In This House…

reading bedroom

We sing to each other and we tell bedtime stories,

We share highs and lows and prayers at dinner,

We practice kindness and yoga and serving our neighbors,

We play Legos and peekaboo and cards and soccer,

We invite our friends in before everything looks “perfect,”

We make room for laughter and tears, mistakes and questions,

We read psalms, poems, board books, graphic novels,

We craft towers and forts and dreams and artwork,

We try to honor the sacred within all of God’s people,

We stumble, we break, we learn, we do better,

We say “I’m sorry,” “You are good” and “I love you forever,”

We cherish the light softening this world’s shadows.

// Inspired Lindsay Rush and written in the Exhale Creativity “Charmed” workshop.

Grace for the new year

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”
—Zora Neale Hurston

It’s New Year’s Eve, and I’m trapped in a sunroom making small talk with a child psychologist. 

My husband Jay is here somewhere, as is my oldest, plus our dear friends from college. We’re staying with them for the weekend, and tonight we’ve accompanied them to a neighborhood house party.

“The truth about picky eating,” the psychologist says, and I hold my breath because I don’t want to miss this, “Is that it ebbs and…”

‘WAAAH!” my 11-month-old screeches and arches his back while I pull him away from a very fascinating (and dangerous) outlet. My cheeks burn.

“Excuse us,” I shout over Adam’s screams. “I think this baby’s expired. So nice meeting you.” I dart toward the laundry room, where our coats are stashed. I spot Jay in the kitchen and wave him over. “Here, hold this baby for a sec,” I say, transferring Adam into his arms while I put on my puffer jacket. “He needs to go down now.”

On the trek back, I survey the Christmas lights adorning my friends’ neighborhood. Back when we were young and well-rested, the four of us celebrated New Year’s in the heart of Chicago. I remember cocktails, a private party room, kissing at the stroke of midnight. No doubt I spent part of the night quizzing my friends on their goals and resolutions. I’m a New Year’s gal through and through — I love the champagne toasts and dressing up and dancing. I love big dreams and vision boards and setting intentions. There’s something about the promise of a fresh start that’s irresistible to me.

Adam shifted in my arms and laid his head against my shoulder. The past few years, I haven’t wanted to celebrate New Year’s. The stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and a country struggling with political discord, racism and gun violence tempered my mood and dashed my social plans. Hope was hard to hold onto. How could anyone plan or dream when the day-to-day was so precarious?

I let myself into my friends’ place and start Adam’s bedtime routine. By the time he’s asleep it’s only 9 p.m. Going to bed early seems really lame tonight so I creep into the kitchen and help myself to a shortbread cookie before settling into the easy chair to watch a movie.

Our hosts’ new puppy whimpers from her crate. I better give her what she wants, I think, finishing off the cookie. I open the crate and Macie bounds right into me, all gangly legs and a thumping tail. I pet her back and chuckle, “Did you miss everyone?”

She races around the room and stares at me expectantly. With an older, wiser dog at home, I’d forgotten about New Dog Energy (™). “What do you want, Macie?” I ask lightly.

She cocks her head to the side, and without warning, leaps into the easy chair. 

“Scoot over, girl, that’s my spot,” I laugh, sliding into the chair pulling her onto my lap. Macie rolls onto her back and cozies up against me. I run my hands across her belly, grateful for the company, this comfortable chair and the gentle entry into 2023. Maybe a new year is like a puppy. She’s eager to be released, whether we’re ready or not. She’ll need a little guidance, but also space to explore. Before we put too much pressure on her, we might step back and pay attention to what the new year wants to offer us. Only she knows what she can become. Perhaps we can see her newness, her energy, her possibility for what it’s always been: grace.

I close my tired eyes and snuggle up with Macie. For the first New Year’s in years, I feel something akin to hope.

A version of this reflection first appeared in my monthly newsletter, Nourish.

Year in review

On my 37th birthday, what I wanted most of all was time to write. I put the baby down for his first nap, pacified my older boy with his tablet and retrieved my pale green journal. Before sitting down, I lit a candle, which is my writing ritual. I like imagining the flame as my artistic spirit or even the Holy Spirit, calling me to create.

Curled up in an armchair, I held my pen above an empty page. What could I say about the past year of my life? It’s been a whirlwind, a time of change and, in many ways, a joy. I glanced at the Christmas tree glowing in our front window. Lately getting ready for Christmas had consumed my time, and I was grateful for the chance to let my mind wander.

The page stared back at me. I have written professionally for over a decade and yet every opening humbles me. I rifled through the files of my mind for the perfect words and I quickly realized the naptime clock was ticking — better to pick words that were good enough. So, I wrote:

Chapter 36

It was a year of growth and a year of grace.

The year I birthed my second baby and the year I signed my first book deal. The year I learned that dreams-come-true sparkle from afar, but close up demand grit and labor. The year I stretched my body and mind while nourishing a baby and my stories. The year I realized the most rewarding part of having dreams-come-true is how you tend them.

It was the year I left my magazine job. The year I struggled to adjust to staying home with my children. The year a fog of depression descended and didn’t budge until I began taking my mental health more seriously. The year I received a proper diagnosis for the doubts that haunted me daily.

The year I cried my eyes out and picked myself off the floor and summoned strength to care for my family. The year I trusted my gut and leaned into faith and slept very little but embraced the beauty of the darkness.

It was the year I danced in the kitchen and paced the halls with a restless baby and lived for the laughter of my children.

It was a year of admiring sunsets, the blue of the smoky mountains, the blaze of fall leaves in our woods and the glittering snow that graced Chicago just in time for Christmas.

The year I prayed over my kids and penned more prayers than I ever imagined. The year we found a closer church so we could start going to in-person worship again. The year we baptized our new baby.

It was the year everything seemed heavier with two children. The year I boldly sought help with childrearing and cultivated a stronger village. A year of holding the weight of motherhood and finding others to help me carry it.

The year I watched my oldest grapple with friendship hurdles and expand his social circle. The year he swam, played on a team, and began kindergarten. The year he built with Legos, rode without training wheels, became a big brother. The year I saw my baby’s first smile, roll, crawl and babble, and each left me breathless with wonder. The year I witnessed ordinary miracles.

It was a year of taking turns with my husband, learning to be a team, falling deeply in love again. A year of unloading the dishwasher, doing the laundry, paying the bills, returning library books. A year of shared glances, warm embraces and deeper knowing.

The year I learned the power of silence. The year I paid closer attention to what’s unsaid and tried to say less myself. The year I listened deeply for the voice of my Creator.

It was my phoenix year. The year I burned down my old way of being, the false tales I told myself about myself and reemerged equipped with the knowledge I need to shine brighter.

I nested. I mothered. I cuddled. I messed up. I apologized. I read. I wrote. I gave it my all. I let it all go. I failed. I soared.

My son’s cries came from the bedroom. I set aside my pen and stopped writing. The rest of the day unfolded, same as usual: I scrambled eggs, changed dirty diapers, and loaded the dishwasher. We walked the dog and marveled at the snowflakes and I tripped on a stack of Magna-Tiles.

Later that night, we gathered around our kitchen table for white chicken chili. It was the first family meal we’d shared in seemingly ages given my husband’s aggressive end-of-the-year work schedule. After I put the baby to bed, my older son, my husband and I enjoyed slices of pumpkin pie, my traditional birthday dessert.

I lit my birthday candle and smiled back at my boys while they wished me a happy birthday. Gazing at the flame, I held a simple wish in my heart: More. God, give me more time with them. More beauty. More life. I’ve reached my 37th chapter and I am not yet finished writing a beautiful story.

I’m just getting started.

Written 12/22/22

Gratitude list, November 2022

stars glittering
the night sky, when I’m up late
feeding the baby, falling into
bed
& the arms of my spouse
for a few more hours of sleep before
daybreak
fresh coffee & hot oatmeal
little hands reaching for me
for games of peekaboo
songs & cuddles
for the wide embrace of our village —
grandparents
dear friends
good neighbors
teachers
pediatricians
therapists
our congregation — with whom we raise
our children
for music while I’m doing dishes and folding
warm towels just out of the dryer
for naptime, blessed naptime,
a moment of peace amidst the chaos of
Legos & crayons & rounds of Uno & kitchen dance parties & “another snack please!” & playdates & playgrounds & tag
long walks in the neighborhood
the scent of burning leaves
& the way sunight catches in the leaves
at golden hour
dinner to make,
bathtime bubbles & squeals,
for sharing stories & poetry & prayers,
goodnight kisses & “I love you”s
& when the dog curls up on my lap
& the whole house is
quiet
holding a freshly sharpened pencil
& a blank page on which to praise
this one holy and beautiful life.

First blush

All summer she basked
in the sun.
Now the days are dwindling,
the autumn wind is gusting,
and hope courses
through her veins.

She changes quietly
she has much to do before
becoming
a tree of splendor,
before she sheds
each ruby leaf
and finds the beauty in release.

“Be gentle,” she whispers
to the others (but more so to herself)
“Give me grace
while I transform.”

Our world

after “This World” by Mary Oliver

I would like to create a home
in which there are rarely any messes,
but that seems impossible
given the fact that children live here,
considering the Legos that sprinkle
our playroom floor and prick
our soles,
a deck of cards fanned out 
across the coffee table,
oodles of library books littering
the kids’ bedrooms, each object a portal
to another realm where imagination reigns
and couch cushions meld
into the body of a race car,
a swingset transforms
into a shuttle rocketing to Mars,
stones unearthed
from the flowerbeds become 
marble.

“We could be rich!”
my son cries, cradling his prizes,
holding them out to me like offering.
Dirt speckles his grin,
dresses his hands and feet,
piles next to him on the patio,
I sigh,
send him to rinse up, pick up my phone
and scroll the news,
confronting a barrage of harshness.
I sigh again,
but he laughs, unaware,
spraying his palms clean with the garden hose
— or is it a fire-breathing dragon?

(I would like to create a world
in which there are rarely any messes
but that seems impossible
given the fact that humans live here, 
and they keep hurting
each other.)

I glance at my son’s hands,
fresh and five years young,
whatever they graze
shape-shifts from ordinary
to extraordinary.
Could they fashion
marble from our muck?
Maybe
we could be rich.

This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale — an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in the series “Ordinary Inspiration.”

On growth

Growth in this season doesn’t look like I thought it would.

Sometimes growth is a giant leap, a trust fall into the unknown.

Other times, it’s incremental, a series of small steps taken again and again. Growth is showing up to the path, putting one foot in front of the other, falling into bed at night exhausted, and waking up the next morning to walk again. It’s taking a detour or a rest when circumstance calls for it.

Almost always it’s a bit uncomfortable.

There’s a certain kind of vulnerability to growth too, trusting and leaning into the change and knowing there may be old habits you have to shed in order to reach your full potential. Like a gait that needs to be improved, change requires practice and time.

I’m leaning into that tension. I’m recognizing that much of the growth I have to do in this season is slow and unseen, and it cannot be rushed.

Ultimately, growth is a product of faithfulness and courage.

Being afraid

and showing up anyway —

a pilgrim on the path of life.

To ride on his own

bike ride

And on this splendid summer day, a boy learned to ride his bike.

He zoomed down the alley while Dad jogged behind him and Mom stood with the baby, holding up her camera. The boy couldn’t quite understand the funny look on Mom’s face — was she smiling or crying? Maybe both?

“Wonderful, wonderful,” she kept saying. And it was wonderful to push through the wobbles and ride strong and steady, to feel the slight breeze on his face, to gain speed, to move through the city all by himself. What kind of adventures awaited him this summer? Where would he go? Who would he become?

Head held high, he raced into the night.

Howl

Some days
I am more wolf
than woman,
and I am still learning
how to stop apologizing
for my wild.
—Nikita Gill

When the news breaks over NPR, I don’t handle it well. I hear the words “shooting” and “elementary school” and flick the radio off in an instant. Shoulders tense, I ease our SUV forward through a crowded intersection while my mind churns backwards, grasping for names: Stoneman Douglas. Columbine. Sandy Hook. (Later, a principal I know posts on his timeline a list of U.S. schools traumatized by gun violence. It is 245 lines deep.)

“What happened, Mom?” My five-year-old calls out from the backseat of our SUV. His three-month-old brother fusses next to him, hungry.

I stare out at the graveyard we pass daily on our commute home from preschool and try to make sense of this moment. Miles away in Uvalde, Texas, there are moms and dads who won’t pick up their children from school tonight. Oh God, those parents…

“Mom?”

“Something really terrible happened, sweetheart,” I say, keeping my voice steady. I should be trembling, I should be sobbing, but instead I’m numb to this fresh punch of violence (I’m still trying to process/grieve the last two mass shootings). I need to tell my oldest what’s going on, but I can’t bring myself to say it. Not yet.

Last week, we visited his new elementary school for an open house. My incoming kindergartener wore a blue dress shirt and his dad helped him comb and part his golden hair. Hand tight in mine, he roamed the halls, later breaking free to run up the staircase and skim his fingers over the desks in various classrooms. I watched him, so tall and so curious, beaming with pride. How would he grow here? Who would he become?

Today’s news reminds me that kindergarten is the milestone I’ve been dreading since he was a tiny babe fluttering inside my belly. Because I live in the U.S., where we ask school age children to kneel under their desks for active shooter drills and pray ours will be lucky enough to graduate alive rather than make meaningful cultural and legislative changes to prevent school shootings. Statistically, these events are rare but the terror that it could happen to us haunts me. In 2018 with a pack of angry parents, I walked Chicago’s streets holding a sign that read “I’m marching for my son,” hoping against hope that by the time he got to kindergarten our country would address this travesty. Shamefully, we haven’t.

The baby wiggles and fusses in my arms as I unearth him from the carseat to nurse and send his older brother to fetch himself an applesauce. Once they’re fed, I busy myself cooking dinner and scrolling. Distracted, I’m slow to marinate and bake the tofu, and I also miss tired cues from my youngest. When my husband gets home, it’s clear to him the baby needs a nap.

Overtired wails fill the walls of our home but fail to loosen the primal scream caught in my throat. 19 innocent babies gunned down by a guy with an AR-15. Two teachers too. What kind of madness is this? My husband is on baby duty, and I keep fixing dinner, but I want so badly to stop and wail with our child.

When the tofu bowls are ready, I can’t eat. Instead I go to the nursery, scoop up our babe and nurse him down to sleep in the rocking chair, one hand cradling his body while the other grips my smart phone. I scroll, scroll, scroll. I text a friend: I feel gutted. Then I close my apps and make a donation to Everytown for Gun Safety.

For the remainder of the night, I stay there, clutching my youngest. He sleeps comfortably in my arms. I sleep fitfully, waking often to turn the news over in my mind and debate our school choices. Could I homeschool? If I keep my five-year-old here with us will that be enough to keep him safe? Should we relocate to Canada? Like a wolf in her den, I scan my environment for threats, afraid to release my pups because what if they are hunted?

In the morning, I nurse the baby and change his diaper. I make a plan to contact my senators, Dick and Tammy, when the house is quiet. I kiss my eldest twice and hug him hard before he leaves with his dad for preschool. “I love you, Mom!” he cries, light-up Sketchers flashing in the doorway. “I love you too, buddy!” I whisper shakily.

All day I follow news from Robb Elementary, refreshing my Times app for updates between tummy time, naps and breastfeeding. I read about the sweet lives of the lost children and their heroic teachers. I wolf down every bite of the story I can, but my appetite — for what? a reason? a word of hope? — remains unsatisfied. There is one image I can’t get out of my head, a photograph of a woman, possibly a mother, mid-sob, her dark hair spilling over her loved one’s shoulder, where she rests her head. Her eyes are wild; she is part wolf like me. Was this the moment she heard she lost her baby?

I wonder if this is how God cries too — like a bewildered, grieving mother.

In a couple hours, I will pick up my son from preschool again, eyes watery at the sight of him. I will ask him how his day went and make him breakfast for dinner. I will tell him over pancakes what happened at Robb Elementary without giving much detail. “This makes me mad and sad,” he’ll reply. “I’m mad and sad too,” I’ll say. “So is God. God weeps with us.” My son will then ask why it happened. I’ll answer with a half-truth: I don’t know. (I do know that complacency won’t prevent future tragedies. Why are we being held back from common sense gun reform? Why haven’t we seen new mental health initiatives? Why not both? Why do many of our elected officials offer thoughts and prayers then keep doing… nothing?) We’ll hang our heads together. I’ll pray, Lord, those sweet, innocent children — our children — did not deserve this brutal ending. We don’t deserve to live like this. Lord, hear our prayer. Oh Lord, have mercy on us.

I can’t do this.

Not yet.

For the time being, I become a wolf. I hold my baby close and howl.

Time to fly

Last Wednesday, I bid farewell to a job I loved. It was my dream job, the job that combined my passion for words with my deepest held beliefs, a job that rattled and refined that faith, a job where I encountered the Divine in the voices of others. It was more than a job, it was a call.

This call sent me to Budapest, Boston, Johannesburg, Houston. I met Lutheran parishioners, pastors and neighbors on the margins — some who fled their homes to find haven in the U.S., some still searching for a home in this country. I heard hymns of praise and songs of lament. I witnessed ministries that fed bellies and souls. With my trusty laptop and reporter’s notebook, I captured it all, being careful to record the truth, no matter how inconvenient. When I sat down to craft a story, each line felt like a prayer. The work tethered me to hope.

Most days, I worked from the office. Pre-pandemic, I had a cube with a view of the courtyard, my space nestled next to five of my favorite coworkers. I met dear friends here — kind, talented people who laughed and cried and did excellent work alongside me.

This is also the place I worked when I became a mother.

All in all, I spent nine years stewarding sacred stories for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — years of listening and telling, growing and becoming.

There are occasions in life when you look around and realize that the tidy nest you built no longer fits, and you’ll need to leave in order to fly. After much prayer and discernment, I resigned to pursue my vocations as a mother and a writer.

There will be time to reflect more, to announce what’s coming next.

For now, I’ll close with this: It was an honor and a privilege to play a role in making known the immeasurable love of God.