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

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Dear Daughters,

Today is a perfect day.

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

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

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

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

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

Ordinary and extraordinary, I think.

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

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

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

That’s what the day is, girls.

Today.

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

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

And sometimes I write it down.

Love,

Your Momma

 

The Eighty-Seventh Letter: Lent & Unseasonable Weather

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Dear Daughters,

“It’s not SUPER cool, Mom. It’s AWESOMELY cool.”

That’s what the 5 year old said, watching the storm clouds moving in this morning while we sat outside on the deck in the unseasonably warm weather before the rest of the family was up. We were listening to the birds, admiring the colors strewn across the sky, watching the squirrels dance in the trees.

What is “unseasonable” weather anyway? Well, probably 80 degrees in February with your kids playing in the sandbox in shorts while you sit out at the picnic table trying to finish up a freelance project.

That was us yesterday. Obviously.

But I’m not complaining about it.

What I have been complaining about in my heart is how unseasonal my heart is feeling about Lent.

But then I had an epiphany in my letters to God this week.

I was asking what it’s means to be thoughtful during Lent, to be intentional in this season of life and this season of liturgy, and this is what I started to write:

Lent — it comes from words about lengthening, about Spring, about lengthening days.

Lengthening days mean plants leaning toward the light. The ground and the world waking from slumber. Our hearts awakening from winter.

Is it somber? Sure, we acknowledge our own finitude and our utter dependence on God, that it isn’t all of our striving and achieving that brings the trees to blossom but God’s utter transforming, life-giving, ever-creating, ever-new power.

And God doesn’t just do the minimum. God doesn’t just create a world in which water and sunlight miraculously cause plants tho break out of their seed pods and burst up through the mud of early spring, but a world in which the byproduct of human breath is the exact thing plants “breathe in” and vice versa. And the same word for that breath is the Holy Spirit, not coincidentally.

No, God remains graciously able and willing to transform ash into green palms, while we are only able to live a life of the opposite—green palms turning to ash. We are unable to keep the world spinning. We are unable to burst forth blooms. We are unable to turn death into life.

We are unable.

But we live the season of Lent, and that is not only ash and death and sin and mourning. That is a season of lengthening days and new life and hope and giving up our independence in favor of unseasonably warm weather and rain storms and barefoot-in-the-sandbox.

Lent is not just singing “Were You There?” at the Ash Wednesday service, it is also learning “What Wondrous Love Is This?” as a new bedtime hymn.

Lent is not just a finger sliced open from the serated bread knife yesterday, it is also the tulips bursting through the ground over the weekend.

Lent is not just the broken egg in the carton leaking all over the frig, but the beauty of the thwp-thwp-thwp of the flock of birds circling overhead this morning.

Lent is not just the anxiety and pink eyes and snotty noses and allergy medicines and children’s nightmares and waking to find Billy Graham had passed away, but a child who loves our current readaloud book because, she says, “I can picture everything that is happening!”

Lent is ash, but Lent is palms.

Lent is death, but Lent is life.

It’s a both/and.

Every year.

No matter the weather.

And there’s nothing unseasonable about that.

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