Meredith: 43 Months

Sweet Meredith,





Winter is looming. Our first snow is in the forecast for next week and our luxuriously warm November dissolved into a big puddle of cold rain today. I’m coming to treasure winter more than I ever have because it means quiet oatmeal with a candle as the sun comes up and easy early bedtimes after dinner because it’s already gone down. Winter is a time for doing less. And for soup. And, at the start anyway, for anticipating Christmas. (You’ve put in a request for a pink tape measure.)


These days are full of racing around the house playing emergency vehicles with Jacob, yanking on Joshua’s arms with big angsty love, taking walks down the sidewalk with your baby (and coming to my house for a “visit” at regular intervals along the way), and getting waist-deep in the river of your imagination, usually led by Jacob. We like to stay home all day when we have the chance, and sometimes I play with you but usually I don’t, because you do just fine by yourself. But I watch you and I grin and laugh and wonder, and I wish I were as good at it as you are. The days are full of reading poems under blankets and reciting the ones about mud and the bothersome baby brother at random moments throughout the day (with giggles). They are full of big nasty spats with Jacob over tiny things and constant reminders that you must always use a gracious voice. They’re full of the impossibly annoying moments when you decide to yell to me across the house and you can’t take the hint of my returned silence that you should STOP YELLING.


This month you celebrated Halloween for the first time (you were a princess) and attended your first birthday party (the theme was princesses). You showed me the deep compassion and tenderness you are capable of when I broke my toe one morning in the library. And you showed me the devious abstractions you are capable of when you began saying “I’m sick” every time Jacob got a dose of medicine. (Work on your subtlety.)


Nothing terribly profound has happened in your little world this month, aside from the second stomach bug in a row a couple weeks ago, dropped like a bomb right into the middle of Daddy’s and my anniversary stay-at-home date. Seven years to the day since we’d made it official as college students – since we’d finally gotten honest with each other about how impossibly terrible we’d become at living without each other. I feel like I need a nap when I think about how far these seven years have launched us – how deeply, irrevocably, exhaustingly into adulthood we’ve gotten.


You are actually genuinely healthy right now, and actually I think that counts as profound because it’s the first time in weeks, maybe months. I reached a point this month where when people asked how things were going I explained that I was praying for Jesus to be our healer. Forget prayer for patience and strength and comfort in sickness, forget endurance or the ability to see God’s hand. In a quiet moment with some Christian sisters as we shared our most heartfelt needs mine was really basic, and I choked it out past tears: “I just really want my family to be healthy for a little while.” We’re not quite there: Jacob’s on steroid inhalers for wheezing and up freaking out over a severe cough at least twice each night right now. But you are healthy, so (as I’ve been saying a lot lately) I’m calling it a win.


You’ve been doing your fair share of freaking out too these days, though thankfully it hasn’t usually been in the middle of the night. After so many nightmares in the last year you are rarely waking to scream and scramble up the stairs. Only once lately has this happened, and I ran down to where you were crying in your bed and snuggled you. For the first time ever I heard the story. Nothing gruesome or tragic. No hints at your future in therapy because of the traumas of your toddlerhood. Nope, this nightmare (and I wonder how many others before it) was about bees. Just bees. I always ask if you want to tell me the story of your dream and you always bury your head in me and decline. But this time you sobbed it out so I squeezed you tight and we shook out your blankets just to make sure all the bees were gone and then you were back to sleep. Obviously we’ve been reading too much Winnie-the-Pooh.


No, your freaking out has been very conscious these days, and often very calculated. Your tiny groaning voice, barely crackling out of your throat, supported by almost no breath, argues with my choices at the most unexpected moments. These subtle little tantrums blindside me over and over each day as you try to fuss your way out of basic things like putting on your pants or whether you ought to wear your new dancing skirt or your old one. Sometimes these little grumpy moments are so obviously chosen, unencumbered by deep emotion. You’re just trying to alter the situation and you think this is a good way. Sometimes instead I recognize deep emotions under the surface, because when I tell you to talk to me in a big and cheerful voice it comes out strident and steely, an epic attempt to squelch the tremors of oncoming tears. Then I know there are feelings afoot and I need to meet them.


Is it a surprise to say we’ve been rehearsing Philippians 2:14 and 4:4 frequently with you these days? Not that you ought not to feel all those big, scary, grumpy feelings, but we are trying to help you learn when they’re inappropriate so you know they don’t control you; so you know they aren’t where your ultimate allegiance lies.


Times that they are inappropriate include church when I whisper instructions like “Do not touch Joshua while we are in worship. He has to learn to be quiet just like you, so leave him alone.” Then your body starts to flop around in one big pout. And then (I’m talking about last week) if you’re not careful your attitude problem will flop you right off the front of your chair and you will face-plant into the one in front of you, banging your knees on the concrete floor. Then Daddy will scoop you up and run you out before you scream and I will follow so he can return to the organ before his next cue, trying to muster compassion to see past my irritation since, now anyway, you do need genuine comfort.


Sometimes your feelings are appropriate, and it’s I who need to adjust my attitude. I’m not saying it makes sense for you to be scared of a loud-flushing potty, but it is a reality that I have no doubt about. So when you end up refusing to enter a public bathroom (I’m talking about last week, barely an hour after the face-plant incident) for fear of the loud potties, and you claim that you don’t need to pee, I should probably not push you to it. I should know by now that it will all dissolve into epic screaming and shrieking like certifiable PTSD, so instead of helping to lodge those feelings of trauma by refusing to accommodate your fear, I should probably just leave it alone and skip the bathroom trip.


I’m almost as clueless as you are about how these things should go – about what’s appropriate and what’s not and about when the emotions need to be the boss or when Mommy should call the shots instead.


I will tell you one thing I’m noticing, though: it’s my own selfishness toward you. Times like that bathroom shriek-fest I get this agenda in my head that I need to head those emotions off at the pass; shut them down; short-circuit them, so to speak. Sometimes there’s just more there than I want to do the work of acknowledging, so instead of honoring you and meeting you where you are I try control or manipulate (i.e. subtly control) you to stop crying or in general stop feeling.


This is stupid. So I’m working on it. It’s stupid partly because it doesn’t work and partly because it’s not what I want for you anyway. I want you to feel safe with your own emotions and I want you to feel that I’m safe with them too. This stuff is more complicated than I ever thought it could be!


I think my way – at least the one I’m blindly, cautiously improvising – is healthy and hopeful, but it feels complicated because it’s something of a hybrid. I grew up in a sub-culture that didn’t do much with emotion besides try to control or judge or discipline or ignore it away. I heartily believed by the time I was thinking for myself as an adolescent that all you could possibly need in life was God’s law (as if it were simple to parse into obvious minutiae!) and a framework governed by black-and-whites like obedience, sanctification, idolatry, depravity, and holiness. These are still concepts I espouse, but I’ve given up the idealism that held them front-and-center, immediate, and largely attainable and operable.


What I mean is that now instead I believe in embracing any given moment, living in the present even when it’s a messy place full of brokenness and sin; refusing the tendency to fear it away, control it away, judge it away, shame it away. I’m not meeting our imperfections and our present with antagonism, but acceptance. This means that my intent is not to control you or see your present struggles as failures. The road of sanctification is long, and it is a road. Judging or shaming the way-points is a waste of energy.


At the same time I don’t want to leave you at these way-points, and I don’t want to celebrate present struggles as though they are an end in and of themselves. At the opposite end of the spectrum from that black-and-white sub-culture I just described is our modern religion of self, which guides us to pledge allegiance to our feelings. It takes a therapeutic approach that never moves past feelings, and a child learns to be his own measure. Do you feel angry? Do you feel sad? That is the terminal question, which sets up emotions as an idol and results in a world full of people that don’t have the capacity to love beyond their own selves and their own immediate needs and desires; a world full of people who never experience the voluntary subjection of themselves for the sake of another or for the sake of an external standard.


Emotions are good and important, and acknowledging them and dealing with them is healthy and wise. But they are not ultimate, and where I have a problem with this end of the spectrum is its unwillingness to go beyond identifying an emotion and letting it run its own show, because this is often at the expense of love for God and neighbor. Rather, I want us to ask two more questions after we figure out what’s going on emotionally: First, should you be feeling this way, or is it sinful and/or foolish? (For example, feeling grumpy when I tell you to put your shoes on suggests that you are failing to be thankful, to honor your mother, and to submit yourself to authority.) And second, how can you express your emotions in a wise and Christian way? This is where God’s word comes into play, and its teaching on what it means to love our neighbor, to honor each other in our various relationships, to cultivate virtue and strive after holiness and uproot sin, conscious of our identity as God’s called-out people, eager to put on Christ because of our allegiance to Him, governed by the hope of becoming like Him. These are the ultimate things, more important than how you happen to be feeling.


One of the other important things I have to teach you before you stop listening to me (Oh wait, that already happened) is about that timeless classic The Princess Bride. I’ll start today, with a quote from this eminently quotable movie: “Let me explain. No, it’s too long. Let me sum up.” What I am trying to do for you is to patiently nurture you into an ability to work through heart issues with a long term and distinctly Christian view, to ask two questions simultaneously, trusting that in God’s kindness they will never be at odds with each other. I hope you’ll keep asking these questions every day for the rest of your life: “What does my heart need?” and “What does holiness look like?”


I love you.



Joshua: 5 Months

Dear Joshua,

There’s not much more I need to say after these pictures stand for themselves. You are completely delightful, and you’re a ridiculously easy baby. Today you were a page (all the pages, even) out of Marc Weissbluth’s book on healthy sleep: After going to bed last night at 6:30, you woke once at 2:30 to eat and then again about 7:00 a.m. Then you took two very long naps, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and then one more short one at 4:15, waking for a short evening before being ready to go back to bed again.





You can’t make this stuff up. Well, you could if you were just pretending that your baby was actually a textbook baby. Or if he actually was and you weren’t pretending at all. You cry when you want to be left alone. When you are especially tired you flail and scream until we put you in your crib and then you roll onto your side, snuggle your blanket, and put your thumb in your mouth. This behavior is RIDICULOUS. Speaking of ridiculous, the other day I went to check on you while you slept and I find you not just sucking your thumb, which apparently after two non-thumb-sucking babies I find to be the cutest thing in the world, but you were sucking your thumb through a hole in your blanket. Unbelievable. I think there are laws against cuteness levels of this magnitude.


I love taking upside down pictures of you, as you will see. I love how your mouth and your eyes are these three perfect half-moons all arranged perfectly into one smiley circle of a face. You want to be left alone to wiggle and squirm on the floor whenever you’ve been held too much. You still get pretty annoyed at the insult of your carseat, though you can be consoled and distracted now, and when you’re rested you take it in stride pretty peacefully.








You spend a lot of time on your tummy these days. You giggle at your siblings and watch them with concentrated interest. You grab toys and eat them. You study your fingers and play with your feet. You roll over if it’s worth the trouble, though it usually isn’t. And you plant your feet while you’re lying on your back and scooch yourself all kinds of places. You can travel some real distance. And when I go find you in your crib I never know which direction you’ll be pointing.




You’re maybe only days away from your first tooth or two. You were 16 pounds even at your 4mo well-check, which was just two weeks ago, and that places you squarely in the middle of the growth charts. Here you started out packing it on faster than even your big brother did and I was sure you’d be 30 pounds by your birthday. Thanks for sparing me that back ache.








You spend all your time on your play mat, in your bouncy chair, or sitting in the bumbo chair while we are cooking or eating. (I mean unless I’m holding you or you’re sleeping.) It’s your tiny little world, and it’s a good world. You know Jacob and Merry will always be good for entertainment, and you just take everything in. Sometimes you venture all the way down to the basement and watch Daddy and me keep chipping away at the renovation work down there, our ridiculous excuse for a “date night” these days.




You are increasingly rowdy in church, and I have to spend much of the first half of the service standing in the back because as long as I’m standing with you in the Moby you’re 60% quiet but if I dare to sit down you’re immediately 60% loud again. So the last two weeks you’ve been getting dumped in the nursery for part of each service at Church #2 so that I can sit in peace, since after one service wrangling three small children I feel just a little entitled to sitting still and being a for-real grown-up.





You had two separate sets of spider bites on your tiny, precious, soft, sweet skin this month, and I was crazy-mad when I found them on two separate mornings after your night in your crib. The first set was on your legs, the second on your head about a week later. I looked for that bugger, but no luck. But you didn’t seem to mind.





By the way, somewhere in this past month Daddy started calling you his “Big Joshua,” and it’s stuck. He loves you to pieces. Also, and unrelated, I feel like I have a right to record the fact that after basically never pooping for a solid week you have had three blow-outs and a couple more impressive diapers besides since yesterday morning. What is up with that?


I just still cannot get enough of you. I just want to be with you all the time. It’s only compounded by all the solitary time you’re spending in your crib, so in your awake times I’m pretty fixated on you. I love that you genuinely sit on my lap these days and you even almost sort of let me read you a little board book the other day.


My favorite thing is how you know your nursery and you love it. How you smile when you see it and how eager you are to be in your crib when you’ve been deprived of it by a morning running errands. It makes me happy to see you happy at home, and it inspires me for this whole enterprise I’m engaged in – creating a place where all five of us can hang our hats. I want this to be our very favorite place, the place we come back to like Bilbo comes back to Bag End (I’ve just begun reading the Lord of the Rings for the first time since I was 14.) at the end of an adventure. I want it to be a place of true beauty, goodness, kindness, welcome, happiness. I want it to be defined by and created out of a sum of all our loves and pleasures so we can genuinely long for it, and individually and collectively feel like we belong here at the end of the day. I think we’re off to a good start, and this makes me grin.


I love you, baby.






The Dignity of the Ordinary and Adequate

I’ve had the germ of an essay bouncing around inside my brain for over a year now. The seed was planted as I wandered the streets of the medieval town of Aix-en-Provence last August, noticing the difference in lifestyle of morning markets and corner boulangeries; the humble beauty of a life in which one’s daily business is not much more than one’s daily bread.

This is not that essay. When it finally germinates and sprouts and grows into something it’d better be good, because I am expecting a lot out of it. Ya know, since it’s taken a year and counting.

But for now, the teaser. A marker of sorts, of a day when I especially noticed how I’m living this Ordinary and Adequate, and how sometimes there’s really no room for anything else. It was this morning: Jacob had thrown up immediately after waking up. Now bathed and hungry four hours later, I was literally watching myself get juggled around my house, and every little bit of it had to do with bodily needs: All in the same instant Jacob needed yogurt, Joshua needed a diaper, and Merry needed her hair washed before she got out of the bath. It was tricky to know which should come first. The puddle of pee on the nursery floor was still there from thirty minutes ago but that was obviously not important.

It was a remarkably ordinary moment. It was full to the brim but nothing unmanageable so long as I kept my wits and wisdom to handle the triage feel of it effectively. But all this work to achieve mere adequacy is exhausting. We’ve had three separate puking incidents (four if you count the week Merry had it Wednesday and Jacob & I had it over the weekend as two separate occasions) in just over a month. Let’s just say I’m gun-shy now. I just expect puke every day. And pretty much every evening by dinner time I feel awful and weak and exhausted, and I arrive at the conclusion that tonight will be the night when I finally puke my own guts out all night.

I always turn out wrong, waking up the next morning wondrously thankful to be wrong again. I’m beginning to think the issue is just that by 5:00 p.m. I’m straight-up bone tired from a day of nothing more than running triage on a house full of body needs. Using up my body for their bodies, to the point that I think I’m literally ill by the end of every day, only to realize that I’m actually probably just hungry. There are heart needs to meet, too, and those are exhausting in a different way. But these days it’s an awful lot of manual labor and an awful lot of laundry, so much so that a “night off” has come to mean those evenings when all I have to do is sit on the couch and fold laundry and watch Netflix.

It’s a good thing I’ve come to see dignity and beauty in all this humanness, because on days like today when I am watching it juggle me around my house like a set of circus balls it’s good to feel satisfied that what I’m doing is enough. I’m unemployed, barely tapping into my professional skills, and empty of any grand notions of changing the world. (It’s also possible that I’m un-showered and wearing yoga pants.)

Maybe the world doesn’t need an endless procession of world-changers aware of their own unique awesomeness and ambitious to make their mark as much as it needs humans, aware that the business of being human, waking up each day to pray and work for daily bread, is not only adequate and enough, but just about as good, true, and beautiful as anything can be.

Now to finish that laundry and check on the coughing I hear that might be puking.

Jacob: 55 Months

Dear Jacob,

So much for that half-birthday cake. I spent that day with the stomach flu. Every week or two you ask me for it and I keep saying maybe, we’ll see.

I love watching you grow and learn. You’re doing a lot of both in the margins of endless hours with your cars and trucks and emergency vehicles. Your size 6 pants that you were swimming in two months ago are fitting just about right now.


I love seeing you begin to take possession of the call to “receive instruction.” It’s listed on your dry-erase chart on the fridge right along with brushing teeth and taking out the trash. I love that more often than not these days, when I get on your level and talk something through with you, it sinks in. One time a whole day’s attitude changed after two minutes of gentle rebuke in the van.


I loved seeing your delight the other day as you spelled your name all by yourself for the first time, lining up fridge magnets on the floor and feeling amazed at yourself. I love hearing you comment over and over again things like “Joshua. That starts with J!” or perhaps, depending on the day, “Joshua. That starts with G!” You get really excited, too, when you see a row of numbers, like the other day when you noticed the numbers at the top of the grocery store aisles. You can count to forty pretty successfully by yourself now and you are starting to figure out how to read a digital clock.


Your use of numbers is sometimes hilarious, like when you announced with great sobriety and self-confidence that when you grew up to be twenty-nine, then you would definitely be able to handle eight kids. Your words, not mine. Or the way your superlative of choice these days is “one hundred and thirty one” as in “I ate one hundred and thirty one bites, can I be done now?”


You enjoyed your very first Halloween last weekend, dressing up (the world is full of surprises) as a fireman. You got lots of mileage out of your borrowed costume, wearing it to school on Thursday and carrying your beat-up old fire truck along for show-and-tell, wearing it to a Spooktacular organ concert the next night, and wearing it, finally, to go trick-or-treating with three little princesses on Saturday.


I want to get you memorizing things, because your brain is just so sharp and strong. It only takes a couple days for you to memorize a hymn or Psalm that we begin to work on in our evening worship times. I feel pretty sure that you could recite the entirety of your current favorite story (Make Way For Ducklings) by heart if given the chance. I’ve been enjoying nudging you in this direction by leaving off lines from your current favorite poem, A. A. Milne’s King John’s Christmas. You get such a kick out of it and ask for it regularly, and now we’ve begun to talk about what will be in your Christmas stocking. Batteries, for one thing, for the electric guitar and the fire truck.


All these are things you are remarkably good at, and they’re not the only ones. There’s your brother, and I wonder if you’re so good at him because his programming isn’t very subtle: insert attention, get hilarious response. That baby adores you. He has eyes for you that he doesn’t even have for me, not to mention giggles. He studies you earnestly, endlessly. And you oblige with endless attention. What leaves me particularly thankful and awe-struck is the way you demonstrate your ability to empathize, and to read another human. This is not an ability I’ve been sure you possess, and it’s a gift to me to watch it begin to blossom in this relationship you’ve begun with your brother.


I want to write to you this month about the things you’re not good at, and what I want you to know (and do) about them.

You’re not good at staying on task. You can’t focus on anything unless it is adequately stimulating for your brain. You are smart as a whip, and you have the wiring of an engineer. So if I can feed you things that engage you on this level, flying chariots wouldn’t be able to drag your attention away. But 99% of the time you are (ahem) Easily Distractible.


I’d be rich if I could make money off of redirecting you. “Jacob, you’re supposed to be doing the trash. Why are you talking to Joshua? Why is the trash bag in the middle of the carpet?” “Jacob you are supposed to be doing the trash. Why are you going outside to the trash cans without gathering it from the house first?” Half the time these queries are met with an instant, silent course-change and the tiniest hint of grin that recognizes your own weakness: “Oh. Oops. Silly me.”

What I mean to do about this is pretty simple: First, I mean to give you a lot that will engage you so you can feel your brain working at capacity, doing the dance it’s good at. Second, I mean to hound you. Kindly, patiently, with lots of encouragement, but I will hound you. What I mean is, I am not giving up on you and labeling you as “that kid who can’t focus.” I mean, maybe sometime it will be useful to label you as ADD, and if that time comes I’m not afraid of it and I don’t want you to be, either. We’re not pretending that you’re not bad at this stuff. But the only thing that deficiency means is that you will be working a whole lot harder at it than most people, and then you’ll be good at it. Good enough, anyway. And that will be satisfactory.


It’s the same with empathy and emotional engagement. You are no good at this. It means I am constantly feeding you scripts: “Jacob, she’s crying. Look at her. See her face? You shouldn’t still be having fun if she’s crying. Jacob, you need to go over there and you need to touch her arm where you hurt it and you need to say ‘Oh, Merry, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to hurt you! Are you OK?'” Some people come up with these ideas on their own, and I’m hoping maybe eventually you’ll be one of them. For now, I’ve got your back. And I’m not labeling you as “that kid who can’t relate to people.”


I guess the point I’m trying to make is that your deficiencies are OK. They are real and significant, but everyone has their own set of them, so you have nothing to hide. The question I want you to ask is “What am I going to do about this?” I don’t want you to be a victim to it and I don’t want it to fence you in. I want you to live a rich, functional, healthy life in which you can focus on taking out the trash and notice when a friend is having a bad day, and all that means is we have our work cut out for us, you and I. No shame here: just taking responsibility. Committing to be all that you can be. For happiness and for love.


Speaking of responsibility, we talk about it endlessly and it is a concept I think you are starting to get, even if the execution is a little rough most days. For you it means your shoes and the food on your plate and putting your backpack and your bike helmet away. It means that little dance that happens in the morning that starts with making your bed and ends with taking out the trash and joining me on the couch for worship. Those things are your business. Not mine.

We’re learning a few ground rules for how responsibilities get handled in the Powell house: First, no silliness in these moments. Second, focus. Yeah – that one. It’s tough. So we’re talking about times when you have to focus and we’ve decided there are three: when you are handling your responsibilities, when a grown-up is talking, and during worship. I think this is a set of simple ground rules that will grow with you nicely. For now, it means I can call your bluff when you’re giggling downstairs instead of making your bed, or spitting instead of brushing your teeth. Later, it will grow to mean all sorts of things.


On the other side of the equation from all this is something else I’ve been learning and pondering when it comes to things you aren’t. One afternoon I was commenting to a dear friend of our family’s that I worry sometimes that you don’t feel loved enough, since we are on top of you all the time for this and that. I feel like Daddy and I don’t find enough opportunities to celebrate and affirm you. We don’t delight in you as much as we theoretically could.

Hannah had an answer ready for that which was exactly what I needed to hear. “I think it’s safe to say that he doesn’t feel unloved,” she said. And then she told me a story from that morning at church. She’d seen you and tried to engage you in conversation: “Hey Jacob! How are you?” You didn’t even slow down as you ran past her, answering her question happily, easily: “I’m four and a half!” After all, “How are you?” doesn’t seem to be a question you care too much about at this point. Her observation was that your lack of self-awareness (part of that list of things you aren’t good at) makes the issue pretty simple. You don’t spend a lot of time sitting around wondering if people love you. I mean, heck, most of the time you don’t even notice when you are hungry or need to pee. You just do your brainy, distracted thing and everything else is not worth your trouble.


So this is me, not worrying about whether you feel loved. Your happy, confident, thriving. You are learning not to be a jerk to your friends. You are learning to compensate for your distractible personality by choreographing important things and learning them like a dance. You are learning to look at me when I talk to you and not to answer me with a big whiny “What!?” or “Why?” If I’m tough on you, it’s because I want you to handle these issues as a preschooler so you don’t waste time thinking pouting is a good tactic when you’re an adolescent, or spending all day staring out the window past your studies because you’ve never experienced focused work before.


But you can rest assured that I love you. I love the heck outta you. I love your smartness, your simplicity, and even your hilarious compulsion to leave anything and everything mid-stream. Especially your shoes. I’m not out to change any of this, just to equip you to be your own master.

I love you.



Things I Thought in the Now Yesterday

I’m thinking Switchfoot this morning:

Hello, good-morning, how you been? Yesterday left my head kicked in.

Sunday my pastor preached about normal. About small. About reveling in it. About being here. Now.

Apparently I wasn’t the only mom who went home and scrawled “Revel in your smallness. –Dan” over the top of her weekly planner page.

Yesterday I was in the middle of smallness.

I can’t say I reveled, but at least I didn’t self-destruct, and I’m calling that a win.

In fact, I’m thinking being in the middle and not self-destructing is the whole goal. (For now.) It’s like holding a yoga pose. There’s nowhere you’re going, you’re just there and that is the whole goal. I think sometimes that’s what grace means. I mean the kind of grace that strengthens and equips. Living in the middle of grace means accepting things as they are, reveling in the reality that you are not necessarily doing it right but at least you’re aware of that.

I’m thinking that living in the middle of grace means submitting to the awareness that you (and everyone else) are in a jam, in a hard place, maybe even dancing around your freshly-minted golden calf (we read about that with our kids last night). Somehow in the middle of that dance you are still opening your heart to God: letting him tinge – temper – your mess with His love.

I’m thinking that’s better than trying to control it, anyway. Trying to fix it so it’s not broken anymore. And it’s better than accepting it, letting go and living – really mucking around – in the mess of your garbage and everyone else’s.

I’m thinking that it’s better than visualizing tomorrow, when you will no doubt be able to keep things a little more pulled together so you can feel better about yourself, or maybe a year from tomorrow, when you will all no doubt be so much more sanctified and wise that there won’t be a mess in the first place. THEN you can revel. THEN you can claim grace.

I’m thinking claiming grace (and hope) when your 4yo son quietly crawls across the floor and throws two tiny dirty socks at your legs with all the strength he can muster, instead of shutting him down, telling him that he can’t be angry, means figuring out the anger instead. “Are you angry at me?” “Yes.” “Listen. It’s OK to be angry. We need to figure out what to do about it. Throwing socks at mommy is unkind and disrespectful. You may not be angry in ways that are unkind and disrespectful. If you are angry you can say that, and I will listen. I will listen to you. You can tell me that you’re angry and I will listen. And I will help you figure it out and I will try to comfort you. But you may not be unkind and disrespectful.”

I’m thinking claiming grace (and hope) when your preschoolers fail a half-dozen times in a simple task that you know they need to muddle through without help (you know, so they can move past preschool) is entering their foolishness-zone a half-dozen times (and not less) to discipline and re-assign without giving up on them. Without indulging that sarcastic cynic in your head telling you that they will not get it, ever. After all, this is their now. If they are bad it, so are you. Grace and hope, not despair. Be here. Now.

I’m thinking claiming grace (and hope) when you are spitting mad at your kids for not listening to you is going to your room with an explanation over your shoulder: “I can’t hang out with you right now because you are being rude to me and I feel really mad. So when you are ready to tell Mommy you are sorry for treating me like that, you can come find me.” And then when they do come to find you, claiming grace (and hope) means recalling how much you love them and how lovely they are instead of handing over forgiveness like a compulsory tax.

I’m thinking claiming grace (and hope) when you recognize that your kids are up to their eyeballs in their own foolishness and sin patterns means recognizing, too, that what is needed is not so much training for them as patience for you. Being here, now, today, means that today I need to choose (and ask for) patience instead of coercing (and expecting) altered behavior. They will always be up to their eyeballs in this and so will I. This is now, after all. So yes, my 3yo needs to learn to mentally check in when she hears the sound of my voice and at least twitch a hint of acknowledgement. And yes, my 4yo needs to learn that he cannot respond “But” or “What!!?!” or “Why?” to every instruction. But today that is where they are so today what they need is for their earthly mother to see them as their heavenly Father sees her: “He remembers our frame.” He is nothing if not patient. My kids will discover that by its reflection in me. That my own need for patience even occurred to me above the noise of my “righteous” anger in the face of their shortcomings means I’m calling this a win.

I’m thinking claiming grace (and hope) when you are spitting mad at your kids for going ape-sh*t in the doctor’s office, for sassing you when you say simple things like “Can you push the door open for us?” is to decline to chat with them. “Mommy, what does that sign say?” Instead of bitterly engaging in casual conversation as if there isn’t disaster afoot, “Mommy is really angry right now and I know if I talk I’m going to say rude things, so instead I’m not going to say anything. You need to leave me alone. We can talk later.” I’m calling this one a huge win, because it kept me from saying something stupid and it modeled for them a way to acknowledge (and live in the middle of) their anger without using it as a weapon.

I’m thinking claiming grace (and hope) when you are in the middle of self-imposed silence on the drive home from the doctor’s office and your 3yo calls out “Mommy, look!” means making room in your heart for your second thought when your first thought is “OMG I SAID SHUT UP” but your second thought is “I bet she just saw the mums in front of that store and she’s excited to share that special moment with me.”

I’m calling this a win because in the instant she interrupted the silence I was mad and wanted to shut her down: “Do you not care that I said not to talk to me?” I wanted to show her only the angry side, as if I wanted her to believe (perhaps as if I believed myself) that there was no other side. For an instant I labeled myself and my forever-relationship with my daughter: “She is going to learn not to risk intimacy with me for fear of what she’ll find. If I’m going to have angry days like this we’re doomed to live a life shaped by my sin.” But in the next instant I knew I had a better option, and I’m thinking this is claiming grace: (Caged, a little grumpy. Terse): “What, Merry?” “Look! Those are mums over there!” (As fully cheerful and enthusiastic as sharing my love of horticulture with my kids makes me): “Yeah! That’s so cool! Thanks, baby. I’m so glad you showed that to me.” That was all and then we were silent again, and I was still angry. But I knew that the silence held not only their sin and mine, but our best attempt to hold that pose with grace and a tinge of confident hope, too:

I’m thinking claiming grace means recognizing that sin, in Christ’s economy, does not mean despair. You can be angry and still love each other truly, wholly. My kids can feel the weight of my angry refusal to talk to them without concluding that our future is doomed to vengeful distance and cautious calculations. In other words, sin, tempered with grace (and hope), doesn’t have to be poisonous. There is an antidote. This is big news for me.

Switchfoot: I’m learning to breathe. Learning to crawl. Learning that you and you alone can break my fall.

Last night I let him break my fall. After we got home from the doctor I called on my husband to speak some sanity: “You guys have had a terrible day. That is done. We are going to have a happy day together starting now.” (Talk about hope.) And then I parked my kids for quiet time and I retreated to their 100% filthy room with some good music and a spray bottle of Murphy’s. All alone with a little sanity spoken by JJ Heller I cleaned and organized, not to enact my anger – “What a mess my kids are” (I’ve done that) – but to say “I love them.” I didn’t run away and shut them out. I didn’t despair. I didn’t change the subject. I chose hope and claimed grace and made something in our world for us to delight in together.

I doubt they’ll be much better at listening to me today than they were yesterday but I am remembering that I love them and that happiness (like, for example, a tidy room) is our grace-earned privilege anyway.

I call this reveling in smallness.

Meredith: 38 Months

Sweet Meredith,

This month has been full and crazy and super-fun. It’s really been the best of times and the worst of times, from a two-day celebration of fall break to your first full-fledged stomach bug. You had your first sleep over, too, which is part of why this journal is late in coming. This past Friday night you and your 3yo girlfriend lay awake until 9:30 in your makeshift space behind the couch, being funny and loud and ridiculous and in no way subtle. It was a good first sleepover but you have a lot left to learn about this girly art.


The month began with aunties and uncles, most particularly your Auntie Becks, who decided to turn your initials into a nickname while she was here in September and now lovingly refers to you as mrp, in a completely sassy and flippant voice. It fits and I can tell you feel good wearing that name. One of my happiest moments of this month came at the table of our dear friends in Minnesota as I watched you giggle in between two of my siblings. I don’t think it’s unique, my experience of isolation from siblings as a young adult – like we are each focusing so much energy on becoming ourselves individually that there’s not much room for each other. But I also don’t think my experience is unique of coming through that dark coming-of-age tunnel to find yourself delighting in each other on the other side, finding that these grown-up siblings of yours are also your peops. It was very good.


It was less than a week after getting back from our trip when you blessed us with a stomach bug in the middle of the night. I was uniquely exhausted already from having hardly slept on our trip, due mostly to your head-cold and resulting sleeplessness. So after we’d all begun to recover from that cold you gave us and I was good and worn out from all the tiny people being awake at the wrong times, there you were running up the stairs wailing at 1:00 a.m. I hadn’t been asleep long and I remember stumbling down to the sight of you and Jacob, completely flipping out, assuming with easy confidence that you’d had a nightmare. So of course I scooped you into my arms and sat my butt right down on your pillow. And that’s when I realized what had happened.


I was sitting in it.

Also snuggling it tight.

You threw up over and over that night, newly stationed, naked on a toddler mattress by the piano, towels for blankets. You were crazy-sick. And then you weren’t. You bounced back with the coming of the new day and I’d gotten all of maybe two hours of sleep. Three days later it was my turn, and then the next night Jacob. Why is it always in the middle of the night, all over your bedding?


That bug was momentous, but not the only disaster of the month. You’d wiped out at the park (knot to the forehead) and then minutes later on the sidewalk running into BUGS (scrape to the knee) and then that night the sniffles had started as we left for our road trip. So it was no surprise that you preceded that stomach bug with a big wipe-out, too, tripping on the concrete stairs and giving yourself a bloody lip with a bruise that lasted for days.

You’re hardcore, is all. Everything is all the way. All the time.


I love this determination about you, and I love how it renders you so skilled and wise in some ways, like how you routinely take it upon yourself to brush your hair, obviously feeling beautiful in the process and proud of your ability to handle a brush, or how you can so successfully put on your own socks and shoes and even usually your jacket too.


But it’s tough, too, and sometimes you get determined in some pretty frustrating ways, and you won’t let go of that thing you want and absolutely can’t have. Like a dress I chose not to let you wear or really anything, without a moment’s notice. You can go from happy and calm to stubborn and sad in six seconds. Then your voice gets low and gravelly like you’re about to bust out crying and you say “But I willy willy willy wanted…” I acknowledge your sadness and stand my ground and remind you that it’s your job to obey Mommy’s choices cheerfully. Usually this launches a stony silence as you stand still, focused on your disappointment and not about to let go.


I don’t know why these situations are surprising me, ubiquitous as they are these days. You’ve just turned three. But you’ve always been so different from Jacob, so easily shepherded one way or another, that I guess I thought I was getting out of jail free with you. Instead it’s growing apparent that you and I are at the outset of a battle of wills for the long-haul. Of course there’s 90% sweetness and sunshine, because that’s just you, but the storms, they are gettin’ stormy.


The thing is, I’m 100% determined to have your allegiance, your willingness to acquiesce to The Leader. Right now, that’s me. Ultimately, you know who it is. And as much as I want you – really, really, truly want you – to follow your heart, you have to follow God’s first. I want you to discover in your youngest memories what it means to submit your will to someone else’s, and then in that place to still be as happy as you always are. I know it’s possible (in my best moments I’ve felt it) and not antithetical to living in your own personal joy, just that sometimes The Leader’s choice is ultimate and yours will need to acquiesce. So no, my precious girlie, this time you do not get ice in your water because I said no. So get on board or you will be stuck standing there grumping till the end of time.

You’re not good at being grumpy, anyway, no matter how devoted you are to your efforts these days.



Your favorite things these days are treating Joshua with wild angsty love – the kind that isn’t very nice, playing outside endlessly with your big imaginative brother, tumbling at BUGS, dancing and twirling around in as long and full a skirt as you can find, and reading stories. You also love to have tea parties, so we sip (and sometimes dramatically slurp) various beverages out of our teeny tiny tea cups and we make it very serious or very silly, depending on the day, but always very VERY. And you always ask to be the “hostess” which means you get to pour, which means we need a towel close by.




You are becoming increasingly successful in the potty training department and I’m starting to feel like perhaps my marathon is drawing to a close. This was even the first week you’ve gone to church in big girl panties, and to my impressed amazement you took yourself to the bathroom while playing in the nursery after Church #1 with no help and no prompting. Of course then you had a rather hilarious accident after Church #2, but I’d say it was still a win of a day. And then there was yesterday when I sent you to the potty in the middle of having a lunch meeting with a friend, and realized about fifteen minutes later that you were, in fact, still sitting on the potty. I realize this when I explained to Jacob where you were, and explained that you’d forgotten what you were doing. But I didn’t realize how funny this was until my friend heard me say it, and (not having kids herself) this tickled her to death. For me it just felt ordinary, but she was right to laugh.


This month you get to be the recipient of my journalistic efforts on the topic of our fall break. What fun we had! It all happened rather accidentally, and like so many of our best accidents, it kept growing into this monumental thing and with it grew my vision, expanding to count it a new tradition. So my plan is for fall break to be our own exploration of our city each year – a staycation of sorts, being tourists in our own town and doing things in a particularly adventurous way.


The way it began was, it was Monday. On a usual Monday we pick Jacob up from school with lunch packed, eat it in the atrium of the downtown library, and then spend awhile playing there. But with Jacob out of school I thought it’d be a perfect chance to try out my long-delayed intent to walk downtown from our new house. It’s only a mile and a half to the library, so we set out about 9:00 a.m. when Joshua was ready for a nap. You and Jacob were in the double stroller and he was in the Moby.


As we walked we talked about all kinds of things, we recited through our morning liturgy that includes the Apostles’ Creed and the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism – it’s how we set our identity most days: We love Jesus (we are Christians) and He loves us (we belong to him). We know this because of our baptism and the world knows this because we love each other and all of this means that, today, in a myriad of mundane ways, we will live for him.


That conversation concluded we moved on to one of my favorites, and I grinned to myself at the prospect of infecting my kids with my horticultural enthusiasm. As we walked I pointed out as many varieties of plants as I knew until you were identifying them with me: marigolds (you were especially excited about these, for a reason easy to see), hydrangeas, mums, sweet potato vines… We smelled lavender and watched bees sipping nectar. We agreed we should plant black-eyed Susans and lavender in our own yard next year.


We stopped to pet a naughty escaped puppy and before long arrived at our first stop: the downtown playground. There I sat and enjoyed the Shel Silverstein anthology that was due at the library while you and Jacob climbed and Joshua finished his nap and had his second breakfast. We wandered around the fountain adjacent to the playground and past it to where we could watch busses coming and going from the bus station. Passing the police station we crossed a busy street and walked one more block (now the stroller was just a vehicle for our things and for Joshua) to the fire station where we stayed awhile to barrage the firefighters with a hundred questions we already knew the answers to, just for love of the topic.


We passed a commercial construction site across the street from the library and stopped to watch welders up on the steel frame of a second story, and a pair of strong workmen fighting some heavy cabinets off the back of a pick-up. From there it was just our normal Monday, eating lunch and reading our library books before going to pick out new ones and play awhile. We left still all on foot and tiring fast. We wandered through town to the gates of the university, stopping to balance along the walls of flower beds, return Joshua to the Moby, and take a conspicuous selfie amidst the crowds.


The university has a small forest cut through every which way with foot paths, so we took turns choosing each next path until we arrived at the other side, stopping for every manhole cover we found and putting leaves down every run-off drain grating. We picked up the main road again and you two returned to your ride in the stroller, completely exhausted, but not too tired to miss out on a final stop: a visit to the beautiful fountains outside the music school where you got more than a little wet and I let the mist cool me off. It was a hot and sunny day for October and I was exhausted. We got home to lemonade slushies and quiet time with only a couple hours left till dinner with our friends.


The next morning our tour continued. Tuesdays are ordinarily the evening we devote to each other, leaving everything aside to have fun as a family on a level you guys can fully engage in. Tuesdays are about you. Monday I’d picked Ratatouille from the library, the darling Pixar film about a mouse-chef. So I told you we’d make ratatouille together and watch the movie afterwards. After chores and worship we were bound for the science museum to meet friends likewise celebrating fall break. But we parked at the grocery store and wandered in without so much as a basket. We walked through the produce and gathered what we still needed to add to our eggplant, tomato, and sauce at home: a yellow squash and purple onion for Jacob, a green zucchini and orange pepper for you, and a bag of cranberries for me, which we sauced and ate as dessert on second helpings of warm ciabatta.


We put our food in the van, Joshua in the stroller, and set off along the walking trail that runs the length of town, pausing outside the museum for long looks at the wall art on the next building over. After a couple hours at the library we headed for home where we ate popcorn and slices of vegetables with hummus and took turns layering in our veggies in a pattern. After naps we finished our day as planned, both eating and watching Ratatouille.


These are my favorite moments – the ordinary things when we do them with extra inspiration at a slow enough pace to notice how good they are and how much we can enjoy each other’s company. The most expensive thing we did in two days was spend $5.50 on vegetables at the grocery store but we had a roaring good time and wore ourselves out completely. It felt good to be introducing you to something that is deeply woven into Daddy’s and my collective identity. In the short time we’ve known each other (still less than a decade!) we’ve discovered that one of our favorite things is to carve out our own walking tour of a city. Any city will do, and we have visions of including you in these adventures when you’re older. So for now we will practice on our very own town. And soon we may venture farther afield: St. Louis, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville. Maybe it won’t belong before we find ourselves in New York and Seattle and San Francisco…


I’d say I can’t wait, but I’m actually pretty happy not to bite off a chunk that big until you can handle your own basic needs and no one needs to be tied to me in a sling or holding my hand across streets.

For now, this slow, intentional awareness of our own pre-existing good life feels just about perfect.


I love you.



Joshua: 4 Months

Dear Joshua,


As I write you are lying just a few feet from me, pumping your arms and legs as you enjoy your activity mat. It is definitely your favorite place these days, though you are becoming a huge mama’s boy so every time you catch me in the act of actually putting you down you scream. It only takes a minute before you realize you’re in a good place and then you are agreeable enough.


You’re growing fast and you are solid weight – so heavy. In the last month the way your face seems to be a perfect clone of Meredith’s is being tempered a little by bits of Jacob’s features emerging. It’s fascinating, having a third child. Often I find myself reasoning that of course you’ll either be like Jacob or like Meredith, or somewhere in between, and then I realize that they do not define a spectrum onto which you fit, rather, you are wholly other: a point on a triangle full of mysterious little ways and quirks and personalities and looks. You are you, not them. Of course, you are them too, and it is fun to see the mash-up that a third is.


These days you’re sleeping a lot in your crib but impressing me with your flexibility by sleeping out of it, too. All it seems you need to make your eyes go heavy is your yellow blankie rubbed up against your face. It’s pure magic. You don’t want to have your arms swaddled down anymore and you’re developing a love for two or three fingers stuck in your mouth. Sometimes if we’ve swaddled you I’ll come to find the swaddle loosened and sopping with slobber from your fist reaching your face through it. In your crib you are happy awake, too, and I love to catch those quiet moments where I’ve put you to rest and find you staring up at those birdies I made. Somehow they got the name Stupid Birdies this summer, but now that you are serenading them with stories of your own woes and escapades, there’s a new name emerging: Bitchin’ Birdies. I just can’t help it.


There’s a lot of cranky going on the last week or so. I’m trying to be patient with it, knowing that in large part I have created it by our travels and several other disrupted nights, like the night I should’ve been writing your journal over the weekend that I spent on a midnight trip to the ER instead because of a migraine. You came with us since we didn’t know how long we’d be, and you were pretty pleased with the expedition, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. We were not entertained despite your best efforts.


Speaking of cranky, there you go again…


And now here you are next to my desk feasting your eyes on my face, you stinker. Your smile is BEYOND. People always comment on it, and especially on your amazing eyebrows, and how you can smile with one half of your face at a time if you want. That, combined with your big, big ears and the way you grasp your hands together in front of you – that’s a pretty good verbal snapshot of your not-crying self. It’s hard to look away.


This month was pretty wonderful, even if it was punctuated over and over with sickness. You had another big cold a few weeks ago, and then on Sunday you had a low fever and a very bad attitude. Now that you’re exactly the age Jacob was in our first days in Indiana all kinds of memories are returning of how he was at that stage, so it’s making me feel that your thrice-nightly wakings and all your grumping is probably just a normal phase. I recall a desperate conversation with some new mom friends about that very thing four years ago.


So I’m trying to ride it out patiently, but I’m also trying to shepherd you into some sane practices, like sleeping at night. Basically just that. You’ve been waking over and over at night and putting up a huge bedtime fuss and while I love you dearly, it is very much time for me to catch up on sleep since you are a generous 16-17 pounds and I am experiencing things like migraines that send me to the hospital. So you’ll forgive me if I let you cry it out a couple nights this week until we get some healthier patterns going. I am not going to be much good to you if I don’t get a few hours off every night.


Unless you want to smile all the time, in which case, I’m all in.


I didn’t think so.


As I was saying, this month was wonderful. There’s been so much simplicity and space to enjoy each other and there’s been so much adventure and good company, starting with the day after you were 3 months, when Auntie Becks arrived for a week of unending fun. She brought with her the most stunning handmade quilt, just for you. Your name is even hand-printed on a tag. It is blues and yellows like your nursery and just as happy as could possibly be. Appliquéd onto it are fishies, sunshine, a sailboat… It couldn’t be more darling.


Now that quilt hangs on our stair banister along with the two belonging to Jacob and Merry, which had been on a dusty shelf before the arrival of yours inspired me to revisit them. Together they complete our “gallery wall” complete with gallery lighting. I never tire of looking at the scene in the evenings when things are quiet: above the banister on the back wall, my mom’s oil paintings of Africa, scenes from just before Daddy & I were married. Now along with them, in the foreground and at a child’s height, the child-artwork – heirlooms no less than the paintings. I love this because it rounds out the identity of our home: You three live here, too. Full citizens. Our gallery wall gives that away.



More about citizenship in a little while. For now, the rest of those aforementioned wonderful things:

The discovery of your very own hands and feet (you’re talking to your fingers earnestly right now) and the coming-of-age day when you first joined dinner sitting atop the table in your big yellow bumbo chair, filling in the circle of us. Jacob and I sometimes hold your feet at prayers, finishing the chain begun by all our hands.







There are noisy, squeaky, hilarious giggles now. There’s been lots of quiet and snuggles, too, and lots of napping on people (you pampered thing), and even one nap on your tummy that you pretended to like just long enough for a couple adorable photos before you raised hell about it. And your vision is developing and you can watch me from across the room.


You’re learning to love the attention of Jacob & Meredith, and you get plenty of it, though Meredith’s attention almost always comes with a side of “Sorry, Joshua” when we notice just how hard she’s yanking on your arm or drumming on your belly.


You’re getting more and more baths these days (read: more than once every two weeks) and this week I am trying to implement a strategy another mom friend related to me: household bedtime is a single number on the clock, but the big kids go see to themselves in their space for awhile while the baby gets Mommy (and Daddy if you’re lucky) to himself. I have high hopes for you in this regard, and delusional visions fueled by my nostalgia from Jacob’s infancy, when, after his nightly bath, Daddy & I held him between us and rocked him back and forth, back and forth, while we sang a quiet hymn, prayed, and gave him our last kisses. We’re a long way from there, but at least we’re trying?


Someday when you think you have Jacob to be jealous of we can talk about how he didn’t get an ounce of attention out of me between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. starting when he was barely three months old. You’re not doing half-bad for yourself, you third child you.


You went on your first road trip this month and met all kinds of aunties and uncles. It was the celebration of Uncle Peter & Auntie Lyssi’s marriage, and we loaded up the van and, along with Auntie Becks, drove the 11 hours to Minneapolis. Did I say 11? That didn’t include stops. We left at 4:15 a.m., lost an hour to time zones, and arrived in time for a 6:30 p.m. dinner at the home of our honorary Grandma Lynne & Grandpa Al. You did so much better than I thought you would spending the whole day in the carseat, but even still, your limit was 90 minutes before you would tell us all very frankly just how disgusted you were with this new way of life. We tried to make it up to you with the lavish affection of an actual grownup sitting beside you, and once you even got to take the steering wheel for a few boring minutes in a parking lot.


Over the course of our short-but-sweet visit to the place that was home for Daddy & me, one very monumental moment took place: you got to meet your namesake. How we looked forward to that moment with eager anticipation! We’ve imagined it since long before you were born. And it did not disappoint. It felt almost too good to be true, but there it was: real; so much realer even than our daydreams five years ago that maybe we’d have a son someday and maybe we’d name him Joshua. Well, we did, and that is why: because you share that name with one of the best friends we’ve ever known, one of the truest Jesus-disciples we’ve had the honor and pleasure of witnessing. Truth be told, you need to know we did this almost as much for him as we did for you, because he is a man worthy of honor, and we wanted him and anyone else who cared to notice to know we thought so: And there you are. That meeting was a deeper joy than we could’ve imagined it. There were some pretty great smiles.


What I mostly want to tell you about is something I alluded to before: citizenship. But let me begin with the gift you received from Josh & his family. It is a beautifully illustrated collection of poetry, but not just any poetry. It is poetry for Easter. This is significant simply because it is the heart – the very life-blood – of the Christian story and identity. But it’s doubly significant because every year near Easter we have been in the practice of honoring the memory of our dear friend’s precious children, “awaiting the resurrection.” That story is theirs and not mine, so I will keep my story moving, but the point is that the resurrection is not a small concept in our world or theirs. Or yours.


Resurrection. As my friend Hannah reminded me the other night, Gandalf speaks of this time and place where “everything bad becomes untrue.” I hardly know a better way to explain what resurrection means; to capture the enormous scope of its power. Like tender grass growing with enough determination to break thick concrete, resurrection is nothing if not life-force. It is God’s currency: It is his identity. Our God is the author of and Chief celebrator of Life. Nothing is truer than life. Nothing is stronger. Because of the resurrection, the curse reversed, nothing can stop this force. Not concrete and not deep evil. I’ve been reflecting on this daily for weeks now, not only contemplating it abstractly but recognizing it all over the death-marked terrain of my own world. I feel it in my bones, and some days it erupts right out of my face and I can feel myself smiling for no other reason than Life. And somehow, my son, you – your life, your presence, your name, your timing – is taking all this on as meaning.


But I said this is about citizenship, and I’m getting there. September 13 was a special day in our world. Daddy took one of his two annual Sundays off from his church job and we gathered with a group of believers that we’ve been growing with over the last year. In this weird season we’re in with two churches, they are becoming our Christian “family.” Usually I go alone with you kids while Daddy plays second service at his church-of-employment. This time Daddy came with us, too, a rare chance for us to be nothing but a family at worship together. We took membership vows at that church on that day, and that alone was monumental for us. But better still, we witnessed your baptism, and this is what I’ve been thinking about it in these last few days:


Whatever stripe your theology happens to be, it’s easy to agree across Christendom that baptism is the rite of citizenship. “You belong here,” it says. I like the way Psalm 87 puts it: “This one was born there.” So what does it mean, this citizenship that we’ve claimed for you before you can even say your own name? It means we’ve claimed that resurrection life-force for you. I can’t help but think of Gandalf’s words about bad things coming untrue as I reflect on those words in the baptism liturgy:




“I ask you to profess your faith in Christ Jesus, to reject sin, and to confess the faith of Christ’s church throughout all cultures and ages. Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God? Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God? Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God?”


Claiming this citizenship means standing up and claiming that all the bad things will become untrue. That, at very least, they are not as true as the good things. We are not so much claiming for you a way of life as we are claiming for you Life. Unstoppable, unquenchable, grass-growing-through-concrete Life.


So Pastor Dan prayed, “By the baptism of Jesus’ death and resurrection, You set us free from the power of sin and death and raise us up to live with You. Pour out your Holy Spirit, the power of Your Living Word, that those who are washed in the waters of baptism may be given new life, because of your everlasting covenant.”


And we met this question with a sure and happy Yes: “Do you now unreservedly dedicate your children to God and promise in humble reliance upon divine grace that you will endeavor to teach them the doctrines of our holy religion and strive by all the means of God’s appointment to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?” That same friend who reminded me of Gandalf the other day said there was a word that jumped out at her as she saw you baptized. It was that word “unreservedly.” That’s a big claim, and it makes you wonder – what are we getting into? What are we getting YOU into? Do we have any reservations?


Again I say, what we’re claiming for you is life. What we’re renouncing is Satan and His power and the forces of evil and the things that draw us from God. No. I don’t have any reservations about this, because I have seen more than I care to see of all these evil things already in thirty years and, Yes. I renounce them. I renounce them for you. And I unreservedly claim this Life Force as true and as something to which you belong. Something which belongs to you.


This is citizenship in God’s kingdom. The Life-Kingdom. Are there sweeter words than these? “Joshua Levi, child of the covenant, you’ve been given the sign of God’s promise of grace through Christ. We welcome you into the Body of Christ and the mission we share. Join us in giving thanks and praise to God and bearing the creative and redeeming gospel of Christ to the world.”


My son, you have received the water of baptism and been marked with the sign of the cross forever. You belong to Jesus. Life is yours and you are His. Welcome to the party. It never ends. All the bad things become untrue. All the good things are unstoppably alive.

I love you, it’s true. But Jesus loves you. Oh, how He loves you! And nothing else is truer.