The song in-between

Today, I’m joining Emily for the last of Tuesdays Unwrapped for the year. I love this exercise of looking at the small and ordinary parts of life with fresh eyes.

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My mother-in-law once told me that she grew up “happy and content as a cow”. She never looked beyond her everyday life and wished for something more. She felt completely content in her own “pasture”, as it were. I shook my head when she said it, and I thought, how sad to never long for more of life than what’s in your own backyard. Fortunately, I had the good sense to keep that comment to myself.

I thought of our conversation today. I thought of it when it snowed again for the third time in a week, and I looked at my shovel and the long, narrow driveway with apprehension. I thought of it when my husband literally snapped his fingers from the sofa to get my attention this morning. (He’s still recovering from God knows what, but really? Snapping?) I thought of it when I listened to my daughter plink out Joy to the World on the piano, and when I sat in the carpool line, and when I boiled water for my third cup of tea. I can’t not think about it during every ordinary moment I live today, because I have no idea what it feels like to not want more.

I want to wander and roam and understand and read and listen and write and laugh and sing more. All the time. These desires drive me, and I confess at times I judge others who don’t feel this way too. I also confess to feeling guilty because I want so much from life. It feels wrong somehow, when I place my inner desires against the outer workings of an infinite universe. They seem too big and too small at the same time.

A friend recently told me that she denies herself nothing–if she wants it she eats it, if she feels it she expresses it, if she desires it she buys it. She loves God, and she adores her life. This too, is a total mystery to me. I deny myself a lot. And believe me when I say, my thighs and my husband thank me for it. No one wants this ball of crazy unwound.

I thought of my mother-in-law, my friend, and little girls who play Joy to the World, and it occurred to me that while our joy is wrapped up in the person of Christ, how we live out that joy will look different for each of us. It’s ok to want more. It’s ok to want less. As long as the source of our joy is the same and we live fully out of our own unique personality, there is no shame. The ordinary and the extraordinary beat to the rhythm of the same song, and there is enough of both to envelop us in the music.

When your kids believe in your work more than you do

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Today, I’m joining Emily Freeman as we take every Tuesday for the month of December to unwrap the gifts of our ordinary days. Join us?

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Under the coffee table, next to a stack of books I hope to read and a college-rule notebook filled with a list of submissions and rejections from various publishers and agents, sits a piece of lined paper with scraggly edges. At the top, my daughter wrote this (verbatim):

book IDEAS for my mom

~Fairytail

~about how your kids make you feel like you Live in a fairytale

~about your husband makes you feel like your a queen

~your husband and you rule your fairytale

~ your husband is your King

While I question some of her theories on my “fairytail” life and the whole “husband is king” pronouncement, I adore the fact that she snuck away to a corner in her room and scribbled this list. I find lists like this all over the house. Lists of my girl’s favorites, her ideas, her dreams, or the name of the paint on her bedroom wall. I want to encourage that kind of dreaming, the everyday kind, where the biggest thing on the list might be the outfit she plans to rock tomorrow.  I also want to encourage the kind of dreaming that believes that no matter how many rejections one receives, there is still room for something new. There is still room for hope.

It’s no secret around my house that I’m a struggling writer, that I rack up rejections like my teenager racks up text messages. It’s bordering on ridiculous. But every so often, when the stars align and the moon is a waxing crescent and the sun remembers she’s meant to shine–God takes pity on my poor writer’s soul, and I receive a “yes”.

The “yes’s” used to keep me going, like a giant gulp of fresh air before a deep dive into the abyss that is publication. But, more than a yes, more than seeing my name in print, or having readers engage with my writing, is the fresh air I receive from “Book Ideas for my Mom”. I want to prove to my children that there is worth in pursuing the hard things–worth in engaging the seemingly impossible, and saying yes to myself anyway. Yes, I will continue to work even when the reward is small and the work goes unnoticed. Yes, there are disappointments. Yes, I am the queen of my kingdom, and it will not always look like a fairytale. Sometimes it is a mystery, a tragedy, a comedy of errors. But it is a story, a good story, and with the help of my little people, I am telling it.

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What kind of ordinary gifts are you finding today?

How to bear the truth and the light

Today, I’m joining Emily and friends for Tuesdays Unwrapped as we unwrap our lovely, messy, and unexpected gifts. Thanks so much for stopping by.

He asked me to cuddle, then he threw his arm across my shoulder and looked me square in the eye. He asked me what I’m afraid of, and I blinked my eyes fast to avoid letting the tears fall. Dear God, son. I’m afraid of it all. Of every bit of darkness that invades the light, of madness, and guns, and sons who rise up against the one that birthed them. I looked into his eyes and I wondered how much of the truth he could see. I think he saw enough, and I blinked and we each confessed to the a few things we fear. I mostly lied. How much can a ten-year old boy bear to know?

Today, I bear it for him. I bear the weight of the fear and of the unknown. I bear it for my daughter who knows nothing of the evening news or how a womb can weep on behalf of twenty mothers. Some day they will comprehend it, and they will bear the weight of truth for themselves, but not now. Now, I will carry this for them. I will give them the gift of un-knowing, of believing mothers can still shield a child from the world. And I will build a deeper truth into their souls–a Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. This truth will sustain them when they can no longer un-know, when the knowing makes them feel as if they will break in half.

I set about telling the truth about the Light, building them up from the inside out, so when the darkness comes they may throw open the doors of their souls and light will pour out and consume it.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” ~John 1:5

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I’m praying for all of us mothers today, those of us who weep, who wrestle, who fear the darkness, who mourn. It feels impossible to continue to believe in gifts this week, but I have three children to hug tight every night, and so I pray for those whose arms are empty. The gifts are endless.

Where fairies and words meet

Today, I’m linking up with Emily and friends for Tuesdays Unwrapped. Emily gives us the opportunity to celebrate the lovely, the messy, and the unexpected with her. This week I’m talking about writing, and this post is a meeting of the two–messy as it may be.

I stood by the ring of chairs filled with expectant parents and bored siblings and watched her dance debut. It took every bit of cajoling and pleading I could conjure for her to step out on the floor. Half an hour earlier, I stood with my hands cupped beneath her mouth as it dripped blood after an unfortunate run in with a slick patch of ice. I won’t lie, my first thought was to save the white leggings. As usual we were running late, and before I could get out the words Be Careful!, she lay face down on the driveway. We did the best we could with one partially used tissue and thirty seconds, and we arrived at school with a fat lip and blood smeared face. 

She didn’t want to dance. I told her no one would notice her bruised lips, and the other fairies, in typical seven-year old fashion, said “What’s wrong with your lip? And what are those marks on your head?” And she suddenly developed an incurable limp, as a result of the fall. I was having none of it. I’d picked her up from after school dance club every Tuesday for four months, rushed to dry my ridiculous hair that morning, and caught blood in my bare hands. I was going to see my baby dance.

She was magic, pure magic. She wore a pair of glittery fairy wings and a crooked, swollen smile, and she danced her way into my heart. After the performance, the principal of the school introduced the dance instructor, a woman who single-handedly choreographed fifty children to the tune of Tchaikovsky. She called the instructor the school’s most creative risk taker, and all the children clapped. And I looked at my fairy-girl, my risk taker, and I smiled as she covered her mouth with her right hand when she took a bow.

Writing is a bit like performing with a bloody fat lip. You know you have something to offer, some form of beauty, but it comes out beaten and banged up. You practice and practice and you arrive the day of the performance wondering what possessed you to show up in the first place. Can’t they see you have an incurable limp? It’s right there in the space occupied by your soul. Here’s the thing about creativity, it doesn’t mean a thing unless you’re willing to take a risk, dance the dance, perform without perfection. This is the gift. We wear our wounds and we dance in spite of them. We create because of them. We write to heal them.

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This week I’m offering my crooked smile and a few thoughts on writing. I would love for you to join me in the comments. Talk to me about your wounds, what you’re willing to risk, and your work. Tell me how you unwrap your gifts.

The shape of things

Right about now, I start to feel the push and pull of the season. I know I won’t find the time to do everything I hope to do, or appease every person who wants a slice of our schedule. Unmet expectations may linger. I try to stay present, to the hour and the day, but my mind is already flying a jet-plane to January when questions needing decisions will rise to the surface. Christmas may pass me by in a blur of long highway stretches, suitcases filled to overflowing, and an emotional reserve that is not.

This month, Emily invites us to unwrap gifts with her–to celebrate the lovely, the messy, and the unexpected in our days. I need to unwrap and receive the gifts of this season, to celebrate what is, not what I think should be.

We spent a few days visiting a Christmas Market in Munich last weekend. Magical. A culinary and sensory delight. Stalls packed with people eating bread smothered in melted cheese, washed down with mugs of hot mulled wine. Hand carved gifts mingled with stars made of straw and chocolate covered fruit. Despite our efforts to bundle and layer with the best of them, we spent a lot of time shivering. We experienced some bickering, more than a little complaining, and a few attitudes needed adjustment, quite possibly my own. If I can pass along any of my hard won wisdom on traveling to fantastical destinations with children, it is this–kids are kids are kids. Moms are moms are moms. Regardless of how many crêpes you stuff in their little bodies, they will ask for more. Regardless of how beautiful the location, your mind will skip back to the conversation you had with your freezing cold child about wearing the black and blue checked scarf. The scarf now warming the bed in the hotel room.

Our last night in the hotel, after a long day of eating and admiring, my daughter asked me to sing her a lullaby. She snuggled up with her Daddy’s sweatshirt which I rolled into a ball the size of her favorite teddy bear, the bear we inevitably forget every time we travel. I knelt on the floor beside her bed, and I struggled to remember the words to a song, to remember the shape of her cradled in the crook of my arm when I used to sing. I sang quietly and she never took her eyes from my face, she reached out her hand and traced the outline of my nose, my cheek, my lips while I mouthed the words. I remembered the shape of her then. How her head fit perfectly beneath the cleft of space between my chin and chest. I’ll remember the shape of her now, her gap-toothed grin and rosebud pout, the way she fingered my lips as I sang words of love over her.

Those few moments with her felt holy, and woke my spirit to remember these gifts. The spirit remembers a time of holy wonder, before mulled wine, fairy lights, and straw ornaments stood in for starlight and straw beds and angels rejoicing. The spirit remembers the shape of things as they should be, and it sings.

What are you unwrapping today? Join us at Emily’s?