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,

Kimberly

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?

Dear Friend: A letter

Dear Friend,

When I start believing my own hype–like how I manage to hold it (mostly) together in a foreign country with a traveling husband and two kids and an almost teenager, and how I fit writing and running in between the mothering–when I start to believe I might actually have this thing figured out, well, I only need to recall this past week to remember I do not.

It began with a trip to the south of France, which I admit sounds ten shades of wonderful, even when you account for the 6.5 hour drive with three little people in the back of a European sized car. Wonderful, until your husband realizes 1.5 hours into the drive that you, She Who Has It All Together, forgot the key to the car roof box sitting on the chest at home. He realizes this at the gaping mouth of the Gotthard Tunnel entrance, the tunnel that you waited and waited in traffic to reach. So, dear Friend, we drive the 1.5 hours home and we get the key and we start the journey all over again, all the while knowing the traffic to the tunnel has grown to nightmarish proportions in the middle of my jack-assery. 

I cried. In front of the kids and everything. I’m not ashamed to admit it, because I was caught between the worst of my weaknesses, forgetfulness and the belief that I am pretty much always right. A drive which should have taken 6.5 hours took somewhere around 11. And while everyone, especially my husband, showed a tremendous amount of grace, I felt as if I deserved an F for Failure.

Three days into our stay, just when I think we might be able to put The Incident behind us, I contracted a virus the likes of which I have never seen before. I self-diagnosed, as I tend to do, and decided it was tuberculosis and/or Satan’s spawn overtaking my body. It was horrideous, and meant She Who Has It All Together spent the remainder of the vacation writhing in pain in a stranger’s bed while her poor, put-upon husband managed the children and the food and the crazy, crying person he married sixteen years ago. God bless him.

Cue the end scene and you now have a woman in no shape to help drive home, a husband who single-handedly packed the clown car, and a naively optimistic belief that we couldn’t possibly hit worse traffic on our way home. And yet we did. While I coughed out the open window for ten hours straight, we hit every possible traffic point in France, Italy and Switzerland. It was hell. And while I possess a slight tendency to exaggerate, I assure you, I am not. We literally turned off our engine, got out of the car, took photos, and read Harry Potter while sitting in traffic. By “we”, I mean the passengers in the car who didn’t believe they might be dying a slow and painful death by traffic and tuberculosis. 

Someday, we will remember our week in France with fondness. Not that I remember much about the week, other than the fact I forgot my brother-in-law’s birthday. Add it to the rapidly growing list of failures I continue to accumulate. Can I share a secret with you? Lean in close because I want you to hear me clearly. 
I do not have it all together. 
Neither do you, dear Friend. We might be able to fool each other every now and again, especially on a good hair day, or when the sun shines just right, or we forget about what lurks in the shadows. But the truth is, we don’t have it all together and we need to trust each other to hear this truth. We need to lean on one another and allow the brilliance of another diamond in the rough be our strength when ours lay whimpering beneath a blanket on the sofa. We must believe we are loved not in spite of our shortcomings, but because of them. We forget and we act ridiculous. We catch viruses and we never make the call. We grow impatient and we cry a little. Then we remember–we are broken, but we are beautiful.

And we are loved. 

Sending much love and grace to each of you wonderfully flawed Friends,
Kimberly 

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. 

Woman on fire

My husband, daughter and I watched the Olympic opening ceremony twice–once after putting the little ones to bed, and again the next morning. And while I love James Bond as much as the next girl and remain hopelessly addicted to the British sense of humor, my favorite part of the evening revolved around the elements of fire. 

I teared up when the five rings rose and hovered above the spectators showering them with spark and flame. I blinked hard when torch bearers ran with arms extended, holding their light up to a dark sky, and again when they lit the copper petals and the flames jumped from petal to petal, rising high into the night. I can’t recall the last time I saw art come alive in that way. I can’t recall the last time I saw people come alive in that way either. 
Could you see the fire in their eyes? The athletes with their beautiful bodies and a flame of hope burning in their chest? They live alive and aflame, knowing they are doing exactly what they are created to do. They run and leap and swim and twirl and show the glory of a body moving in ways the rest of us can only imagine–their bodies creating a temple for the flame. 
I’m not an athlete, not really. My body moves in one direction–forward, and even that at an extremely slow pace. But, I don’t need to be an athlete to recognize the flame because I feel its white heat burning in my own chest. I know what it feels like to desperately want to live wide awake and to fear a sleeping soul. I know the desire to live outside of the confines of my own limitations, to be free to chase after the thing I’m created to do. I know the fire, and I hope to be a temple for the flame. 
The fire doesn’t come without pain, without burn out and strained muscles and utter exhaustion. It arrives a small flame and at first, we carry it within. As we put in the hard work and stoke the flame, it grows large enough for us to carry, arms extended, for others to see against a blackened sky. We run with the light, bending to touch the flame to the petals, watching the glow spread until we set this world on fire. 

Summer Stories

We spent a week at the beach and one morning I set the alarm for crazy o’clock, slipped into my favorite sparkly flip flops, and grabbed the camera on the way out. I promised myself to take a break that week from hiding behind lenses and screens, but I wanted to remember the way it looked before breakfast.


I used the wrong lens for morning sun, or so I’m told by people who know about such things. I didn’t believe it until I downloaded the photos and discovered that apparently, the type of lens one uses does matter. I attempted to take photos of fireworks on the fourth, and apparently shutter speed matters too. And aperture, and whether or not you want to be present in the moment or fiddling with a bunch of buttons while your husband says, “What are you doing? You’re missing all the good shots!”
Missing all the good shots. Yes, I suppose I am. I’ve tried to learn how it all works, and God bless the poor souls who’ve tried to teach me. They deserve a cotton candy flavored water ice. But it’s not second nature yet, and I fiddle around and try to get it right and the moment passes, or the sun rises, or a man wearing white socks and sandals taking glamour shots of himself comes into view. 
My life feels like a series of wrong lenses and missed moments right now. I’m trying to see things clearly, and fumbling with the buttons, but the light shifts, and some guy keeps stepping into my view. It’s not perfect. The future looks fuzzy, and it’s crazy o’clock. But the sun still shines, and the path leads forward, and I capture it as best I can.