A few things I love

pink clouds

I love sunsets,
I love words,
I love paying attention to the movements of birds,
I love the warmth of a fire
and hearty conversation,
I love taking long vacations,

I love my husband’s strong embrace
and our son’s melodious laugh,
I love piping hot coffee with half-and-half,
I love fresh-cut hydrangeas
and a candle on my desk,
I love having really good sex,
I love minestrone and Aperol Spritz and fresh-baked baguette,
I love a Bad Day ice cream sundae to help me forget,

I love it when the clouds are painted cotton candy pink,
I love reading writers whose work makes me think,
I love practicing yoga
and walks in the woods,
I love seeing people collaborate for the common good,

I love the mountains,
I love to sing,
I love pushing my son on a tire swing,
I love MagnaTiles and Hot Wheels cars strewn across our carpet,
I love using drive-up order service at our local Target,
I love the smell of fabric softener wafting in the breeze,
I love how my dog’s presence puts me at ease,

I love being with friends who feel like home,
I love and crave more time alone,
I love baby announcements and heartfelt letters,
I love chunky and soft oversized sweaters,
I love rainbows, the first snow, calming waters, blazing leaves,
I love watching Hallmark Christmas movies,
I love feeling the wind tickling my hair,
I love how protests and petitions can be a form of prayer,

I love faith that makes space for questions,
the grace that sets me free,
a church that affirms each person’s dignity,
I love hearing my preschooler’s silly jokes,
I love listening to the stories of ordinary folks
I love art that’s beautiful and bold,
I love how writing invites me
to behold.


artist inspiration: Courtney Martin, Lemn Sissay, Ashlee Gadd + the Exhale Creativity writing community

Diary of another day

as part of the #onedayhh challenge led by Laura Tremaine, I captured a handful of moments from November 9, 2021:

begin

7 a.m. // When I get back from a long, hot shower, I find my boys waiting for me in bed. I’d hoped to sneak in some writing, but our schedule’s off due to daylight saving time. Wrapped in my bathrobe, I climb into bed and snuggle my son and our dog. “You know what day it is, Jack?” I ask. My son shakes his head side to side. “It’s Gus’ sixth birthday!” I reply. We sing happy birthday and give Gus some extra pets before starting our day.

8 a.m. // I finally sit down to breakfast after feeding both boys, taking the dog out and getting dressed. It’s day two of what will be a 10-day solo-parenting stint while my husband travels for work. I’m already tired. Jack, still in his Star Wars pajamas, peruses a catalogue filled with holiday gifts for kids. “Mommy, look at all the toys!” he squeals. “Which is your favorite?” “Which is yours?” I counter. “All of them!” he replies. I chuckle and take a sip of my coffee. “Remember to pick your very favorite things as ideas for Santa. You won’t get everything you want.”

9 a.m. // I’m home after dropping Jack at preschool with a kiss and the words, “I love you, buddy. Be kind today.” As he entered his classroom, I sheepishly handed his teacher an extra sock. (He’d refused to wear both socks this morning and I didn’t feel like arguing.) Leaves confetti the streets of my neighborhood with color. The sight causes me to release an exhale I didn’t know I was holding. Before entering my home to begin my workday, I pause and give thanks for the beauty of this day.

10:30 a.m. // Pen in hand, I line edit a story about a Midwestern ministry. Two things are top of mind for me as I work: How does the writing reflect the dignity of each person in this story? What needs to change, if anything, to engage the reader in this narrative? Mid-way through the piece, I realize I have more questions for its writers related to structure, so I shoot off an email requesting a call.

work + play

12:30 p.m. // Gus paws at my leg, letting me know it’s time for his mid-day walk. I finish my lunch and root around for my walking shoes and his harness. Once we’re ready, I burst out the door, inhale the fresh fall air and jog down our stoop. Steps into our walk, I greet a friend and neighbor who’s just brought her little one back from music class. Later, I pop in ear buds and listen to the newest episode of the Coffee + Crumbs podcast featuring one of my favorite writers, Shauna Niequist. During the episode, she says something I know I’ll need to copy in my journal: “The more we invest in our health and healing, the more we have to offer the people in our homes. Most of us get that math backward.”

2:30 p.m. // Time to face the blank page. I’ve just hopped off a call with the freelance writers whose work I edited this morning. Now I need to finish my assignment. I’m covering the work of an agency that’s helping resettle Afghan neighbors in the U.S. As I run through my interview notes, this quote unsettles me: “the trauma these families and children are facing is massive.” I close my laptop. With folded hands, I offer silent prayer for peace and wholeness.

4:30 p.m. // “Welcome to my castle!” my son cries, surveying the playground next to his preschool. We’re catching the last drops of daylight before nighttime descends on our city. My little prince beckons me inside to show me around, then abandons his throne at first sight of the tire swing. A sliver of crescent moon brightens the quickly darkening sky. Cool air wraps around my body. I push Jack’s swing, and watch him spin. He smiles back at me, eyes shining. Dinner beckons, but we linger, drinking in this sacred, mundane moment on a cool night in November.

rest

6:15 p.m. // Jack turned up his nose at my original dinner plan — bean tacos — so we’re eating leftovers. I’ve heated up a bowl of African Peanut Soup for me and a hot dog in a whole wheat bun plus carrots and peas for him. We both munch crisp red grapes on the side. Between bites, Jack asks *me* about my day. I share that I especially enjoyed our visit to the playground, then volley the question to him. “I’m so excited to make a treat for Gussy’s birthday!” he exclaims. After dinner, we’ll make a “pupcake” for Gus’ birthday using a recipe I Googled.

7:15 p.m. // Gus gobbles up his pupcake. Jack tries a few bites of the extra one we baked, declaring it “dis-GUST-ing!” I giggle, rubbing our dog’s coat. “I think Gussy loved it.”

8:15 p.m. // While I read Dream Animals by Emily Winfield Martin, Jack leans back against my already-too-big pregnant belly. His brother jabs my rib cage, asserting his presence. I close the book and Jack crawls into bed without much protest. I sing him “Goodnight My Someone,” a favorite lullaby. Before prayers and a final hug, Jack’s already snoring.

9:15 p.m. // I let Gus out for the last time, make a cup of Nutty Almond Cream tea and cozy up in bed for some me-time. First things first: finish writing this post. Then I hope to dive into my latest read, Regina Porter’s The Travelers, which explores racism, aging and the search for meaning. A yawn overtakes me, then another. I don’t have long before I’ll fall asleep myself.

I must confess, I almost didn’t participate in this challenge because I was afraid. This morning a voice from within asked gently, Self, who told you to be afraid of taking up space? I’m still pondering this question, however, asking it emboldened me to act.

Something miraculous and mysterious happens when we voice our stories — we give others permission to claim theirs too. I hope we keep telling the truth about our lives. I hope we make extra room for those whose stories have been traditionally ignored. I hope we hear and amplify the voices of others, especially those unlike us. May we practice the holy work of showing, telling and listening again and again.

To my husband of nine years

10/13/12 | It drizzled this morning. So much so we unleashed the dotted umbrellas purchased last minute for our wedding. I worried about my hair, the guests, our pictures. Did you know some say rain on your wedding day is good luck?

Standing across from you in our college chapel, I feel more than luck. I feel fluttering in my chest — not fear or nerves, rather, an awakening. Love six years in the making shifts in its cocoon, ready to fly. Your sky-blue eyes twinkle back at mine. Our hope is palpable.

My childhood pastor stands across from us reciting, “O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things.” I want to savor everything — light flooding the altar, my gardenia perfume mingling with my roses, your hand in mine, firm yet gentle. At 26, we have big goals, you for your business, me with my writing. One day, we’d like to get a dog. We hope to own a home and start a family. Become a new creation.

//

10/18/21 | We marked nine years of marriage last week. On our anniversary, a repairman was supposed to fix our long-broken oven. You laughed and called year nine “the oven anniversary.” I promised to bake celebratory banana bread. That weekend, we’d visit your folks’ place, where they’d watch our son, and we’d have a proper date night. Then the repairman cancelled. Our trip was postponed. And I wanted to say something here about our love, but I didn’t.

Tonight, before you leave for another business trip, you snuggle next to me on our couch and read one of my essays. I watch you squint at the draft and think how hard it must be to love a writer. You’ve been loving me like this — seeing me as I want to be seen, cheering me on — since we met in college. I’ve watched with awe as you achieved your goals, never quitting. In 15 years, we’ve seen each other through illness, health, hardship and ease. Isn’t that love, a kind of seeing?

Yet seeing you here, in the glow of our living room, I know the best part of these years hasn’t been observing each other grow. It’s been emerging together: traveling the world, cultivating a home, raising our son, making memories. We’ve been made new, over and over, through love and God’s grace.

Who I’ve been

Inside words and worlds,

I’ve been Ross, 
digging my cocoa-colored hands 
into the dirt of a community garden, where
“everything makes me mildly or more
hungry”
pruning poetry from “pear blooms
howling forth their pungence,” 
celebrating Black joy and lamenting Black sorrow.

I’ve been Tara, 
traumatized by the white survivalists who raised me,
singing sweetly in choir,  
sweating in the junkyard,
choked by my brother,
fighting to get Educated,
mining the context of my life, the lies I was fed, 
for the truth
that defined me — 
and sets me free.

I’ve been Isra, 
missing Palestine,
abused by the husband I never wanted,
raising my four daughters and,
“reading [my] books . . . 
beginning to find 
a different kind of love.” 

I’ve been Paul, 
diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer,
clinging to hope,
loving my wife,
my work as a neurosurgeon
and words, always words,
I keep writing even in the face of death,
marking the moment 
When Breath Becomes Air.

I’ve been Alice, 
cradling close the lifelong pain 
of a childhood accident,
startling
when my baby daughter saw
a “whole world in [my] eye,”
which taught me 
I am “beautiful, whole, and free.”

Each story a ticket
to a place
where I         

               l       o       s        e

                                             and 

                                                     find 

                                                            myself.


Storytellers and stories referenced in order of appearance: Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, Tara Westover’s Educated, Etaf Rum’s A Woman Is No Man, Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air and Alice Walker’s essay, “Beauty: When the Other Dancer Is Self.”

I wrote this ekphrastic poem as part of Exhale Creativity‘s Reading Well, Writing Well 2 Workshop.

Small graces on a fall morning

Sunlight slices through the night,
washing the world in color.
I rise, grateful
for earl grey tea in my cup
lavender swirled in
each inhale,
another chance to get it right
or rather, live gently —
to soften my heart where it’s been hardened
toward others (and myself).

Cold nips the air,
dew drops deck blades of grass,
yellow and purple mums brighten porches,
leaves shift their outfits for the season,
a reminder that change often seems slow
until one day you arrive,
bursting with beauty.

The promise that those same leaves will fall,
carpet the yard in red and brown,
become fuel for a backyard bonfire,
smoke curling in the sky
while we sip hot cider
and embrace its warmth.

The last dandelion puff,
placed in my hands by
a child who knows how his mama trusts
dreams and prayers…
in every ending and beginning
shining on the horizon,
bathing us in hope.

This list of “small graces” was inspired by this reflection.

Why I write

Why do cicadas hum?
Why do chickadees whistle?
Why do coyotes cock their heads and howl
in the vast darkness?

Because words are oxygen.

Because last summer you were playing
in the bathtub with your cars,
I let the faucet run too long —
I was nearby, absorbed in a story —
warm water sloshed higher and higher,
when I looked up, I laughed,
put down my book and asked,
“Honey, do you want to try floating?”
Kneeling on tile, I cradled your head in my hands
told you to “puff up your chest like a starfish,”
couldn’t stop thinking about that stolen summer
all we’d lost
all that needed mending
and then you floated,
fingers grazing the edges of the bathtub,
you beamed, and how else would I remember?

And how else would I remember
the warmth of my grandfather’s voice,
indigo mountains cresting over the horizon,
my first taste of watermelon, juicy-sweet wonder?

I sift words like grains of sand,
craft castles from memory,
some days, shaping it all is like trying to contain the ocean
— impossible.
Hands caked with salt water and sand
I build anyway,
each story
an offering.

A writer I admire once called writing
“a miserable, awful business”
and also “better than anything
in the world.”

She’s right.

Writing is the cure
and the sickness.

It feeds me
and empties
and fills me again.
It’s like confession
or communion
and perhaps that’s sacrilegious?
Mostly, I think it’s prayer.

Someone in a church I no longer know,
he said something like,
“Women’s voices don’t belong in the pulpit.”

He’s wrong.

When I set my pen to the empty page,
I only want to tell the truth:
half of my life I spent running
trying to make myself small.
These days I stand tall
and sing:
this is how I was created —
with whole symphonies inside
praising.

I know what the coyotes know:
my voice is my power.

Some thoughts on light

I. Sunlight streams through the tree outside our bay window. Hearts of shade and light decorate pale hardwood. Green leaves rustle in the breeze. I watch from our couch, right hand poised to write, eyes mesmerized by the interplay of brightness and its absence.

II. At the start of 2021, I chose “light” as my word of the year. 2020 had been a heavy year for our family. I needed a word that evoked levity, joy, hope. I like that “light” is a noun (something that makes sight possible), a verb (to illuminate) and an adjective (of little weight). I like its relevance to Scripture, poetry, nature.

III. I tell my son “God is light” and he watches for the sun in the mornings. “It’s another grumpy, gray day,” he’ll remark when it’s cloudy. “It’s sunny today!” he’ll chirp at fairer weather. How interesting that light — or its lack — changes his mood so completely.

IV. Me, I capture light with my pen and my smartphone camera, committing my favorite images to memory. I cherish dazzling sunsets and the secret dots of light that appear in the afternoon on our bedroom closet. When I walk in the evenings, golden hour sun slips between the slats of fences, striping the sidewalk. God’s signature frames the tips of houses and covers wildflowers in a hazy glow. 

V. On “grumpy gray” days, I remind my son that light is still present, it’s just hidden behind the clouds. (I need this reminder, too.) Even at night, stars sparkle in the velvet sky and the moon reflects the light of our closest star. “You can find the light of God everywhere,” I say to him, “if you look closely.”

My body, a wonder

She used to race, Nikes flashing across worn asphalt, Lakefront wind slicing against her, heart pounding, flying free.

She swam, limbs threading Lake Michigan’s rough, cool waters, gulping air, rocketing herself forward, weightless. Back then, she measured her worth with numbers: pounds, pace, calories. Afraid of everything and nothing.

She once saved two men from drowning.

Nearly drowned herself in tears when she labored for hours, failing to deliver, landing in the OR, waiting with bated breath for her baby’s first whimper. For 20 months, she nourished his small body with her breasts.

Sometimes, I am astonished by her power.

Other times I’ve felt trapped by her, my body: too flat-too heavy-too blotchy-too lumpy. Wished I could shed her like a second skin, my body. The times she’s attracted honks, heckles, stares, touch without permission? Wished she wasn’t so dangerous, my body.

But there was also this: her standing in the dusty infield, mit held high, mit finding the ball again and again and whipping it through the air to the tune of cheers. “You’re out!”

She traded her cleats for tap shoes, dancing across the stage, singing and smiling. Oh how she danced — once at a swanky, smoky club in Madrid with seven levels, dressed in blue jeans, black top, very American, eyes laughing. She was thirsty for pleasure, and drank of it joyfully.

Shape-shifter, she’s spun and curved and stretched her limbs on the mat into a dog, a crow, a cobra.

She’s softer than she was last spring. New creases and curves grace her form, stubborn weight sits at her once taut middle.

Yesterday morning I took her for a walk in the neighborhood. The sun was out, and whirligigs sprinkled down from the Maple trees, twirling lazily in the sunshine, scattering across the pavement like confetti. She can twirl too, this soft, strong, aging body of mine. She still runs on occasion — mostly after her son. She is still afraid of everything and nothing.

She isn’t done changing. Not even close.

I wonder, what will she do next?

Ode to light-catchers

After Dale Chihuly’s “Glasshouse”

Call it foolish, call it futile,
say flamboyant if you dare.
As for me, I’ll call it radiance,
suspended in the air —
a glass dragon roaring 
with amber, fire, maize,
mid-flight, bouncing beams,
ever-wrestling in its cage.
Or a vine of glossy poppies
honey, rose, persimmon glow 
floating high in a rare greenhouse,
never meant to seed or grow.

From my vantage point I watch
them juxtaposed against blue sky,
and Seattle’s Space Needle reaching
for the star that grants us light.
What was the artist thinking?
another bystander might ask.
Does a fragile glasshouse
matter amid brokenness en masse?
(All these tired, hungry people
looking for a place to rest.
Such extravagance demands
we raise our eyes, pause and reflect.)

Me, I could’ve stayed
for hours bathed in warmth,
beneath the sun
roused by beauty,
held by brightness
from the Maker’s hands was spun.

God only knows (a sonnet)

Where can we get a baby?
my son asks, his blue eyes piercing
in the morning’s heel.
It’s far too early to navigate this task.
Oh Jesus, where are you? Please take the wheel!

He wants a brother — he’s an only child.
Stalling, I tell the tale he loves to hear,
You once lived in my tummy —
isn’t that wild?
He nods and smiles at me, his joy sincere.

A baby is a miracle divine:
from clay the Artist sculpts a newborn soul
with aptitude to love, create, refine.
How wonderful the sight is to behold!
My thoughts don’t make it to my child today;
instead I say, It’s a mystery. Go play!