Saving daylight — with him

Sunset photo by Hoang Loc
Photo by Hoang Loc

Whenever I replay it in my mind, the scene starts here: Me at the rear car door, hovering. Him with his head craned back, stalling.

“Mommy,” he starts.

“What Jack?” My words are staccato. My toes aren’t tapping, but they might as well be. I’m sandwiched between my three-year-old and the daycare parking lot, the end of one workday and the start of another (Evening Mommy). What I want from him is complete compliance. What he wants, I think, is the same thing he’s wanted since day one of daycare when he rejected all of his bottles — to act in complete defiance.

“I see the moooon!” 

“Where, honey?” my voice softens. 

His pointer finger shoots up, his voice rises, “There! There!” and I follow his gaze to the crescent moon, barely a fingernail clipping, hanging low in the cerulean sky.

“It’s so shiny,” he remarks. And he’s right — it is. We linger, eyes up, heads tipped back, suspended in time. When I finally buckle Jack into his carseat, I thank him for making me notice the beautiful moon. He beams proudly. 

Now in the driver’s seat, I press the ignition button and notice the dashboard clock reads 5:55 p.m. Classical music floods the speakers. I punch the radio off. I can’t shake the feeling I’m doing this wrong — motherhood. That I’m missing out on most of it, the wonder and joy of my son being three, because I work. This hunger for what I can’t have — a different life — wakes with a grumble.

What if all I’m getting is just a measly sliver of the moon? What if all I’m giving is waning light?

“Mah-AhhM! Why are you not moving?”

“Sorry honey,” I say, my voice faltering. I don’t turn around to face him. Careful as ever I check the backup cam, reverse, signal and merge onto Pulaski. Pulaski divides a crowded, crumbling cemetery; tonight the western sky above the gravestones blazes with magenta and persimmon fading into blue. I want to slow the car to a crawl and gape, maybe turn into the cemetery lot to take in the horizon.

Eyes back on the road, I exclaim, “Look honey! Look to your right!”

“What, Mommy?” 

“Honey, there’s a sunset,” I say, motioning toward his window.

“It’s a rainbow!” Jack shouts with glee. Jack loves rainbows, and I hold this fact tenderly, knowing there may come a day when someone tells him it’s not acceptable for a boy to love rainbows. I hope he keeps loving them all the same.  

“Sort of,” I chuckle. “The sky lights up with all kinds of colors when the sun goes down. What colors do you see?”

“I see orange … and pink… and blue…” he trails off.

I glance back at Jack, eyes wide and smiling. I will tell him this, I resolve, that boys shouldn’t be ashamed to love this beautiful world with an open heart.

At Foster, I turn right and drive straight toward the sunset. The skyscape shifts to peach and lavender; the fading light silhouettes a crop of trees in shade. I recall a stanza from John Mayer’s song, “3×5”:

Didn’t have a camera by my side this time
Hoping I would see the world with both my eyes
Maybe I will tell you all about it when
I’m in the mood to lose my way
But let me say
You should have seen that sunrise with your own eyes
It brought me back to life

“What do you see, Mommy?” Jack’s view is a bit obscured now, and I have the better vantage of the sunset. 

“Hmmm… I see new colors — peach and lavender and blue darkening above us.”

I hear him sigh and add, “Almost home, buddy.”

Pulling onto our street I realize Jack and I only have a few more sunsets to watch on our commute home before the light patterns shift. Daylight Saving Time is coming.

For the next three days, Jack will ask me about the sunset. Together, we’ll delight in bright hues painted across each evening sky.

A week after Daylight Saving Time, everything will be different. Daycare will be closed. I’ll receive a mandate to work remote — effective immediately. The social distancing and lockdowns will begin. The grocery store shelves will be picked over. I’ll call my elderly neighbor, my grandmothers and my parents, ending each conversation close to tears. I’ll cling to my husband’s frame in bed, mind churning over the COVID-19 pandemic, body starved for sleep. I’ll hold my head in my hands, stomach knotted with worry, and pray. My son will watch and mimic my motions.

I’ve read that three is when memory begins to form in children. Later, I’ll wonder if Jack will remember any of this — the food rationing, the “staycation with Mommy and Daddy,” the world as we used to know it turning. I hope he’ll remember learning to play Go Fish on the living room carpet, games of tag in the backyard, homemade bread, long baths and daily FaceTime with his grandparents. I hope he’ll remember relishing those sunsets from the car, a fleeting ritual, but one that brought us so much joy.

Maybe I will tell you all about it when I’m in the mood to lose my way with words

For the time being, I park the car in our garage, blissfully unaware of the changes to come. Hands busy fixing supper, I wonder:

Am I missing out on moments with Jack because I work too much?

Yes.

Can I still teach him how to savor the light?

Also yes.

Much later, when the pain overwhelms, I’ll return to that night and embrace its delicious normalcy. Old, insignificant worries. A new resolve. My son forever pointing me to beauty — light.

And here, maybe I can save this sunset for us, and maybe my son will read about it someday, when he’s in the mood to find himself in words.

Image by Phoenix Feathers Calligraphy

I wrote this part as part of a blog hop with Exhale, an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. To read the next post in this series, click here.

Contagion

Your hands are raw from multiple washings. 

In the span of three days, your inbox was flooded with warnings: “School Health Update”; “Office Closure”; “Parenting in the time of Coronavirus”; “Coronavirus in preschoolers: Symptoms and what you need to know.”

This is the one that scared you: “Coronavirus updates: More lockdowns are starting.”

The St. Patrick’s Day Parade, March Madness, Church last Sunday — canceled. Daycare is closed. Work is remote until the month’s end. You suspect this will last longer.

You watched the virus numbers climb all weekend. The tone of the news, containment measures grows more urgent. Your stomach churns. You call your elderly neighbor and remind her you are here to help. You call your mom, desperate for the sound of her voice.

At 6 a.m. on Monday, you went to the grocery store wearing plastic gloves. With shaking hands you filled your cart to the brim with dry and frozen goods. There was no toilet paper or bleach to be found. You threw out your gloves afterwards, wiped down your car, washed your hands with scalding water. In the kitchen, unloading groceries, you break down. 

You think of your Dad, a grocery store manager, and all the other grocery store workers. The doctors, nurses, government workers, police officers. The homeless population here, and elsewhere. The vulnerable elderly — your grandmothers, both in their eighties. You bow your head and pray.

Your book club just read Emily St. Mandel’s, Station 11. In it, a virus much worse than this one wipes out the majority of the world’s population, effectively breaking down society. You believe that won’t happen, not with this virus, but the similarities are eerie. And yet Station 11 is a hopeful book, featuring a vagabond band of actors and musicians who travel from town to town spreading cheer. The troupe’s motto: Survival is insufficient.

Your thoughts keep circling back to it.

You know what we’ve forgotten: we rely on each other. 

You do your part to stop the spread, but keep your humanity. You stay home, disinfect surfaces, donate to others, contact your loved ones. You wash your hands again and again and your preschooler’s hands, too. 

You know that so much of this is out of your control. That you are dust. To dust you shall return.

You control what you can. Your fingers tap tap tap, heat up the keyboard, tell a story that’s still unfolding. You hope putting your fears down will make you less scared. You come home.

You look out at the empty streets, witness the neighborly care that’s unfolding. You are not alone.

A brief history of kisses

photo: Chris Ocken Photography

Stolen outside Still Middle School after the eighth grade dance, in the dark. His lips were laced with Dr. Pepper. His body held a trace of Old Spice mixed with sweat. Mom was waiting for me in the car. Yes, he used tongue. My first kiss. This was definitely not his.

That’s a lie. It wasn’t my first at all. Undoubtedly, my first kiss came from my mother. Soft, slow and warm, showered on my small crown. That day I left the comfort of her womb for the cold, wide world; that day she cradled me close, feeling the terrifying, joyous weight of me; that day she became brand new and aged at once — a mother. Oh what I’d give to relive that sweet, sweet moment. This, too, is a half-truth, conjured from my imagination . . .

. . . reconstructed from fresh memories of brushing my lips across my newborn boy’s lush, vanilla skin. He’s now three, and I still sprinkle him with kisses every chance I get, dreading the day he won’t let me. One night, a year or so ago, my tiny tyrant stood tall in his crib, defying bedtime. His clarion call of “Mama! Mama!” summoned me to his side. “What. Is. It. Honey?” I clipped. His chubby toddler hands reached for my cheeks, then he planted a big wet one on my lips. I staggered back. That kiss took my breath away.

Brian Doyle’s done it.

Alice Walker too.

And Min Jin Lee and Paul Kalanithi and Callie Feyen and Kelly Corrigan. So has Beth Ann Fennelly, whose “A reckoning of kisses” inspired this reflection.

How do you kiss someone with words? You open your heart on the page. The reader needs to be puckered, ready to receive it.

In Spain, when you greet someone, you offer dos besos. At a crowded bar in Madrid, a few years out of college, dos besos from my best friend, plus her handsome Spanish novio, revived me. Before that trip I’d been drifting through young adulthood. Is this it — life? I often wondered while staring out the window at my first job. I knew I was privileged to have work and yet it rarely sparked joy. Maybe life isn’t all about work, though. Dos besos said it isn’t.

The most passionate kiss I’ve ever had, the one that simultaneously sucked the oxygen out of my lungs and filled me up so much I nearly levitated, took place the summer before I studied abroad in Cambridge, England. The kisser in question and I had already exchanged goodbyes, so why was this young man now sprinting back to my front door? He held me with such force it seemed no amount of miles apart could untether us.

I wish I could tell you that’s when I knew. But the truth is, I knew many months prior, shortly after I fell out of my chair on our first date at Panera Bread in Valparaiso, Indiana, and we both bust out laughing. Reader, that man is now my husband.

On my father’s red, worn neck — velvet-smooth and sunburned from radiation treatment. A quick peck, really. When I encircled my arms round his newly skinny frame, time stretched out and I held all our kisses from birth until the present with such tenderness it brought me to tears.

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.

And yet, if pressed to choose a love language, I would choose a real kiss over words every time.

My dog Gus doles out giant, juicy ones, licking my lips. His boundless enthusiasm makes me blush in the presence of an audience. I adore his zealous, steady smooches. Daily Gus reminds me how to be a force of goodness.

This final, holy kiss I only witnessed: My grandmother, eyes shining, grazed her petal lips across my son’s cheek in the thick Louisiana heat last August. In my grandmother, I swear I saw a lifetime of kisses, her kissing my mother, kissing me, now kissing her great-grandson. Maybe kissing is the first way we, the lucky ones, learn how to love. The body remembers. 

That will not be the last one, Grandma, I promise. We are coming back for more.

I wrote this post as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. To read the next post in this series, click here. Image by: Phoenix Feathers Calligraphy

The space between us

“Mommy and Daddy, are you best friends?” Our son issues the question over breakfast. I chew my Kashi cereal and shoot a glance at Jay, who’s busy draining his coffee. He raises his eyebrows over the mug and for a second, I think he’s leaving this response to me alone.

Best friends, huh?

We certainly hadn’t been acting like it. A recent dinnertime squabble had led to finishing our veggie burgers in icy silence, which led to raised voices in the kitchen and the finale: me sulking in the bedroom. What were we even fighting about that day? I cannot remember.

Bit by bit we’d built up walls — a terse comment here, tasks left undone there, feeling unseen and under-appreciated amid parenting our son.

Last Saturday, I’d gone so far as to grumble, “Why did we get married again?

I needed to remember.

//

Jay and I met sophomore year in sociology class. He, the laid-back genius, was late to class on the first day. I, the driven student, had arrived early. When he strolled into the classroom, there was one spot next to me.

He took it.

It became his permanent spot.

Jay was everything I wasn’t: low-key, low-stress, able to hang out for hours on end without accomplishing anything. He made me laugh. He was kind. He listened. When we were together, all my worries and stressors melted away.

We talked for hours into the night. Time together was one long exhale.

//

Hours led to weeks, led to 14 years “officially” together this month. Seven years married. Three years with our son.

Later that Saturday night, as we settled in to our respective sides of the bed, I put down my novel and asked him a question usually reserved for our preschooler. “What’s wrong?” And out it came — all the worries and fears and annoyances, his and mine. We talked for hours into the morning, crying, laughing, kissing. We found each other’s arms, closing the space between us. Just before sleep arrived, I sighed.

//

Are you best friends?

Our son’s question drifts the air. I swallow my cereal. Jay sets down his coffee.

My husband and I lock eyes and smile. We answer with one breath: “Yes.”

My hopes for you

Today is my son’s third birthday. We started our morning with pancakes and raspberries for breakfast, and he got to open a few presents. At school today he’ll wear a birthday hat and pass out goodies bags to his friends. When our son comes home, we’ll celebrate with tacos and cake, then surprise him with his first “big boy” bed.

Although this milestone is certainly bittersweet, the feeling I want to savor most right now is hopefulness. I’m proud of the person Jack is, and I’m excited to nurture him and watch him grow in the year ahead. This year I’m starting a new tradition of writing my son a birthday love note. I’m posting it here to share a snapshot of his life at three, and because I thought you might enjoy it.

Dear Jack,

Today you turn three! This is what Daddy and I love about you:

You are creative. You are an expert play-doh mixer and sculptor. You add depth to bedtime stories, suggesting appearances from Superman or the Paw Patrol. Your make-believe world — of pirate and rocket ships, rescue missions and birthday parties — amazes me.

You are playful. You giggle at Goofy and Olaf the snowman. You cry, “Tickle me! Tickle me!” laughing without abandon. You’ll flop into fresh snow, crunchy leaves or grainy sand, flap your arms and make an angel.

You are strong-willed. You throw tantrums when you don’t get your way. Most days, you refuse to jump in the pool and put on socks. As for mealtime, you stick to a strict rotation of your favorites — like tacos, nuggets and pizza — rather than try new foods.

You are loving. You crave our touch and attention. You call, “Play with me!” when you need a playmate and “Uppy!” when you’re “too tired” to walk. At dinner, you slip out of your chair to finish your veggie burger in my lap. At bedtime, you sit in Daddy’s lap to read stories, head snuggled close against his chest. You give the best kisses.

You are generous. You share your Hershey’s kisses and your strawberry smoothie with ease. You loved handing out goodie bags at your last birthday party. You like to “help” with the dishes.

You are thoughtful. You ask, “Who is Jesus?” and “Where is God?” You notice when I’m feeling sad and when Daddy and I are mad. You suggest hugs and time outs when you notice we’re overwhelmed.

You are sweet. You love our dog Gus, rainbows and your grandparents. Some nights you sing yourself to sleep. You like to hold our hands.

You are a wonder. You are all this and more than we can possibly imagine. You are learning and growing daily. You are our teacher.

Sweet boy, these are my hopes for you:

I hope you hold on to your sweetness. That you’ll keep feeling your big feelings — and that you’ll be unafraid to tell us about them. That, when faced with a difficult decision, you’ll choose to be brave and kind. That you’ll remember to include others.

I hope you fail. I hope you’ll make mistakes, get rejected or cut from the team. It’s an odd hope isn’t it? But leaning into discomfort is how we develop grit. When you, inevitably, get knocked down, I hope you’ll rise up, keep going or change course.

I hope you never doubt the power of your voice. Today you boldly declare your needs and wants. I admire that about you. I hope you’ll continue to speak up, both for yourself and for the common good, and that you learn it’s equally important to listen.

Most of all, I hope you know how deeply you are loved — by us and by your Creator. 

Happy third birthday, Jack. You light up our lives with love, joy and wonder. We are so, so grateful for you.

P.S. Those hopes for Jack are my hopes for us, too.

Beautiful

She looks in the mirror

violet crescents shadow

the delicate space below

her tired eyes

ring fingers tap cold cream

trace new wrinkles

etched in the corners

and here’s

an annoying pimple

in her reflection,

//

her eyes move to

her softened belly, 

once ballooned to carry a baby

small breasts,

once swelled to feed that baby

two arms —

she flexes twice —

her arms have never been stronger

nearly three years later

her baby still begs to be carried.

//

Once upon a time

she picked at her flesh

and prodded 

and planned

stepped on a scale

let a number dictate her 

joy

her diet 

she aimed to reign in

what she now knows is wild and free 

and maybe aging

isn’t something to 

fear like they taught us.

//

This time 

she drinks in her reflection

and calls it

evidence of

pain

evidence of

bliss

evidence of

a woman evolving.

she calls it

My 2020 intention

In 2019, I was constantly in motion. Rising early to beat the call of “Mommy!”; gulping down hot coffee; speeding to school pickup; racing through bedtime stories only to crash into bed, exhausted.

My planner — bursting with appointments, birthdays, tasks and deadlines — was my compass. I scrawled my dreams in the margins.

I poured myself into motherhood and writing. Scrimped on sleep, self-care. I wanted to do it all and do it well. I couldn’t let anyone down. At this I did not succeed, yet I kept moving.

Somewhere in the middle of all this chasing, I lost my footing. I forgot why I was running. Did I really need to run?

Weary, I slowed my pace to walk.

One day, I found myself child-free in the wilderness. Into the woods I walked. Over the mountains. Into a clearing.

Violet and indigo mountains scraped the sky and my feet kissed the edge of a frozen lake. All was quiet, save for my heart’s heavy beating. The alpine air smelled brand new.

I looked down and my feet, my tired feet and nearly jumped. Tiny cracks etched in ice echoed modern art.

How had I missed this?

I wonder what else we miss by failing to shift our perspective. By forgetting to stand still.

Hiking boots rooted to the earth, I thought of poet Mary Oliver, who urged us to

“Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.”

This year, I want to notice the beauty lingering at my feet. Matchbox cars and Legos, but also holy play and happy chaos. Tiny toes and big feelings? The gift of good health and togetherness. Cookie crumbs as sweet memories. Spilled milk as Grace abundant.

I won’t forget that moment in the wilderness. Filling up. Seeing. Letting go.

In 2020, my intention is to stop and pay attention. To the ones I love. To the world around me. To small steps on the greater journey. To the beating of my heart.

Lessons from 2019

The Cut recently informed me that although some people don’t keep a diary, most of us have inboxes that serve as a “fossil record of our lives.” In other words, ancient emails are a window into our stories. Reading this, a small chuckle escaped my lips. I’d been sifting through emails the day prior for evidence to corroborate dates for an essay I was revising. What struck me most about my old messages was their tone. My voice seemed strange yet familiar, young but not naive, kind yet scared. Who was this woman? Me but different.

On this 20th day of December in 2019, 48 hours from my 34th birthday and 12 days until New Year’s, I wonder: Who was I on the cusp of 2019? And who will I become in 2020? The whole truth lies not in emails but stories —  lessons — from the time between. 

One: Why does it ache?

Trapped with my mouth wide open and torso at a 45 degree decline, I examined vintage Chicago posters while the dentist finished cleaning my teeth.

“Well, that’s it,” he said, putting down the floss. 

“So, you’re sure there’s nothing wrong?” I asked him, craning my neck to the side.

“Your teeth look great, though you’ll probably want to start flossing more — the gaps between them grow wider with age.” With the flick of his switch, my chair whirred to eye level.

I repositioned myself and tried again: “It’s just my teeth, they were so achy.” 

For weeks they’d ached, pain fading in and out. They hurt first thing in the morning and at bedtime. They occasionally woke me up at night. They hurt whenever I switched from one activity to the next, almost as if my teeth were petulant children demanding my attention. I brushed, flossed and went back to work, ignoring them. 

Little mouths needed brushing, dishes of every size kept piling up in the sink and deadlines too were stacking up in my planner. Visiting the dentist never made it on my lengthy to-do list; it got lodged in my brain someplace between almost out of dish soap and don’t forget to file your check requests before sabbatical. 

“Right.” The dentist nodded.

I licked my teeth and tasted fluoride. “And now they’re fine,” I said. Coincidentally, the week I made the appointment, my pain disappeared.

The dentist shrugged his shoulders and stood to leave. We’d already gone over this — no evidence of grinding or gum disease. No cavities.

“Sometimes these things have a way of sorting themselves out.” He smiled and moved to the door. Conversation closed.

It bothered me that the dentist didn’t have an answer. What caused the pain? I wondered, picking up my complimentary toothbrush and toothpaste and summoning my driver. I zipped up my jacket and waved goodbye to the receptionist. Moreover, how did it heal?

Outside crisp leaves tumbled across the street and wind cut through my jacket. Fall in Chicago is a short, poignant season one must be careful not to miss. The neighborhood trees were showing off gold, crimson and burnt orange and I realized I had the entire afternoon free before my son returned from school. I could go for a run in the woods or cozy up with a good book. Maybe I’d start a chili.

Waiting for my ride it struck me: I was no longer in a hurry.

I’d replaced piles of dishes and deadlines with extra playtime and travel. After months of making appointments for my son but not myself, I had an eye exam, annual check-up and this dentist visit. I was officially on leave from work and yes, life was slow.

For now.

Eventually sabbatical would end and working motherhood would sink its claws back into me. I smiled up at the gray sky. I wanted to hold onto this feeling — hope — and carry it with me to the next season. I wanted to start paying attention to pain, and to its release.

Two: A messy dilemma

I hold two passions in my heart: one is my family, the other, my career. I’m lucky I landed my dream job as a magazine editor. I’m doubly blessed I realized my dream of becoming a wife and mother. I’m living the dream.

Yet these two dreams often seem at odds with one another, and though I believe that’s a false dichotomy, there are days I curse motherhood for crippling my career and days I blame work for my lack of presence with my family. Both are lies. Both are true.

When my son’s weeklong spring break from school approached,  I submitted my vacation days and cleared my calendar just for him. In my planner, I sketched out daily agendas: on Monday, we’d go to Cafe Little Beans, on Tuesday, we’d stay home and watch Disney movies, on Wednesday, we’d take a nature walk, and so forth.

Wednesday arrived and I loaded up my son Jack and our dog Gus into the car and drove to the forest preserve for our walk. The sky was clear and blue, pale green buds sprinkled trees, and when we approached a clearing, I let Gus off leash for a romp in the grass. Jack pointed and giggled as Gus sprinted out into the empty field. “Go on buddy,” I said, gently pushing him forward. The ground was moist and smelled of yesterday’s rain. With a little coaxing, Jack made a beeline for Gus, who appeared to be drinking out of giant mud puddle. 

“Oh no! Wait. Honey, don’t go in there,” I yelled out, waving him back. 

“Mommy! A mud puddle!” He said, stomping his feet with glee. 

Too late. In an instant, Jack’s shoes were caked with black-brown mud. Then he plopped on his bottom and the mud speckled our dog’s white fur. Safely positioned on the edge of the puddle, I sighed, thinking of the bath they would need later. This was not on my agenda.

“Mommy!” Jack cried, pushing himself back up. “Come splash with me!” 

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.

Three: Brave

What I remember most about our conversation was his attitude. Leaning over his scotch at the bar top, my friend was the definition of casual. This was the same carefree guy I knew from college and also someone entirely different. He was a pastor, after all.

So when I confessed to him over drinks I still had doubts about my faith, I couldn’t have predicted what he said next. 

“Imagine how it feels when you’re the pastor,” he said throwing back a swig of scotch.

My mouth dropped. I stirred my seltzer water and searched for the right response. “You too?”

“I mean, who hasn’t?”

What I’d wanted from him was theology. Wisdom. A Bible verse to help me grapple with why my husband got sick and my dad got sick and why people kept getting shot by angry white men with assault rifles. I wanted an antidote to doubt.

Instead of that, he offered, “Me too.” My pastor friend understood the doubts and the questions and the creeping worry that death was just the end. What I wanted wasn’t what I actually needed. What I needed was a companion in doubt.

This conversation wasn’t an anomaly. I talked to many other pastors this year who echoed similar sentiments.

On a walk in the woods, I got to know a pastor who admitted she didn’t have the best answers to age-old faith questions related to suffering. At coffee, my pastor listened to my frustrations at length and nodded with understanding, quietly holding space for me.

Over pancakes, one very important pastor I admired told me he hoped I’d write about it — my doubts. I wanted to tell him I’d been trying to write about doubt and pain all year. Instead I sat and sipped my coffee.

I often wrote in the literal darkness. Early in the morning before my family woke. Late at night when they were asleep.

Entering the darkness in words doesn’t necessarily stump me, it’s the getting out that does.

Another pastor whose writing I adore wrote this of darkness: “Those of us who should follow Christ, therefore, should expect a lot of darkness. That is where God finds us and also sends us.”

Later, when it was time to make edits to a story I wrote that seemed too sad and irreverent, I discovered a shred of Hope threaded through my prose. I set down my red editing pen.

Perhaps exploring doubt is a sign of evolving faith. I’m finding there’s beauty in the darkness. I’m learning to pay attention to my pain — and joy. I believe I’m entering 2020 a little braver than before.

I wrote this post as 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 read the next post in this series “2019.”

Jesus Christ, Advent and the grace of Christmas radio

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The digital clock on my dresser flashes 7:55. Late, we are going to be late. I sprint across the hallway, snatch socks and deposit them at my son’s feet. “I need you to put these on now.” “Nooo! I don’t wanna,” he screeches, folding his arms. The last thing we have time for is a standoff before school. I crouch to his level and grit my teeth. “You need to try because you are a big boy now and I cannot do everything for you and we are running late.” I say this in my mom-means-business-voice.

He puffs his lip out. “Mommy, you do it!” To which I cry out, “Jesus Christ!” Not my finest parenting moment.

Then: a whirlwind of tears and apologies, a quick sock tutorial, shoes, hats, coats. My heavy sigh as I lock the door. The dashboard clock reads 8:10. Late.

It’s December, a time when moms are supposed to be merrily gift shopping, addressing holiday cards and executing traditions. Our tree’s lit and we even baked Christmas cookies, yet I can’t shake the feeling that I’m running behind. That I don’t measure up to the other moms. I don’t have enough cheer to give my kid. (He’s never met Santa; our holiday budget’s tight.) Christmastime, it’s magical and a rush. I hate rushing.

My son does too.

I turn on Christmas radio as I back out of the garage, but I’m not really listening, too busy mind mapping all the mistakes I made that morning, ways I could have been more prepared.

While the masses deck the halls and check their lists, the church observes Advent, during which we assume the posture of expectation. Advent, with its moodiness and calls for repentance, is incongruous with the holiday hustle. I like this about Advent.

At the stop sign, my son shouts, “Mommy! Mommy!” “What honey?” I answer. Light snow falls, lining the trees and streets. I hope it sticks. “It’s a Christmas song,” he says, bobbing his head.

My ears register “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” “Oh!” I say, stunned by his sudden cheer, the mercy of fresh snow and forgiveness. “Fa-la-la,” he adds, beaming. This does not even go with the song.

Jesus Christ, I think to myself, smiling. That’s who Christmas is all about — the gift of a child, born to save us from ourselves.

Thankful

She was asleep to the beauty of her life until she left it. “Mommy play with me!” Her husband’s socks balled up and abandoned on the carpet. The never-ending cycle of laundry and “What’s for dinner?” Bottom-wiping and dog duty.

She craved adventure; this wasn’t enough.

She hatched a plan and escaped.

//

Miles away from home, she woke in an unfamiliar bed, hungry for her family. She relished her journey. Not only did it feed her soul, it depleted her heart. And that was a good thing, she decided, because she needed to remember just how much she needs the ones she cares for. How their love fills her up.

Please don’t let me forget this, she wrote in her notebook. These extraordinary blessings — people to miss, a cozy home, clothes to wear, nourishing food, meaningful work. When she was back in their embrace she prayed, thank you. Please don’t let me forget.