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What is 23?

I don’t like to even think about when I was 23, truth-be-told.

Which is why I love to think of you.

You, sweet girl, are the template, the map, the measure of what 23 can be, ought to be, is.

Not for anyone else, mind you. Just for you. Which is what I love about you perhaps more than anything else: you create (and demand) your own template, map, and measure. Anything manufactured, culturally applied, socially mandated, or expected in any way? Uh, no.

Perhaps this, in and of itself, isn’t that unique (though I’m highly biased and believe it is; it’s you, after all). Perhaps what is most unique is that you KNOW this about yourself. You KNOW you are not interested in any path that others say is best. You KNOW you’re carving your own way – even though it often feels uphill, daunting, and Sisyphus-like. You KNOW yourself – your strengths, your beauty, your skills, your desires, your struggles, your brokenness, your capacity, your values, your mind. You KNOW you.

I did not. Nothing even close.

But you? You shine. You radiate. You beam. You boldly enter every room, every space, every job, every relationship, everything with all of who you are. Unapologetically. Unconventionally. Unveiled. Unabashed. And in some ways, completely undone: open, exposed, raw, real. It is breathtaking. You are.

And because of all this (and so much more), I sit here this evening and wonder what 24 and 25 and 32 and 47 and 58 will look like for you. The protective, worrying “mom” part of me can grind my teeth a bit. But she is easily soothed, because the woman, the sage, the wizened one that I have become feels nothing of the sort. That woman – the one who could see nothing of herself at 23 – can see now. And she sees you.

I see you.

I am amazed. I am awed. I am overcome. As much today as when they placed you in my arms for the very  rst time. I looked down at your beautiful face and wept – so grateful that you had arrived, not yet knowing how you would invite me to do the same.

What is 23? It is you, Emma Joy. More than enough. Never too much. (Never too much.) An infinite well of longing and passion and empathy and anger and ache and generosity and wisdom and hope. And yes, always, always, so…much…joy.

Happy Birthday. I love you more than these words, any words, all the words in the world could ever say.

Happy 21st Birthday, Abby!

Yesterday, when out running errands, I idled at an intersection and watched a homeless man holding a sign that said, “It’s my birthday!” As is always the case, I drove by feeling sad, frustrated, privileged, confused, angry, and profoundly grateful.

Why do I tell this story today? In this post? On your 21st birthday?

Because as I turned the corner and he faded from sight, I started thinking about the accumulation of experiences, realities, opportunities, losses, heartbreaks, celebrations, minutes, and seconds that make up a life; how any singular combination of these things can make all the difference; how we never know what our life will look like in the days and years to come.

There is more unknown than known, to be sure; but there are a few things I do know with absolute certainty:

You, my dear, sweet daughter, have a life both now and ahead full of possibility and hope, ecstasy and sorrow, mountaintops and valleys, wins and losses, all this and then some. And it is all this and then some that I see when I look at you: in college with determined focus; away from home via intentional and thoughtful choice; making friends who see and value your beauty, grace, strength, compassion, and endless empathy; embodying and exhibiting a hope that enables me to trust completely in your future, mine, and ours, collectively.

Why? How?

Because you will continue to exhibit what is inherent and embedded within you: perseverance, grit, determination, the capacity to grieve, an emerging and articulate opinion, a voice and perspective that is firm and solid, a heart that ever-longs for healing – your own, every person you love, and this world’s.

I say “continue” because none of these characteristics are new to me. They have been present in you from the start, from that first cry demanding your deserved nourishment, protection, and love; through your toddler and adolescent years in which you straddled the precarious balance of your own cries with others’ demands; through high school and beyond in which you cried out for understanding, for clarity, to matter; today as you continue to cry out on your own behalf – wanting more, wanting all of who you are destined to be, wanting, period.

Those cries are your super-power, Abby.

So many women my age never learned to want; never allowed themselves to do so. We were taught that desire was foolish, dangerous, and better tamped down; that our cries were a sign of weakness and most-certainly not to be taken seriously. You, sweet girl, are just the opposite. That desire – made visible in your pursuits, your longing for order and certainty, your infinite generosity with and for others, your endless, beating and oft’ breaking heart – is what will carry you into a life marked by the richness and fullness and ache and beauty that has marked my own – because of you.

You have marked me. 21 years ago today, I was changed the moment you entered the world. Every day since has brought me more of the same – because of you. And your cries have changed my own.

So keep crying out, sweet girl. Do not stop. Desire. Demand. Dream. Do. This is your destiny, to be sure. For you, for the homeless man on the corner, for all who are yet to be impacted by your heart. It’s inevitable. And you are invincible (whether you believe me, or not).

Happy 21st birthday, Abby. I love you beyond words, beyond what I can ever express or offer, beyond what I could have ever imagined.

Hannah

Have you ever had a desire, a hunger, a longing so profound that any sacrifice would be worth its fulfillment?

For me, it was a child. I got married at 31 and immediately went about the “work” of getting pregnant – certain I had no time to lose. At 32, with no result, infertility treatments began. At 34, after countless tests, unsuccessful rounds of in-vitro, and more invasive (and expensive) processes yet to come, I quit. My desire did not, however. It would not comply.

And so, from the physical to the spiritual, I took my request to a different plane. I prayed. I pleaded. I made bargains and deals. And I got mad – pounding my fists at an elusive God in an imagined heaven.

Until one day, after five years of waiting, hoping, and fearing to ever hope again, I was pregnant. Five home-tests and one at the doctor’s finally convinced me it was true. And, 15 months after Emma’s birth, I was pregnant again with Abby. Miracles, both. Answers to prayer. Desire fulfilled – again and again.

Was it my praying that brought them to be? Was it my bargaining: my promise of endless love and devotion to God? Was it just luck and coincidence? I do not know.

But for all my doubt, this certainty remained: I could not imagine ever losing them or letting them go.

Unlike Hannah.

Hannah was married but barren. Her husband had a second wife (common in that time) who did have children, constantly taunted her, and left her feeling even more lacking, more sad. And, adding insult to injury, her husband would say to her, “Why are you so depressed? Am I not worth 10 sons to you?” Like me, she prayed – and prayed – and prayed. Unlike me, she made a vow: “If you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life…” (I might have whispered something like this in my endless intercession, but I wouldn’t have really meant it.) Then one day, Hannah did become pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.”

She fulfilled her promise to God. When Samuel was weaned, she took him to the temple and left him with a priest named Eli – which is where Samuel stayed, grew up, and through which became a leader and prophet in ancient Israel.

Impossible. Heart-rending. Incredible.

Back to my opening question: Have you ever had a desire, a hunger, a longing so profound that any sacrifice would be worth its fulfillment?

Hannah’s answer is “yes.”

Even more, her “yes” speaks to us in two profound and relevant ways today:

  • Will you hold on to desire, no matter what, no matter how impossible the odds, no matter how foolish it seems?
  • Are you willing to let go of the very thing you have desired on behalf of something bigger than yourself – in trust, in faith, in hope?

These are not easy questions. A quick response would be “yes” to the first and “mmmmaybe” to the second. But I wonder… A more honest response (speaking for myself) is a “no” to the first because of my pre-determined “no” to the second. See if this sounds even remotely familiar:

We don’t trust, we don’t have faith, we don’t hope because it’s just too risky. We don’t desire because experience has taught us that it either gets us into trouble or we have too many memories of it being disappointed.

But here is where Hannah voice sings out, sounds out, and transcends all time and space to say “No!” She calls you to what is deeper, stronger, and undeniable within. She says,

“What you desire more than all else is worth asking for, crying out for, praying for, longing for – no matter what. And once granted, if it is as big and amazing and glorious as you’d imagined, you’ll want to loosen your grip on it so that it can become even larger, even more amazing, even more glorious.”

To be honest, I wrestle with this. And…Hannah’s voice and story echo in my heart. She calls me (and maybe even you) to unswerving desire and complete sacrifice.

This is a call – and not for the faint of heart. This is a calling – for the strong in heart. And this is who I know you to be.

May it be so.

Happy 22nd, Emma Joy!

It was shocking enough to acknowledge your sister’s 20th birthday – the fact that I no longer have teenagers. But this, now past the HUGE marker of 21? Shocking. Amazing. And, more than all else, full of joy. Not because you’re getting older, necessarily, but because as you do, I am getting wiser.

This year, sweet girl, has been one in which I’ve witnessed you step boldly into your voice, your uniqueness, your mind and heart, your body, yourself. All of which is teaching me. You are.

If I knew then what you know now…

I didn’t. But now? Now, I witness your endless courage and compassion, your deep wisdom and wit, your infinite brilliance and boldness. And as I do, I learn more about what it means to have kindness for myself: that young woman who knew little-to-nothing about self-compassion or self-kindness or self-love. I learn more about what it means to step into my own voice, uniqueness, mind-heart-body as I watch you do the same. I learn what it means and looks like to hold on to infinite hope on behalf of the future – because of the collective one that you are actively shaping through your both your anger and your advocacy.

Despite your fears (warranted), your sadness (appropriate), your ache (of course) on behalf of the world in which you live, your name remains true: Joy, Joy, Joy.

And for better or worse, this is why you feel fear, sadness, and ache: joy is your birthright, your deepest desire, and that which you make manifest in your world – in ours. Its absence is intolerable to you while, simultaneously, your presence ushers it into ours.

“Who is this girl, this woman, this human?” I continue to ask myself – and have from your earliest of days. The answer is endless, but at a bare minimum this: you are miracle and gift beyond words.

I couldn’t possibly be more humbled, more proud, more amazed, more delighted, or more in love with who you have been these past 8030 days and who you will continue to be(come) in every day that follows. ‘More rooted in hope (and joy) than I could have ever imagined…because of you.

Happy 22nd Birthday, sweet girl.

I love you, Emma Joy.

Happy 20th Birthday, Abby!

How has the day arrived in which I no longer have teenagers? How is it that today you turn 20? I stand in disbelief, gratitude, and awe, not because 20 years have passed, but because of who you are.

This past year I have watched you do hard things, make tough choices, say goodbyes, take on more, stay longer, work harder, choose wisely, grieve silently, celebrate beautifully, live bravely, and love fiercely.

You are navigating this season of transition, change, and adjustment with grace, courage, and strength. All three are made manifest in vast and infinite measure, in potent and powerful ways. It’s breathtaking, really. You are.

Here’s what I know to be true: as you continue to demonstrate such, more and more will be yours. Grace breeds more grace. Courage breeds more courage. Strength breeds more strength. You are living, breathing evidence of such; you have been, always.

Oh, who you have become.
Oh, who you will yet be: my baby, my daughter, this woman, my heart.
Oh, how I love you.

Happy Birthday, Abby.

Before Mother’s Day

With Mother’s Day less than a week away, it feels appropriate to name and honor our larger, longer mother-line: the women and lineage from which we descend. To do so, the words of a woman who does this better than most – Clarissa Pinkola Estes:

It is not intuition which is broken, but rather the matrilineal blessing on intuition, the handing down of intuitive reliance between a woman and all females of her lines who have gone before her – it is that long river of women that has been
dammed. ~ Women Who Run With the Wolves

For me, the river’s very source and starting point, is Eve. To be sure, there are historical narratives of women that predate hers and it must be acknowledged as “the beginning” in the Western world (whether we want such, or not).

And given how much time I’ve spent over the years working with her story in particular, Estes’ words take me right back to her yet again.

The ways in which her story has been told throughout time has, sadly, caused us to lose the blessing that is ours, to break the beautiful and bountiful line of woman to woman, and to cause distrust in our own birthright and brilliance.

Rather than name, yet again, how this has happened, let’s talk about how to change it; how to bind up your (personal and historical) wounds; how to step forward in the power and strength that is already yours. Here’s the 3-step plan:

1) Heal the line to heal yourself.
2) Find the women – past and present – who long to bless you.
3) Undamn the river and let your too-often-damned intuition flow.

1) Heal the line to heal yourself:
One of the most powerful ways forward is to go back, to do the work of unearthing tales told (or not) in harmful, silencing, shaming ways and invite them into the light; to track down our lineage, to know and love the stories (and the women) who have shaped us, to find a sense of “home” and solidarity in all those who have gone before. When we can heal their past, we are the ones who are healed; we are the ones transformed.

2) Find the women – past and present – who long to bless you.
When we re-imagine, re-tell, and redeem these women’s stories, we are able to be blessed by them. Eve, yes, and so many more. Sojourner Truth. Emily Dickinson. Virginia Woolf. George O’Keefe. Frida Kahlo. Audre Lorde. All these and then some who long to share their wisdom, their perspective, their voice, their comfort, their companionship. And what of your great-great-great grandmothers and the rich female line that runs right through you? Can you imagine their words on your behalf? Will you? Even in places of deep, unwarranted pain (sometimes at these very women’s hands), will you imagine the words they would have spoken if they could; if they had been blessed? And who are the women in your everyday world who would readily and willingly offer you the same if only you would ask? If only you would tell them that you need them. If only you would trust that they are trustworthy and at your beck-and-call for support, kindness, encouragement, and yes, the blessing you most deeply long to have.

3) Undamn the river and let your too-often-damned intuition flow.
When you stand in the river of all the women who have gone before you, in the ever- tugging current of those who swirl around you even now; when you let the rapids carry you; when you float in a place of buoyancy and ease – supported by the stories that make up your legacy and the faces that smile on you every day – it is far more likely that you will trust that you already know what to do, what to say, how you feel, what you want.

Really, who are you not to trust your intuition, your story, your very self when standing in such an illustrious and stunning stream of women; when soaked to the skin with the stories of women – past and present – who just wait to be seen, known, heard, and honored and who long to honor you?

It is my hope and prayer that as Mother’s Day approaches you will feel and believe in the matrilineal blessing that IS yours…and that is yours to give to others.

May it be so.

 

*****

 

One of the ways in which these women and their stories continue to speak is through SacredReadings – my imagining of their voice on your behalf. There is a woman – part of your matrilineal line – who longs to bless you even now. A perfect Mother’s Day gift for yourself…and other women you love.