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Happy 26th Birthday, Emma Joy!

How is it possible that you are 26 today? (The question I’m really asking is how it is possible that I have a 26-year-old as of today!!) The answer to both questions matter little. What matters most—and always has—is that you are here and you are you and every bit of that, every bit of you, is as glorious and amazing and full-of-life as ever.

The day you posted this picture on Facebook, your update said, “almost 26, signing a lease on a new apartment tomorrow, and really excited about life in general 💕 oh and my hair is pink 🙂” That pretty much captures it, yes? And every bit of your enthusiasm is made more beautiful given the work and effort and intention and courage you apply to who you are, what you value, and how to make your way in this life and this world. 

I read a book last week about the power of stories and magic, identity and culture, gender and hegemony, being a kid who only wants to be themselves. It was also about being a parent who only wants their kid to be happy . . . to make sure they know they are endlessly and always loved. It was fabulous. Made more so because it was the kid who taught the parents, the kid who understood, the kid who had the capacity to change the world and even if not, to be themselves in it anyway. 

And that’s what I believe about you, Emma Joy. You have the capacity to change the world and be yourself in it. You also have the capacity to be yourself even when/if the world does not change . . . at least in the ways and with the speed you desire and deserve. 

As you navigate this world—both its brokenness and its beauty—not to mention work, money, friendships, choices, and so much more, I watch with awe and joy and delight and pride and hope and faith. And love. 

Happy 26th Birthday, Emma Joy. I love you – endlessly and always. 

Happy 24th Birthday, Abby!

Happy Birthday, sweet girl. Every year I wonder how it is possible that twelve months / fifty two weeks / three hundred and sixty five days have caused me to love you even more.  And yet, without fail, I do.

And these twelve months?

I have watched you embrace and embody courage, conviction, tenderness, vulnerability, strength, perseverence, grief, possibility, and promise.

I have watched you reach deep within to summon all these and then some as you have made hard decisions—choosing to consistently and bravely honor yourself.

I have watched you move across the country, establish a new home, and start a new job—demonstrating grace and hope in the midst of the inevitable struggles and stresses that can’t help but accompany these huge transitions.

I have watched you love and laugh, agonize and cry, question and doubt, pick and choose, fall down and rise up—over and over again.

Over and over again I have been amazed by you, humbled by you, grateful for you beyond what words can possibly express. And still I try . . .

I marvel at who you are and who you continue to become. I marvel at the fact that somehow, in the grand-and-miraculous scheme of things, I have the privilege of being your mom. And I marvel at the certainty that when another twelve months / fifty two weeks / three hundred and sixty five days have passed, I will love you more still.

Happy 24th Birthday, Abby. I love you.

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.]