A letter for Noah on his fourth birthday

Happy birthday, buddy!

I’m so sad that I can’t be there today to give you a squeeze, and watch you open presents, and eat cake – no doubt with green frosting. It is missing these family moments that make me the most sad about living across the country.

All things considered though, pal, your mom and I have done a really good job of keeping up with each other. We text almost every day, so I know when you have a cold or when you’ve said something cute or when you’re driving her crazy. But, she’s really good about listening to you and FaceTiming me when you say you miss me. And I will forever love that her inclinations will run that way, toward face time, toward seeing her people.

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So, I can’t be there today, but I’m confident that you already know that I’m celebrating you from my tiny cube in my cold Michigan town. I’m going to bet you already know that you have been on my mind all day. I’m going to guess you already know that I’m praying for you today from a heart that is just wild about who you are, that is just so glad you are on this planet.

Noah's birth day

I feel a bit like a broken record, saying the same thing year after year, but it remains true year after year. You have changed me, buddy, in the best possible ways.

Before you were here, the last place I would have wanted to be was a four year old’s birthday party. But today, I want nothing more than to jam pizza in my face while you use my pant leg as a napkin.

Before you were here, I was not the one to wrestle on the floor, or kiss boo-boos, or change diapers, or give baths, or read books before bedtime.

But somehow, I have become a person who does these things. Better, I have become a person who does the things with great joy.

Every time I wrestle on the floor with you, or kiss a boo-boo, or change a diaper, or give you a bath or read a book, I think maybe I get to experience just a little bit of the delight we bring God. Because nothing is better than being in the same space with you, and I think maybe that’s they way he feels about us. I wonder if his heart fills the same way mine does when you crawl into my lap with a book, or when you snuggle up under my chin watching Octonauts, or when you throw your arms around my neck in a big hug. I wonder if he is thrilled to take care of us in all the little ways we need caring. I’d guess so because really, it’s just about love.

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Thanks for that, pal. For teaching me a little bit more about how God loves. I wouldn’t have understood that before you were here.

You have taught me to slow down, to hold my tongue, to be kind, to laugh with abandon. You have taught me that messes can be cleaned, that nothing is more important to someone than your presence, and that you can never hear “I love you” too many times.

You have taught me that when you’re really excited that someone is around, it’s okay to show it. And that when you’re really sad that someone is leaving, it’s okay to show that too.

You have taught me that when you really love someone, there really is nothing you won’t do for them.

Even the most not-kid person will become a kid person when it’s really love.

And we know, you and me, that we couldn’t be happier about that.

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As always, with all my love,

Aunt A

Winning big

lottery tixThis week, my dad won the lottery. Not the $500 million Powerball, but still…enough that he had to take his winning ticket to the city office for his payout.

“We’re getting new cell phones this weekend,” he’s declared. I love him for his simple want, since he hasn’t had a new phone in more than four years and he just wants to be able to take better pictures of his wife and the dogs. I love that his loves are also quite simple.

This win comes at the time when my folks really needed a win. Dad’s been without a job for more than a year, and to say that it’s been a hard season would be an understatement. He has been hired for a new position, but waiting for security clearances from the government has been holding him up, so my parents have just been waiting for months for things to click into place. I’ve watched them wait well and trust God and pull together, but I know they needed a win. And I’m grateful on a soul level that they got one.

Because my parents are awesome in ways that I can only hope to be. They are generous, and welcoming, and wise. They’ve always provided well for my brother and me, and they didn’t blink twice when I had to move back in after finishing grad school. My dad showed up with his truck and he hauled my furniture out of my townhouse and back into my high school bedroom. My mom bought a new rug, and a blackout curtain, and a big red chair I could read my books in.

I have always known I have a home with them, and I have always known that where they are is a safe place.

They have always been my best cheerleaders and my biggest fans, and when I threw everybody for a loop by deciding to give up a career as a therapist to instead become a writer, they weren’t thrown at all. My dad looked at me and said, “I always knew this is what you would end up doing” and “This is what you were born for.”

My mom and I were chatting a few weeks ago about a couple of books she’s been reading, favorites of mine she thieved from my bookshelf, and it spun into this conversation about what we love about these writers, about church, about God, about each other. And when I thanked her for being so supportive and for letting me live at home rent-free and how glad I am to experience living with them as adults who like each other, my mom said, “This is what we can do for you, so we’re doing it.” And then she added, just a little bit teary, “We see God working in you. We don’t want to get in the way of that ever.”

Like I said, my parents are awesome. They deserve a win.

My dad and I were dreaming about what he would do if he did win the $500 million Powerball. He said he would build a compound somewhere with a small rancher house for him and mom and the dogs, and a small house in a different part of the compound for my brother, I’m guessing so there’s someone to shovel snow and mow the lawn. He said he’d build me a house too, more library than house, so I could write peacefully, if I wanted it. When he said he wanted this compound to be somewhere in Ohio so that my mom could be close to her sister, I said I love the house idea but I have no real desire to live in Ohio, so would he consider paying off my student debt. To which he said, “Absolutely!”

Dreaming is fun.

And while I appreciate the dream and the new cell phone, and while I think it’s particularly cool that my dad won the lottery, I think the big win is that it doesn’t really change our family too much.

We’re simple people with the simple want to take care of each other. And that, to me, feels like the biggest win of all.

I want to go to there

I scroll through Instragram and Facebook and Twitter feeds and I’m always struck by how many incredibly smart women are hanging out together at different events, singing each others praises on social media after they’re away from each other in their own homes in their own parts of the country.

I often (nearly all of the time) find myself thinking, “I wish I were there with those incredibly smart women hanging out together.” Although, in my head it sounds more like Liz Lemon’s simple, “I want to go to there.”

And it’s true, because it’s a great desire of my heart to surround myself with incredibly smart women who hang out together and talk about books and God and church and friendship and parenting and mentoring and art and music and all the other things that incredibly smart women talk about. I want to borrow from their passions, feed them into my own, and wake up every morning excited to put a little more love in the world.

While scrolling Instagram this morning I saw three of the writers whom I love all posed for a lovely photo, smiling and laughing and generally enjoying the treat of being in the same place at the same time. It’s written all over their faces. And I had the thought that I always have about wanting to be there where those incredibly smart women are, talking about writing and books and art and whatever it is that incredibly smart women talk about it. But, then I had another thought. A better thought. A thought that made me grateful for my friends and the incredibly smart people that they are.

I don’t need to go anywhere to be surrounded by women who are smart, and beautiful, and loving, and doing things to make the world a better place.   I don’t need to be anywhere else to talk about books and movies and art and God and theology and parenting and mentoring and church and whatever it is that smart women talk about. We’re talking about those things all of the time. The smart women I want to surround myself with are already surrounding me.

My mom friends are raising tiny humans who are funny and kind, and one day these tiny humans will grow into big, adult humans who are kind and funny. The older I get, the more I realize just how much being kind and funny can change the world.

My girls are students of social work and teaching and music and art and biology, and they talk about how they want to use what they’re learning to help people. Not in abstract ways, but in real, in-the-messes-with-people-everyday kind of ways. And I’m in awe of them, really. They get how Love works.

I have friends who are college professors and elementary school teachers; engineers and mathematicians; accountants and book keepers; writers, photographers, and artists; entrepreneurs and community developers. They run non-profits, and they run their homes. They create in their work and in their lives safe spaces for people to be exactly who they are, to crash and fall apart, and they help them put the pieces back together again.

All of these women I get to call my friends are extraordinary. And smart. And beautiful. And putting a little love into the world everyday.

But, the reason it doesn’t make it onto Instagram and Facebook and Twitter is because we’re doing nothing more than living our lives side-by-side. It’s ordinary, and the ordinary things aren’t usually the things you stop to document.

But maybe we should?

Maybe I should. I need to do a better job of appreciating the ordinary life right in front me. I want to make the most of the expected rhythms of Tuesday night Bible studies, and coffee shops work days, and dinner with my folks. I want to soak in the afternoons of babysitting my nephew and niece-in-loves and the coffee dates with my girls. And I want to wear out my welcome in my best friends’ homes.

The life I have right in front me, in all of its ordinariness, is extraordinary. It’s a gift. And I don’t want to squander it. I want to be present to the life that’s right in front me instead of constantly wishing I were some place other.

Right here, right now, these people, this ordinary life – this is where I want to be.

I want to go to there.

Large Coffee To-Go

I write in coffee shops for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that I can’t seem to get any work done at home. Inevitably, my dog will find me and drop his ball in my lap and want to play. He’s kind of like a toddler, except it’s legally okay for me to leave him alone in the house. So, I go to coffee shops.

I like writing in coffee shops for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that I have become a regular at a couple of places in my hometown. Being a regular is like being famous, except instead of people taking your picture, they serve you coffee. Which I think is maybe better.

I like being a regular for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that it gives me a chance to get to know the other regulars. We don’t always know each other by name, but we often know each other by drink, and that feels like an essential thing to know about each other in this coffee shop life. Maybe because it’s a detail, a tiny personal thing that says something about who we are. For example, I can’t offer any scientific or statistical analysis to back this up, but my experience says that people who like icy frappe-type drinks really are more chill in real life than those of us who tend toward lattes.

I suppose, then, I shouldn’t be surprised when random conversations pop up that allows us to drop into deeper levels of familiarity with one another.

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''Life is too short not to enjoy great coffee'' photo (c) 2009, Ginny - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Large Coffee To-Go has a kind face and some kind of military ball cap on. It looks like one of the ones my dad wears now that he’s retired. I can’t tell what unit Large Coffee To-Go served in because the lettering is too small, but there’s no mistaking that this guy was Army and proud of it. His mustache twitches a bit when he talks and his smile is kind of crooked when he asks, “You were sitting in that seat studying six months ago. Is studying all you ever do?”

I tell him no, but kind of yes because I’m writing a book. His face doesn’t change, he holds his smile, and he asks me what it’s about. I tell him that it’s about church life because I’m finding that’s the easiest thing to say, so that I don’t bore people with too many details too fast. Large Coffee To-Go never loses his smile and says, “Good for you! I think everybody’s got a book in them, but few people have the courage to write it. What’s your name?”

I tell him, and he says that he’s going to keep an eye out for my book. He says that he’s been a reader his whole life, that he started reading when he was three, and he gives me some absurd number of books that he’s read in his sixty-some years. And then he says he thinks the world needs more really good books.

“Let me ask you this,” I say to Large Coffee To-Go. “In your estimation, given all those books you’ve read, what makes a really great book?”

He leans on the back of the chair across of me and tells me, “You have to tell the truth. Even if it’s fiction, you have to ground it in some simple truth. And it has to be written simply. You can’t be long-winded. People can tell when you’re bullshitting.”

I tell him that I agree, and I thank him for answering my question. He says, “No, thank you. There aren’t enough readers and writers your age, and literate people rule the world.” He rises from the chair he was leaning on and walks toward the exit again. His hand on the door handle, he turns and winks at me, “Keep writing.”

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Choosing a creative vocation isn’t easy. People don’t get it when you’re willing to give up a regular schedule and benefits and a 401k to sit in a coffee shop and write all the time. When people ask you what you do, they don’t always know how to respond when you tell them that you take photos or sculpt or paint or play guitar. And that’s okay, because I don’t think it means that they don’t respect the art of it all.

I think most people think like Large Coffee To-Go, actually. I think that most people respect the hell out of the art of it all, and I think most people are excited to talk to people who are spending their lives pouring out creatively. I think most people wish for the courage to publish a book, or show their paintings in a gallery, or sing on a stage and I think that talking to us about our creative vocations reminds them that are people out there who do. And I think most people genuinely want to know what it’s like to take a risk and live life with such exposed vulnerability.

If you are someone who writes or paints or sculpts or plays an instrument – keep doing it. Do it if it’s your vocation or not. Write if you can spend hours at a coffee shop or if you have to steal an hour from somewhere else if your day. Paint if you have a studio or if you have to spread out next to your kids at the kitchen table. Make music in your garage or at church or alone in your living room. Just do it. Do it for the art of it all. Do it because you have a truth to tell.

Do it for you, and do it for me, and do it for Large Coffee To-Go.