Someday you will sit in your cozy home in the dead of winter and dream out a coming of age trip to take with your twelve year old daughter, who is completely, totally horse-obsessed.  You will google “big horse shows in America” because you clearly know what you are doing.  And the first thing to pop up, the only thing actually, is the Rolex Kentucky 3 Day Event, dubbed “the best weekend of the year”.  You will notice on the pull down menu that there is a clamping option.  It speaks of yurts dotting a field while horses graze nearby.  It mentions portable toilets but your husband, who is in construction and knows these things, will convince you to book it saying that for the kind of money they are asking, they will roll in one of those fancy portable bathrooms with marble counters and an attendant who does everything but wipe your ass.  That, added to the yurt, makes it all seem very Abercrombie and Kent and you are convinced. This, after all, is Lexington with her rolling green hills and miles of black fences.  It has to be great.

You have a long enough drive down that you finish the entire sex ed curriculum you’ve brought and, unlike her brothers, your daughter is completely oblivious and not at all afraid to ask questions.  You will have sweat in your bra by the time you pull in.  You will get out of your car to be met by a man named Tad, who seems to know very little about this whole program beyond the tent he personally set up.  Which is very much not a yurt.  He will show you to the porta potty, which are the exact same kind your husband, who you intensely dislike for a split second, has on all his job sites.  You say to Tad, Uh uh, homey don’t play that.  Your daughter will turn to you and ask if she’s heard you correctly.  She has.

Someday you might find yourself waking up in a tent someone sold you on by calling it a yurt, sweaters coating your teeth and nose frozen from the cold morning air.  You will roll out of bed, which in their defense is an actual bed with linens and a blanket you get to keep.  You will have it piled up with blankets like you’re Laura Ingalls going to bed during the Long Winter.  The weight of all those blankets will help you drift off, even as the lively party going on two tents away fights to keep you awake and sort of pissed off. There will be a blue porta potty so close you’re calling it an ensuite.  You will fall asleep and wake up to the cacophony of it’s door slamming over and over as you lay in bed, trying not to imagine how high the pile of human refuse is getting.  The tent will smell like your grandpa’s army bag from the 2nd world war and will be dotted with teeny flecks of mildew, but nothing beyond what you would expect from a well-used tent.  On your second night, you will become a total thorn in someone’s butt when you request to move further from the toilets and the partyers and, while they are at it, could they make it the double bed you originally requested so you and your girl can snuggle up?  The wifi you’ve been promised that led to dreams of resting tired legs and dusty feet while watching Anne of Green Gables all snuggled up doesn’t work, so you will drive to a book store so that your daughter doesn’t have to fall asleep reading the program for the event you’ve taken her to.  You will feel a bit wary of the whole thing and all the ways it’s fallen short, even as you feel guilty for it.  And then on your way home from the bookstore, eyes almost closed as you drive, you will get a text from your love saying that you have unlimited data and you will find the battery packs you had misplaced and so you will crawl into your cozy nest, slippers on and hoods pulled up, and watch her show with her, even though it’s so dumb, you think you might actually become dumb because you are watching it. You will make it through exactly one point three episodes before you drift off, holding hands under the blanket mountain.

Someday you will wake up be to a whole new view because it’s cross country day and the entire state of Kentucky has shown up to tailgate for it. There will be golf carts buzzing back and forth as you make your way to and from the porta potty and while you brush your teeth with Smart water in your front yard.  You will feel a buzz of excitement and you will think that there is nowhere on earth you’d rather be than right there, right then.  You will tell her that.  You will say, there are about a million things I could be doing right now, but this is the best thing I can imagine doing.  This watching horses fly down the straits and over impossible jumps while the sun paints freckles on her face and the thrill of it all leaves us both a little breathless.  She will be wearing a hat you’ve stood for hours in lines for, waiting for the heroes of her sport to sign it for her, knowing that each signature is gold to her. She will also be wearing the same sweatshirt and pants she’s worn for three days and you will remind yourself to maybe just burn them when you get home.

Someday you might have the chance to take your kid on an adventure, just you two.  It might take you far out of your comfort zone.  It might include porta potties and a shower house with a hairball so big you ask your fellow bathers if anyone is missing their dog.  Doing this with them will not make you a hero.  This is what you actually signed on for.  Not to just bring them along on your adventures, but to willingly take off on theirs.  It might include horses and walking nearly 30 miles in 2.5 days and that’s ok because it’s not about you, it’s about them.  Now, I’m not a numbers gal, but I promise you that it will be a solid investment into their hearts.  They will sit someday in a sun puddle, maybe far from home, and will remember how you did this with them and they will feel loved.  They will hold their own babies and commit to having adventures with them that feed the soul and heart.  And maybe it’ll be well within your comfort zone (grant-posh ski resort in winter park) and maybe it won’t (Peter-scuba diving in Florida), but it will send the message that what is important to them is important to you too.  And even though I shudder, truly I do, to think what hair-brained, half cocked adventure Lulu will cook up for us, I’m all in.  And I will come here, to Judith, at the end and tell you all about it because

this is me being real.



Dear Tess,

Someday you will have babies of your own, oh I pray you do, and you will hold that squirmy,  warm bundle of squishiness and love will flood into your heart and you will think that Jesus could just come already because you’ve done everything with your life that you need to do.  That surely nothing can top this moment, so let’s just call it, shall we? You will find that love filling in empty places you never even knew you had.  Grant and Peter did that for me and I fancied myself the mom of all boys; was sure you were the Jack Hendrik I’d been dreaming would join his brothers in their escapades.  I figured I would probably never have girls and that would be ok; they were kind of too fussy for my taste anyway.  Boy moms are so chill and I wanted to be so chill.  And then you emerged and Dr. Cummiskey said, it’s a girl, and I felt right then like I had been waiting for you, for a daughter, my whole life.  We used to say, I know what I know and I know what I think: everything’s better, better with pink.  We’d wrap you up in that so soft pink blanket Nana brought to the hospital, all of us marveling at it’s softness, it’s pinkness.  Now it’s lulu’s Black, so I owe you a blanket. We’d wrap you up and marvel at how perfect and soft and perfect you were.  We needed you.

And now you’re 12 and you and I are heading out of town tonight for our Passport to Purity trip.  Headed to three nights in a yurt at the Rolex Three Day Event in Kentucky and you can hardly wait.  You’ve been dreaming of the horses and the fanfare and the sheer athleticism of this sport you adore.  I have been dreaming of the way your eyes will sparkle when you watch, of how the sun will catch your hair and make it look like it’s made of spun gold, of snuggling in our bed at night and whispering ourselves to sleep.  You’ve asked no fewer than four times if we can just hurry through the sex talk stuff so we can focus on the horses and I’ll do my best, but don’t rush me because this is so important.  Nana took me to Russ’ for dinner, a restaurant that is host to epically bad food and phones you can order it on right from your booth.  I can still picture her sitting across from me and I was mortified as you will be too, but now that I’m a mom, I know how very very valiant she was to do this.  I want to be like that.

There will be times in the next four days when you will blush.  You might wish the ground would swallow you up whole and drop you anywhere no one is talking about sex, but I want to be, need to be, the information super highway by which you get your facts.  You might choose never to ask me a question about sex again for the rest of your life, even when questions are burning in your brain, but I need to know that I’ve opened the line on my end so you can always pick up on your end and ask.  Anything and I will answer as honestly as I can and in a way you are ready for. Remember when you were little and we made telephones with tin cans and a string?  For the rest of your life, I will have that tin can in my hands and will be listening for you.  You just talk whenever you want.  I’ll be there.  Or say nothing at all and that’ll be ok too.

Tess, the instructions for this weekend call for a gift of a purity ring, but I’ve never loved being put in a box, so I did my own thing.  The signet ring I had made for you is like my own.  It has your initials engraved on it. Someday you will maybe get married and change your name (and your initials) and that’s ok.  But you must never forget who you are, who you were created to be.  You, my love, were created for purity.  You were created to give yourself to your husband and him only.  This is God’s perfect plan for you.  There are wonderful things that wait for you when you are married, but only then.  Your purity is a beautiful gift you will present to him on your wedding day and we pray that he will return it with his own purity.  This is what God wills for you, but the world will tell you otherwise and it may tell you in a voice so loud that it drowns out God’s and you surrender to it.  It may be that you lose your purity.  If this happens, we will be sad for you and for your future husband, but it will not diminish you in our eyes or in God’s.  There is nothing you can do, no step you can take that will change how much we totally adore you. Holding yourself to a higher standard is counter cultural.  Lots of the people around you are just trying to do what feels good, but you were made for more than that.  You were made for self-control and holding fast to the limits laid out for you in the pages of the Bible.  Cling to your Father and listen for his voice always.  Learn to shut out the voices that compete with His until your ears have become finely tuned.  Know that He thought about how tempting sex would be and that he made provisions for you to handle it.  Hopefully none of this applies to you for a long, long time, but when it does, you will have this letter in a safe place and it will help you remember that you are so much more than what you do with your body, but that what you do with your body…it matters.  It matters now and it’ll matter later.  You matter so much.  To us and to the Father who knit you together in my body almost 13 years ago.  You are the greatest gift and I pray you feel that always.

Dad and I want the following things for you:

We want you to fall head over heels in love with Jesus.  This might happen on it’s own, organically, or it might be the outcome of some time of hurt and pain for you.  We will be there.

We want you to lay down your life, to look for the lost, the poor, the sick, the weary and give them the very last shirt in your closet.  You will find your life if you give it away.  We will be there.

We want you to experience love beyond our family.  The love of a husband and children and maybe even some grand babies in cowboy boots and smelling like the barn you will surely live near.  The love of dear friends who know all your secrets and love you anyway. We will be there.

We want you to keep your body, your heart and your mind pure.  To dedicate them to God and for the service of others.  Nothing matters more.  We will be there.

Notice that we don’t write that we want you to be happy or content.  The truth is that sometimes you will and sometimes you won’t and that’s ok.  You were never promised a rose garden and you will find that a little time being stuck in the thorns will help shape you into the person God wants you to be.  We believe that if you follow hard after Jesus, you will find happiness and you will be content and that the world’s definition of both is so jacked up it doesn’t even bear writing about.  Trust us on this: if you follow the verse “religion that our father finds good and pure is this: that you care for widows and orphans in their time of need and that you keep yourself from being polluted from the world” you will find happiness and contentment.  We will be there.

Tessie Mama, you are my girl.  I love everything about you.  Let’s have an adventure together, shall we?  I can hardly wait.




Tomorrow we meet with docs to see if Abe can be listed for a heart transplant.  If you’d told me six months ago that I’d be spending my spring researching organ transplant hospitals and possible schools in each area, I’d tell you to get lost.  I’m no closer to housing options in any location.  Stanford is prohibitively expensive, Houston is full of black mold (and don’t try to convince me otherwise) and every available rental house in Ann Arbor has six small bedrooms and a kitchen that looks like a meth lab.  Nothing is 9000 and therefor, nothing is ideal.  But I’m putting the cart before the horse, as per usual.  First we have to meet with another Dr. Lee tomorrow and staple Abe’s undies to the table so he lays still for his echocardiogram and then we will talk.  Talk and ask questions and continue our information gathering.  Continue this quest to get our boy a heart as quickly as possible and in a way that sucks the least for all of us.  Until then life grinds on, as it always does.  There are kids thumbing their noses at the dinners I make and Abe practicing his name on Dan’s gorgeous cedar brackets outside and I’m still positive my last words will be, “Maggie, take a bite.”  Sometimes I’m stunned that it all doesn’t just grind to a halt when I think of the precipice we are balancing on.  Driving Lulu to an appointment yesterday led to a discussion on how organ donation works and included words like harvesting and coolers.  There was a lesson about the difference between brain dead and actually dead which was vague at best since I’m cloudy on the difference myself. But the part that was crystal clear to her was the someone-has-to-die-for-abe-to-get-a-heart part.  It pulled her sweet mouth into a perfect O as it sunk in and my eyes filled to think about it.  Peter for his part, doesn’t care about any details other than the possibility of temporarily paralyzed vocal chords post-op. If he could, he’d skip the transplant and possible moving part and just jump right to the part where Abe can’t talk.  Especially now when Abe has spent the last few days becoming progressively more dysregulated at the looming appointment and has defaulted into asinine question mode.  Questions including, but not limited to: what is it called when you wake up and eat? (breakfast) am I going to miss school? (for the millionth time, yes) is dog food made of dogs? (no, it’s made of kids who asked too many questions).
So we soldier on, knowing that we hold nothing to the pain and indecision that millions of other people face.  No one has died, we aren’t Syrian, we have plenty of food.  Yes, the dogs tear up my packages, but I as long as they don’t eat the packing slip, I can always find the contents in the yard.  This is a first world problem.  Every single problem I have is a luxury for most of the world.  And so, while I’m definitely not killing it, I’m not doing too shabbily either, all things considered.  As long as the teachers are willing to overlook that no one is bringing snow pants anymore because they are washed and stored and this cannot be reversed until next winter (CANNOT) we are good.  And if I’ve defaulted to basically forcing all the kids to get hot lunch so I don’t have to build sandwiches, well, that probably won’t kill anyone.  ‘Cept the mini chicken corn dog nuggets.  No one should be eating that crap.  It’s like the turducken of hot lunches.  Nope.
Happiest Almost Weekend y’all.  We’re nearly there.  It’s April 18 and the water truck will be here in two weeks and this time next week I’ll be laying me down to sleep in a yurt in KY, but tonight it’s snowing because Michigan done lost his mind, that bastard.  And we’ve nearly made it.  There is sun coming; I know this because I have refreshed my weather app like an addict. It’s coming.  But first there will be this appointment for our boy and I know God will show up.  Know it like I know there is oxygen enough for all of us in this house we never want to leave.  Waiting to bear witness to it, because it’s gonna be good.  And I’ll tell you all about it because

this is me being real.


dear younger me 6.

Dear Younger Me, sometime in your mid 20’s you will have a crisis period.  It won’t be a nervous breakdown exactly, so you will name it “the episode” but you won’t capitalize it, because that’s giving it too much head.  It will find you leaving the teaching job you love and becoming agoraphobic.  You will spend your days listening to relaxations tapes and wondering how you’ll ever possibly be ok again.  You will leave countless full carts near the check out when someone hems you in from behind and all you can think to do is escape to your car and do your deep breathing exercises.  You will think about dying often, but you won’t be suicidal.  It’ll be more that you can’t imagine how you can live like this forever because you will daily buy the lie that this will never get better.  You will become a shell of yourself and will lay awake nights waiting for the crack that will never come.  You will find Jesus in the Japanese soaking tub in your little farm house, right there in the pages of the Psalms and all the stories you’ve been told by lip and flannelboard will come to life and you will believe.

The terminus of this dark time will be that you will throw yourself wholly into getting pregnant, something you’re not entirely sure is the best idea, but which you feel you’re supposed to do anyway.  You won’t tell a soul because you’ll be terrified that they will look at you with soft eyes and say, are you sure that’s the best idea right now? And that when they do, your uterus will shrivel up and dry and you will never have babies.  So you will get quietly pregnant, with no fanfare or advice asked or given.  You will find out for certain after you are sick sick on your alaskan cruise and your first thought will be joy, but it will be followed closely by terror.  The Zoloft that is keeping you sane, surely that isn’t good for your baby?  This nugget of fear will take root and will grow a terror tree so big you get lost in it’s branches. You won’t wait to find a clever way to tell Dan because he will read it on your face when he gets home from work.  Shortly after, you will be at your parent’s cottage, watching a show with your nieces and nephews and the news story of a woman who had a psychotic break with reality and drowned all her babies in the tub will come on and you will kiss those soft heads and excuse yourself from the room and you will run to the beach and fall on your knees and cry out to Father.  You will ask him for a sign that you won’t be that woman, that you won’t do that terrible thing to this baby.   You will listen to the waves and you will wish they would swallow you up.  But instead you will surrender to the Father who promises to keep even the sea under his foot.  You will put yourself there too.  It’s safe there, you’re pretty sure.

The very next day, you will drive your black Jetta to a new doctor, trembling like the leaf you are, still praying for that sign.  A kind, so kind woman named Sally will check you in.  Behind her on the wall will be a clock with the name Zoloft on it, all in black.  This, and the assurances from your new doctor that the Zoloft will not harm your baby in any way, will be like the softest balm on a blistered hurt.  Joy will chop that fear tree right down and will take root in it’s place.  You will find that joy is always stronger if you’ll let it be. You will grow that boy run your tummy like it’s what you were born to do because it’s actually what you were born to do.  Those dark days of the episode will recede into the past and you will wear strength and peace as your favorite outfit.  They look so good on you, fit you so well.

You will push for two and a half hours and then the doc will say that she needs to use forceps.  You will remember seeing a picture in a book of forceps and how it scared the snot out of you.  The thought of your baby’s head being squeezed in those metal tongues will give you superhuman strength and you will push that baby out and she will say, it’s a boy, and you and dan will both cry and look at each other in wonderment.  This boy, he will make you a mother and in doing so, will show you your purpose in life.  Not your only purpose, not even the most important purpose, but one of your favorite.  You will take to mothering like a duck to water.  You will play by all the rules at first, recording all his feeds and diapers on the chart the nurse gave you, even when your wise sisters tell you to just follow your instinct.  You will have no faith in instinct at first, but soon it will become your constant companion and you will eat, sleep and breathe this mothering thing.  The middle of the night feedings will be your favorite, the rest of the world sleeping and you and him in a moon puddle, watching his cheeks suck that beautiful milk in as you run your finger over his curls and whisper prayers into his teeny ears.  You will ask for three things over and over in those sweet nights and the ones to follow: Jesus, make him fall in love with you, keep him safe, grow him up to love others more than himself.

Today that baby boy up and drove away, his new license in his wallet and confidence and pride etched on his beautiful face.  You cried when you ordered his gift: a silver key chain that is engraved with the GPS coordinates to 9000 on one side so he can always find his way back home, and the word “mama” on the other so he knows who will always be waiting for him, keeping his supper warm and dying to hear his stories.  You’ve done it.  Not that your work is even close to finished, but you’re off to a good start.  And this motherhood role has morphed from the constant touching and caring and diapering and guiding to a more hands off role of prayer and advice, but only when asked.  You are in a role that is less babysitter and more guidance counselor, more spiritual advisor.  Those long long days of pouring yourself out physically will give way to pouring yourself out emotionally and spiritually and they will be almost more taxing.  You can’t keep him safe like you did when he was four and you had to keep him out of the creek.  He has been released to the world and you can’t control what they do with him.  This is terrifying.  But then you remember that dark night on the beach when you cried out to a Father who had control of a world in which you had none and how He brought you peace and you trust him to do it again.  And the instant you whisper his name, you feel it flood in and you realize that this is how you parent older children, with wisdom and lots of whispered prayers to the only one who loves this boy more than you do.  And don’t worry, there are like a billion Smalls left to be totally dependent on you, so you will always have that.  You might think for a minute that, as Jen Hatmaker said, perhaps it would be better for you to crush their dreams so that they grow up and live in your basement with their emotional support ferret, but you would be wrong.

Dear Younger Me, suck the marrow out of those early days of yoga pants and library story time when they come.  Run your fingers through downy curls and breathe in the smell of sunscreen on baby skin all day long.  Because there is a day coming far too soon when those curls will drive off taking their person with them and you will be standing in your kitchen (which is fab, by the way) and will weep at the sight of it, will feel like maybe that boy will never truly be yours again.  Maybe.  But then he will come home for dinner, bringing friends with blue lips from gas station slurpies and you will listen to their banter over roast beast and pavlova and you will think that maybe these days of letting go and driving off aren’t so bad after all.  You will also think that perhaps you will spend every day of the rest of your bloody life giving something up.  That the Father who planted that baby in your tummy, bids you constantly to lay his and your life down.  And that when you get cocky and forget ( you will do this often), he will send a reminder that this life is a blip on the radar screen and not at all worth holding on to so you’d better let go.  The things you hold on to the tightest were never yours to begin with.  And someday you will sit at Judith, your laptop, committing these things to memory via blog and you will think that maybe letting go isn’t the worst thing after all.

this is me being real.