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.

Where I’ve prayed (an incomplete list)

At the foot of Hart Lake, wisps of breath swirling in the alpine air, marveling at the breadth of sky and pines and Cascade Mountains, feeling so small, feeling the expansiveness of God’s presence;

In the Chapel of the Resurrection for 10 p.m. worship, surrounded by classmates, basking in the glow of candlelight, singing “Jesus Christ is the light of the world — the light no darkness can overcome”;

On an operating table at Lutheran General, hearing his cries, seeing his face for the first time, tears of joy rivening my cheeks, my heart full of awe and thanksgiving;

In the kitchen, peeling and chopping carrots,
swishing the mirepoix with hot olive oil, delighting in each crack and sizzle;

At the beach in Cinque Terre, raking my fingers through fine sand, sweat beading at my chest, already sore from the day’s hike, already dreaming of the night’s gelato, young and alive and enamored with the world’s beauty;

Snuggled up in my son’s bed, asking for forgiveness and safekeeping, pleading for peace, giving thanks for shelter, love and family;

On my yoga mat, arms splayed out wide, forehead and knees and palms pressing down, surrendering to gravity, my whole body curled in a posture of devotion;

At Fourth Presbyterian Church, pausing in the aisles to notice how to the stained glass crafts a mosaic of color on floor, lifting my eyes to the pews to see the ones who find sanctuary from the biting Chicago wind on an ordinary weekday;

On the sidewalk with my son, knees powdered with pastel, chalking rainbows, hearts and flowers, the words “Run with Maud” and “We’re in this together”;

Flat on my back in the middle of a field of wildflowers, exasperated by negative pregnancy tests and abandoned drafts going nowhere and the isolation of the pandemic, lamenting the loss of life and lack of justice, searching the clouded sky for hope and answers, whispering, “God, are you out there?”;

Facing the altar of Resurrection Lutheran Church, cupping my hands to receive the bread, the body of Christ, the grace that grounds me and sets me free;

On the pages of my journal, scribbling thoughts, seeking wisdom, searching for direction, asking God what would you have me do, how will you use me now, how can I attune my ear to your calling;

At my childhood dinner table, fingers interlaced, head bowed, voice intoning “let these gifts to us be blessed”;

One of the holiest places I prayed: In the woods near the North Branch Trail with my son, clutching a dandelion puff, scattering seeds into the breeze with one exhale, wondering where and when they’ll take root and blossom.

Eugene Peterson said, “Prayers are tools not for doing or getting, but for being and becoming.”

I am trying to remember this, that prayer is less about asking and more hearing. That I can encounter God in the woods or in a sanctuary, at the table or under a veil of stars. That prayer can happen anywhere, if only we have ears to listen.

A prayer for my son after his fifth birthday

Dear Jack,

The morning you turned five, you rocketed out of your bed first thing and crawled into ours. I held you close and wished you a happy birthday. I asked, “Are you excited to be five?” You squealed “Yes!” and woke up your father.

The night before I’d baked you a chocolate birthday cake with blue buttercream frosting and a Superman cake topper, just like you requested. You love blue, and Superman is your favorite hero. At bedtime, you always ask for “a little superhero story” featuring him, you and our dog, “Super Gussy.”

I’m not sure how or when you decided Superman was your favorite hero. All I know is after you were born, your grandmother gave me a stuffed bear dressed in a Superman shirt and cape. I think she meant it to represent me, though I felt anything but heroic. Nothing about your birthday had gone according to plan — and I love a good plan —  resulting in an emergency c-section for me and your stay in the NICU. Honestly, I thought I’d failed you. 

Yet five years later, I can see the strength in both of us. You bravely scale trees and the heights of playgrounds. You’re sounding out phonics so well and on the verge of reading. You love science experiments and going to swim lessons. I’m proud of the super boy you’ve become, with your kind heart, generous spirit and boundless imagination. I’m grateful for all I’ve learned by mothering you.

My prayer for you at five is that, when faced with conflict, you’ll make a heroic choice. That you’ll voice your values and strive for peaceful resolution. 

I pray you keep noticing the beauty of creation and urging me to join you. 

I pray you continue loving and learning from stories — from your children’s Bible, favorite shows and books that inspire you. I trust you’ll glean empathy and wisdom from grappling with difficult stories.

I pray you see yourself and everyone you meet as a beloved child of God, including those who think, pray or look differently than you.

Most of all, I pray you know how deeply Dad and I love you and how deeply your Creator loves you. That you keep sharing that love with your neighbors near and far.

Love,
Mom

36 truths for my 36th year

Today is my 36th birthday. 

It’s also the fifth birthday of this humble little blog. This is the place where I share truths that cannot remain contained within my notebooks but don’t fit another publication. My blog is a memory book, an escape, a means of connection, my attempt to document beauty. To borrow a friend’s metaphor, this is also where I “practice my scales” and play around with the craft of writing.

Another writer I admire tells the story of a Facebook post she wrote titled “25 Things About Me” and how doing so helped her grow. I thought it might be fun to try something similar here, but instead of starting from scratch, I’ve culled 36 truths from some favorite reflections I’ve written.

Piecing this list together helped me appreciate how much I’ve matured in my understanding of motherhood, faith, relationships and more. I hope you find some nuggets of wisdom here to take with you on *your* journey (if something really resonates, find the full piece to which it belongs by clicking on the number above). Cheers to chapter 36 of a crazy, beautiful, grace-filled life!

(1)

The truth is, I’ve always ached to love and be loved, but I wrestle with loving myself. Hearing my own melody helped me see my innate holiness — made in God’s image, blessed and broken, sinner and saint.

(2

If my life could be divided into a “before” and “after,” motherhood would be the defining moment. Motherhood has broken, healed and shaped me into the person I am today, and it is often the subject of the stories I share here, along with my faith. Becoming a mother has both pushed me to wrestle with my faith and given me a lens for noticing the sacredness in the mundane.

(3)

This is what I need to pay attention to: my shining son, the leaves, his laughter, the gift of this day. Surely the Spirit is here. 

(4

[My son] is scaling a sand dune,
chasing the tide,
pointing me to beauty.
He is the bubble bath, the fuzzy robe,
the last kiss before lights out.
He is not the seeker nor the one who hides but
the feeling of being found.

(5)

I loved being a mother, but it was also the hardest thing I’d ever done. I wondered if I’d ever look or feel like my old self again. I wondered why all the parenting books I read and mommy bloggers I followed failed to fully communicate this tension. My feelings on motherhood were, surprisingly, mixed.

(6)

On the page I belong to no one but myself. There’s no crying to comfort, no milk to fetch, no bottoms to wipe. No texts to return, emails to answer, calls to make. Here I am nothing and I am everything. Line by line, I uncover my identities — wife, mother, sister, daughter, employee, neighbor, friend, believer.

(7)

Occasionally I wake up angry at God. Most days I don’t. Lately I’ve been finding rest in this passage: “So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 John 4:16). I want to teach this to my son over and over: the love we share is a gift from God. And God is Love.

(8)

How often have I denied the gifts of love and rest, thinking I must work to be deemed worthy? It takes several hundred meters, but swimming finally becomes a moving meditation. I come to the end of my thoughts and release my worries. I trust in my body, my breath, these waters, this moment.

(9)

Sometimes it takes traveling halfway across the country to a remote retreat center to stare at a 260-year-old stump to see the truth you hadn’t noticed — that you’d been running away from your fear and pain rather than accepting it. 

(10)

Everyone I meet [here] is searching for something. Some are carrying heartaches far heavier than mine. Others are engaged in vocational discernment. One doctor struggles to see his worth in retirement. A widow bravely embarks on a new chapter of life without her husband. I meet a harpist who recently lost her father, and I hold space for her grief while sharing my fears about my father. That evening her performance of “Ave Maria” makes me weep. She later tells me the harp is “heart music.”

(11)

Something miraculous and mysterious happens when we voice our stories — we give others permission to claim theirs too.

(12)

I wonder how society would change if we looked beyond our own families and started seeing everyone in our world as beloved children. What tender care we could give each other. Just imagine.

(13)

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?

(14)

In a year that often feels like a giant kitchen debacle, in a year that’s separated us from our loved ones or deepened divides between those with whom we disagree, in a year that’s defied all plans and expectations, how do we taste and see goodness in all circumstances? We slow down. We look. We grow eyes for gratitude. We savor the gifts in our midst.

(15)

…we could linger in bed on a Tuesday morning and discuss our dreams. Stay in our pajamas. Savor juicy blueberry pancakes and the view outside our bay window. Beyond the glass is a tree I never used to notice — red pinpricks fleck its branches in early spring before becoming pale green buds that unfurl into cream-colored blossoms. … I witnessed it all. Miracle.

(16)

I didn’t want to go in, but in that moment I knew I could either be the mom who played in the mud or killed the fun. I had only 10 minutes left for this walk and zero supplies for clean up. This would surely dirty my car, delay our daily agenda and screw up Jack’s nap schedule. Plus I was wearing white-soled shoes. No matter what, this was going to be a mess.

“Mommy! Mommy!” my son called again, grinning. Gus let out a little bark.

This time, I didn’t hesitate. I stepped out into the mud to play.

(17)

Sheltering my child and dwelling in his love is the most important work I’ve been called to do.

(18)

I want him to know that there’s a time to be strong and a time to be still, and that grief can find you no matter how hard you attempt to outswim it. Grief is not an enemy to ignore but a friend leading me out of darkness, reminding me that my love was real, my love persists and my baby’s short life mattered. 

(19)

Life is brief and storms are to be expected.

It’s also undeniably dazzling, this joyous race toward home.

(21)

While shedding my coat in preparation for shoveling out the alley, I thought to myself perhaps there’s a metaphor here — something about our lives’ unseen work being uncomfortable but important? Yes, that’s it, I resolved, clearing the way, pressing onward in the winter sun, watching our kids slide and giggle and scale the growing mounds of snow. I am developing grit here, I thought. This unseen, back-breaking work matters. 

(22)

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.

(23)

A well-written kiss is, as Stephen King puts it, “telepathy, of course.” I keep trying to capture life with language the way great authors have for me, for all of us. I still have much to learn, but I continue to practice because writing is the best means of expressing love I know — other than kissing. Good stories sweep us off our feet, make us weak in the knees and kiss our souls with their deep understanding of our secret aches and glories. I want to bless you with that kind of knowing.

(24)

She needs to remember what it means to claim the role of heroine. She’s learning sometimes the bravest thing she can do is ask for help, or be still and sit with her emotions. Other times it means choosing the bigger life or speaking up for her values.

(25)

While I’m still learning to live with my hunger, of this, I’m certain: it no longer scares me. 

(26)

I wanted to tell her I liked her damaged wing. I wanted to whisper, “There’s beauty in your brokenness, butterfly. You’ll soar again.” I wanted to say all this, then I realized she already knows. She’s been through metamorphosis before. 

(27)

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?

(28)

I used to think there wasn’t a place for the carefree girl in motherhood. Now I’m starting to believe I was wrong. Who better to teach my son what it feels like to run barefoot in the grass on a summer day? Who better to take him to water parks and on rollercoasters and white water rafting? Who better to show him there’s no shame in pursuing audacious dreams and simple delights? Who better to show him there’s strength in independence?

(29)

What we model, our children inherit. Children soak up the words we speak and the actions we take and reflect them back to us like a mirror.

(30)

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.”

(31)

Perhaps God also speaks to us in our darkest moments. In the silence. In the doubt.

(32)

God formed Adam out of dust. Bodies laid to rest turn into dust when they decompose in the earth. Dust, invisible, yet everywhere, clings to the ceiling fan, the baseboards, the window panes. It twists in the wind, tumbles across the streets. Ice latches onto dust to create something entirely new — sparkling snowflakes, each a tiny marvel, raining from the heavens like manna. Jesus rose from the dust so that we might leave our dusty bodies behind and join him in heaven. What does our Creator hope for us at Lent? I think that we might pause and confront our dustiness, and live differently because of it.

(33)

I know it’s easy to cast myself in the role of hero, rather than admit my faults. I know the story we read is missing repentance and reconciliation, true justice and mercy, grace and healing. It’s missing a hero who modeled the way of love. What will it take for us to write a new story? What will it take for us to create a just society?

(34)

You were created with gifts, passions and a unique capacity for serving others. Maybe you had a mentor like Mrs. Jackson who noticed your talents and encouraged you to shine. Perhaps you have a dream hidden away beneath the surface. Only you know what kindles joy inside, what it takes to say “yes” to your dreams, a call that I believe comes from the Holy Spirit.

(35)

She wasn’t sure how high she’d go
or if she’d ever reach the summit.
What mattered more was
the view
the climb
& all it’s teaching her.

(36)

…maybe light wasn’t something she needed to catch. Maybe it was inside her all along. 

The gifts of waiting (newsletter sneak peek)

The following meditation comes from my December 2021 issue of Nourish, which went out to subscribers earlier this month:

Dear reader,

Here we are in Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. It’s a season when Christians anticipate celebrating Jesus’ birth and the promise he will come again. It’s also a time when people of varied beliefs practice waiting. But what does it mean to wait? Here are three gifts I’ve gleaned from this spiritual discipline.


Waiting for wonder

We’re standing in line for “It’s a Small World.” Wiggly kids, sullen teenagers and tired parents crowd the enclosures surrounding us. Every few minutes, our group inches closer to the ride. After a morning of walking, my feet feel leaden.

“I don’t want to go on this ride!” my son says, yanking his hand from mine and pointing his torso toward the exit. He looks like he may bolt. “I want a hot dog.”

I sigh. I want to collapse on this cement floor or abandon Disneyworld altogether and float in the pool at the house we’re renting, ideally with a cocktail. (Too bad I’m pregnant.)

Instead, I catch Jack in my arms and hoist him onto my hip. “A hot dog does sound good. You can have one after we get off this ride,” I say, rubbing his back. “It’s hard to wait, isn’t it?”

Jack agrees, snuggling his head into my neck. The weight of his 38-pound frame combined with the babe in my belly presses down on me. The ride at the end of this queue promises wonder. Meanwhile, this posture is so uncomfortable. My husband Jay sees a look of pain cross my face and steps in to carry Jack. We move forward together.


Waiting for a child

According to my pregnancy app, my baby’s now the size of a cantaloupe. But tonight, all I can think of is his foot (or elbow?) jutting into my left rib cage. I shift from sitting upright on the bed to leaning on my husband to lying on each side, attempting to dislodge it.

“Home Alone” plays on the screen ahead of us. The last time I watched this movie must have been in the 90s, after it came out. Jay and I can’t help but see the character Kevin, with his bright blonde hair and playful eyes, as a preview of our son at eight. We agree that this movie hits differently now that we’re parents. My eyes well when Kevin finally reunites with his mother, and when the rest of his big family bursts in the door.

Soon our little family will grow from three to four. Our miracle, due this February, has been a prayer of mine for several years. At times, my longing for another child resembled an ache no medicine could soothe. Now, anticipating this gift brings a smile to my lips. Only a couple more months to go, I think, unless baby boy surprises us. Just then he turns over in my womb, offering relief and the reminder that change is coming – and change is happening.


Waiting for an answer

A book update: My coauthor and I are waiting for some news about our proposal. This wait over all the other ways writers are called to wait — for pitch replies, for revisions, for payment, for an agent — has been the hardest of my career. I’ve questioned my vocation more times that I’d like to admit. I’ve heard feedback that’s brought about despair. So I’ve recommitted to the work of writing. To trusting that, whatever happens with this proposal, I’ll keep writing.

Writing nourishes my soul like nothing else. Writing is my gift to others. Writing is worship. Being faithful to this call, rather than fearful of failure, is the stance I’ve adopted. I wait for an answer with open hands. I wait, committed to serving.


The gifts of Advent

Waiting for wonder, waiting for a child, waiting for an answer – it all sounds a bit like Advent, doesn’t it?

Waiting for wonder teaches that, however uncomfortable waiting can feel, we rarely wait alone. We experience the season of Advent with others, and this community is a gift to cherish. We can lean on each other for support and hope as we do the hard work of waiting.

Waiting for a child reminds of the duality of Advent: our days can be both painful and joyful, and their potency demands we pay attention to the present. Of Advent Henri Nouwen writes, “Waiting, then, is not passive. It involves nurturing the moment, as a mother nurtures the child that is growing in her.”

Finally, waiting for an answer allows us to loosen our grip on our perceived control. During Advent, we’re beckoned to shift trust from ourselves to a higher power, in my case, God, though for some it could be love or Christmas generosity. We adopt a posture of surrender while maintaining hope.

I don’t know what you’re waiting for this Advent. Maybe it’s for another season to begin. Maybe it’s test results. Faith. A new home. The feeling you’ve arrived. Whatever the case, know this: in the waiting, you are growing.

Keep awake. Stay attuned to all that Advent allows you to see, feel and experience. Know that waiting eventually ends, making room for peace, love and wonder.

If you enjoyed what you read, will you sign up to receive my monthly newsletter in your inbox? To learn more and subscribe, click here.

Holiday permission slips

heart latte

You have permission. . .

To feast on the beauty of December. To sing carols, to deck the halls, to manifest magic. God knows we need it.

To opt out of obligations that don’t nourish you or your household. To lighten up about cards, gifts and assorted traditions. To choose presence over perfection.

To eat the whole snowflake sugar cookie without guilt. (I’m so exhausted by the idea that we need to “earn” food; let’s retire it!)

To take a nap when you’re tired.

To ghost social media for vacation or mental health or just because. (Seriously! We’ll be here when you get back.)

To embrace the mystery and gift of waiting.

To ask your loved ones and elected officials for what you *really* want this season. To be your own Santa when needed!

To feel blue about the holidays — this is a lonely, hard month for many. Accept your feelings, difficult as they are. Find peace in a quiet sanctuary and the company of those who truly listen.

To find hope in the holidays. To relish each merry moment you can muster — the sacredness of lit candles, the comfort of reunions with friends and relatives, the bliss of giving and receiving.

To expect Love in a world hungry for goodness. (To do all you can to embody it.)

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.

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.