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.

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

Scenes from a pregnancy

nursery

Anxiety loop 

My stomach feels too tight. I shift in my desk chair and place one hand on my pregnant belly, feeling for movement. The pressure remains, so strong I could bounce a penny off of it. The kick never comes; my baby is likely sleeping.

Is this Braxton Hicks? The start of real contractions? Something scary? These questions circle like vultures, eating away at my peace. 

At 38 weeks pregnant, I’ve felt this way before. I know I need to up my water intake and possibly lie down. The problem is, I’m supposed to be working. A full Outlook calendar stares at me from the screen of my laptop. Can I make my 11 a.m. call? Will I have to cancel my 1:30 p.m. interview?

I feel my belly again. No, the answer is obviously no. I guzzle the rest of my water bottle, message my coworkers that I’ll be offline for a bit and waddle over to the couch. 

Smartphone in hand, I summon a message my nurse sent weeks ago after I sent her a frantic note about third trimester belly tightening. On that awful day, I feared I’d missed an important signal from my body. I feared early labor. I feared the worst: damage. Perhaps this is lingering trauma from miscarriage — the inability to trust one’s own womb to carry life. 

The nurse wrote back quickly: “as your uterus continues to grow, the strain will increase, which may bring on Braxton Hicks contractions. No need to be alarmed just make sure you are getting enough rest and water. Pay attention to frequency and if they become painful.” I scanned her words a dozen times until I felt better.

Today I read the message again: No need to be alarmed. The vultures dissipate. I drop my phone on my chest and succumb to a nap.

Joyful bucket list 

I’m not one who enjoys being pregnant. To clarify: I’m deeply grateful to be pregnant, but I don’t love the associated bodily changes. Not the severe nausea nor the  pregnancy insomnia. Neither the back pain nor the sweats (in the middle of winter, no less!). And don’t even get me started on the weight gain. 

From another angle, I see this parade of pregnancy pains telling me that my body is doing a miraculous thing: creating life. 

At the moment, my chest is simmering. Is this the roasted cauliflower I ate for dinner? I dig around in the cabinet for the chalky tablets I take to relieve heartburn, another side effect of pregnancy. I throw back two and remind myself to be grateful that my stomach is no longer tight and the countdown to baby is less than a week away. 

Flipping open the pages of my journal, I make a post-pregnancy bucket list of all things I hope to enjoy once baby has arrived:

An ice cold glass of Riesling
Sushi and sashimi
Turkey sandwiches
NOT having to pee constantly
Soft cheeses
Saunas and hot tubs
Hot yoga class
NOT feeling like a beached whale
Breathing easier
Less worry (maybe?)
Baby snuggles!!

The list does its job. And so has the heartburn medicine. I put down the pen and picture myself holding and nursing our new little boy. I can’t help but smile like crazy. 

How does it feel?

One evening after our son’s asleep, my husband Jay and I cozy up on our leather couch to watch Station Eleven. Here’s a show that projects the future after a deadly pandemic, cast through the eyes of individuals who are inextricably linked by a graphic novel of the same name. Given our current context, we find it both haunting and hopeful.

Tonight’s episode centers on Jeevan, our favorite character. We wince when a crippling accident separates him from the girl he’s been parenting, landing him in a makeshift hospital filled with pregnant ladies. Jeevan’s so sick with worry for the girl he abandoned he looks physically ill. When a patient embraces him, he holds on hard and asks her, “How does it feel to be pregnant?”

I grimace. Countless times throughout this pregnancy I’ve been asked “How are you feeling?” Most of the time I’ve responded with “Fine,” peppered with a physical shift: “Fine, but I’m not sleeping.” “Fine! The baby’s really kicking.” “Fine, but my back aches.”

“How does it feel to be pregnant?” is an entirely different question.

The mama-to-be rests her head on Jeevan’s shoulder and answers honestly: “Scary.” 

Tears arrive unbidden. Never would I ever expect to feel so seen by this show. I turn toward Jay and remark, “That’s it. Sometimes, that’s exactly how I feel being pregnant — scared.”

The promise

When I met my dear friend at Starbucks last summer, we had a lot to catch up on. She told me she’d changed jobs and moved to a different home. We traded updates on our writing. I shared about my miscarriage. 

“I’m so sorry for your loss, Erin,” she said, setting down her coffee. “How are you doing?” 

“Honestly? I’m up and down. I’m still devastated, but I’m also pregnant again…”

She let out a little shriek. “Congratulations!”

“Thank you!” I answered, beaming. “I feel a little guilty for how happy that makes me.” I took a sip of my chai tea latte. “I’m also pretty terrified.”

My friend nodded and furrowed her brow. She asked, “Can I give you some advice?” 

“Yeah, I’ll absolutely take it.” She rarely doles out advice so I knew this was important.

“After I miscarried, then got pregnant again, I felt the same way as you. Actually, I was so anxious I struggled to enjoy it,” she said, her eyes growing a little misty. I clutched my chai, hanging onto her words. “Please don’t forget to enjoy it,” she continued. “Eat the ice cream, buy cute new pregnancy clothes, take pictures of your belly bump. Don’t let worry steal your joy.”

Now my eyes had begun to mist. “I promise,” I said, meeting her gaze. “I promise to enjoy it.”

Nesting   

My task for this weekend is to pack my hospital bag. I’ve been telling everyone who asks that we have everything we need for our new baby, however, once I start packing, I realize there are some things we can’t find in the storage bins from our firstborn’s baby days. 

I pull up my Target app and start searching for the missing items: one new bottle brush for baby — click. New Lansinoh cream for nursing — click. A soft crib sheet studded with stars, a new nursing cover, extra deodorant for my hospital stay. Click, click, click. 

I hit one final click to confirm my purchases and announce to Jay in the kitchen, “That’s the last of it!” 

“The last of what?” he asks, looking up from the dishes. 

“The last of our baby list,” I say, striding to the refrigerator to cross “pack hospital bag” off our baby to-do list. “I just need you to pick up this Target order and we’ll be set.” 

“Sure babe,” Jay replies, turning a dish over in a stream of water.

“This is exciting! Thank you for all your help,” I say, kissing him on the cheek. “I’m lucky to have you.”

I turn on my heel and enter our nearby bedroom, which will also serve as a nursery for our newborn. My son’s old crib sits against the far wall by the windows. Kitty-corner stands our maplewood dresser, once covered with picture frames, now donning a changing pad, baby monitor and sound machine. My eyes land on our newest addition: a dove gray glider, a gift from Jay to replace the old rocking chair I used to nurse our son Jack. I settle into the glider and issue a little exhale. It is so comfortable. 

Just then Jack ambles around the corner and leaps into my lap. “Hey buddy,” I say, folding my arms around him and readjusting him so he isn’t pressing on my belly. 

“What are you doing, Mom?”

“Oh just getting some things ready for baby brother,” I say, combing my fingers through his straight blond hair. “Are you ready to be a big brother?”

“Uh-huh… uh, Mom?” he asks, looking up at me. 

“What’s up buddy?”

“Does the baby already know how to swim?”

I giggle and pat my stomach. Jack’s learning to swim himself right now and making good progress in his lessons, that must be where this question came from. “Your little brother’s swimming in my tummy, I suppose. But can he swim like you in the pool? No. Maybe when he’s old enough — closer to your age — you can help teach him?”

“I’m so excited for the baby to come!” he replies, leaning into my arms and gently pressing his arm around my belly.

 “Me too, buddy,” I say, relishing his closeness. “You’re going to be a great big brother.”

Counting kicks  

I’m at my final doctor’s appointment before my scheduled C-section. Two straps belt my belly, one holding a circular device that monitors the baby’s heartbeat. The other holds a piece that monitors my contractions. In my left hand is a clicker I’m using to count baby kicks while I take this non-stress test.

Bah-thump-bah-thump-bah-thump goes the baby’s heartbeat, intermixed with the fake laughter of the daytime talk show playing on the television in this room. I press my clicker on occasion, hearing a delayed beep.

After 25 minutes, my OB arrives to check the monitor. “I want to keep you here a little longer,” he says, eyes still on the screen. “The baby’s heartbeat slowed for a bit. We need some more time to watch him.”

With that, he leaves. My heart pounds in my chest, drowning out the bah-thumps of baby’s heartbeat. The talk show hosts’ chatter grows more annoying by the minute. Time slows to a trickle. The vultures return, nibbling away at my once calm demeanor.

Just when I think I can no longer take it, my OB returns. Suddenly he’s saying, “You’re good to go!” and I’m releasing the breath I didn’t even know I was holding. 

Later, in the exam room, he asks if I have any questions. “Just one,” I answer, gripping the edges of the exam table. “How do I deal with all this anxiety? I’m so nervous for the baby to come . . . Honestly I’ve felt this way a lot while expecting.” I can’t bring myself to add “because of the miscarriage.” He knows though. He has my chart in front of him. 

My OB stands and places one hand on mine and squeezes it. “This baby is healthy and beautiful,” he says, holding eye contact. “You’re going to be fine.” 

I float out of the office, my steps a little lighter.

Cartwheels in the dark 

At 3 a.m., I wake with a string of words in my head. Darkness floods the bedroom. I fling my arm out and scrounge inside my nightstand for a pen and sticky note to scribble the words before I forget them. I’m not sure where this sentence is going, but I know I need to capture it, however illegibly, so I can go back to sleep. 

Finished writing, I reposition myself on my left side, one hand resting over my belly. Mercifully, my baby’s moving. First I feel a flutter, then a jiggle. Next comes the cartwheeling, a pleasant rolling in my womb. 

I recall the promise I made to my friend and my OB’s words about this healthy, beautiful baby. I realize what I’m feeling is joy, pure joy, alongside an ever present twinge of worry. While I can’t extinguish fear completely, I believe I can carry both. I want to savor these magic days before everything changes.

I can’t wait to meet you, I think, imagining some sort of telepathy between me and my baby. “I love you,” I whisper aloud, including his full name, all six syllables of it. His presence is a gift. A miracle. Our hope in the midst of this never-ending pandemic. With every cartwheel in the dark, my joy increases.

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. 

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.

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.

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.”