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Why I’ve Given Up on Prayer

*****

A number of years ago, when my daughters were still teenagers, my youngest stepped into a season of struggle (to put it mildly) that stretched me beyond capacity, hope, or reason. There were moments in which I couldn’t decide if I should call 911, her therapist, my therapist, or just hide under the covers and let her do the same. At its worst, I wrestled with what felt like the real possibility of losing her altogether. I won’t keep you in suspense: today she is an amazing young woman — aware, wise, hardly naive, clear about what it means to struggle, able to offer levels of empathy and compassion to others ; she continues to astound me. But before this “ending,” there was the beginning night of awareness of just how bad things were. No sleep. Only tears. And a memory that feels like it was yesterday:

I sat on the edge of my bed and sobbed, more deeply aware than ever before, just how alone I was as a single mom, more afraid than I’d ever felt, and more-than completely unequipped for what was happening in the mind and heart of my precious girl. Through tears and snot and not nearly enough Kleenex,  It would offer a panacea I no longer had at my disposal. How convenient and pleasant: to hand all this off somehow, to feel like in surrendering, in turning it over to God, that surely all things would work together for good.

Not believing this anymore left me feeling even more alone and more afraid. I wanted to pray, but knew that to do so would be little other than my desperate wish and a frantic grasping at anything that might ease my pain but do nothing to lessen hers. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t.

In the more than 10 years that have passed since that night, I have thought back on it many times. I have sussed out my cynicism, my anger, and certainly my angst. But still, my resistance to prayer has remained. It was a crossroads, to be sure: deeply longing for solace, but with seemingly nowhere to turn except within; to blow on some barely-lit fire inside me that somehow-but-barely enabled me to get up in the morning, fix her breakfast, send her to school, and hope and hope and hope.

I realize that all of this sounds dark and dreary. And at the time, it was. Now I remember it with endless gratitude. Yes, because she made it through that particular season of crisis. But also because I did: not broken or desolate, but more aware than ever before of what it meant to walk through “the valley of the shadow of death,” completely present to everything I felt.

Not some whimsical temptation or luring sin. Not that kind of desire: tepid, temporary, lite. No.

This desire was blazing, intense, undaunted, and undying. It was (and is) a full and unrestrained expression of everything within me. And a far cry from anything I’d ever known in prayer.

The Upanishads capture this, at least in part:

“You are what your deepest desire is. As your desire is, so is your intention. As your intention is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.”

Desire takes courage. And faith. There is no promise of an outcome we long for. No guarantee. Just sheer determination, firm belief, and an endless acknowledgement of what thrums within us in the deepest and most persistent of ways. It persists. It perseveres. It burns.

There are days and times when I feel a lingering ache for prayer’s comfort and solace. But less and less. I don’t need to be soothed, but enflamed. I don’t need to surrender, but rise up. I don’t need to find answers, but to take action. And my desire is what compels all of this and then some. Endlessly burning… one might even say without ceasing.

Happy 25th Birthday, Emma Joy!

How is it possible that you are 25? 

How is it possible that my memories-like-they-were-yesterday of your birth are from 25 years ago?

How is it possible that you have already traversed 25 years of life?

How is it possible that the joy you brought into my life 25 years ago grows in strength as each year passes? 

How is it possible that in just this past 365 days you have moved more than 2,000 miles away from me and secured employment that you love and dealt with ineffective supervisors and less-than committed landlords?

How is it possible that you have done all of this in the midst of a pandemic?

How is it possible that I have only seen you 4 times in the past year and lived to tell the story? 

How is it possible that you continue to deepen into every quality and characteristic that makes you who you are – compassionate, generous, empathic, unboundaried, emotional, open hearted, witchy, witty, creative, committed, lovely, loving, beautiful, defiant, just, and wise? 

How is it possible that you struggle and break down and feel anxious and know worry and overextend and yet, eventually, take deep breaths and breathe in grace and even laugh? 

How is it possible that you have lived through my crises and transitions and questions and setbacks and growth and still love me as you do? 

I know the answer to every one of these questions with the same degree of fierce certainty I felt the moment you were placed in my arms. 

Every bit of this is possible because you are you, Emma Joy. 

What will yet be possible because of who you are? What stories are yet to be told and hearts yet to be melted and employers yet to be blessed and friends yet to be transformed and beauty yet to be created and love yet to be expressed and worlds yet to be shifted on their axis? 

I can no more begin to imagine any and all of this than I could have 25 years ago this day. In so many ways I am surprised. And in so many more ways I am not at all. 

For all that has changed over 25 years, never this: you have always amazed me, always stunned me, always filled my eyes with tears of joy, always held my heart. 

And all because you are you – fully, completely, honestly, openly, broken, hurting, aching, celebrating, dancing, playing, longing, hugging, hoping, loving, believing, being…

…being you. 

You are the gift, sweet girl – now for 25 years and for every single moment, hour, day, week, month, year and quarter-century to come. 

I love you.

Happy  Birthday, sweet girl. 

About Courage & American Ninja Warrior

I do not know how to explain why I love American Ninja Warrior.

My youngest daughter and I started watching it a few years back. We sat on the couch, side-by-side, mouths agape at what these individuals were able to do. Willing to do! She would laugh at me as my body would move in rhythm to theirs — whether they were swinging on some kind of contraption or trying to jump up to catch a ring, or trying to make it up the 14-foot warped wall — as though I could somehow will them success by fully participating in the comfort of my own home. The two of us would ooh and aah and cheer as they did amazing things, took spectacular falls, and always, always triumphed — no matter what. And we both cried through all the stories about the athletes, their families, hardships, tragedies, and miracles.

So why does this impact me so? Why do I cry? What is that about? It’s American Ninja Warrior!! I’m sure there are lots of reasons for my reactions and responses. But bottom line…It is a privilege to witness the inherent beauty of courage. I cannot help but be moved.

The beauty seen in their stories, their physical capacity, their falls, and their triumphs only comes because of the most incremental of efforts they’ve extended over a very long time. What we witness is the accumulation of small, almost imperceptible courageous acts.

We often think that courage has to be big and dramatic, bold and audacious, crowds cheering, loved ones weeping with joy, “victory,” of some sort. And though that may be true, I have a different idea.

Courage is small and incremental, slow and steady (sometimes fits and starts); the tiniest of choices made, actions taken, words spoken, behaviors altered, and/or lives changed.

This perspective matters.

As long as we see courage as big and dramatic, bold and audacious, we are often stopped before we start.

Instead, what about this:

  • Courage is extending yourself some compassion, practicing self-kindness, and allowing yourself grace.
  • Courage is only one sentence, once a day, spoken in truth. (Yes, just one!)
  • Courage is voicing your opinion just once this week at work. (Yes, just once!)
  • Courage is taking the time to list out the specific steps related to the big leap (Yes, just the list!)
  • Courage is reading a book for even 30 minutes before turning on Netflix. It’s also watching Netflix without guilt or shame because you know that rest matters.
  • Courage is letting yourself honestly name your emotions to yourself. (I am furious. I am devastated. I am afraid. I am in grief. I am lost. I am stuck. I desire. I am actually happy.)
  • Courage is taking the time to write down what you would do if you felt even more courageous.

Cleary, I can go on (and on and on). But far more important than my words and thoughts — are yours. What are the smallest and most compassionate and kindest and most grace-filled acts of courage for you? (Start a list, add to this one, give yourself permission to consider courage as small; but no less significant, powerful, or transformative.)

This quote from Mary Anne Radmacher bears repeating:

Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying “I will try again tomorrow.”

Exactly!

Acknowledging the Choices that are Ours

I received a frantic call from one of my daughters a month or so ago. She was in a desperate state, I was scrambling to figure out what to do (while simultaneously holding fast-ish to the awareness that I need to let her figure these things out). I noticed, somewhere in the middle of that teary call, that she felt unable to make a choice – like she had none; she was almost-completely immobilized. What I also noticed, shortly after getting off of the call, is that I went to the opposite extreme — moving into hyper-drive, fix-it mode, making quick decisions, creating lists, finding more options, eliminating every aspect of  the “unknown” I possibly could.

One outworking of choice is not taking action. Another is being frenetically active (like me).

My point is NOT to determine which is better, which is more sane, which feels wiser or stronger or right. Not at all!

Having agency means admitting — sometimes under a bit of duress — that we DO have choice, that we are not hapless or helpless, that we have the right and ability to make decisions about how we will proceed, what we will do or not do, what we feel, how we will express our emotions, and so much more.

it also means admitting that our choices can (and probably will) mean risk and cost and consequence.

To only look at one side of this equation without the other isn’t helpful. We must hold the complexity of both:

  • I DO have choice. I CAN demonstrate agency.
  • I don’t want to make this choice because…

I know: far easier said than done.

For my daughter: acknowledging that she DOES have choices and can/must make them means that she also has to look at the risks, costs, and consequences of not having made them previously and how she is limited and bound by what’s available to her now, in this moment.

For me, acknowledging that I DO have the choice to step in and help her AND that perhaps the best help is NOT helping means that I have to look at my own patterns, her expectations, and the possibility of disappointment and misunderstanding.

None of this is easy. All of it matters.

Seeing, acknowledging, naming, and honoring all of this feels like growth. it also feels like grace. Tough grace. Gritty grace. But grace, nonetheless.

Worth choosing every time.

*****

[I want to acknowledge that there are definitely contexts in which agency is not available — when true victimhood exists: domestic violence, sexual violence, any number of situations. I am in no way claiming that even in such places we have the power to choose. These are FAR more complex and deserve FAR more wisdom and compassion grace and care.]

 
 

Happy 23rd Birthday, Abby!

I’m sure I say something similar every year, but how is it possible that you are 23 today? How is it possible that I have had the privilege of having you in my life, being your mom, loving you – all this time? It’s miraculous, really: there’s no other way to describe it.

You are miraculous; really.

This last year, like so many before, has walked (and sometimes pushed) you into more growth, more deepening into who you are, more perspective and choice and courage and wisdom. You are a privilege to witness.

A whole year without living at home, even partially. A whole year in a completely different city and state from me (which is, I’ll admit, too far away). A whole year of Covid – masks and vaccines and quarantine and still coming down with it – surviving, muddling through, even thriving. Another whole year of school – with all its ups and downs. A whole year of working – jobs that have quickly recognized your talent, your leadership, your heart. And a whole year of figuring out who you are – as a young woman who sees and names the injustice, the chaos, and the heartbreak of this world…and who has felt the reality of these things for herself.

Yes, really: miracle and privilege to witness every moment of these past twelve months (plus a million more beside), to see all of who you have become and all of who you are yet to become. 

The more I witness, the more I remember, the more I see: 

I see you on the sidewalk ahead of me, age 3 or 4, curly blond hair, turning back to look at me with your infectious smile. I see you burying your head in my chest when the wolves showed up in Beauty and the Beast. I see you hunched over the kitchen counter doing homework and resisting little food but chicken nuggets and microwaved tortillas with butter, cinnamon, and sugar. I see you practicing your speech for 5th grade student body president – and your face when you told me you’d won. I see you in choir after choir – witnessing your commitment, hearing your gift, feeling nearly overwhelmed with pride. I see you unexpectedly playing Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray – that one night when Jessica lost her voice and you stepped into her role despite your fears (as I wept nearly uncontrollably through the entire performance with more love than I knew I could hold). I see you shaking Mr. Ikeda’s hand, receiving your diploma, then merging into the meley of friends and photos and caps and gowns. I see you when I dropped you off at college, (both of us) afraid and brave at the same time. I see you with Jasper – far more than a dog; more, a piece of you. I see you buying your first car, loading it up, and heading back to Montana – Jasper’s head out the window. I see you deliberating over excruciating and significant decisions while holding fiercely to your value and worth.

And I see you now – the sum total of all these moments plus a million more beside. 

I remain amazed by you: your strength, your honesty, your capacity, your determination, your deep desires, your endless hope, your open heart. 

I wonder what I will yet see, what more I will tell and write of on birthdays to come. I wonder about how many ways (plus a million more beside) will you change the world. I wonder how it is that I have been blessed beyond measure to be your mom. I wonder how my heart is to hold any more of the miracle that is you. And I wonder, almost every day, how that same heart is to survive the extravagant ache that continues to pulse as I wander in between the memory of that little girl glancing back at me on the sidewalk, making sure I was close, and the woman who now runs straight toward every bit of the life that is hers.

Despite all that is unknown, this remains certain and true: I love you in more ways than I can count (plus a million more beside). Happy 23rd Birthday, sweet girl.

Happy 24th Birthday, Emma Joy!

Happy 24th Birthday, Emma Joy.Though I’ve written these missives every year for a very long time, this one feels different. It’s weightier. More significant. More poignant.

This is, of course, because tomorrow you and I will get in a rented SUV and begin our 3000+ mile journey that takes you to your new and amazing life. I am excited for you. I am beyond-proud of you. I am in awe of your strength and courage. And I am struggling to find the words to express how much I will miss you.

It’s a strange thing: wanting your child to make her own decisions, forge her own path, have the capacity and desire to move across the country for a new job, new friends, a new life. But it’s a knife’s edge. Just on the other side is the part of me that desperately wants to keep you close, safe, protected. I can’t have both. And in truth, I don’t want both – no matter how hard it is to let you go. I want you to be you, to go out and live the huge and loud and colorful and wild and brave and amazing life that is yours…that has always been yours.

I’ve watched as you’ve struggled with the binding restrictions of culture, religion, expectations, academics, family, gender, voice, and power. But unlike so many, you have broken those chains – defied them, every one – and stepped into yourself, your heart, your knowing, your story, your strength. In truth, you’ve been doing this for years now. Tomorrow marks but one more – one more link to loosen and let go of. It’s a beautiful thing to witness. You are.

No surprise: I’m in tears. And I’m reminded of the ones I shed when you were born; finally in my arms after years of waiting, nearly all hope extinguished. Tears of joy. The rush of love. The power of your presence. Today’s tears are different, to be sure – leaving my arms after years of being close, now every hope realized. But still the joy, the rush of love, the power of your presence…whether near or far.

There will be more tears, I’m sure. As we cross through state after state – getting closer to Kentucky and the future that calls you forward. As we haul boxes up three flights of stairs. As I embed images in my mind of your neighborhood, your home, your friends, your workplace, your world. As we buy groceries and staples and open Amazon boxes. As I hold you one last time (for now) before getting on a plane. As I fly back. As I walk into the future that calls me forward.

I’m not sad. (Well, maybe a little…) I’m grateful. I’m humbled. I’m amazed. I’m overwhelmed by the gift you’ve been to me. And no matter what or where, always, endlessly, forever in my heart…you are my heart.

I love you, sweet girl. Happy Birthday.