What is this life if, full of care We have no time to stand and stare? -W.H. Davies
I wrote my first letter of the Letter Project on March 9, 2015, to the same friend Sarah that I talked about last time. It was a chalkboard thank you.
Dear Sarah, We had such a lovely time at your house last night. The kids could not stop talking about how much fun they had, and again this morning Story remembered Catherine and asked if we could have her over here to play. What a blessing for our kids to enjoy one another like that, and for us to do the same! Thank you for the wonderful meal you cooked. We all enjoyed it very much. And thank you to Ryan for the grilling. It was nice to get to know you guys a bit more, and to realize the things we have in common (like our fun business ideas that never stop!). I also really liked what you said about human-sized endeavors - it feels more meaningful and attainable than our current bent. That will stick with me, so thank you for that! We look forward to more time with your family in the near future. Thank you again for such hospitality and welcome. Love, Ginger
The night that Ryan and Sarah had our family over for dinner was the night I first heard the phrase “human-sized life.” I was intrigued by this idea, and I started to mull over what it means not just to be human, but to live as a human.
Am I meant to read eight online articles on natural remedies for ear infections before picking a course of action? Should I send twelve emails in a row, just because I can? Is it okay to shop at Costco, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Publix, and Aldi, all in the same week? Do I need to wish happy birthday to all of my Facebook friends? Do I even know all my Facebook friends? And tell me, who is the voice in our heads that keeps telling us that just because we’re invited, we have to say Yes?
Lately, I have felt myself shifting to a No person. By that, I don’t mean someone who thinks the worst of people or circumstances or myself. I generally expect things to work out for the best and I go forth with a positive mindset each day. I talk to my kids about their own Can-Do attitude, and I think about trying to say Yes to the kids so they don’t constantly hear my mouth saying No (which is why you will see Story wearing a Batman shirt and Batman boots to church, or why the kids go swimming in their clothes or take baths in their bathing suits sometimes). The shift I’m referring to is that my heart has begun to say No to things I used to say Yes to.
I didn’t go to the Moms’ Night for my boys’ school a couple weeks ago. I didn’t sign up to contribute anything to Taco Tuesday for the teacher appreciation meal at their school the week before that. I didn’t stop by Story’s classroom on her last day of preschool last month to witness the class gift being presented to the teacher. I didn’t take Cash to an all-class playdate to say goodbye to one of his classmates who is moving. I didn’t research summer camps and our family didn’t stay after church the other week for a shared meal to celebrate and bless an engaged couple. I also came really close to not signing anyone up for Vacation Bible School. And even the two kids I signed up may not go all five days.
All of the above are good things. They all have the potential to allow me (or my kids) to be a blessing. Singularly, I could say Yes to any of them and be fine. But collectively, they have the power to drain me, make me resentful, and turn me into a machine that does without thinking and that lives without loving.
A machine is good at running and running, but over time it breaks down. So will I if I live like that. If my body doesn’t break down, I know my mind and emotions and soul and relationships will. Instead, I want to work and rest and play and recharge and sit and think and pray and love and feel and wait and learn and grow. I want all that God meant when he made me human, and let’s be honest….I’m still not very good at it yet. But I can think about it now, and I can write about it.
Below are a few of my more human-sized desires lately:
I want to have time to cut my fingernails and all my kids’ fingernails on a regular basis, without being annoyed at the time it takes. Toenails, too, I guess.
I want to have margin in my life to stop at QT for gas in the van before the E lights up again on the dashboard.
I want to be home to start a pot of 45-minute rice in the afternoon, or to bake sweet potatoes for an hour and a half in the morning.
I want to have time to sit down and watch the sunset sometimes, and I desire bandwidth to acknowledge and appreciate the baby bringing me weeds as flowers. They don’t stay like this forever, you know.
I want my big kids to learn table manners and tying shoes and memory verses and cleaning bathrooms and folding laundry and helping with Sailor. It all takes time, and there is very little glamour. But we do it because we are human.
No to this and that birthday party, and No to too many errands and outings. But Yes to look and listen. Yes to relook and relisten. Yes to writing letters. Yes to playing outside before dinner. Yes to less driving in the van. Yes to more sleep. DoubleYes to having friends over for dinner. Yes to jumping in the lake. Yes to being home. Yes to restarting this blog.
I wish I could take the kids to the library, or the farmer's market, or the park more often. I wish I could plan playdates more regularly and attend the Moms' Nights every month. If I were super-human, I could put my name on every sign-up sheet and be present in my kids' classrooms and attend all the birthday parties and say Yes always.
I do realize that it takes a conscious, extreme-sounding choice sometimes to say No to what everyone says Yes to, or to say Yes to what most say No to. I also realize that my Yes and your Yes (or my No and your No) may be different, but striving for human-sized living is always a worthy goal.
For me, the experience of writing letters by hand for a whole year was the epitome of taking my humanness back.
At the beginning of the Letter Project, I was not sure it would be possible for me to find the time each day to write a real letter. My life felt full already, yet some true place inside of me said Yes to this.
So I started the very next day, because to start is always a human possibility. It did not happen overnight, but through this work, I came to experience how adding one right thing, the human-sized task of writing a daily letter, brought fullness to so many of my relationships and allowed me to be true to how God made me as a writer and as a person.
The world demands that I do, conquer, control, accomplish, and produce. But to write a letter is to think, share, engage, process, and converse. I trade in doing for being, act for art. My soul receives nourishment as my humanness is validated, highlighted, and celebrated. I walk to the mailbox, raise a red flag, and heed the warning to keep living a human-sized life.
To Wonder and Ponder: In what ways are you currently living that would fall outside the scope of “human-sized” living? What can you say No to, in order to say Yes to what you really want? Do you feel like a human or like a machine? Which is more sustainable? I welcome you to comment or send a letter to the editor. But even if you don't, I welcome you to take the time to stop and stare, to think, and to be human.