Hope.

I tried to write something hopeful this past week.

See, I’m in the middle of a certain special project very close to my heart and soul, and it takes me to a certain special place and it burns a certain special kind of energy. Ambiguity is SUPER FUN, right, you guys? And in all honesty, I can’t wait to tell everyone what I’ve been up to, but right now it feels sacred and secret and I don’t want to lose steam or jinx myself just yet.

But this post isn’t about what I’m sneaking around and writing in caves.

This post is about hope.

And how achingly hard it is to find right now.

Lately, I’ve been able to get away and outside with good food and trendy notebooks and my favorite pens and just write.

What I had wanted to write this week were words steeped in hope and purpose. But I got barely two sentences in when I realized I needed to write something else entirely. Every word I had put down felt fraudulent. Every scratch of my favorite pen felt dishonest. And every inch of me sitting on a restaurant patio with my trendy notebook and fancy pen was a tired lie. We humans hate to feel dried out like that. I think it reminds us too much of our dusty, lifeless beginnings.

So I pulled out a second notebook (I have at least three with me at any given moment). This notebook is reserved for my messiest, sloppiest, most honest and rough-edged words, and I found myself writing a full frantic page before even catching my breath.

I wrote about this hopeless world, about the consistency of grief and selfishness and violence and death, as if I were briefing anyone who might be listening. I wrote pleas to God to JUST FIX THIS, with capital letters and underlining. I didn’t exactly know where I was going with it all, I just knew I had to move away from all of the darkness and all of the despair and all of the senselessness.

This world sucks right now, you guys. And that’s pretty much where I ended up when I packed up my notebook and put it away. I am world-weary, and I can hardly remember what hope tastes like. I read heart-wrenching stories about coping with or giving in to depression; I read about racial tensions pulled so taut it threatens to snap this country in half; I read in horror about the dangerously, carelessly justified acts of brutality twisting and scorching the homelands of our middle eastern neighbors. I read, helpless, about devastating choices pushed up against only slightly less devastating choices. This world is driven deep between a rock and a hopeless place.

And it makes me just want to quit it all and scroll through BuzzFeed articles instead. What I really want to know is what emoji am I?

But then I write. It’s what I do when the emotions roll over me, thick as fog or tear gas, and all I can do is watch through stinging eyes as the light disappears, defuses. I write because I’m not in a place where I can hold hands and feet blistered by the desert sun or stained with spilled blood. I’m not in a place where I can bandage wounds in both bodies and minds. I write, even though what I really want to do is shake my fists at the sky and demand in capital letters and underlining: FIX THIS.

And then those become the only words I want to write. I want to end it there. I want to cross my arms and turn my back because no one seems to hear me, hear us, hear the whole world cry out: FIX THIS.

I am not smart enough or political enough or passionate enough or rich enough or present enough to do much of anything else but wail against the broken places.

Hope, right now, feels frail. Hope, right now, feels false, or fleeting at best. And because I’ve pressed my hands against my ears while chanting FIX THIS FIX THIS FIX THIS FIX THIS, I cannot, do not, hear God say, “I have; you’re here.”

I don’t like that answer. In fact, I hate that answer. Because I’m not smart enough or political enough or passionate enough or…

I still don’t know where exactly I’m going with this. I still don’t know how to write words of hope. To be hope. To be part of the fixers God put us here to be.

I don’t know how, and all the while, our world is caving in.

For Christianity is a fighting religion. It thinks God made the world [...] But it also thinks that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again.
— C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

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A Clumsy Prayer and Broken Places

Recently, I have prayed this exact prayer for several people in my life:

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The situations have varied. Some were hopeful, some hurting, some just in my thoughts for one reason or none at all, and since I still have no idea how the Holy Spirit operates in my life I prayed just in case.

This isn’t a generic prayer. I just pray these words over again for lack of better ones. I pray these words because I know God is good, but I don’t know him well enough yet to know how that goodness will look around these parts. Sometimes I pray for specific outcomes, tagged with the clumsy disclaimer Thy will be done. More often I don’t know how to pray at all; I only know I must.

But most often of all I pray these words over my children. Every day or night, while half awake or otherwise preoccupied, I whisper these words like a mantra, a superstition.

God, protect the heart.

I pray it selfishly and mindlessly and so often, it is a second nature, a second skin. I want God to hear me: make their way easy.

I don’t mean for them to not know hard work or the reward of such. I don’t mean for their lives to be shallow, lacking depth or meaning. But I want to shield them from things that wrench the gut and bleed life from the heart. I never want to see them break, or even buckle.

I work — and that’s exactly what it is: work — to protect them. To safeguard them. I keep vigilance for monsters and villains, hoping God is up to the same, not really knowing how my perception of the monsters and villains might differ from his.

I want to keep them from heartache.

God, protect the heart.

I am (hesitantly) learning what a selfish and shortsighted prayer this is, whether I am praying it over a friend or a stranger or a story or my own children.

I think what God wants me to realize is this: yes, the world is broken and painful and frightened. But the only way to heal it is to sink into the cracks. I cannot do it whole; I simply won’t fit within the brokenness. I have to shatter; I must grow smaller and lighter and more easily scattered to fit between those cracks, within the broken places.

Those are the places that matter; those are the places we all find ourselves. Those are the places God is most present, working tirelessly to move the world back to him, back to wholeness. To those places God calls his rescued; he invites us to dive in, to get dirty, to let this broken world touch us and seep beneath our skin and destroy our hearts. It is an invitation to work beside him, shoulder-to-shoulder, broken heart-to-broken heart.

I think God wants me to realize the pain and the work and the heartache, the broken spirits and bones and hearts, are where he is most. And if I want to find him, to see him the clearest, I will need to fit inside those cracks.

And if I want the world to know God, to know his handiwork, to fall in love with him the way I so want to, the way he so divinely deserves, I will need to fit inside those cracks.

And if I want my friends and my family and my precious, diligently protected children to encounter the living, working, healing God, then they will need to fit inside those cracks.

So maybe I should choose my words more carefully and pray more recklessly.

Maybe not that God would protect the heart.
Maybe that God would shatter the heart into one that beats more like his.

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You Are Once in a Lifetime

What is even happening.

There is no way — no possible way — ten years has passed since a chunk of me broke off and started wandering around on this earth apart from me.

Something happened on this day, ten years ago. In one fell swoop, my heart shattered and grew, staggered back against the wall and braced itself, captivated by the miracle of redemption and purpose, of lavender skin and buttermilk lips.

And I feel like my wrecked heart is still recovering, still shuffling back into an upright position only to be knocked back down with each passing year, every inch stretching him closer to eye level. This boy has had me, heart and soul, for a full decade now (and then some), and I am all the better for it.

I panic sometimes, when I consider my role in preparing him for the world and the world for him. I freeze solid, often in mid-lecture, because who am I to usher this brilliant, funny, affectionate child who has managed to figure much of it out on his own?

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And I freeze solid when he is difficult, and I am so sure of the kind of man we are training him to be, and he is resisting gentle correction and then not-so-gentle correction, because I think, are my words even landing? Am I failing? Am I running out of time?

So I don’t move; I can’t even blink or breathe, because this task is so great and he is so, so important and I am so uncertain, and none of the things I am sternly grumbling or declaring or shouting makes sense in the face of such heavy weight.

But I press anyway. Sometimes rightly, more often wrongly, nearly always with the whisper tugging at me, Do not fail him, and at the end of the night, every now and then, my TEN-year-old might still ask for a tuck-in.

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I made the mistake of looking through old photographs of him. After puddling onto the ground in a pool of nostalgia, I remembered those moments in the snapshots. I remembered the grand and the mundane. Birthday parties, Christmases, family vacations, along with days at the zoo, sunny afternoon walks, play date picnics with little friends.

But what the photos don’t tell you are the moments that happened in between.

His pink, plump face when they plopped him onto my chest for the first time, his tiny nose speckled with white freckles. And I knew then, through a haze of ambien and exhaustion, my life had shifted gravity; ten years later, and his pull is even stronger.

My first clear memory of motherhood, when they rolled him back into my room after the tests and dressings and measurements, he had been swaddled professionally but had somehow wriggled one hand out, his curious little finger stuck in his nose, his eyes wide and eager; ten years later, they haven’t lost that wonder.

The way he used to laugh in his sleep as an infant, a hiccup and a smile, then completely relaxing back into the deep. My mom would say he was playing with angels; ten years later, he hasn’t stopped laughing.

He was an early smiler, an early roll-over-er, an early sit-up-er, and crawler, and then walker. Despite being held constantly, even through feedings and naps and through the whole night, he was ready for the world, for adventure, for finding and leaving his mark; ten years later, he barely slows down to catch his breath.

You won’t meet a more tenderhearted boy, though he disguises that kindness in the rough-and-tumble and the wise-cracking and the joke-telling and the silly-song dancing.

He loves to laugh and to make other people laugh. He loves video games. He loves to run and sweat and go full speed. He loves a good challenge. He loves history. He loves to read. He loves to learn. He loves his sister with an openness that staggers me. He loves people, all people. Oftentimes I see all of this about him and wonder. How did I get so lucky, and how can I move out of his way?

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He began this world with eyes wide open, and my prayer is that he never loses that wonder. My prayer is that the world is ready for him.

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Happy birthday, Bug-a-roo.
You will change the world, and I am blessed to be the one to watch you do it.

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Until My Heart Caves In

At first I had no idea what sound she was making.

Something high-pitched, somewhere between a whine and a battle cry, her hands spread and ready.

“What…was that?”

She put her hands down and looked at me, disappointed.

“That’s a karate noise, MOMMY.”

OH, OF COURSE. CLEARLY.

She was still stark naked and sopping wet from her bath, but I grabbed her to my chest all the same. “My little three-year-old.” It was a whisper and a prayer, half in reverence, half in hope I hadn’t missed anything crucial in these nearly four years now.

And today, it is four years.

Yesterday, Bean was three. Today, she is four.

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I wanted everything to freeze so I could stay in any given moment my kids are still ages three and nine. Maybe the moment I watched my son give his little sister a piggyback ride around the living room, their bone-deep belly laughs bouncing off our walls. Or the moment when I caught my daughter singing Puff the Magic Dragon in the bathroom, or rather, the chorus she knew over and over. Or any one of the sort of dull, quietly poignant moments that happen early on a lazy Saturday morning when the four of us are all under the same blanket for a little while.

I want to capture it all. I want to capture my now-four-year-old just as she is. And I do, often. I capture her smile, her laugh, the certain way she says things.

But try as I might, no matter how hard I squeeze my eyes shut and just be present, I cannot fully capture the feel of her tiny hands pressed against my neck. Or the way she will stop what she is doing to hug my knees and call my name until she has my attention, only to say, “I love you.” Or the sweetest little gap between her two front baby teeth that jolts me every time she smiles wide enough to see it. Or the precise softness of her skin, the dimple in her right cheek, the whisper-faint freckles across her nose, her scent — oh, her scent.

I want to store all of these things up to pull out and savor on the days I am most aware of how quickly she is growing. I want to never forget all the things she said or did to make me laugh, the unintentionally funny expressions she makes when she is oh, so serious, the pitch of her voice when she calls for me in the middle of the night searching for reassurance, the exact smallness of her hand folded inside of mine.

It isn’t fair.

Time should take twice as long to grow these babies, or at least my babies, because one day, one sunrise to tucked-in, lights-out, isn’t nearly enough to get my fill.

I want years to hear her toddler laugh, her way of saying “turquoise,” her stumbling over many-worded songs, her squeal over puppies and cupcakes and twirly skirts.

But instead I get what everyone gets, the same amount of time and turns of the earth, and my heart caves in, overwhelmed by the weight of melancholy and delight, nostalgia and the anticipation of the magical girl she is growing up to be.

Instead, I watch her sleep and don’t even try to stop myself from touching her. Instead, I press my nose against the curve of her cheek, even if she might stir or, worse, squirm away from me, and convince myself I will remember every single moment.

Happy birthday, Bean, you are breaking my heart.

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Oh, Spring. (Heavy Sigh Followed By Wet Sneeze)

It’s allergy season, which means my daily thoughts are constantly centered around my inability to breathe or wear any kind of eye makeup or carry on a conversation of average length without sneezing at least a dozen times.

It’s just a part of who I am, and apparently becoming an annual part of this blog.

Here’s just a peek into those allergy-centric thoughts. You’re welcome. Or…I’m sorry?

“If my fingers were skinny enough and long enough I could totally reach all the way up into my sinus cavity and just scratch like crazy.”

“I’m pretty sure even my brain is itchy.”

“I wish people would stop saying, ‘Bless you,’ every time I sneeze because I’m just going to sneeze again, and they’re going to get tired of saying it, and OMG, it’s happening right now and snot just flew all over my lap again.”

“I am drinking this water and I am so stopped up and I AM DROWNING RIGHT NOW.”

“How bad would it look to just keep wadded up tissues inside my nose?”

“OH, NO. WHERE DID I PUT THAT FLONASE?”

“OH, NO. IT’S BEEN THREE DAYS OF CONTINUOUS FLONASE.”

“How is it even possible to itch BEHIND my eyeballs?”

(On sneezing) “Here it comes. Here it comes, hereitcomeshereitcomes.”

“It’s just a couple of months of mouth-breathing. You can do this. Flonase can help.”

“How many times can I talk about Flonase on this blog before they give me a lifetime supply?”

“On the bright side, Heaven will be allergen-free.”

“I just want to die. Or breathe.”

Seriously, HOW DID I GET SO LUCKY/ITCHY?

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Killing Me Softly With Their Words

I don’t know if you can tell this about me, but I’m sort of a snob about words. I’m very careful about using the right one, and even more careful about not using the right one wrongly. I’ve always been a little weird about that.

But recently I guess I’ve started realizing just how weird that actually is. Here are just a couple of recent examples.

The other night my daughter was fighting sleep. She told me she was not tired. She said she could not fall asleep. In fact, Mommy, she wasn’t going to ever sleep because she was exhausted.

“So wait, you are tired?” I asked.

“No! I am not sleepy. I’m exhausted.”

“But, love, exhausted means tired. It actually means very tired.”

“No, it doesn’t.”

“Yes, it does.”

“No, it means not tired.”

“I know what it means and it means very tired.”

“No, it doesn’t. I’m not tired. I’m exhausted.”

“You keep using that word; I do not think it means what you think it means.”

“[blank stare; giant yawn]“

“Look. You can’t even pronounce it correctly. You don’t even know how to use ‘him’ and ‘her’ properly. You think your armpits are called tickle boxes. I’m right. You are so, so wrong. Now get your finger out of your nose and go to sleep.”

You guys, I got into an argument over the definition of a word with a three-year-old.

My kids are weirdos.

“Look out at the water like you’re really peaceful and serene.”

My son is pretty well-spoken, even if he still has that nine-year-old lisp. Just last night he said this exact sentence: “People’s first impression of you, Mom, is, BOOM. She’s humorous.” (He’s not only well-spoken but SUPREMELY intuitive.)

So I was floored – FLOORED – when I told him to brush his teeth before bed and he looked at me and said, “I done did it already.”

WHATWHATWHATWHAT?

So he repeated himself, carefully, as if he couldn’t quite remember the TERRIBLE sentence he had just spoken.

“We. Do. Not. Speak. Like. That.” My teeth were clenched. I had to remind myself to breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth. I think we can all guess how well I’m going to react if I ever catch my son doing something actually bad.

And every now and then the little stinker will use “ain’t” on purpose, usually right after using “isn’t” and before remembering the best way to kill me softly.

Parenting: SO not for the fainthearted or grammar-sensitive.

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JBUTTing In

So for the past few weeks, I’ve been contributing (more or less) to a weekly segment over at NorvilleRogers.com called J Butting In.

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Basically, my blogger buddy Clay Morgan tries to discuss pop culture and I won’t let him finish.

In past articles, we have discussed movies, sports, zombie apocalypses, and fast food. I am much more consistent at that site, mainly because Clay says something dumb like, “Tennessee isn’t going to survive the zombie apocalypse and I think you should know that,” and I have no choice but to correct and/or ridicule him.

So head on over there if you want to read completely ridiculous arguments over things that matter zero percent in anyone’s lives, and stick around. There is a lot of good stuff at NorvilleRogers.com, and I’m not just saying that because we spent almost an entire day JUST designing that logo.

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