blah blah blah.

Now, I’m not saying there aren’t young folks who need to hear this message, who would find it encouraging. But I kind of resent the assumption that I am not already doing this, that I am not already able to live in the moments and appreciate the beauty that is here.

Granted, I will be the first to admit that there have been times when I have not wanted to appreciate the beauty of these days–there have been times when I have wanted to flee (on the worst days) and longed for the minutes to pass more quickly (on the best days).

But right now, in this season, I am doing a good job living alongside you, enjoying the stunning and creative human beings you are, even as you exasperate me and I lose my temper more times than I like to admit. And so, when I am told to appreciate these days, I kind of resent the idea that any stranger feels like she needs to pass on this wisdom of a life well-lived, when implicitly this person is admitting that she did not do a good job of appreciating life when she was young. That really does sound ornery. I guess this is one of my buttons.

I work hard to live a life of gratitude and grace. It’s a daily struggle. And I often fail. But I’m on the path, girls. I’m on the path.

I see the hunt for the sacramental in these ordinary moments as one of my primary callings right now, not just as an example for you of a well-lived life but as an encouragement to others who need to see that hope is possible in the drudgery of the ordinary.

The other thing I resent when someone tells me in a chipper voice (or a somber voice, because, let’s face it, it can go both ways) to appreciate these moments because I will someday wake up and I will be old and have all these regrets–well, what I resent is the suggestion that these moments, here when you are young, are the best moments, the moments I will most miss later. These are not the best moments. And the future moments are not the best moments. All of the moments are the best. All of the moments are moments we are called to live fully, to love fully, to be aware of grace and live sacramentally. All of the moments. All of the seasons. Sometimes it is harder than at other times, and I’ve often suspected, even after talking to older moms, that in the extreme exhaustion of raising small children we have to work the hardest to find grace, but it is still here.

What I want to say to you, girls, today is this: I am living in this moment, right now, alongside you, and I am loving you and appreciating this life we share. I am feeling the late-afternoon sunshine dance across my laptop keys as I type this, and I see how beautiful it is. I am listening to an episode of Daniel Tiger in the background, hearing a deep belly laugh from the eldest, watching the youngest drink her milk with crazy bedhead. I’m sitting beside an empty mug of tea. Our white Christmas lights are glowing on our bare tree. I’ve still got my boots on because we are heading to some friends’ house for dinner, but I took my big earrings off to try to motivate myself to go outside and rake some leaves.

These are the silly details of a life that make me smile.

These are the details of the life we share.

These are the details of a life of gratitude.

I will not wake up surprised to be old one day.

I will not wake up surprised that you are old enough to read these letters one day.

Sure, the time is going quickly, quicker than I can even believe sometimes, but the moments, well, they’re the same every day. They’re full of promise. They’re full of grace.

Love,

Your Momma

The Fifty-Second Letter: This Is Today

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Dear Daughters,

Today, I drank too much caffeinated hot tea with sugar and whole milk. I wore big earrings, big hair, big boots, and no make-up. I wore my grandfather’s blue-green plaid shirt. It is Veterans Day. He was a 101st airborne paratrooper.

Today, I remembered it was the last day to donate Thanksgiving food pantry items at the preschool, and I had forgotten to add them to our grocery list, but we keep Annie’s macaroni and cheese in pantry. So today, we gave what we had.

Today, I sat around a table with some fellow artist friends, and we shared a time of candid lament. We planned a retreat. We ate donuts. We laughed over a Good Housekeeping article from 1955 about the qualities of a good wife, which apparently involves cleaning and cooking and not complaining and dusting before your husband comes home from work. The toddler then spilled milk all over the table.

Today, I signed a permission slip to allow the eldest to walk to the food pantry next week during a morning at preschool. I smile to think of that beautiful image–a row of two-by-two hand-holding children pulling a wagon of food up to Main Street so that local families can have a Thanksgiving meal. This is exactly the work I want you to see and do and know.

Today, I listened to a friend read poems she’d written to voice the pain of sexual assault. She had never read them out loud before, but she bravely shared publicly at a symposium on sexual violence. Reading anything out loud takes guts. Sharing pain vulnerably takes courage.

Today, I struggled to write a community prayer for our worship service on Sunday, knowing that even in our church it is hard to speak openly about divisive issues.

Today, at preschool pick-up, I learned that not all parents of preschoolers are as thrilled as I am that you will be visiting the food pantry in person next week.

Today, I texted with a friend who is going through a divorce.

Today, I addressed a handful of postcards to send to strangers.

Today, the eldest asked why I had a safety pin on my shirt, and I teared up explaining that some people don’t have anyone safe to talk to about important things, and that this pin means I am a safe person. I told you, this pin means people can talk to me about important things, things that make them sad. You told me, “When I’m a grown-up, I might have one of those to put on my shirt.”

Today, I showed the eldest how to write an “A” in cursive.

Today, I sat bundled up in a scarf and sweatshirt at the picnic table, typing away on my laptop, while you asked me repeatedly if you could take off your sweater because it was too hot. It is currently in the 50s and breezy.

Today, I did not cook or clean or dust. I have not dusted in months. But I did eat two jelly donuts. Today.

Today, you brought me a pile of dirty pebbles and sticks, cradled in your dress, and announced that it was your Thanksgiving dinner. And that you’d invited all of your friends to share it with you. I didn’t have the heart to scold you for the dirt on your dress, so we talked about Thanksgiving instead.

Today I wanted to write so many things.

I didn’t.

Love,

Your Momma

The Fiftieth Letter: It Just Feels Full

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Dear Daughters,

Yesterday, I had to walk by Christmas trees and ornaments at WalMart in order to get to the mums. The mums! In October! Which is the perfect time to purchase mums for your front porch.

And there were the Christmas trees.

Sigh.

Forget Advent. Forget Thanksgiving. It’s not even Halloween yet, girls.

I was perturbed.

Maybe it’s just me, but I want to appreciate the mums and pumpkins and cider and colored leaves on the trees. I don’t want to move on to the next thing, to answer your questions about why we can’t buy that bin of silver balls, to talk about how pretty that wreath is.

I want to enjoy the swingset in the cool breeze, taking you out on a run without having to slather you in sunscreen, painting pumpkins and maybe even that random decorative squash a friend gave us that is shaped like a character out of Veggie Tales. I don’t want to start counting down to Christmas, and worry about what our travel plans are for Thanksgiving, and Christmas lists and gifts and painting a Jesse Tree.

It’s too much, it’s too fast, the calendar is too full. It stresses me out.

Well, it does when I look at it that way.

But sometimes I don’t look at it that way.

I glanced at my monthly calendar this morning and was astounded at All The Things on the schedule. It’s felt a little hectic the last few weeks, and no wonder. It has been.

All The Things distract us and keep us busy, All The Things pile up and wear us down, All The Things fill up our weeks, our semesters, our days, our moments.

But there was a moment of grace this morning. I felt a distance when I looked at the calendar because I realized that All The Things are things we do; they are not the things we are. They are what we do but they do not determine the way we do life.

I am more convinced than ever that a full life does not have to be a stressful life. A full life does not have to feel like a “busy” life. Full might mean doing a lot of things–or it might not.

It’s more like a way of approaching the things on the calendar. Because the calendar will be full regardless.

A full life is about being present.

Being attentive in the moments.

Breathing.

Enjoying the warm breeze, or the cool breeze, the feel of those soft mum blossoms as I water them every day. My mom tells me that’s how you keep them alive.

For me, it’s taking the time to write, to make art, to create, to paint. It’s reading a novel instead of watching TV. It’s putting down the novel to set you up to paint a pumpkin.

I was astounded last week when I sat down to go through these fifty letters and the poetry I’ve written over the last four years, to sift through the words I’d forgotten I’d written in order to share some of them publicly at a poetry and art night at our local arts and cultural center. Girls, there were so many words. I’ve written so many words. But I’ve been so tired for four years, girls. So tired. How could this be? It perplexed me. It still does.

Being present means seeing the way grace is already present in my life.

Being present means slowing down to really see beauty.

Because when I slow down in the moments, the days slow down too, the whole life slows down.

The busy-ness becomes full-ness instead. The activities become separate from the way we feel about the world.

And that full-ness, even when I’m bone tired, becomes happiness.

That sounds trite, doesn’t it? To say that I’m happy?

Of course, I’m worn out and frustrated and on the verge of losing my temper a lot of the time, too, more times than I like to admit, but when I do that whole being-attentive-thing? There is peace there. There is happiness.

Don’t get me wrong, the truth is, I didn’t really want to scrape Cinnamon Life out of the carpet this afternoon. But I did it. And for some reason, as I sat on the floor, there was peace there.

I did not like extending my shopping trip to WalMart yesterday by stopping in the bathroom for a potty-training two year old. But I did it. And, okay, there was not peace there. You spilled my purse on the floor. But there could have been, I can see that. If I hadn’t lost my temper.

I haven’t really wanted to read a Harry Potter book every week for the last four weeks. But I’m doing it. Making space for these enormous books in my life—750 pages this week, girls–means making space for good discussions in our house on Thursday nights with college students and friends.

I didn’t want to do my freelance work from a desktop computer tucked halfway into a hall closet last week when our ethernet cable went bad, but I did it. And even found it amusing at times, working in a linen closet.

Most days, I don’t want to rise early to have some quiet before you wake up, and some mornings I don’t, but some mornings I do.

I don’t like to wash the dishes or do tedious chores like folding laundry, but when I’m willing to see grace here, I’ve found in that tedium surprising moments of meditation when I’ve least expected it. I was asked at my poetry reading about inspiration and writing habits, and I realized that most of my ideas for poems and blog posts come when I’m chopping vegetables.

This, girls, is a happy season. It’s a tiring season. It’s a full season. There is much to do and places to go and ministries to serve and friendships to build and art to make and you to love and hold and snuggle and teach.

Sometimes it feels stressful, if I let it.

But most times, it just feels full.

And happy.

Love,

Your Momma

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-Seventh Letter: What You’ll Be When You Grow Up

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Dear Daughters,

When I was in high school, my Spanish teacher told my friend Katie and me that she hoped her daughter would grow up to be like us one day.

Señora actually said that.

Her daughter was probably in early elementary school then, which means she is now older than we were when we were in high school. Sigh.

But on that day, we were staying after school to help with something in her classroom. It might have been when we were seniors and our classes were officially over but we were there hanging out before graduation. Taking bulletin boards down. Filing away books. We were nerds like that, so it’s imaginable.

And we’d had Señora for a few years. She knew us pretty well.

Still, I remember being surprised at her comment, surprised that she thought so highly of us. That she wanted her daughter to be like us.

That’s huge, right?

Well, I know now what it is like to be a mother with daughters.

I know what it is like to see strong, smart, beautiful women, so confident and courageous and determined to make a difference in the world, so full of conviction and love, to see those young women and think of you and of what you will be in the world, do in the world, how you will live in the world, how you will love in the world.

Because that’s what Señora was really saying. She was talking more about her daughter than about us.

Sort of like how in these letters when I’m talking about myself and telling my random stories, I’m really talking about you, my dreams for you, writing my stories for you.

Because you are the words of my stories, the strokes of the brush in my paintings, the captions in my photos, the tap-tap-tap of the keys right here in front of me as I type this.

I can’t believe there have been nearly fifty letters so far. Every day, sometimes multiple times a day, I think of an idea for a letter. But life usually gets in the way, so I tuck those ideas down into the pockets of my heart, or if I’m lucky the pages of a journal, and hope to revisit those thoughts some day.

And some days I do.

I’m still friends with Katie. She’s got two little girls herself, her youngest almost exactly the same age as you, Goose. Less than a week difference in your birthdays, I think. I’m guessing she knows what it’s like to wonder about their futures, because that’s what we moms do. On our lesser days, we think of all the bad things that could happen. But on our better days, it’s not worry. On our best days, it’s all dreams of grace and courage and confidence and love.

That’s the you I want you to see as you read through these letters. The you that I can already see you to be, the you that embodies all the wonder and sacrament and joy and heartache of being the hands and feet of Jesus in the word.

You know what?

Katie texted me a picture the other day. The caption for the photo came through before the photo itself did.

Guess who I found at Panera today?!?!? Katie exclaimed, with her typical excitement. And when the picture popped up, you know what it was?

It was Katie standing beside Señora.

And that’s when I remembered what she had said those sixteen years ago to a younger version of myself.

And that’s when I wanted to write you this letter.

Love,

Your Momma