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!

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The Seventy-Eighth Letter: To-Do Lists & Kingdom Work

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Dear Daughters,

I’ve jotted lots of notes to myself in recent weeks listing items I want to write to you about. Memories I want to capture. Nuggets of wisdom that seem worthy of recording. What I’m learning about life, about mothering, about myself.

The problem is that I know that the things I manage to record for you in these letters and in your individual journals take on significance. Those writings begin to outweigh actual memories—in a way they become the actual memories in this season.

And that’s okay, but it makes it hard to start writing sometimes. Especially when what I want to write feels ordinary, a brief glimpse of the sacred in the midst of what is an otherwise ordinary life.

For example, Tuesdays are exhausting. I’m writing this on Tuesday. I’m exhausted. I had a rough night last night insomnia-wise, and this morning our weekly homeschool class met, which means I lead two and a half hours of activity for a group of nine 4-6 year olds. They are a sweet bunch of kids, and I’m enjoying it significantly more than I expected to (or than anyone who knows me at all expected me to). Even the rowdy kiddos are charming and kind and I have such compassion for them.

There is probably nothing short of providential intervention going on there, by the way, stepping in and giving me patience, offering me glimpses of the holy in the midst of squirming and interrupting. I believe in providential intervention, even on this small scale.

That said, Tuesdays still exhaust me, even though it’s fun and rewarding Kingdom work.

We got home this afternoon, and I painted while you had some brief quiet time. After that, I offered to let you go outside and play. I’m convinced that unstructured full-body creative play is key to your brain and body development as well as your creativity, and it’s one of the reasons I homeschool.

As usual I have a long running to-do list, but I decided to put it aside and rest myself. I made a cup of tea, grabbed a book I’m reading, post-its, a pencil, and my planner-prayer guide-journal, and sat down on the back deck. As I breathed and reflected and enjoyed my tea, I decided I did want to write you a letter after all, so I went inside to get my laptop.

I began to write.

And then I was interrupted.

As usual.

The youngest came over to announce that her sister “FOUND AN ANT CAWWYING SOMETHING WIWWY WEIRD! YOU HAVE TO COME SEE!”

Seriously, child? (This is what I thought to myself.) I do not want to come over there to check out an ant. I’ve seen ants. You’ve seen ants. They’re kind of all the same. I’m doing some important meditative work here. Also, I’m writing you a letter. You will appreciate this someday. Sigh.

And then, and then I felt this little nudge I’ve been feeling a lot the last two weeks. It’s a small and quiet question that I feel deep in my heart:

What is important to the Kingdom of God?

I’m serious. I can feel that question in my heart. What is important to the Kingdom of God? It comes in striking contrast to however I am feeling. And you know what I always hear as the answer? It’s always clear as day. It’s this, as cheesy and obvious as it seems:

People are important to the Kingdom of God.

It’s like a little catechism question that just pops up out of nowhere.

What is important to the Kingdom of God?

People are important to the Kingdom of God.

Okay, let’s be real. It’s decidedly not out of nowhere. It’s been popping up whenever I’ve been frustrated or worn out or just want to do what I think is important. Because if it’s on a to-do list, it must be important, right?

It has happened when I’m all set to work on a big project and a text comes through from a friend asking if she can stop by.

It has happened when I’m outside and a neighbor walks by who wants to talk.

It has happened at book group meetings, reading group meetings, church meetings. (Maybe it’s because of my general distaste for meetings that makes me in need of the Spirit’s nudge.)

It’s happened often enough that I told your dad about it. He and I have long kidded about my ability to collect “stray people,” as he calls them. Whether they are strangers or friends or neighbors, people I encounter in my ordinary life often stop and talk. And I mean talk about serious things, not just fluffy chitchat.

Why is that?

And why is my instinct always to be a little bit annoyed on the inside, even when I know it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be?

Well, that’s probably why I am continuing to learn this lesson, here in my thirties. And that’s probably why the nudges aren’t slowing—if anything, they’re coming more and more often.

What is important to the Kingdom of God?

People are important to the Kingdom of God.

I had a meeting a few weeks ago and it was running long and I really just wanted to go home and go to bed but clearly someone needed to get something off her chest and needed someone else to listen to her. I heard the question again. What is important to the Kingdom of God? People…

I came home from that meeting, apologized for being late, and posed the question to your dad: What is important to the Kingdom of God? We chuckled and sighed. Yeah, yeah. We both knew the answer.

The thing is, you are people. You are the Kingdom work in front of me. So are my neighbors. So are strangers who cross my path. So is my friend whose mother is dying of cancer out of state, my pregnant friend in Texas, my grandmother who deserves another hand-written letter.

And yes, of course my art and my writing and my editing and my long to-do list are ALSO kingdom work. They are. Using my gifts for the Kingdom is Kingdom work.

But this. I keep hearing it.

What is important to the Kingdom of God?

People are important to the Kingdom of God.

I can’t get away from that still small voice nudging me to this conclusion:

Interruptions are as important to the Kingdom of God as the to-do list is.

It happened yesterday when the five-year-old really wanted to make a craft out of your Solar System coloring page you’d brought home from the library last week. You had conceived of the whole idea yourself and brought me a paper towel tube and the string, but you needed me to cut holes in the tube, figure out how to fish the string through, look up the order of the planets which I should know but don’t. It was a minor request but I was planning to finish up my class prep and begin dinner, and the craft was not urgent but I had already put it off twice when you asked me before. I also knew it would take longer than you thought. I knew it would eat up the rest of the afternoon until your dad came home. Because these things always do.

But then came that nudge again.

What is important to the Kingdom of God?

People are important to the Kingdom of God.

Sigh.

So we made the Solar System with the blue sun. And it did take the rest of the afternoon. And we ate dinner late.

But it is such a privilege to see your mind figuring things out, dreaming up crafts, seeking answers to questions you are barely able to articulate yourself. If I can’t pause and acknowledge the beauty of you, of life alongside you, I probably shouldn’t be preaching a Gospel of sacramental living to the world.

And now back to the “wiwwy weird” thing that the ant was carrying this afternoon.

Well, I got up, put down my laptop—which by the way was down to 4 percent battery and I just hadn’t realized it—and she was right. It was pretty weird. It was a yellowjacket. The ant was carrying a yellowjacket up the trunk of a large tree in the corner of our yard. We watched it together for awhile climbing on the tree bark, and we wondered about God’s creation and how we never cease to be amazed.

What is important to the Kingdom of God?

People are important to the Kingdom of God.

Love,

Your Momma

The Seventy-Third Letter: First Fruits, Time, & Hospitality

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Dear Daughters,

At the beginning of the growing season, every leaf of oregano feels extravagant. The first snap peas, the early lettuce and spinach, and then later, that first red tomato or first summer squash. But as with most things, by the end, when it’s hard to keep up with the produce, when you can’t even give the extras away because everybody has too many tomatoes and too much zucchini, when I am already snipping large handfuls of oregano every day to eat on my eggs, well, at that point, it’s hard to be appreciative of what is before us.

I’ve been thinking about first fruits, about God’s command to the Israelites in Deuteronomy to bring a basket of the first fruits of their harvest to recognize publicly God’s faithfulness to them in the fulfillment of promises. I read that passage this morning and I heard it differently than I’d heard it before, maybe because we’re still savoring every fresh green bean, still astounded at Kentucky tomatoes showing up already at the farmers market. We’re in a season of first fruits.

Girls, it’s hard to give the first fruits away. They’re what you’ve been waiting for. They don’t even taste the best, to be honest, usually those first fruits are picked too early because we are impatient, but we savor them nonetheless, not really wanting to share. So giving them up willingly and publicly? That’s sacrifice.

And then I began to think of the less-literal “first fruits” of my life. Like, say, tithes. I’ve preached this before, being raised in a home that took tithing seriously, tithing off the top, even tithing off my birthday presents and allowance because I was taught that none of what I had was mine to begin with. It was God’s. So yeah, I get that. Financial first fruits.

I am a generous person with my finances. I am also a generous person with food. I love to bake things and give them away. I like to deliver goodies to my neighbors, and I like to involve you in the process.

Already you know the joy of giving. I have also sorted through your belongings: your toys, your clothes, divvied them out among folks we know with younger children, who would want what, where to donate.

We talk about the least fortunate in our house and I want you to know that it is important to give as if nothing belongs to you. These are all interpretations of first-fruits. (Though I suppose hand-me-downs sound like last-fruits, the truth is that most of what you have is also hand-me-down, so we’re going with the analogy anyway.)

But, I’ll confess, I did come up with a doozy of a first-fruit that isn’t so easy to quantify and isn’t so easy to say I’m a pro at giving away. Know what that is? My time.

Seriously, girls, am I willing to give the first fruits of my time?

Let’s go here:

How about when I’m tired and grouchy? When my to-do list is long? When the neighbor swings by unexpectedly? When we get that text inviting us to come and splash in the kiddie pool? When a friend needs a ride to the bank? When the mailman wants to chat? When I really want to go for a run? When, for crying out loud, I really just want to go to the bathroom by myself or drink my hot tea hot?

Is that too much to ask?

I usually feel this well up in my soul in capital letters, but I’ll scale back here, though I do think this needs to be said again.

Is it too much to ask to keep some time to myself?

Well, I cry a little bit inside when I pause and consider it, because guess what?

The answer is yes. It IS too much to ask.

My time isn’t mine to begin with. So when I squeeze a few minutes extra out of a day, metaphorically speaking, am I using it for me or for others? (To be clear: It’s not that I’m down on self-care. Sometimes I do need a nap. Self-care is important. That’s a topic for another day.)

But I know that I personally need to be careful because it’s not my instinct to give time away. It’s my instinct to turn inward, to look at all I need to do, and see others as an interruption, even to see you as an interruption sometimes, when I’m being honest.

And people are not interruptions.

Your dad and I decided to host weekly picnics this summer. It won’t be convenient. Community rarely is. Sometimes people won’t show up. Sometimes people will show up and there won’t be enough food. Sometimes you’ll get sand in your hair because one of the littler kids dumps it on your head. Sometimes it will be hot and buggy and nobody will want the fire to be lit for s’mores.

When I sent out the email announcing the picnic to a variety of folks we know from around town, church, the college, our neighborhood, one of my friends emailed back: “I’m so impressed by your energy!”

Say what?

What is this energy of which you speak?

Me? I don’t have energy. Not enough, that’s for sure. And it’s not my instinct to not invite people in. (Okay, that’s not true. My instincts are pretty spot-on: I’ve got the instinct to invite people in. It’s just that I usually can talk myself out of it for all kinds of practical and very good reasons. Which is why we decided on the standing invitation, because you can’t talk yourself out of it once it’s been put out there into the universe.)

Girls, I really believe that if we had a first-fruits view of time—that it isn’t ours to begin with but that symbolically the little that we do have, that first bit of extra and abundance we are lucky enough to harvest in our too-busy lives, needs to go back to God for kingdom work and community building—well, the kingdom of God would be a much more hospitable and welcoming place.

We would have real community. We would have relationships with people who are not like us. We would welcome the stranger into our midst and that stranger would become a friend. We would not hoard our time into vacations and extravagant hobbies but into conversations over fences. Church wouldn’t just be a building on the corner (and definitely not across town from the suburbs where we reside) but also a front porch swing where our shared stories transform into holy moments.

Our tables would be more often shared than not shared. Bread would not be broken in front of a television but over a firepit. Cookies wouldn’t be eaten in seclusion in a closet so children didn’t hear the chewing (no idea who does that) but delivered to the neighbor who just had the new baby or the mom trying to get by while her husband is on the nightshift.

Girls, we all have people in our lives who need a bit of our time. And I’m not saying we need to squeeze community and hospitality into already busy lives. I’m saying we’ve got a certain amount of time allotted to us and the first-fruits don’t belong to us and our binge-watching Amazon and Netflix.

And that’s not the message I want to hear most days.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

The Seventieth Letter: Taking Off the Sunglasses

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Dear Daughters,

Last week, at breakfast, the three-year-old announced, “When you wear sunglasses, it looks like rain. But when you don’t wear sunglasses, it looks sunny.

She was referring to our walk home from preschool pick-up the day before, which was a relatively sunny day with a few whispy clouds scattered across a bright blue sky. She had looked up from her stroller to say that it looked like it was going to rain. Since this was clearly not the case, I told her it only looked like that because she was wearing sunglasses.

A few hours after her profound announcement at breakfast, I was pushing that stroller again on a run, and I began to hear those words as a metaphor:

When you wear sunglasses, it looks like rain.

When you don’t wear sunglasses, it looks sunny.

I started thinking about how, sometimes, when we wear sunglasses to protect our eyes, to protect our vision, our skin, ourselves, we mis-see. We see the sky as threatening when it isn’t.

Apparently I get philosophical as I’m pushing forty pounds of kid up hills during my running intervals.

I started wondering: How often do I innocently attempt to protect myself and my children and my world–in the guise of what’s best for the girls, what’s best for our budget, what’s practical or impractical about the radical command to love our neighbors when there really isn’t anything practical about that kind of love? When I do that, when I try to be safe, well, then I end up seeing a threat where there is none.

Sometimes we see stranger-danger instead of who-is-my-neighbor. We prefer to see friendship with likeminded folks rather than awkward conversations with those who are hurting. We prefer to see a cheery “I’m fine” instead of an honest answer to how-are-ya’ll-today. We prefer to see new and glossy rather than hand-me-down or recycled. We prefer to see how expensive that local organic tomato is rather than the slave-industry-riddled cheaper off-season tomato in the grocery store.

We see and we do not see, while we are protecting our eyes.

Yes, this feels like a metaphor. And now I find myself preaching.

Sigh.

This week, your new baby cousin was born. She came early and quick. She’s a beauty. Sunday will be mothers day. Yesterday, a friend told me she was unexpectedly pregnant. Also yesterday, another friend told me she was disappointingly not pregnant.

There is so much depth and pain and joy wrapped up in these things. So much sunshine. So much rain.

This week, I dropped my iPhone–gently! It barely fell from waist height!–and the back of it splintered into myriad pieces. I shouldn’t have felt so broken inside when I saw the damage, but I did, I’ll be honest. I felt the frustrations of things and accidents and what-the-heck. And then a friend told me her daughter is unaccounted for this week, and my annoyances are put in perspective.

But loss is hard. It weighs us down. And there is so much heartache. So much brokenness. So much frustration of living in this broken world.

This weekend we went to IKEA and ate meatballs and bought some shelving and stuffed animals and water pitchers. While there, I got a text from a friend with a history of trauma and mental illness. It’s striking to be so #IKEAFORTHEWIN and yet so utterly grounded in conversations of brokenness and sadness and pain.

This week, the college students wrap up their semester and some of our sweet friends are graduating. And these young people give me hope. They are strong in their convictions. I know a twenty-something about to leave for the Peace Corps. These friends don’t just think they might change the world–they actually are changing the world. They inspire me, with their offerings to the broken world.

This week, I got overwhelmed by world events and national news. As I do a lot these days. It seems to be compounding. And so this week we once again turned to late-night television (that is, a day after it airs, on YouTube, because ain’t nobody staying up that late in this house), and your dad and I laugh together because we might otherwise cry, but laughter is good for the soul.

Girls, sometimes the problems seem so big.

And sometimes they don’t.

Sometimes I think all I need to do is take off the sunglasses.

And sometimes I can actually see the world the way it is.

The way it was meant to be.

Created. Holy. Pure grace.

Well, I think I can see that sometimes. That grace. That voice of God.

I can hear it in your words, for sure, as they echo in my heart when I’m still enough to listen.

I can hear it in my friends’ voices shared in mom groups and Bible studies, over texts and e-mails and Facebook messages. Sure, it’s easiest in the laughter and joy and friendship and wholeness.

But I want to be able to see it in the broken places.

I’ll confess that I’m not there yet, not this week. I’m struggling to see it.

But grace is there, too, in the struggle. That’s where it is most evident, I think.

So I’ll keep looking. And, of course, I’ll keep listening to your voices.

I definitely need to hear them.

Love,

Your Momma

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-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 Forty-Eighth Letter: I Need Reviving

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Dear Daughters,

Tonight our church is kicking off a revival weekend: three evenings of dinner and revival services that culminate in our Sunday morning worship service and potluck after church.

Sigh.

I should probably say up front that I wasn’t raised Baptist, and I feel a bit ambivalent about these planned revival events in general.

Probably because of the charismatic strain of my childhood—in which we said we expected the spirit to move any given Sunday—it’s hard for me to wrap my brain around a planned-out revival. Though I’ve been told that these are totally normal things for a church such as mine, I’ll confess it’s hard for me not to be doubtful.

Over the last few days, though, I’ve been feeling a good old Pentecostal nudge about it. Here’s what that nudge is telling me:

We need reviving.

And, what’s more:

I need reviving.

Last week, during a meeting with one of our ministers, I broke down in tears because the church feels broken to me. Like we’ve got it wrong and I don’t even know how to change things. Like I don’t have the energy to even imagine how church could be different, how new life could be breathed into dry bones. (Look at me getting all Scripture-quotey.)

Hear this, girls. I’m not trying to be down on our particular local church. This is a community who loves you and teaches you and smiles at you and can’t believe how big you’re growing.

What I’m trying to say is that I have this gut feeling, this uneasiness, that the church as a whole is broken.

The way we tend to do church—and by “we,” I guess I mean everyone who has experienced church as I’ve experienced it, which certainly isn’t everyone, not even everyone at my own church, but I would guess is a lot of thirty-something Americans who grew up broadly evangelical—the way we do church doesn’t seem to be getting to the heart of Kingdom-of-God work. We make due with how church is because it’s always been like that. We are used to it. We don’t even expect it to be more, to be the place where we experience the presence of God. Yes, the presence of God. Look at me getting Pentecostal.

I think a lot of us do a lot of good in our individual lives, a lot of us have these hands-and-feet-of-Jesus convictions, but I rarely see faith communities living out being the body, being a community that draws people to God, that welcomes the stranger, that cares for the orphan and the widow, that feeds the hungry, heals the deaf and the mute. I don’t see us doing much of that literally or metaphorically.

Sigh. Maybe I just don’t have eyes to see. Or ears to hear.

As I said, I could use some revival.

I’ve been studying Mark lately, and Jesus is just so radical.

And so I was crying tears of frustration and sadness and broken-heartedness, because I want a community that selflessly and radically gives to one another and to the world, a community that is vibrant and happy to join together on a regular basis because we are Just So Darn Excited to be gathering and worshipping, to be learning and teaching, to simply be sharing in the presence of God.

That presence of God would call us to radical lives, girls, not just shuffling-kids-to-soccer-practice lives.

That presence of God would draw the stranger to us, and we could be welcoming angels without realizing it, rather than weighing the pros and cons of snappier music during our services. (Don’t get me wrong–I wouldn’t mind a little more toe-tapping myself.)

Sigh.

Here’s the truth. When I try to get you excited about church on Sunday mornings—yay! Sunday school! Yay! Nursery! So fun!—it’s a show. A show.

I don’t feel that excited on Sunday mornings, truth be told, and by the looks of most people in our church—the harried parents, the lonely widowers, the distracted businesspeople, the college professors, the worn-out staff, the kids running to get donuts—I don’t think most of them are excited about being present either (except maybe those kids who really want the donuts, you two included).

Most of us are there because we are there.

And so… revival.

Seems like a good idea to me.

Let’s go get us some.

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