Dear Daughters,

Your dad caught me by the elbow as I poured my second cup of coffee the other day.

“We need to talk,” he said and led me to the kitchen table, patchy rays of sunlight flickering in through the open blinds.

Your carefree giggles floated from your bedroom as we sat and wrapped hands around warm mugs, your innocent banter a stark contrast to the weighty dialogue I knew was coming.

It was time for a tune-up.

At some point over the past few months we’ve descended, slowly and stealthily, into the pattern of a life we don’t want to live. Increased hours at work, decreased hours together, and the necessary, temporary neglect of service, relationships, and creative outlets have left us barren and bone-dry, drowning in responsibility while desperately thirsting for purpose.

Water, water everywhere, Nor any drop to drink…

We sat at that table and cried, agreeing that this is not the life we ever expected to live, much less the life we so meticulously planned for ourselves in the early days of marriage – those days when dreams were big and possibilities were endless and the word “family” was little more than a whisper of hope in our hearts.

And now two girls, two jobs, stacks of bills, exhaustion, stress, and days that feel as if they’ve been cosmically set to “repeat” inhabit the space where inspiration and desire once dwelt.

This is the stuff of life in a fallen world, the daily stresses that grate on senses and wear on expectations. The stuff that really doesn’t carry much magnitude in the grand scheme of things, but in the minutiae of daily life, well… sometimes the little things sure feel like the big things, don’t they?

What are you doing, God?

I found myself asking this question repeatedly today, as if I actually expected to find an answer in those patchy rays of sunlight.

For now we see dimly…

I’ve been captivated by stories for as long as I can remember. And now, on the heels of my 30th birthday, I realize that my lifelong delight in books, my compulsion to turn page after page after page, my childhood habit of hiding flashlight and novel under my pillow each night, all resound with the echoes of eternity.

Because WE are players in a Story, participants in a magnificent tale of sin and wickedness, redemption and grace. And when the story seems to go awry, when the plot twists in ways we never saw coming – or maybe just when asthma and leaky washing machines and dreams deferred dominate the storyline – the temptation to, at best, question the Author, or at worst, shelve the Story altogether, is nearly irresistible.

As if the created could possibly plumb the depths of the Creator’s artistic vision.

But that night, as I watched you both running freely through grass that needs mowing and weeds that need tending, I was reminded that every story must include conflict, that without antagonists and pressure and opportunities for sanctification, the characters remain static and the resolution remains just out of reach.

And when the evening light ignited fiery streaks of copper and gold in your tangled springtime tresses, when Laynie reached for two brittle twigs and called out, “Let’s play magic fairies – these can be our wands!” I realized that those patchy rays of sunlight contained answers far beyond my comprehension.

For in those patchy rays of sunlight, I found glimpses of grace:

Little girls running wild and free.

Weeds that more closely resemble flowers.

Innocence, wonder, and unfettered delight.

Sweet evening breezes and fairy magic.

All promises of an Author who fully understands the elements of a Story. (Because He created them, after all.)

And when a master Craftsman is hard at work laying strokes on a page, we know two things instinctively: we know that His Story will be far bigger, far better, and far more complex than we could ever hope or imagine.

And we know that the ending will be good.

I love you every day,

Mama

Little Ladies,

It started as an ordinary day, our feet shuffling slowly through the kitchen as our bodies gradually shook off the hazy dust of slumber. We had just finished breakfast, Bible reading, catechism, and poetry review, and I was heading to the bathroom to get cleaned up for the rest of the day. You were both stationed under the kitchen table, gathering various strewn toys about you and shouting about treasure and secret hideouts and danger on the high seas.

And that’s when it happened.

I had just inserted my contacts when a blood-curdling scream sent shivers down my spine.

I ran toward the kitchen and nearly collided with Laynie, who had flown from under the table and was screaming hysterically.

“A bug, a bug, a bug!” she was shouting. “A huge, giant, NASTY BUG!!!!!”

Crosbie, you were hot on her heels, visibly shaking in terror and clawing my legs in an effort to reach higher elevation.

“Alright, alright, just sit on the couch and I’ll take care of it,” I said, reaching for a roll of paper towels. You both have been known to consider ants “huge, giant, NASTY BUGS,” so I moved toward the table, expecting to find that a little speck of a creature had sent you running.

“Okay, where was it?” I asked as I got on my knees, pushing aside toys and books and leftover breakfast crumbs. “I’ll try to find it, but it’s probably already go- DEAR LORD IN HEAVEN, WHAT IS THAT????”

You both screamed afresh and this time I joined you. For I had stumbled upon the ugliest, nastiest, most terrifying creature my brain could have possibly conjured. All praise be to God for the fact that one of its hind legs was trapped beneath the table leg, for a quick Google search revealed that this was a cave cricket – also referred to as a “spricket,” due to the fact that it LOOKS like a giant, spotted spider, but JUMPS with the agility of a common cricket.

In other words: MY WORST NIGHTMARE WAS COMING TRUE.

Behold, the camel cricket. Run for your lives.

Paper towels would not suffice for this job. I needed a shoe, and a big one. Thankfully I wear a size 11, and my mammoth running shoes were still lying where I had tossed them in the corner the day before.

“Okay, I can do this,” I coached myself as the spricket’s beady little eyes stared back at me, its free legs clawing the air. “I’m a grown woman, for crying out loud. I got this. It’s just a bug. It’s just a bug. I can do this. I must protect my children. Just do this thing!”

I closed my eyes and smashed that spricket with every ounce of strength I could muster, screaming like a little girl all the while. How I managed to actually scoop it up in the paper towel (I’m shuddering just to type it) and carry it to the trash can, I will never know. Let’s just say I am now 100% certain miracles still happen.

The trauma was over, but none of us went near the kitchen for a few hours. What if there were more? What if that hind leg was still trapped and flopping under the table? What if the spricket somehow survived the shoe assault and was plotting its revenge from the depths of the trash can? I couldn’t go near its body. I just couldn’t.

So I took to social media and posted about the horror instead. I included a photo of the monster that had wreaked havoc on our morning, and soon I had a message from my friend Kelly sitting in my inbox:

Kelly: I need you to know that I will never sleep again knowing that such a thing as a spricket exists.

I shuddered again at the mere mention of the word and hammered out a response:

I’m just not sure I can live in a world where a spricket is an actual thing. Best part is, when the girls come wake me up during the night (every night) I lay down on the floor between their beds and fall asleep there. I MIGHT HAVE EATEN ONE OF THESE IN MY SLEEP. Take me, Jesus.

Kelly: My honest to goodness thought was, “Okay God, I know you’re sovereign over all creation and you like, know what you’re doing and stuff. But WHY the spricket? Why give us that??”

Right? How pathetic am I? I mean, persecution. Persecution is a real problem. We have people being murdered for their faith and I’m throwing in the towel over a cricket. This is why I pray all the time, “Lord, if the apocalypse ever goes down on my homefront, you gotta make me strong. PLEASE GIVE ME YOUR STRENGTH. I will fold like a fitted sheet if they throw sprickets at me.” Meaning it will be ugly and ridiculous and will end with me crumpled in a heap on the floor.

Kelly: I don’t know. I think even those being persecuted would be like, “AND THE SPRICKET WAS THE LAST STRAW.”

Lord, help us all.

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The spricket has now been in our trash can for over 24 hours, so I’m almost certain it won’t be reemerging to seek vengeance. Fairly certain, at least. Maybe “hopeful” would be the best term.

Just don’t think about it.

But the memory of our morning from hell has been seared into my consciousness like a hot iron on tender cowhide. Life will never again be the same.

We are survivors now, girls. We banded together and stared evil in the face. We pressed on through horror, uncertainty, and possible death (I most definitely would have died if one of those spindly legs had brushed my skin), and we came out on the other side better for our struggle. Stronger. Unified.

And the moral of the story is this: Danger is around every curve, my loves. You must always be ready to meet Jesus.

At all times, BE READY.

Because if I ever again encounter a spricket, I will most surely be sent shrieking to my grave. And my heart needs to know for certain that you two will join me in eternity someday.

Also, I adore you. But I will never again be sleeping on your floor.

I love you every day,

Mama

Photo Credit: Brittany Otwell Photography

Dear Laynie,

Your birth was painless.

After treading the ravaging waters of pitocin induced labor for as long as my feeble body could bear, I mumbled out a request for an epidural and barely managed to stay afloat until the needle pierced the tender flesh in my back.

The relief was instantaneous.

I gulped in great lungfuls of air and rested comfortably for the first time in months.

And when I failed to push you out of my tightly cramped womb, when you became stuck in the birth canal and your heartbeat rapidly plummeted, when skilled and weathered hands drew you out of the depths via emergency forcep extraction, I sailed effortlessly through the waves with nary a drop of pain.

But that first night in the hospital was the most excruciating of my life. I hadn’t yet realized that I suffered a fourth-degree tear during delivery (don’t Google it – trust me), and even the highest allowed dosage of Class 1 narcotics (Lord bless them) left me literally moaning in agony.

Nobody told me that the greatest pain sometimes comes after birth.


“I wonder when I’ll see Jesus,” you murmured from the backseat. We were on an afternoon grocery run and, needless to say, your statement caught me off-guard.

“Well,” I replied, “Either we’ll see Him when we die or when He comes back for us. But only those who truly love and serve Him will ever get to see Him.”

“Oh,” you said and nodded slowly, gazing out the window. I could practically hear the wheels inside your head creaking as they slowly began to turn.

We’d talked often about what it means to follow Jesus, what it looks like to serve and honor Him on earth, but I had hesitated to ever push you further than your own will would take you. My greatest desire was that you not feel pressured into making a decision based on fear or my own hopeful expectations… but rather that the choice be made out of pure, unadulterated faith.

But something felt different today.

Lord, are you moving in her heart? I prayed silently. Holy Spirit, tell me what to do.

And as quickly as I’d asked, the answer was given: Speak.

I cleared my throat nervously.

“Hey, Laynie?” I began. “Wouldn’t it be cool if you could know, no matter what, that someday you would get to be with Jesus in Heaven? Forever?”

“Wow,” you breathed with a smile. “That would be really cool.”

This is it, I thought with joy. This is the day!

I went on to explain what you already knew, that a life lived for Jesus is marked by surrender, repentance, and sacrifice. That to love and serve Him on this earth means we turn from our sin, we receive His forgiveness, and we relinquish all our hopes and plans to His careful keeping.

I explained that we must die in order to be reborn.

And when I asked if you wanted to pray and ask Jesus to cleanse your heart and ransom your life, you said, “Yes! I want to do that right now!”

Oh, happy day.

So we bowed our heads in an Aldi parking lot, and as all of Heaven shouted in wonder and joy and gratitude, you asked our Jesus to make you His forever.

And I cried.


You stepped tentatively into the darkened sanctuary, uncertain what to expect at this, your first Maundy Thursday celebration. Before us sat a low table, a plate of crusty bread resting on one side, a platter crammed with individual servings of grape juice resting on the other.

Your daddy pressed both bread and juice into your palms as together we read from perhaps the most stunning monologue in all of history: “Take and eat; this is my body… This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins…”

And as I watched you tip the cup to your lips for the very first time, the perfect portrait of innocence and wonder flowing seamlessly with sin and wickedness, I cried once again.

For that juice dripping down your chin mirrored our most sacred struggle, the stark red trail of redemption coursing freely over all the curves of this wretched, sinful flesh.

His blood is holiness on our tongues, one sticky drop of its nectar enough to bring life and joy and Truth to mortal mouths predisposed to choke on death and sorrow and shame.

His broken body is our abundant life.

His death is our rebirth.

I rejoiced and wept humbly in the fact that, by the grace of God, I was privileged to witness that first symbolic drop of redemption touch your lips.

But as we made our way further along in our Maundy Thursday experience, I was reminded again of the pain that inevitably follows.

We held the coins that represented Christ’s betrayal… we sat among artificial trees and bushes, trying our best to imagine His anguish in the garden… we lifted a heavy iron mallet, felt the sharp sting of the nail’s point on our fingertips… and finally, we knelt at a life-size, rugged wooden cross.

And my mother’s heart ached as I remembered… Mary’s greatest anguish came long after the birth.

Photo Credit: Shar Rother Photography


When we are reborn, we are bathed in Christ’s righteousness, a process by which God looks down upon our filth and, miraculously, sees Jesus’ holiness. We were born in the image of God, yes, but thanks to the wonder of justification, could it be said that we are reborn in the image of Christ?

And if Christ was scorned, shunned, mocked, and ultimately killed… can we expect to be treated any differently?

To know rebirth in Christ is not to know the guarantee of a happy and blessed life.

On the contrary, His Word tells us that we will be persecuted for His sake, that we will be hated and misunderstood by a world that groans and shudders in the knowledge that we carry the Light it so desperately desires.

Just as my greatest suffering did not descend upon me until hours after your birth, so your greatest suffering lies before you: minutes and days and hours and years after your beautiful rebirth.

This is the beginning of the struggle, dear one. And the struggle will not be easy.

We are strangers in a world laced with sin and shame, a world that is, if I may be so bold, following the pattern of your birth: pressed and trapped in the final agonizing throes of labor, desperate for resolution but rapidly losing its heartbeat as it cries out for delivery into the Life He destined from the very beginning.

We feel the labor pains with every pulse of our hearts, every second on this earth that promises peace and success and satisfaction, but ultimately leaves us on our knees, gasping out, There has to be more than this.

So hear me, my love.

Hear me when I say: He is the “more” we so desperately desire.

And He is worth every bit of suffering we could possibly endure for His sake.

Because if there is one thing I can promise you, it is this: you will suffer for His sake.

But just as a laboring mother must first wade through the depths of agony and uncertainty, so we also must struggle through the despair of a life lived in a world that is not our Home. And when that last labor pain ripples through our bodies, when that last ragged breath slips through our lips, we will find ourselves cradled in the arms that have loved and longed for us from the very beginning.

And as a new mama gazes in wonder as she welcomes her babe into the world, so He will gaze into our faces and whisper: “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Birth is painful.

Rebirth is even more painful.

But every second is worth it when we stare into the eyes of the One for whom we struggled.

Photo Credit: Shar Rother Photography

 

I love you every day,

Mama

To my Sweet Peas,

The new year is well underway, and along with it, the burning pressure to DO ALL THE THINGS. So far this year I’ve added natural soy wax, clean-burning soy candle wicks, grass-fed beef gelatin, mini silicone molds, a light-up globe, an industrial-sized butcher paper roll, floating bookshelves, a reading teepee, and reusable snack bags (bye-bye, toxic plastic baggies) to my Amazon wishlist. Somebody stop me.

I am goal-driven by nature, and I LOVE the kick in the pants that a fresh start and a clean slate bring. Hand-poured, essential-oil-scented soy candles? Check. Homemade, honey-sweetened fruit snacks? Check. Home library and daily blob mapping? (Yes, blob mapping is a thing.) DOUBLE CHECK.

And then I remember that your birthdays were 4 and 3 months ago, and I still haven’t composed your annual birthday letters.

Well, we can’t win them all, can we?

It’s not that I haven’t known exactly what I want to say. It’s that the message I have for you was big and awesome and life-changing in its delivery to me, and I’ve felt completely unequipped to do it justice in my delivery to you.

But in the words of William Stafford, “Lower your standards and keep writing.”

So here goes.

My precious girls, in the wake of your second and fifth birthdays (how did this happen??), what I want to say to you is this:

You make me brave.

I’ve shared with you my intense fear of water, shared with you the way our Father used that fear, coupled with a certain appropriate song, to minister to me in the dark days I spent begging for LaynieCakes.

But have I ever shared with you the song He used to minister to me in the dark days I spent begging for Crosbie Kayt?

(Hint: It’s about water.)

I can’t get away from this fear, can’t get away from this metaphor of drowning to my goals, my desires, my hopes, my dreams, my plans.

Your dad and I spent nearly a year praying and petitioning on our knees for a second child to be added to our family, and during that time, there was one song that played in my senses and my surroundings nearly nonstop:

You make me brave

You make me brave

You call me out beyond the shore into the waves

You make me brave

You make me brave

No fear can hinder now the love that made a way…

(You Make Me Brave, Amanda Cook & Bethel Music)

There were many months, while listening to this song, that I silently fumed to God, “Yes, I want more of You. But for the love, I DO NOT want to dive into the waves.”

And then one Sunday morning, it happened. Laynie begged to go stand at the platform during praise and worship, and I stood and watched while she twirled and raised her hands to Jesus.

The song started playing. And I broke wide open.

“Okay,” I whispered. “You’ve got me.”

As those words flowed over me that day, I realized there is no safer place to be than in the fearsome depths of His sovereignty. I am terrified of the unknown, terrified of the darkness of the ocean, but if He is there in the swell alongside me… Why should I be afraid?

I surrendered. I told Him I trusted Him. And I gave up my every last desire to feel the feathery kicks of a babe moving inside me one more time, please God, just one more time.

I still wanted a baby. But I wanted Jesus more.

And I found out exactly one week later I was pregnant.

At the moment of my surrender, He had already fulfilled my deepest desire.


That song is precious to me.

But where I thought He was using those words to make me brave enough to face a life without you, I’ve found He was actually using them to make me brave enough to face a life with you.

I knew that bravery would be required to do the hard things of parenting, to lead and guide and disciple and shepherd. (Not to mention the bravery of foregoing sleep for months on end. LORD, HELP US.)

What I didn’t yet know was that bravery sometimes looks much different than what the world wants us to believe.

Sometimes bravery means not following your dreams, means not working harder and not doing more and not saying yes to the opportunities that excite and thrill us.

I received several such opportunities in the weeks leading up to your birthdays, and I even said “Yes!” to one with an enthusiasm that I’ve not experienced in a very, very long time.

But as soon as the plans were set into motion and the details began falling into place… my heart grew heavy within me. Because while this opportunity was a good one, was exciting and thrilling and promised the benefits of social and financial success… I slowly began to realize it would take my attention away from you.

And in this season of our lives… that’s an outcome I’m simply not willing to accept.

So I said “No.”

I weighed and measured that opportunity carefully, and when my heart told me that it would cause my affections to be divided, I walked away.

I turned down an opportunity I desperately wanted to chase after.

I turned it down because… you make me brave.

You both make me brave enough to put my dreams and plans on hold, brave enough to release expectations and standards I so carefully constructed long ago. You make me brave enough to know that this work that happens here, this daily living in the rhythms of His grace, is the most important work that will ever busy my hands on this earth.

You make me brave enough to believe that every day spent serving you, every day spent striving to show you the face of Jesus, is slowly building a harvest that will reap blessings for entire generations of our family.

You make me brave enough to believe that anonymity for your sakes, for the gift of witnessing firsthand your tiny lips part as you descend into sweet slumber each sleepy afternoon, is worth so much more than the false securities of notoriety, success, influence, and financial freedom.

You make me brave enough to believe in the importance of this work I do when no one is watching.

I have some big dreams planted deep in this heart of mine. They’ve been lying dormant there for as long as I can remember, and I’ve pretty much been counting on the fact that there will come a day when I hear a still, small voice whisper, “Now… It’s time.”

But where I once longed achingly for that day, I now find that those tiny, invisible seeds have shifted within their place deep in the soil. Those dreams slowly, painfully began evolving and transforming the second I held LaynieCakes for the first time, the dual shock of her traumatic birth and her carrot-colored curls resulting in my inability to utter anything other than the words, “Oh, Laynie… oh, Laynie,” while oceans’ worth of emotion rolled down my cheeks.

Where I once saw book deals and manuscripts and a life that was surely going to “make a difference for the Kingdom,” I now see scrambled eggs and math worksheets and piles of laundry more ominous than I could have ever imagined. I see chubby little fists rubbing sleepy eyes, I see drippy, lavender-scented curls fresh from the tub, and I see the tedious, yet oh-so-sweet sanctification that is fleshed out in our daily communion with each other.

And I couldn’t possibly ask for more.

Because you, my girls, are my greatest dream.

You are my greatest Kingdom work.


I have friends who are living big, inspiring, amazing lives. They are chasing dreams and crushing goals and actually doing ALL THE THINGS while still nailing it as mothers. And I think they’re so brave.

But I also know that’s not my story.

I know that these years will pass all too quickly. And I know that as you need me less and less, perhaps those tiny, invisible seeds will once again creep to the surface and whisper to me of ambitions and desires long dormant. And perhaps one day I really will hear that still, small voice whisper, “Now… It’s time.”

Perhaps.

But even if not… I’m content to spend my days here in this home, in this sanctuary,  raising up the two little ladies for whom I would gladly dive into the waves.

I’m content to say “No” to dreams and plans that shift my attention away from the work that’s been given me in this season.

And I’m content to quietly, anonymously sow the next generation of seeds that have been so faithfully entrusted to my care.

Because you make me brave. And despite what the world may say, we know deep in our hearts that sometimes the bravest thing you can possibly do is lay down your dreams for the sake of another.

Happy Belated Birthday, my loves. Thank you for making me braver than I ever dreamed possible.

I love you every day,

Mama

Crosbie Kayt,

We’ve been in a rough patch lately.

It’s no secret that you are my wild one, my second-born who loves to push limits and challenge authority and assert that stubborn little will of yours that’s been rearing its head since the day you came into this world, blue and beautiful

That stubborn little will of yours is what makes you you, what sets you apart from your easygoing sister who is easy to please, easy to placate, and ultimately, easy to parent.

I love that stubborn little will because it’s yours.

But let’s be honest here: you are that kid.

Yep. That look pretty much sums it up.

Yep. That look pretty much sums it up.

 

You are the kid that tiptoes right up to my boundaries, the kid that teeters on the verge of invisible perimeters that whisper Don’t even think of crossing me, and slowly, ever so slowly, lifts one foot and places it firmly on the other side – all while watching me with a bold, resolute smile on your face.

Let me just say it one more time: you are THAT KID.

And up until a few weeks ago, I thought I had a pretty good handle on the situation.

We had had a particularly challenging day, one that found you bucking my authority at every chance, attempting to assume control without so much as a breather for the full 10 hours your dad was at work. When he finally stepped through the door that evening, I was drained but alive, a quality I no longer take for granted. (There are days I can easily convince myself that the ever-present whining, tantrum throwing, sibling squabbles, and streaks of unparalleled stubbornness are actually pushing me to the brink of anaphylactic shock.)

“Hey,” I said wearily as your dad brushed a kiss across my cheek. “You would not believe the day I’ve had with Crosbie.”

At that moment you came running into the kitchen, threw your arms around your dad’s legs, and murmured, “I wuv you, Daddy.”

He picked you up and nuzzled your neck, and I was suddenly sent reeling as one single, solitary realization came crashing into my senses:

I couldn’t remember the last time you told me you loved me.

I pushed the thought out of my mind and moved through the motions of getting dinner on the table and cleaning up the kitchen. When your dad graciously offered to give you and Laynie baths that night, I finished wiping out the sink and headed to the couch for a sweet five minutes of solitude. And once again, I heard your voice floating in from the bathroom, your words dripping with honey: “I wuv you, Daddy. I wuv you so much.”

This time tears sprang to my eyes and I sat on that couch and cried, crushed under the weight of defeat and failure and self-pity.

What am I doing wrong? I prayed bitterly. Why don’t I have her heart?


“Hey, I want to talk to you about Crosbie.”

I confess that the look your dad received in response to that statement was probably not one the Proverbs 31 wife would have given, but let’s be realistic. I had just stumbled out of bed, had just brought my first sip of coffee to my lips, and had just spent an entire night tossing and turning after pouring out my concerns to him the evening before:

“She doesn’t say she loves me,” I had whispered as you and Laynie read in the playroom, your freshly washed hair air-drying before bed. “Seriously, I’ve heard her tell you she loves you twice in the past hour. I can’t even remember the last time she said it to me.”

“I think you’re overreacting,” he had whispered back. “She obviously loves you. She’s just a lot more reserved with her affection than Laynie. She’s not the type to state those feelings very often.”

At that exact moment we heard the guttural sounds of your stuffed Chewbacca (thank you, Uncle Barrett) drifting from the playroom, followed by your syrupy sweet murmur: “I wuv you, Chewbacca.”

Your dad laughed hysterically. I sobbed.

Despite my annoyance at entering into such a raw topic so early in the morning, I sat down and waited patiently for what your dad had to say.

“I think we’ve both made the mistake of trying to make Crosbie be more like Laynie,” he began.

I sat up straighter. This was not what I was expecting.

“But she’s never going to be like Laynie,” he continued. “And she shouldn’t be. We have to stop getting on to her for being too loud, for playing too rough, for ultimately being the wild one. It’s who she is. And I think we need to try to relate to her on that level. We need to be willing to play with her the way she wants to play, to wrestle, to run, to chase, to be wild ourselves. I think that’s how she’s going to receive our affection.”

Shut. The. Front. Door.

I carried you for an excruciating 9 months, rocked you through sleepless nights, witnessed and cheered you on through every single “first.” I spend every moment of every day and many moments of every night with you. I helped to create you for crying out loud. And in this season of life, my entire existence is centered on meeting your every need.

So how is it even possible that I don’t know you at all?

I immediately thought of a paragraph from a parenting book we’ve been reading:

No is a commanding word. It can be a denial, a rejection, an expression of fear, or an unintended statement of worth. But a thousand noes can be dwarfed by the power of one yes. We say yes to the stuff and people we value.

“Most of us said ‘Yes!’ when we discovered we were having children. The yes continues every time that baby needs feeding or changing or to be held. But that initial yes can be quickly dampened in a no world with all the challenges of raising small people.”

How many times a day do I tell her ‘no’? I wondered.

And suddenly it all became clear. Somewhere in the past year, as your personality and strong will have grown and developed and become even more glaringly obvious and challenging in the day-to-day rhythms of our relationship, I labeled you “the difficult one.”

I grew so accustomed to your big sister’s easygoing nature that I mistakenly set her up as the model of acceptable behavior and deemed your wild ways as childish bents that required correction.

It wasn’t that I wanted you to be like Laynie. I just naturally expected that you would be.

I became so spoiled by the fact that your sister’s energy level and interests match mine (sleepy afternoons with chapter books, musicals, coloring pages, and baking) that I lost my motivation to sacrifice, to step outside my comfort zone, to push myself to do things that don’t naturally appeal to my personal tastes (playing hopscotch on the driveway, setting up obstacle courses, racing you through the hallway, making messes, getting outside and being active and carefree and loud and wild).

Somewhere in the past year I stopped trying.

So after that conversation with your dad, I made a decision.

I decided to say “yes” as much as possible.

I committed to get down on your level, to play the way you want to play, to help you discover your gifts, to affirm your identity in Christ.

I committed to stop telling you “no” just because I’m tired, to stop scolding you for being too loud, to stop saying “just a minute” when you ask for my attention, to stop telling you to slow down and mellow out and act like a lady.

I stopped expecting you to be your sister. And I said “yes” to fearfully, wonderfully made Crosbie.

And you know what happened?

I re-discovered just how delightful you are.

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You are hilarious and perceptive and smart and intuitive.

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You are sweet and caring and tender and kind.

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You are wild and free and the most beautiful example of God’s grace and fervor and love and fury coexisting together that I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing firsthand.

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You are not your sister.

You are Crosbie Kayt. And I am so glad you are mine.


We’ve been in a rough patch lately.

Rough because we are different, rough because those differences most likely mean our relationship will require more effort and more self-sacrifice over the years, and rough because I’ve had to come face-to-face with an area of my parenting that had “Mom Fail” written all over it.

But then, the rough patches are what make the seasons of smooth sailing even sweeter, right?

And this morning, after a patch of such turmoil, of such shame and regret and painful repentance on my part, I felt the sweetness of a new season of peace and acceptance and hope as you wrapped your arms around my leg and murmured, “I wanna hode you.”

I lifted you up into my arms, and you nuzzled your head into my neck and sighed.

And then softly, ever so softly, you whispered… “I wuv you, Mama.”

Thank You, Jesus.

I said yes. And you said you loved me.

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I love you every day,

Mama

Sweet LaynieCakes,

I joined a new club last week, one that’s been blinking on the periphery of my radar for years but somehow still managed to shock me with the swiftness of its arrival.

I am officially a school mama.

I’ve joined the ranks of those weary souls who find themselves deposited into the chaos that is Back to School season at Wal-Mart, who spend an entire day searching for beveled rulers and crayon boxes and the white erasers that don’t leave behind the gummy residue for which the pink erasers are famous (trust me on this one), and finally growing so exasperated in their fruitless searching that they actually shout in the middle of the paper aisle, “HAS ANYBODY FOUND THE MECHANICAL PENCILS?????”

I mean, I’m not saying I did that. (But yeah, I probably did.) And despite the utter pandemonium, I felt a thrill at stocking our cart with freshly sharpened crayons, at locating the perfect, sparkly pink Palace Pets backpack, at witnessing the unfettered and uncomplicated joy that painted your face as you flipped through your new math workbook and discovered that December would find you counting and circling colorful images of stockings, snowmen, and steaming mugs of piping hot cocoa.

I was able to revel in these moments without {much} fear of emotion, because even as I was up until midnight making the PB&Js and stuffing the folders and hand-lettering your “First Day of Pre-K” chalkboard, I was also relishing the comfort of knowing that immediately after we posed for your requisite first day of school photo the next morning, we would hop in the car together, drive to our homeschool co-op together, and spend the day in class together. No need for tears, because I got to spend the entire first day of school by your side.

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No crying for this mama.

At least not that day.

But the hard reality of this arrangement is that while I am relishing the comfort of knowing we will spend every waking moment of this school year together, I am also anticipating the challenges that will inevitably accompany our spending every waking moment of this school year together.

And to be honest? I may not have cried on your first day of school. But I cried twice during the first full week.

And although this is our first year homeschooling and our first journey together through this new and uncertain territory, I know myself, and thus I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that these circumstances will prompt tears of both frustration and joy to flow freely many, many more times during the days and weeks ahead.

You may not have seen me crying as you posed so perfectly for your back to school photo-op last week.

But I guarantee you will see me crying as we struggle to find new rhythms, new routines, and new grace for each other as we figure this thing out.

And while you are certainly familiar with my tears (“fake it ‘til you make it” has never really worked out for me), this emotion will be flowing from a source you probably won’t understand until we are many, many more years into this sojourn.

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Because…

If you see me crying at the kitchen table before our day has even begun… It’s not because I regret this decision. It’s because I’m profoundly aware that I bear a huge responsibility not just for your education, but also for your knowledge and awareness of Christ. And I feel the weight of that responsibility every single day.

If you see me crying while I clear the breakfast dishes… It’s not because I’m sick of this monotonous, routine-driven life we lead. It’s because I’m marveling that when I lost my job two years ago, I never dreamed we could afford for me to stay home full-time with you, much less homeschool on one income. Your daddy works tirelessly to make this possible and God delights in radical provision. And I am still in awe.

If you see me crying as you struggle with a concept… It’s not because I’m frustrated with you. It’s because I’m frustrated with myself. And I am so, so scared that maybe I’m not cut out for this.

If you see me crying while I write lesson plans… It’s not because I’m overwhelmed by the work ahead. (Okay, sometimes it’s because I’m overwhelmed by the work ahead.) But mostly, it’s because I’m overwhelmed by all the learning and growing and changing you are going to do this year. (Weren’t you were my squishy little baby just yesterday?)

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If you see me crying when you read your first sentence… It’s not *just* because I’m intensely, earth-shatteringly proud of you. It’s because I’m terrified that you will no longer crawl into my lap and beg for “just one more chapter.” I’m terrified you won’t need me quite so much anymore.

If you see me crying at the end of a rough day… It’s not because I’m replaying all of your failures in my head. It’s because I’m replaying all of mine.

And if you see me crying, day after day, as we undertake this hard work together, as we commit to learn and grow and change together, as we spend every waking moment of this upcoming school year together… It’s not because I’m overwhelmingly stressed. It’s because I’m overwhelmingly blessed. I’m overwhelmingly grateful for this season and this opportunity and this honor of being the one to take you by the hand and lead you forward into “…the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord…” (Isaiah 11:2).

I am just flat-out overcome with emotion.

And I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared to do this.

But more so, I would be crazy if I didn’t grab hold of all this year has to offer and store up these treasures in my heart.

So if you see me crying…

Know that it’s because of you. It’s because of wonderful, beautiful, smart, talented, funny, precious you.

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I love you every day,

Mama

LaynieCakes,

I closely studied the two women checking out in front of me, my eyes veiled and afforded maximum stalking capabilities by the ever-present ball cap resting atop my head. They looked to be in their late fifties to early sixties, old enough to have garnered wisdom and experience and wrinkles, young enough to still look trendy and attractive. Their skin was deeply tanned, their nails were meticulously polished, and the older of the two, standing directly in front of me, even wore a beaded pink bracelet on her ankle.

On her ankle.

It matched her pale pink necklace perfectly and served as a glinting testament to the time and care she was able to devote to her appearance that morning. (I’ve yet to see a frazzled stay-at-home mom sporting a beaded, outfit-coordinating anklet.) I shuffled self-consciously in my tank top and mesh shorts, my running shoes squeaking loudly on the waxed linoleum.

Someday I’ll have the time and energy to put myself together like that again… I thought longingly.

I sighed inwardly in self-pity until a revelation popped into my brain:

To have that much time and energy for myself is to live in the lonely corners of an empty nest.

Cue the tears.

Those days seem so, so far ahead on the horizon, and I confess, there are evenings I collapse in a heap on the couch and entertain the fleeting thought that maybe they will be a welcome relief.

But I know those days will become my reality much sooner than I am ready for them. And I know that when my nest is finally emptied out and room is made for the stillness and peace I so often desire, I will look back on these helter-skelter moments and wish for nothing more than the shrill twittering of little fledglings echoing off the branches once more.

I know that I will yearn for these madhouse days just as deeply as I currently yearn for a little peace and quiet.

Why am I never satisfied?


“Laynie, did you know that I have your song on C.D.?” I asked recently as we climbed into the car. Your little face lit up in the rearview mirror, and I dug in the console until I found the dusty disc. As the strains of Hillsong United’s Soon flooded the speakers, I was stunned by the stillness that suddenly surrounded us. You and Crosbie were absolutely entranced, staring motionless out your windows as the soft vocals swirled around your ears.

I will be with the One I love

With unveiled face I’ll see Him

There my soul will be satisfied

Soon and very soon

I’ve been singing this song to you since you crossed our threshold for the very first time, swaddled and screaming, fresh from the hospital and fresh from my womb. I can’t explain why, since this certainly wouldn’t be considered a traditional lullaby, but as I rocked you incessantly for the first painstaking 15 months of your life, this was the song that flowed out of my bleeding heart. It was quickly christened “Laynie’s Song,” but once your daddy and I allowed you to start sleeping in our bed, you no longer required rocking and singing. You were so completely happy and secure with us that you would curl up and go right to sleep once your head hit the pillow next to mine.

So your song went unsung.

And the months went by and the relief I initially felt at your finally being able to sleep soon turned to frustration and weariness.

Because co-sleeping with a toddler is not for the faint of heart.

Half the time I woke during the night with no covers and no pillow, teetering on the edge of the mattress while you snored like a grizzly in hibernation, your arms and legs stretched out as far as they could possibly extend. The other half of the time I sustained kicks to the face, elbows to the back, and frantic midnight searches for your little body. (We found you upside down, head hanging off the foot of the bed more than once.) “Co-sleeping” is a ridiculous term because, newsflash, the adults in this arrangement never actually sleep.

I grew so accustomed to sharing my sacred space with a flailing, kicking, blanket-hating princess that I naively believed the days of having my bed all to myself and your daddy again were so, so far ahead on the horizon. I yearned for those days, and I actually believed that my life would be so much better once you started sleeping in your own room, that parenting and adulting would flow so much more smoothly with a peaceful night’s sleep as my daily foundation.

I was completely unsatisfied.

So I was stunned when, after transforming your nursery into a “big girl room” during recent home renovations, you took one look at your new space, gasped in awe, and declared that you wanted to sleep in your new bed THAT NIGHT.

I was equally stunned that this happened immediately after I remembered, out of the blue, that I had your song on C.D. in my car.

The song that brings back every vivid memory of those early sleepless nights, the song that instantly calls to mind the face of that screaming baby girl who just couldn’t stand the solitude of her crib, the song that represents my desperate desires for you to know peace and security… that song had just been pulled out of hiding, had been playing on repeat during our daily traipses around town.

Your song was being sung once again. And it was a sign.

I should have been delighted, should have been leaping for joy, should have been shouting from the mountaintops that I would finally get my bed back… but despite my confidence that you were ready for this, I was suddenly hemming and hawing, trying to think of any excuse for why you couldn’t make the big move quite yet.

“Well, we just got settled back in our house, silly,” I stammered, “and I still need to get a mattress rail so you don’t fall out during the night, and I think you should just get used to your room for a while first, and maybe we can just start with a few daytime naps…”

I had dreamed of this day for years. But suddenly I wasn’t ready for it.

I managed to put you off for about three weeks. But once the mattress rail was acquired and strapped securely to the side of your bed, the change was inevitable. So your daddy and I read to you and prayed with you, and you asked me to sing Soon.

It was poetic.

I was back in the same room, singing the same song, my arms wrapped around the same beautiful baby girl as before. (You’re so tall now that you’ve outgrown my lap and I have to lie down next to you in your bed to sing. But you’ll always be my baby.) And this time I was thinking about how quickly the time had passed, how quickly a challenging season that I was convinced would never end had suddenly come screeching to a halt.

Your breathing slowed and deepened, and for a few moments I simply watched your chest rise and fall. Then I kissed your cheek, turned off your lamp, tiptoed out as quietly as I could… and collapsed in a blubbering heap in your daddy’s arms.

“I was so busy complaining,” I gasped out, “that I didn’t realize how soon she would be gone. I didn’t even stop to think that last night was the last time she would fall asleep on my pillow. I should have held her closer, should have stayed in bed longer this morning and watched her sleep, should have cherished the moments. But it’s over now, and I didn’t even enjoy it.

“It’s over. And it happened too soon.”

Soon.

I can’t count the number of times I grumbled about the exhaustion and frustration of sharing my bed with you, the number of times I wished for you to hurry and grow up just a little bit more so that I could finally start sleeping again after nearly five long years of utter fatigue. I complained and I whined and I wished the time right through my fingers, believing that I would finally be satisfied when this one little change occurred.

And then it did. And my heart broke into pieces, and I wished for just one more night with you cradled up against me, kicking off the covers and waking me in the morning with kisses.

And I was reminded that I will never be satisfied.


Being a mom is hard. (Understatement of the century.) It is draining and exhausting and requires every ounce of energy and perseverance and gumption a woman can possibly muster. It is hard in every sense of the word, but perhaps hardest of all is the realization that just as we grow accustomed to a new season of life, just as we learn to embrace our present circumstances, just as we realize afresh what a blessing this very hard, very refining work is… It changes.

And suddenly we are faced with a new type of hard, a new brand of challenge, a new level of difficult we’re simply not sure we can manage. So we think to ourselves, Once they just finish teething, everyone will start sleeping again… once they can learn to entertain themselves for a while, I’ll actually be able to get something done… once they can talk and tell me what’s wrong they’ll be so much easier to take care of… once they’re just a little bit older, we’ll be able to get out of the house more… Soon my life will be great.

Soon.

Always tomorrow. Never today.

Then those things actually happen. One by one they fly by like mile markers on a proverbial highway, and before we know it our babies are babies no longer and we realize that we spent our time wishing… never being satisfied.

I don’t want to wish away any more of these precious moments. I don’t want to take for granted any snuggle, any season, even any challenge. Because they’re all pieces of our story, pieces that I will look back on longingly one day when I am alone in my nest, the silence and stillness ensuring that I have plenty of time to curl my hair and apply my makeup, to polish my nails and secure my beaded bracelet around my ankle.

I will look back on this story and, instead of feeling grateful for the calmness of my days, I will wish for all the world to go back and dance within these chaotic pages once again.

Always wishing.

But then again, the wishing is actually part of the story, isn’t it?

Because we were created to long and yearn and desire until we are dancing in the only Home we were ever meant to occupy. Until our nests and our hearts are finally made whole and we are finally satisfied.

I will be with the One I love

With unveiled face, I’ll see Him

There my soul will be satisfied

Soon and very soon

I know that I will never experience pure and complete satisfaction on this earth. But I guess I’m finally making peace with that realization.

Because sitting on the edge of your big girl bed, watching you sleep peacefully with Lammy curled tightly under your arm…

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That’s about as close to pure and complete satisfaction as I’ll ever get.

I love you every day,

Mama

Little Ladies,

So I’ve been reading this book.

There was a chunk of time last summer when I stumbled across it constantly, when its virtues were proclaimed from every mountaintop within my humble little circle. So when I found it on a bargain table around Christmastime I snatched it up and whispered, “Merry Christmas to me!”

I cracked its cover immediately, feasting on the wordy, poetic prose (my favorite), but after a few days it began gathering dust on my shelf.

No bother. I learned long ago not to question my literary impulses, but rather to succumb to them, as they subconsciously guide me exactly where I need to go. I was drawn to this book as a thirsty wayward traveler is drawn to a mountain spring, but when I lowered my hands to scoop up its water, I found that I no longer desired to drink.

So I allowed myself to travel onward, to find my refreshing in other sources, knowing that the roaring tides and lazy currents of my own intuitive impulses would someday lead me back to the mountain spring, back to the little babbling brook that whispered, There is something for you here.

I found my way back to that spring a few fateful weeks ago, and this time, when I knelt by its borders and lowered my hands and face to drink, I didn’t stop until my belly was full, until water was dripping from my face, my hands, my hair, its molecules rolling down and transforming every part of me. When I finally raised myself up to take a great, gasping breath, I found I had been drinking so long the entire landscape had changed, shadows and sounds and trails all shifted and re-routed into brand new pictures and paths, brand new avenues for unearthing and discovery.

Or was it I who had changed?

And even after such a long and thorough drink from such a pulsing, invigorating source of refreshment, I found that my thirst was far from quenched. On the contrary, I was thirstier than ever.

Isn’t that just the way of good books?

The first 150 pages or so slid down easily, their fluid phrases rolling effortlessly over my tongue as I delighted in their syntax, their structure, their word pictures and storytelling. But the last three chapters were not so easily digested, and I sputtered and gasped as I struggled to choke them down:

“I stood back and listened to desire. I took note of every single time I heard it, and it was all the time: ‘Not enough.’

“I remembered standing at the closet, grabbing the same shirt I always do but wanting for more – hail to the style. I imagined us at our next gathering. What will my clothes say about me? Who am I?

I once hid the shoes I bought so Seth wouldn’t know. I let money carry the weight of guilt. I watched how my desire for beauty overpowered my guilt. Or I thought it would. I stood back for days and watched my efforts to heal myself with wanting…

“I unloaded the dishwasher and wanted dishes that matched. I wanted to get more of the good coffee and a better coffeemaker. I always wanted sugar. I wanted to taste sweet in my mouth all day long. I wanted to be healed.” 

I had to lay the book aside several times just to come up for air, to process the words I was reading and allow myself to admit that, yes, I want for the same things, and perhaps the wanting is more than par for the course and more than first-world influence and more than “a woman thing” to poke fun at and feed and coddle and silently sweep under the rug.

Perhaps my wanting is symptomatic of a much larger problem, like a blinking, neon sign pointing to all my empty places.

Perhaps my wanting is indicative of holy desire terribly misplaced.


I am a lover of less, a newly minted organizational and “easy living” freak who delights in reaching into dark corners of drawers, shining flashlights under dusty beds and armoires, and cleaning out all the messy places of our home for the purpose of reducing, removing, streamlining, simplifying.

I tout the virtues of “less is more,” of simple living, of our communal return to a mindset that would have us giving our things away to create more space when it’s needed, rather than holding on and upgrading and creating more storage space for the stuff that’s choking the life out of us.

And yet…

When it comes to my own closet I am a scathing hypocrite, one entirely unable (or unwilling?) to rest in contentment and satisfaction and streamlined, simplified peace. I tell myself I am building a foundation, that I am collecting “timeless, classic pieces” that will take me through years and seasons and changes and most definitely save us money in the long run. I tell myself that God created me with a love for beauty and aesthetics and that I am really just embracing His design as I lust after the next essential piece to add to my “foundation.” (Currently on the list for procurement: white Converse tennis shoes, black wedge sandals, and the perfect black leggings.)

“What consumes us? If out of the heart the mouth speaks, what do we talk about? My life is built on nothing less than what I buy and how I dress.” 

I’ve convinced myself that a portion of my worth as a woman is found in my wardrobe, in  the image of myself I present to the world when I’ve had the luxury of time and energy to shape that image into exactly what I want everyone else to see.

(The really ironic part is that my heart is so driven by this pressure to cultivate an image when, as a stay-at-home mom, I embrace the fact that my daily appearance is generally framed by yoga pants, tank tops, and running shoes. But then, misplaced desires don’t usually manifest themselves in common sense, do they?)

We’ve all heard the platitudes, the “Dress for Success” motivations that actually just foster within us feelings of inadequacy and insatiable desires for greater material gain. I buy right into the hype when I spend my evenings poring over Pinterest boards, filling online shopping carts “just for fun,” mentally imagining how great everyone would say I look in that dress, and actually believing that my life could be a little bit better if only I owned that pair of shoes.

And I am so embarrassed.

I am embarrassed that a beautiful book chock-full of such life-changing wisdom and vulnerability and insight could reveal the shocking truth that one of my greatest inadequacies is anchored in my love for the items in my closet.

I am embarrassed that my ravenous desire for identity has led to a ravenous hunger for more.

I am embarrassed that perhaps my subconscious delights in imagining an alternate life for myself, one where I actually shower and curl my hair every day, one where I actually get to wear all the pieces I lust over, one where I feel that, even after birthing two babies, I am still beautiful and trendy and relevant.

I am embarrassed that I, a lover of depth, have been disclosed as shallow.

The Lord has been dealing with me lately about my addictions (clothing, cultivating identity, coffee, Netflix, sugar, social media, etc. – can we just be honest and own up to the fact that most of us have many, many more than we’re willing to admit?) and He’s been asking me some excruciating questions:

Do you love this thing because I created you with a natural propensity to be attracted to it? Or do you love it because it brings you some sort of shallow fulfillment?

Does your love for this reveal a heart that is fully enthralled with Me? Or does it reveal a heart that is desperately searching for acceptance outside of Me?

Does this particular interest draw you closer to Me? Or does it lure your attentions away from My glory?

Does your love for this thing undergird the truth that your identity is found in Me and Me alone? Or is it the manifestation of your heart’s desperate cry for human affirmation and approval?

If this were to be taken away from you, would I be enough?

Perhaps most excruciating of all is when I can only shake my head and whisper through my tears, “I’m not sure.”


So I’ve been wearing this dress.

I’ve been wearing it for nine years and it has stretched with me through pregnancies and life changes and shifting landscapes, accompanied me to jobs and parties and summer dates and celebrations and funerals, even though, let’s be honest, it’s worn and outdated and not nearly nice enough for a funeral. But isn’t there just something especially soothing about the feel of familiar fabric on skin, the way our brains instantly relax and relish the comfort of broken-in, well-worn textiles? Isn’t there a small part of us that feels most like ourselves when we are wearing our favorite, years-old pieces, a part of us that feels most beautiful and brave and understood? They are tactile courage, these well-loved garments of ours, and we cocoon ourselves tightly within them when we need shielding from the harsh realities of a world fraught with pain.

There is an allure, a charm, an enchantment with new clothes, an invigorating rush of endorphins when we slip on an outfit and realize, I look good.

And yet the endorphins pale in comparison to the contentment and warmth that radiate from our faithful, familiar favorites.

Jesus, be my favorite…

The clothing is irrelevant. The money is irrelevant. The addiction itself is irrelevant. The crux of the matter is in the wanting, in the striving, in the misplaced desire. It’s in the desire to be known, to be heard, to be accepted, to be loved, to be cherished, to be filled, to be satiated, to be an image-bearer.

We were all created to reflect an Image.

We all crave identity, distinction, perhaps even singularity.

But we find it in all the wrong places.

And after lifetimes of climbing the wrong mountains, of chasing the wrong winds, of drinking from the wrong streams, all in misguided efforts to quench our gluttonous desires, we suddenly find ourselves realizing, “This isn’t the way… But I’m so far off-track I’m not sure I’ll ever find the trail again.”

This is my confession.

I have allowed my holy desire to become terribly misplaced, have attempted to fill up my empty places with things and thoughts and ideas that take up space but never satisfy. I have allowed myself to wander so far off-track that I’m not even sure how to find my way back again.

But when the grieving father cried out, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”, his plea was granted and his son was healed. (Mark 9:24)

And so I keep stumbling forward, keep whispering, “I want You to be enough; help me overcome my wayward desires!”

And I realize that maybe this place of total vulnerability is exactly where He wants me.

Maybe weakness is where holy desire is found.

Give me Jesus

Give me Jesus

You can have all this world

Just give me Jesus

I love you every day,

Mama

May 27th, 2016

Dear Daughters,

We woke up groggily this morning to the sound of rain pattering our windows and a slight draft slipping beneath our doors, penetrating our cozy little nest of warmth and solitude and prompting us to double check our calendars. Summer may be just around the corner, but it seemed this bleak and dreary morning had somehow slipped away from some future November and crept back in time to rap on our windows and tease our senses. And though we will enjoy this one last blast of cool relief before we enter the blazing furnace that is Oklahoma in summertime, we know that its visit will be short-lived and that we will soon bemoan its swift return back to the autumns of tomorrow.

So as we stared out into our sopping backyard, counting the rivulets of moisture lazily rolling down foggy panes, we decided a sweet, sleepy morning such as this simply demanded a little extra grandiose. We plugged in our waffle iron, hauled step stools out of cabinets, and sipped on coffee and milk while talking, laughing, mixing, pouring, and loading our plates with the piping hot food of the gods we like to call “carbohydrates.” The soft dialogue of an animated rendition of Charlotte’s Web (Laynie’s current favorite) was floating in from the living room, and as I bid farewell to the early morning silence I adore so much, embracing instead the noise and chaos that invariably accompanies the process of instructing a 4-year-old and 19-month-old in the fine art of waffle making, I realized with sudden clarity that this… This is my symphony.

I recently listened to a speech delivered by one of my personal heroes, one who shares my profound love of words and metaphor and creativity and beauty and the art of bringing forth life through letters on a page, and I felt my bones ignite within me. The past few months have found me fighting my way through a deep, dark valley, the place I go when my purpose is forgotten and my motivation is weak, when my heart grows so heavy and burdened and overwhelmed by the darkness pressing in at all sides that I feel I will never again pen a single worthwhile word, never again form a complete, coherent sentence.

(A normal person would probably call this valley “writer’s block.” But as you both can attest, I am anything but a normal person.)

This speech employed music as the metaphor for our lives, our gifts, our callings, and my parched, cracked spirit gulped the words like our overgrown crepe myrtle is hungrily gulping the raindrops still falling steadily outside. 

“You begin to wonder if this fragile little melody you have been given can even make a dent…”

Yes.

“The Creator, the Composer of time and space has answered you with wordless beauty, ‘You matter, YOU MATTER.’ And there is a void in the symphony of life when you are silent.”

Yes.

“The pain, the anger, the frustration, the dissonance… be brave. Sing through it, be brave, and sing the truth one note at a time.”

YES!

I felt afresh the burning desire to write, the urge to call forth and give shape to the countless words, ideas, and phrases always begging me to give them a voice. I felt the pressure to create, to somehow transfer this grand symphony floating round and round my brain onto paper, to witness the physical manifestation of insight and inspiration and flights of fancy.

But my song is different.

There are no discernible responses to my symphony. No audience listening with bated breath, no resounding applause, no critical acclaim. Very few even know this melody exists, even know that it’s being slowly, painstakingly written on our hearts day in and day out, note by fragile note.

There are days it feels much too difficult for my meager skill level, and days it feels much too easy. Days when I say, “Excuse me, but this is not the song I planned on playing.” I long to create a piece de resistance, a thing of such unparalleled beauty that I would know without a doubt my life has mattered, has made a difference, has somehow amounted to more than the sum of its very humble, very broken parts.

But my symphony was never intended for packed auditoriums, discerning ears, or sophisticated tastes. My song is still being hammered out in the day-to-day, still struggling through wrong notes and dissonant melodies and monotony and seemingly endless tasks and responsibilities.

My symphony is the patter of tiny toes on hardwood floors, the splish-splash of bathwater at the end of a long and exhausting day. It is the vibrant peal of girlish giggles and camaraderie floating from the playroom, the hushed hum of sniffles and hurt feelings and apologies and kisses. My masterpiece is the sound of Laynie offering to help Crosbie with her shoes, the sound of Crosbie murmuring, “Tane too, Yaynie,” and the shrieks of joy from both of you every time Daddy walks in the door.

It’s the steady drizzle of raindrops on lazy Friday mornings, the low whir of beaters in waffle batter, the gentle swish of taffeta twirls, the wails and whimpers of yet another injury that requires gentle tending.

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My symphony plays loud and resplendent throughout the four walls of this tiny home we love so much, pulses and moves and courses through the four chambers of this heart that relishes each note and each perfectly wild stanza.

But to the rest of the world, my symphony is silent.

They strain to catch the cadence of its melody, listen intently for the rise and fall of crescendos and diminuendos, but ultimately shake their heads and move along, hungry for the lilt and sway of another’s song.

There are days I long for my symphony to be heard. I am full to bursting with notes and ideas and dynamics and harmonies, full of creative inspiration that fairly shouts, “This could be something! This could really make a difference!”

But the Conductor simply smiles at my passion and whispers, Not yet.

There are days I bemoan the fact that I’m not really doing anything with my life, days I worry that this season of tending littles will inadvertently cause my creativity to dry up and wither away, lost forever on the breeze of someone else’s drive and motivation and success.

And the Conductor whispers, A symphony is no less beautiful when it’s played for an audience of One.

There are days I fall into bed in tears, wallowing in self-pity and defeat because, although I cherish each moment with you, my greatest blessings, I am also a creation that longs to create. And when the day’s pulls and demands determine that I did not lay a single word on paper, I worry that I am somehow mismanaging my gifts, that the ability to keep up with the rigorous demands of both motherhood and the compelling urge to create is simply beyond my reach.

And the Conductor whispers, Oh, my child.

The symphony I have written for you will change and grow and transform over time. But I have given you each note you need for today.

I have purposefully and painstakingly crafted this song. And though you sometimes feel unseen and unheard and utterly anonymous, this work you are doing, this home you are keeping, these hearts you are tending… THIS is a magnum opus that moves my heart and stirs my senses and brings me glory.

Your melody matters. And someday I may choose to share it with the world. Or I may choose to forever guard it privately and safely within the hearts of the two curly-headed little girls who inspire and soak up its beauty each day.

But wherever your symphony is played, know that it is good and it is beautiful and it is pleasing to me.

Trust me. Because this masterpiece matters.

In the ears of the world, my dear ones, our symphony is silent.

But in the ears of our Conductor, it is resounding and magnificent and breathtaking and true.

And that is a song worth playing.

I love you every day,

Mama

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Laynie,

Did you notice you didn’t get a birthday letter this year?

I pride myself on those letters, perhaps for the simple fact that I am not the mom I always thought I would be, the one who creates birthday quilts and birthday banners and birthday scrapbooks and all manner of birthday-themed memorabilia for you to reflect upon someday as testament of my love and devotion.

I am sloppy and unorganized and a true terror behind the helm of a sewing machine, essentially the hot mess of the creative world. (I imagine that by the time you read this you are either laughing hysterically in agreement with me or nodding soberly as you recall the tragic day I failed so miserably at yet another artistic endeavor that I actually died from disappointment and despair.)

I am Anne Shirley, struggling valiantly to overcome my hasty and haphazard ways, only to discover in horror that I’ve flavored the minister’s layer cake with liniment rather than vanilla.

But I have words.

They tumble around inside of me until they spill forth without warning, and though they very rarely come out on paper as lovely as they are strung together in my head, they always suffice and serve their purpose and sometimes even make me exclaim, “YES – that is exactly what I wanted to say!”

My words are fire, my one little gift and offering, my one little light in the midst of a very dark, very desperate world. Some of us are lanterns and floodlights and raging infernos, proverbial beacons of hope that pierce the shadows and tear down the dark places and send forth the shimmering rays of change every time they ignite. And some of us are one solitary little flame, one tiny spark of brilliance that illuminates the very humble circle of influence in which we’ve been placed.

Most days I rest contentedly in the shadows cast by those blinding beacons of hope surrounding me, but every now and again I find myself longing after their fervor and heat. Because a fire needs fuel to burn, craves the nourishment of oxygen to sustain its brilliance and hope, and surely when the darkness of the world descends so heavily it feels as if that oxygen is being pressed out of your lungs, a raging inferno takes much longer to be reduced to smoldering embers than does one single, solitary flame.

One little light.

We celebrated your birthday a week late this year, waiting for the dawn of December to provide the perfect backdrop to your much-anticipated Frozen-themed party. We mailed the invitations and we made the food and we ordered the balloons and we puddled the tablecloths and we played the games and I reveled in the look of joy that bedecked your face all through the day. 

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But while I smiled on the outside, scooping ice cream and distributing favors and mentally composing your birthday letter, I felt my little light slowly growing dim, its humble flame steadily and methodically reducing to a dull, orange glow.

I never can pinpoint exactly what it is that causes my little light to flicker, nor am I afforded the luxury of a warning. I only know that this heart of mine that feels and processes things so deeply and thoroughly sometimes grows so overwhelmed that I cannot help but wish for darkness. Not for the darkness of a fallen world, no, but for the darkness of space and time and rest and simply… nothingness. The darkness of slumber and peace and innocence, the darkness of sweet ignorance that surrounds a babe still growing in its mother’s womb, the darkness that reigns before awareness and fear and cynicism rear their ugly heads.

I’ve battled depression and anxiety for many long years, and every time I feel my little light begin to sputter, I wonder in despair if it will ever shine brightly again.

But then nobody ever asks the light if it feels like shining, do they?

So my words dried up and your letter went unwritten, the pages gathering dust on their shelf in my brain, and I stumbled through the month of December scowling at the irony that while my light was barely burning, the blinding brilliance of artificial incandescence blazed forth from every street corner. I lamented the fact that for perhaps the first time in my life I could not feel a bit of Christmas in my heart. To be perfectly honest, I just wanted to get through Christmas so I could rest and recuperate and pray that my light would return in January.

And as we sat on the back row of a dimly lit sanctuary late on Christmas Eve, your dad chasing a restless Crosbie through the halls and corridors behind us, I stared at the dormant candle I’d been handed on the way in and commiserated with its charred wick, its cold wax, its utter uselessness in that moment. What good is a wick without a flame? What good is a light that’s been extinguished? And most importantly, why did God have to make us so maddeningly fragile… Why does He sometimes allow the light to stop shining?

Just as the tears pooling behind my lids threatened to burst forth in their urgency and despair, a tall, smiling man walked proudly to the front of the auditorium. His candle was lit, one solitary little light, and it glowed softly as he smiled all the way down the center aisle. When he reached the platform, he turned toward the congregation and silently stretched out his hand until his flaming wick touched the cold and lifeless one in front of him. That blackened wick sparked and sputtered and came smoldering to life, and in a matter of moments, flames began appearing all across the sanctuary.

My tears were flowing freely now, and I listened in wonder as the pastor began to describe the change we affect every day when we allow our one little light to blaze forth brightly into the inky darkness of this world. Because while each of us has only one little light to offer, the very act of rising up and stepping forward and refusing to be extinguished offers the rest of the world the hope and oxygen and fuel it needs to blaze forth in a stunning display.

For when one little light begins to sputter, its dying embers can rest secure in the knowledge that all it takes is one single, solitary flame to bring it to life again.

How did he know??

My heart had slowly begun flaming back to life as I watched all those candles flicker and sway in the darkness. But it was when a friendly usher handed you a candle and carefully tipped his own until yours burst forth into flame that my coursing tears turned into healing waters. For as the little light sent the most beautiful, delicate shadows dancing across your face, you smiled, looked into my eyes, and slowly and steadfastly touched your wick to mine.

As my candle blazed brightly and I heard you softly singing “Joy to the World” with the rest of the congregation, I very nearly came undone. For suddenly the light which I had sought all month was blinding in its brilliance, its rays blurring the outer edges of my consciousness with image after sun-drenched image:

You all dressed up for your first dance recital, the pride on your face evident as you danced to the refrains of “[Baby Jesus] I adore You”;

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Bryan LC

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Crosbie wearing her new winter coat and boots for the first time;

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The two of you under the tree, giggling and shaking packages, nearly giddy with anticipation;

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You helping me dip scores of pretzels in white chocolate, your little face looking up sheepishly after you dumped the entire bowl of blue sugar sprinkles onto the kitchen floor;

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Crosbie in her Christmas jammies, her hair pulled into her first tiny pigtails;

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Christmas photos with cousins;

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And you in that hand-me-down Mrs. Claus dress that you refused to take off all month.

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And I was reminded that no matter how deep, how pervasive the darkness may seem in any given moment, there are always tiny pinpricks of light glowing all around us.

I smiled and whispered, “Christmas is here.”

Your little light had brought mine to life once again.


I am two months late, but on your fourth birthday I want you to know how much I love, admire, and need your bravery. This world is a harsh place, but I have never once seen you shielding your little light to protect its flame from the stormy gusts of change or fear. You hold your light tightly and proudly before you, allowing its steady flame to illuminate not only your path but the darkened paths of those around you as well. You are lantern and floodlight and raging inferno, a proverbial beacon of hope that pierces the shadows and tears down the dark places and sends forth the shimmering rays of change every time you ignite.

And I rest secure in the knowledge that the next time my own little light begins to sputter, I need to look no further than your sweet little face to see the blinding brilliance of the Light that promises to never let me go.

Look at all the angels watching you

They’re singing songs that we have never heard

Their voices ring like bells over the mountains

Oh, if only we could hear their words

God is near, little girl

Your eyes are brilliant, deep sky blue

Your quiet wisdom is an evening song

The angels must be breathless at your beauty

Like the world catches its breath before the dawn

God is near, little one

And Jesus bends to hear you breathe

His tender hands are holding you tonight

His heart is ravished when you look at Him

And oh, the endless mercy in His eyes

God is here, Little Light

  Audrey Assad

I love you every day,

Mama