Dear Me

Thirteen is messing with me. All week, I’ve thought about my birthday girl and growing up. Memories of my teenage years have risen to the surface like cream, and I skim them from the top, only to find more rising from beneath. I remember it in extremes–love and hate, faith and fear, all answers and too few questions.

Emily Freeman, one of my very favorite writers, recently released her new book Graceful: Letting go of your try-hard life for teenage girls. This week she wrote a letter to her teenage self and asked others to join in. As thirteen winds its way into my thoughts and old memories return for a visit, I’ve read these letters and I’ve come undone. I feel as if my teenage heart sits outside the safety of my chest, full of tender hope surrounded by adult regret. I decided to write myself a letter to let the teenaged me know that hope will outlive regret almost every time. Except when orange eye shadow is involved.


Dear Me at age 16,

When you’re older, you’ll want to live in regret. Don’t. You’ll think back to your hairstyle, aptly nicknamed “The Claw”, and you’ll wish all the photos were destroyed when the basement flooded. A friend will see them when he comes to help clean up the soggy mess and he will bend from the waist in laughter. You’ll be embarrassed until you discover he wore footy pajamas sewn by his mother in college. Regret is relative.

You may want to re-think the orange eye shadow and the matchy-matchy outfits purchased at Strawbridges under Mom’s watchful eye. And quitting the piano was a foolish mistake. You will make your future children pay for your decision by forcing them to take piano lessons for years. They will fill your home with complaints and the sound of pure joy set to sheet music. They will play more than one instrument, your home will be a cacophony of sound, and you will silently pat yourself on the back for turning regret into opportunity. You are still waiting for them to thank you.

When you grow up, you’ll think a lot about the things you missed out on in your youth. You’ll regret asking too few questions, and not seeking more answers. You’ll wish you’d said no to more dates and yes to more friends. You will remember how you followed the rules instead of seeking the path to freedom, and you will try to wish this one regret away. You can’t wish it away, but hold fast to hope, sweet girl. Because someday you’ll know freedom and it won’t look anything like you imagined. You’ll find it in the unlikeliest places–on running paths and airplanes, in red letter words, and college-ruled pages.

You see everything in black and white at sixteen, but know this–you live real life in shades of gray. Begin to look for the gray, where hope rings the clouds with a silver lining. The only thing that looks good in black and white is your favorite striped sweater and words on the page of a book. Right now, you find yourself in these words every weekends, when you stay home and read instead of joining in the fun. Don’t hide behind other people’s words, write some of your own, and then go join the party. You will always love stories and people will live the best ones out in front of you.

When you’re older, your sister will say she’s a recovering pharisee, and you’ll know you’re one too. If there’s one regret to hold on to , it’s this one. It will help you and your plank-filled eye to love better and judge less.

Speaking of love, remember the boy from Ms. Kaiser’s fifth grade class? The one who told you, at fourteen, he thought you would end up barefoot and pregnant? Resist the urge to hit him. He’s right. You will end up barefoot and pregnant–with three of his babies. You will have to resist the urge to hit him and also acknowledge he is right for the rest of your life. And you’ll never live to regret it.

Love and hope and few regrets,


I’m linking to Chatting at the Sky with my letter. Is there something you would like to say to your sixteen year old self? Won’t you join?

On potential

My oldest daughter turned thirteen last week. A paragraph lies in that statement alone. I mentioned my ambivalence about this particular birthday to a friend, and she reminded me,  All is as it should be. I swallowed her words whole, like medicine.

All is as it should be.

Our children grow and become more themselves and it is a beautiful thing. As I watch my girl become a woman, it strikes me how much time she has on her side. I look back at thirteen and I wish I could re-live the years with the full knowledge that the coming ones are mine for the taking. I can’t say I’d like to re-live everything about those years. I have a few boyfriends and an unfortunate hairstyle or two I’d like to forget. But, at thirteen, I didn’t know a universe of potential sat waiting on the inside–waiting for me to say the word, call it out, and make it so. I didn’t know it at twenty, and I only just began to believe it at thirty. And at thirty-seven? I now have days when I believe the lie that the best years have passed, and all of my potential with them.

I want my thirteen year old to know that within her lies a universe. She’s filled with unexplored galaxies and the light of the Son and her potential is endless. Someday, she will come to believe it. I hope she learns this truth sooner than her mother. I don’t want her to look back and regret anything more than a fashion faux pas. I hope she sees how every choice, every turning, every journey is an exploration of who she can be.

For now, she grows and I watch. She believes this is the fullness of life, right here and now, thirteen years in. I will gently remind her this is merely the beginning, she has a universe to explore. She will consider me hopelessly foolish, and I will sigh with pleasure.

All is as it should be.


The artist at work

Tucked away in the hills above Lake Geneva is a museum called the Fondation Martin Bodmer. When visiting Geneva early this year, my husband off-handedly suggested I plan a few things, and this museum was the first on my list. When M offhandedly suggests something, I receive it as just that—a suggestion. Nothing else went on the list, which became a source of marital strain when we found ourselves wandering aimlessly with no plans for dinner, transportation, or entertainment. Thank goodness I didn’t take charge of accommodation. My “plans” tend to be rather fluid, or in M’s words “non-existent”.

It was a tense few days. We spent a lot of time on our feet with three hungry children and a vague idea of where we were going. We might need family counseling to recover. We also needed a bench and few bottles of water after the thirty minute hike up-hill to the museum. You can imagine the children’s delight to learn not only was water unavailable, but the Fondation is a literary museum, housing original manuscripts spanning centuries. In other words, old books in funny languages. I don’t think I’m winning a mother of the year award anytime soon.

 The museum houses a collection of ancient texts, original manuscripts, musical scores, and first editions by authors such as Shakespeare, Hemingway, and Melville.  I teared up when I came across a piece of sheet music written in Mozart’s own hand.  Something about seeing smudged ink on paper humanized his act of creation—humanized his art—an art which often feels a bit out of my realm of understanding. It felt more real to me in the seeing than it ever has in the listening. I felt the same way when I came across a handwritten rough draft by Antoine de Saint Exupéry. The manuscript showed where he revised a thought here and removed a line there, how he shaped and molded it across the page. I’ve always wanted to climb into the mind of the artist, to see how they enflesh their vision, and this was probably as close as I’ll ever get. I can’t read music, or French for that matter, but I can read heart and soul and so many of the handwritten works contained that element for me.


Sometimes I find it hard to remember real, live people lived behind the art, especially when the art is older than the town I live in. Hands once held the pen that wrote the words, eyes once captured the scene before it appeared on a canvas, souls once heard the bend and bow of the music before it ever reached my ears. It puts skin on the art when we remember; it lived in an artist first. I don’t understand the genius behind it, but it fascinates me. Intimidates and fascinates. And I wonder how much is the result of talent, and how much the result of trying, and how much is a result of fine-tuning their hearing enough to make out the echoes of our Creator’s voice. Because I think true art is an echo of things past and things to come.

Grace for your own brand of crazy

It’s nine a.m. and my boys have already jumped feet first into the pool. They come back five minutes later, matching blue towels wrapped around their waists like half spun cocoons. They look alike, one thirty years older and wiser than the other, but I see the man growing inside the boy and the little boy still knocking about inside the man. 
While my husband and son share the same dark hair and an annoyingly perverse pleasure in tormenting members of the opposite sex, they aren’t as alike in temperament and personality as most people assume. It’s a little more like mother, like son in these here parts. My son is a mirror, and I see the crazy of my reflection written all over his DNA. It’s so much easier to spot our own brand of crazy in someone else. 
In the U2 song Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own, Bono sings these words to his father 
“I don’t need…
I don’t need to hear you say 
That if we weren’t so alike
You’d like me a whole lot more.”
The words hit me right in the center of my mama heart because my children mirror my weaknesses. They reflect me. I know what it is to dislike what I see, to wish it wasn’t so. I see his mood swings and her forgetfulness and the little one’s complaining and I see me. I don’t want to despise the weakness, the me I see, at the expense of their tender hearts. They are only as good as their DNA and the grace God gives them to overcome it. 
I want to see the good and the strong, which requires a bit of patient unearthing while they are still tender shoots barely clearing the top of the dirt in which they’re planted. I want to apply the balm of grace to the weakness, nurture the growth of the strong, and till the soil of their youth so their roots grow wide and deep to support the growth above. 
Later in his song, Bono says,
“You’re the reason I sing
You’re the reason why the opera is in me”
The reason our children sing or dance or write or make people laugh, or comfort the hurting, or show good judgement, or forgive, or have a heart like Jesus is because they received it from someone else first. And what do they do with this precious raw material? They look to us for ways in which to use it. We are their mirror. When they see us, they see their brand of crazy wrapped up in their brand of wonderful. In us, they see who they have the potential to be. In my reflection, I hope my children see how to acknowledge the weakness while embracing the virtue, and how God smothers it all in grace. 

Joy in diving deep

It’s gone a bit quiet here. Not in real life, but in blog life. Real life has gone big and loud and carefree. Real life sits on the beach and watches the other mothers in their bikinis, wearing bodies that tell stories of child bearing years, of sun before sunscreen, and of ice cream cones on the boardwalk after dark. It catches snatches of conversation floating by on the wind and ignores the siren’s call of the laptop sitting on the dining room table of the rental house. Real life leaves the camera in its case and sees sandy kids and ocean meeting sky through brown eyes rather than a big, black lens.

The laptop and the camera will make an appearance, but not before I do. The day the ocean temperature read 69 degrees, I put down my book and I joined the kids in the surf. No one could remember the last time they saw Mom jump the waves. My husband asked if I needed coaching. He’s funny, that one. I rewarded him with a heavy eye roll and a thump on the arm. My daughter looked incredulous, and my son asked if I was embarrassed to be seen having fun. Embarrassed? No. Having fun? Yes.

I forget about the having fun. Duty tends to take fun outside and beat him up behind the house. Granted my idea of fun leans more heavily towards a quiet room and a good book, but his comment made me think. I don’t want my children’s memories of me to revolve solely around my hands in the sink and my head bent over the washing machine. I want them to remember the me that still feels young, the me that eats too much ice cream on the boardwalk, whose long hair flies up in the ocean breeze, and who jumps in the waves.

Recently, I read an article about Dr. Oz and his daily diet. This is the Dr. Oz of Oprah and ridiculously healthy eating habits fame. He listed the foods that makes up his normal daily diet, and after extolling the virtue of chia seeds he said “It’s a joyless diet.” I believe there was a “but” after that statement, however he lost me at “joyless”. I can’t bear the thought of a joyless anything, not diets or days or memories with my kids. Joy is a non-negotiable, and it doesn’t reach out and grab us through the computer screen. Joy joins us in the waves–in the diving deep. It’s found in the having fun, and the eavesdropping, and the people watching, and the one too many ice cream cones with rainbow sprinkles.

I hope you find joy today,whether it be in the waves or in the dish washing, in your bikini body or baby bearing one. Find joy, friends.