A Mess of Words

I was Swiffering our bedroom floor while listening to a podcast the other day and the lady being interviewed said she tries to live by these simple guiding words. Of course, I wrote them down.


I make all kinds of sticky notes and scrap paper reminders. My eyes search them each time I sit at my writing desk. My current favorite is “I’m just gonna write a short, bad book,” courtesy of Dani Shapiro’s book on writing.


I wanted to write a blog post not about my motherhood journey. As you can likely tell from my last few blog posts, that is one of the things I talk and pray and journal and think about the most at this point in my life. I hoped for a creative distraction this week and thought I’d use the three guidelines from the podcast to guide my newest post.

Do what you know.

I know words and quotes. You know I know Anne Lamott. I know how to write letters, how to journal, how to make lists, how to copy quotes. The question is What should I do with what I know?

Dani Shapiro points me to the answer:

Word after word, sentence after sentence, we build our writing lives....The only remedy - the only cure - for the writer is writing.
— Dani Shapiro, Still Writing

Okay, so I’ll keep writing. Forever.

However, the tides have turned on me. I met with my friend Missy on Thursday morning to discuss what I had been anticipating as my summer writing project: To get my childhood down on paper. As it turns out, I realized during our conversation that such a project might have the unfortunate effect of allowing me to succeed at the wrong thing this summer.

Missy spoke wisely, gently, clarifyingly when she said: You won't think or write your way into being the mom you hope to be. You will live your way into it. I knew the instant she said it that she’s right. My most worthy goal this summer is not to write what I thought I’d write, but to allow daily physical and psychological margin to connect with my children and to have experiences and feelings together. I’m going to ask The Harsh Manager to move to the backseat and let me enjoy this gift of time. The writer in me hopes to record our memories in both words and pictures, but anything along those lines will be received as a gift, rather than demanded.

Finish what you started.

We started our Summer Lists as a family the other night. Each of us wrote down activities we would like to do this summer and I plan to use these lists as our guide for making memories. I felt it was important that I not be the only list-generator and force upon my children things I think we ought to do.


Another thing that was solidified for me through talking with Missy is that I need support. It’s okay that I don’t want to do crafts or science experiments with Story as long as I find ways to support those desires in her, and show her that I know her and see her feelings and needs. Missy said she’ll do crafts with my children or go to the library with us and help them pick out books, and I know she meant it. I have other friends who’ve already asked us to go places with them, too. The point is not to allow me off the hook, but to fight the message in my head that says You’re on your own. This desire to connect with my children is not about me bringing The Harsh Manager to bear on another task. It’s about leaving that part of me at home, lowering the bar, and going off to have some fun with my kids and my friends and their kids. Oooh, it’s all feeling a little scary at this point.

Use what you have.

This is a fun one for me because I love to use things up. It’s probably my Abstainer, All-or-Nothing approach to life. I receive great pleasure in finishing off the last of the cereal, or scooping the last bit of cantaloupe into Sailor’s bowl so I can wash the container, or knowing the shampoo bottle is finally as empty as it can possibly be so now I can put it in the recycling. Even though what follows is that I simply go to the pantry or open the bathroom cabinet and get out a new bag or bottle of whatever, it is still extremely satisfying to me to know I used something up. So that’s one way to use what I have, but more meaningfully, here’s another:

I have 14 weeks of summer about to begin. I have four children and zero nap takers. We all have our health. I have a church that is one of the biggest blessings of my entire life. I have friends who love me and want to help me. I have a husband who’s a 9 and an Obliger - enough said. My life is tethered to the Resurrection, which, as our priest shared on Easter Sunday, means: “If God raised Jesus from the dead, everything else is just rock ‘n roll.” Or as Dallas Willard put it (which I had made into a sign):


Ahhh…Deep Breath. In spite of the hard and scary things, like taking children out of the house, these outings are probably not as scary as I’ve let myself believe. If I use what I have, then that means I lean on friends and the Holy Spirit for help and encouragement, for eyes to see and ears to hear. I guess I turned this back into a post on mothering after all, but this is what is.

I am a mom trying to become a mom. May this summer reflect that. May I have small victories. May I know what laughter and fun are. May I not fear feelings. May I count as joy the things that go wrong or differently than I envisioned. May I realize that producing content is not the same as producing character. May The Harsh Manager be tempered by the Spirit. May my children know my gentleness and strength.

You have given me the shield of your salvation,
and your right hand supported me,
and your gentleness made me great.
You gave a wide place for my steps under me,
and my feet did not slip.
— Psalm 18:35-36