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. 

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

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.

Portrait of one mother

She
is busy
picking up
pouring out
meeting
needs.

She
is careful
keeping
watch
time
memories
peace.

She
is thirsty—
motherhood
doesn’t deal out gold stars—
what about her
needs
likes
wants?

She is still
surveying
her home, life,
the small miracle they created,
she knows
to him, she is
rest
She smiles.

She needs 
                  peace.
      wants
                      rest.
She is
Love (d).

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.

A prayer of thanksgiving

For a little boy who celebrates fresh flakes with spontaneous snow angels,

For his bear hugs & sloppy kisses,

For the sweet taste of his remaining Halloween candy, freely given (seems like all our talk of generosity is sinking in, eh?),

For building towers & bedtime stories, 

For every blessed time he utters, “I love you too, Mommy!”

Thank you, Jesus.

Also. Help me remember this feeling when this same child throws a tantrum after I cut his hot dog the “wrong way” & myriad other sins that shall go unnamed. 

Help me, Jesus.

And so, Amen. 

Banana bread, gun violence and facing the daylight

He just wanted banana bread. Eager to please and to get us out of the house, I obliged. 

We sat side by side in a bustling Starbucks, stealing a moment together before work and school. My son slurped apple juice and nibbled at his bread. I sipped my coffee, barely tasting it. Eyes glued to my phone, I scrolled and scrolled for answers I knew I wouldn’t find. 

Irritated, I looked up. That’s when I noticed my son staring down every visitor walking in the door. Morning sunlight framed his sweet face and curious blue-green eyes.

Before I could smile, the door swung closed and I took a breath. What was I thinking bringing him here? It’s not safe here. It’s not safe anywhere anymore. 

Last Saturday somebody strode through the doors of a Walmart, gun loaded with hate. A Mommy and Daddy died shielding their baby from his bullets. 

A day later, news broke of a second shooting closer to home, then word of more violence in our city. Blood-soaked, lifeless bodies on linoleum tiles and hot pavement. Lives cut short. Hundreds of families shattered forever. With trembling hands, I balled up our trash and swiftly rose.

“Jack, we’re leaving now,” I announced.

“Uppy, uppy!” he pleaded. And even though he’s perfectly old enough to walk himself to the car, I didn’t hesitate. I hoisted him in my arms, busting outside.

I punched the start button on the car. Elmo’s upbeat alphabet rap blared through the car stereo, but I couldn’t stop thinking of Brian Bilston’s poem “America is a Gun”:

England is a cup of tea. 

France, a wheel of ripened brie.

Greece, a short, squat olive tree.

America is a gun.

I gripped the wheel hard. I don’t know how to tell him why we rushed out or why, a week later I won’t bat an eyelash when I bring him with me to get groceries. 

America is a gun. The sentence tumbled around my head as I turned into the Montessori parking lot. The need to offer my son an explanation pressed on me and I took my time unloading him from the car.

More than anything, I want us to live in a place that reflects the values he’s learning in school and at home: That there is more than enough for us all, if we share. That everyone deserves to be treated with love and kindness. That we all have a right to live — without fear. How can I tell my son those ideals have been compromised by our nation’s leaders? And fellow citizens? 

I don’t want to shield him from the violence of the world, but the need to shield him from crippling worry feels more right. 

After lacing up his shoes, this is what I did: I bent over and kissed my son’s cheek, twice. Then I repeated our weekday morning benediction, “I love you buddy! Have a good day!” before he entered his classroom. And, with a prayer for peace pounding in my tender heart, I opened the door and stepped out into the daylight.

On writing through motherhood

The blare of my alarm snaps me out of a dream. Eyes half-shut, I roll over to silence it, then consider my options. If I get up now, I can write. Maybe. There’s always a chance I could wake my son, a light sleeper, and lose the gift of time. Or I can sink back under the covers and steal another hour of delicious rest. The rhythmic drone of my husband’s snore propels me out of bed. Today I rise. 

Step one: Shower. I creep across our creaky floorboards, steal into the bathroom and twist on the squeaky faucet. “Shit,” I mutter, then mouth a prayer: please please please don’t let him wake up, God, just let me have this morning for myself. I’ll be extra good today, I promise. I step in the shower. Scalding water washes over me and baptizes me with possibility. Next: Soap. Rinse. Dry. Dress.

Step two: Coffee, mixed with a dash of cream. I tip-toe into the kitchen, retrieve my mug, the one with a pug on it, then pour the time-brewed coffee into my cup. The aroma of blonde roast fills my lungs and rouses my sleepy mind. I take a sip and savor the just-right temperature. Pure delight. 

Step three: Write. I sit at a spare desk in our family’s dining room, coffee on my left and a ticking clock to the right. The time reads 6:20 a.m. I glance at my son’s door. If I’m lucky, I can eke out 40 minutes of writing before he wakes up. I flip open my laptop and begin. 

When I became a mother, I needed writing because it allowed to grapple with the giant identity shift happening inside of me. My too-big emotions and broken, achy body overwhelmed me.  Psychiatrists call this matrescence, a period in a woman’s life when her body and mind transition to a new role — caretaker. In those early days, I hard and fast, scrawling out ideas before my son summoned me for another feeding. 

Bleary-eyed and tired, I wrote sporadically. Yet I kept returning to my journal because it both grounded me and brought me back to life. Etching out my story helped me stitch together the woman I was before giving birth with the woman I was becoming. Sharing it online with others — on my blog and eventually in other publications helped me feel less alone.

Two and a half years later, I sit at my desk, clicking letters and letting my thoughts play out on the screen.

What’s different is that the season of motherhood allows me the semblance of a writing routine. A few days a week, whenever everyone is healthy, I rise early to brainstorm, blog or tackle freelance assignments. 

The fact remains: I still need writing like I need water. If I go too long without it, I feel parched. 

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. 

This month I published an essay that brought me to head to head with the crushing weight of my motherly worry. In the midst of a story swimming in fear, my editor noticed a different narrative. She pushed me to resurrect the carefree girl inside of me, the girl I was before I became mother. So I wrote a new scene, and in doing so I discovered this:

“There’s a girl inside of me who loves roller coasters and waterparks and white water rafting, who dreams of visiting Sweden and the Grand Canyon, who’s always up for a little mischief. She runs simply to feel the power of her legs and the wind in her hair. She isn’t plagued by the past or preoccupied with the future. She sees every day as a grand adventure. 

She’s brave and afraid. She’s rooted and restless. She boldly pursues what sets her heart on fire. And she’s still here now, aching for a chance to shine. All this time I spent consumed with caring for my son made me forget.”

I stop typing for a moment and sip my coffee. Writing that scene brought me to tears. It reminded me that my identity isn’t just wrapped up in protecting my son. I realized something so important: I need to teach him to live too. 

These days, with my son, I’m all in and hands-off. We do more exploring together — last weekend he biked a new path at the forest preserve as my husband and I walked alongside him — and I encourage him to explore on his own. (He’s older and stronger than when I first drafted that essay, so I’ve taken a considerable step back at the playground.) What I’m most grateful for is that writing gifted me with a breakthrough off the page. My prayer for whatever I publish is that my story might someone else with a breakthrough or moment of recognition too.  

Fingers to keyboard, pen to paper, I record, reflect, discover. Motherhood unearthed in me a desire to share my stories, but writing, in turn, helps me be a more thoughtful mother. 

I hear my son rustling so I only have a moment left at my desk. I save my work and shut my laptop. Tomorrow I will rise again and write — like a mother. 

Snapshot of a summer afternoon

She clicks her laptop shut and announces, “Well, that’s enough for today.” She considers her son’s laundry basket, the dirty dishes, scattered hot wheels in the playroom. Working is her default mode; she finds it hard to relax. But the sun is shining through the blinds, and there’s a kiddie pool filled to the brim waiting in the backyard. Finally a dry, hot day after weeks of rain. She will not waste this afternoon checking off to-dos.

“Honey, we have a surprise for you,” she says, rousing her son from his nap. “We got you a little pool.”
“Mama! We’re going swimming?” he says, eyes widening.
“Yes, we are — in our backyard.”
He squeals with delight.

They slap on swimsuits, tank tops, sunscreen. He races into the yard, and spies the pool. She watches him dip his toes, one at a time. Then: splash! He plops in the pool and stomps his feet in the water. She sighs and leans back in her lawn chair. Thwack! He throws a soccer ball into the water, mischief in his eyes — a flash of the future. She wants to freeze time, or at least make it slow down.

Now the sprinkler’s running, and he’s chasing after their neighbor. They zip and zag through matted grass. They spin and twirl under an arch of droplets, little bodies shaking with laughter. It seems deliciously sinful to be sitting here under the sun, with no agenda whatsoever. When was the last time she felt this way? A giggle rises in her belly. She cannot remember.

Last night she dreamed she was floating in the ocean, arms spread wide, rocking among the waves. What a gift to be freed from deadlines and bedtimes and appointments to make, from time marching on. What a gift to float — untethered.

”It’s after 5,” her husband remarks, breaking her thoughts. “Guess we better start grilling, huh?” She nods reluctantly, then calls out to their son, “Buddy, five more minutes!”

Later, she crouches in a tiny toddler chair across from her son, who’s lapping at a popsicle — a bribe to come inside for dinner. Ice cream drips down his chin and he closes his eyes, smiling. She pops her popsicle in her mouth. (She needed a bribe too.) A burst of strawberry, tangy and cold, sweetens her tongue. Together they linger, savoring the taste of summer.