August 29th, 2014

August: End-of-month miscellany


September is coming, and the waiting that emerges (for a change in season, for shorter and cooler days) mirrors the waiting that I seem to be feeling in other areas. Not to be melodramatic, but my life as a mother of young children is over. What a pill to swallow.


This summer, I kept losing things. First it was my $100 Up band, and then my sunglasses, and keys. Most recently it was my beloved red sandals. “How can you lose your sandals?” Charles asked me. I got really testy with my answer. “I don’t know,” I said tersely, through gritted teeth. “If I knew they wouldn’t be lost.”

Who is the patron saint of lost things? Lost minds? Lost thoughts? Lost people?

I pray to her to intercede to Jesus.


Reading Marilynne Robinson’s essay collection, “When I Was A Child I Read Books,” I’ve been challenged to think more deeply about cultural and societal fears. In her essay on community, she writes, “I would say, for the moment, that community, at least community larger than the immediate family, consists very largely of imaginative love for people we do not know or whom we know very slightly.”

She has a disparaging word about tribes, which only include people who are alike, pitting an “us” against a “them”. I can’t help but think she is whole-heartedly preaching the Gospel with this writing. Community calls: Come all who are heavy-laden and I will give you rest. 

Speaking more pragmatically, she writes of the U.S., “Democracy, in its essence and genius, is imaginative love for and identification with a community with which, much of the time and in many ways, one may be in profound disagreement.”

We aren’t keen to disagree anymore, are we? Not as a nation, and not how we relate to each other (so much these days through “social” media). Not knowing people, or knowing them only a little, requires a bit more grace than maybe tribalism requires. 

These are all loose ends.

imageMathilde, still weathering the storm of her broken bone

A view on an evening walkimageSelf-portrait of Liesl, at 8 1/2 going on 18

August 20th, 2014

Letter to my daughter: Being a girl

Yesterday morning I heard a story on the radio about a study done at Princeton which found daughters are more likely than sons to take care of their elderly parents. The study noted all of the costs of doing so — which involve, among other things, juggling the needs of elderly parents with other duties like raising a family and going to work. In the end, the researchers chalked up the discrepancy to gender inequality. It was this conclusion that rubbed me so wrong.

Earlier this summer, when we were with your grandparents in Tulsa, you got upset when my mother started telling you that girls can’t do everything that boys can, or that boys are stronger than girls. This conversation — what can girls do? — is one we have often had in our house. And your little sister chimes in, too, asking if girls can do all the jobs she sees boys do. My answer is normally yes, a girl can do anything she sets her mind to. And girls can be very strong. 

The world is full of women who were firsts in their field: astronomers, biologists, botanists, astronauts, judges, lawyers, athletes, and the list goes on, and they are to be celebrated. Women have always, too, been mothers and wives and caretakers and nurturers, and it doesn’t seem like gender inequality to me to say so. It doesn’t seem a putdown to me to say that women’s sense of nurture — so uniquely gifted — would make them better candidates for taking care of those most in need, be they aging parents or anyone else. Sadly, I think, the world’s sensibility speaks differently. 

At the point that I was in my twenties, I fell in love with the idea of being a feminist. Gloria Steinem’s book Revolution From Within had just come out, and it answered a deficiency that I think I always felt in myself. It answered an insecurity of feeling less than adequate. To be a strong woman, a feminist, meant that I could be sufficient unto myself. The need for need would be diminished.

Now believing as I do that we are made in the image of a God who is fully intelligent and creative and good and strong, I want to raise you to believe that that’s who you are too. Or that is who you are to be as you live out of a place of honesty and integrity and love. But being strong, as the Gospel also says, means that the strong, wise one willingly enters a place of weakness and service. This is true for any man, woman, or child. True strength may be seen in one’s ability to have the courage and confidence to make him or herself become less. In the words of John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” And so I think it is with women and how girls are made. For as strong as women can be, our gender carries a softness or openness that is different than that of males. This is something I have yet to speak with you about. 

We all are meant to serve one another, and while I would never want you neglecting your gifts and work, I want you to know that you are made differently than a boy is made; just as you are every bit as great and capable. The biblical image of Eve being made from Adam’s rib shows me that we women were made to be cared for just as we care for others. Eve came from the place closest to Adam’s heart. There is a humility and vulnerability in that picture which to me seems good.

At this point in your life, you want to be a basketball-playing FBI agent who goes undercover and uses her basketball skills to throw people off your trail. Your sister wants two jobs. She wants to be a fairy and a school teacher, and I want you both to be all that. Your heart is being enlarged with greater self-awareness. I don’t know how it’s possible, but you’re aware of the crooked teeth behind your smile and so these days smile with your mouth closed. You are beautiful with your closed smile and your crooked teeth, just as you’re beautiful when you live out of your strength and your softer weakness.

Identity is such a tricky business in a world where so much input is given that is unsolicited. You’re at school today, the both of you, and I realize that there’s so much I haven’t taught you, and what I have taught I fear I haven’t taught well.

I don’t know when you’ll ever read these letters. But my heart says to speak this now. I hope to talk about this all with you, too. And I hope you see through others the ways of good men and good women in this world. My friend Jeanenne (along with her husband) has taken in her elderly mother, and she is essentially doing what I do (though she has already raised four children). She and her husband give nearly full-time care to a woman who is about as needy in her old age as you were needy when younger. I know it’s been at great cost to them, but it’s a blessing even to me to see the love and sacrifice they live out daily. It’s not gender inequality that put Jeanenne’s mother in her own home at this late stage. It’s love.

Love is what they mirror, as I hope to mirror it to you. And holding up a mirror, I hope you see yourself and your life’s call through a window of truth that is unhinged from values that are near and dear to the world — rejecting things like getting your own or neglecting deeper truths of the spirit. There is a lot for you to embrace about being a thoughtful, courageous, and caring and daring girl. And embrace it is what I most hope you do.

August 8th, 2014



Summer ends for us officially on Monday, when we go to meet the girls’ teachers at school and drop off the load of school supplies into each of their classes. The school uniforms are back hanging in the closets. And I’ve spent beyond our budget on all of this. Tuesday classes begin.

This summer has been a gift even though we didn’t take a grand vacation (or any vacation), but because we got more time to be together and learn how to dwell with one another closely. The week the girls were away I was sure that Charles and I would either fight bitterly or have the best week of our lives. As it turned out, we didn’t get in even one fight that week. This alone was a miracle of enormous proportion.

Summer for Liesl included swim team, which at first was scary and overwhelming — something she feared she wasn’t equipped to do. I have never seen that child come closer to a full-fledged panic attack than I did that first night of swim team practice, when midway through she got out of the pool in tears because it was too overwhelming. Nothing that night could get her back in the pool. She was too battered from the unexpected difficulty and the feeling of being out of control of herself and her surroundings.

After a lot of discussion that night and the next day, we returned to practice and prayed that God would help her just get through it. She did (He did), and though there were other turns along the way — anxiety over the first meet, disappointment at not getting ribbons or trophies she wanted, general reluctance to swim — she finished her season to see out the very last meet: at State in Bryan, Texas. She didn’t come anywhere near ribbons or trophies there, but she persevered and maybe grew in the process.

Growth is on the horizon again, and it’s there for Mathilde, who will say goodbye to her days at home with me for full-time kindergarten. It’s there for me who will have to adjust to the end of an era: nurturing my young children in the daylight hours with a freedom of time that likely won’t come around again soon. I feel very prayerful imagining how I should spend this new time I’ll have on my hands. I hear God’s voice telling me to live with more intention.

What matters? What will last? These are the questions I want to answer daily.

Yesterday, for one of our last adventures before the new school year begins, we swam with friends we rarely see. While the girls swam, my friend and I got to talk, and she shared a blog post that touched her and that was touching to me. It was about disappointment and telling your story even when you don’t like the story you have to tell.

The author writes, as an example, that what we do or what we want isn’t about the thing itself. With swim team, it’s not about the medals and winning. It’s about persevering and finding a way out of disappointments with our character and integrity intact.

There were many years when the disappointment I experienced in marriage and other areas of life turned me away from God rather than toward him. I didn’t like how heavy Christ’s cross was. I didn’t like how heavy it felt to stay in a marriage with a husband who made me feel lonely, or angry. 

The discrepancy of what is and what I want can be grating and irritating, calling me to examine and re-examine such things as what truth is, and what true love looks like. I don’t like the feeling of being in relationships (familial or otherwise) that do not fulfill me. Do I turn my back on them? Selfishness dictates it. The Gospel says otherwise and calls us to choose hope over despair, forgiveness over unrelenting anger, faith over bitter disappointment. That’s the story our lives are to tell.

imageThrough a glass darkly (dirty windows)

imageGrowing and turning

imageLooking heavenward


But I've got a girl in the war, Paul
The only thing I know to do
Is turn up the music
And pray that she makes it through.
—Josh Ritter