To Gain Some Clarity

You don’t put things down on paper to produce masterpieces, but to gain some clarity.
— Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life

I recently tried, for the first time, to read Pride and Prejudice. After eighty pages, I gave up. My friend Sarah, who lent me the book on request, called it one of her “comfort books,” and I fully expected to find my place in the story. Perhaps it’s not my time yet, so let’s just say I hope to try again some day.


For now, I’m reading a Lent devotion called Ashes and the Phoenix, and last night, I finished Gretchen Rubin’s new book, Outer Order Inner Calm. It was basic material but enlightening and fun. I joined a book club recently and we met last night to discuss our first selection, Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere. I enjoyed that story so much that I also read Ng’s other novel, Everything I Never Told You. I was lost in that story for days in such a simultaneously happy and sad way. So much of the emotional wounding that occurred in the lives of the characters served to remind me of my call as a parent. I was continually impressed by Ng’s ability to weave into the story the liturgy we pray each week at church as part of the Prayer of Confession: By what we have done, and by what we have left undone.

I have done and left undone many things as a mother, but most of the time, I find a way to stay grateful and hopeful. As of last week, I made a return to therapy for outside wisdom and perspective after months of reading, journaling, and prayer on this difficult course material called Motherhood 101. I have also made “moving toward Story” part of my Lent practice this year, and I’m writing a short poem each day to reflect on my time with her. Some days go better than others.

March 6
I went to you this morning
And you easily made space for me
In the room.
I practiced sitting and being with you.
You were easy to be with.
I had no expectation of the time
And neither did you.
But we were together.

March 11
Today you felt as difficult
And uncooperative as ever.
Yet you are mine,
And if I’ve made you this way,
I want to make it easy for you
To turn back.
We went outside and crafted from a book.
You were happy to cooperate then -
I gave you time and my attention.

March 12
I sank fast during bath time tonight.
Your drama drowned me.
But somehow, the Spirit
Jumped in to save me.
It was a miracle I didn’t deserve.
I loved on you in a new way
After that angry moment.
How did anger turn to grace
So quickly?
It was a miracle.

Writing is clarity for me, and it is grace. My dear Annie says it best:

Nor did I know about grace, that it meets you exactly where you are, at your most pathetic and hopeless, and it loads you into its wheelbarrow and then tips you out somewhere else in ever so slightly better shape.
— Anne Lamott, Almost Everything

Since beginning this practice of moving toward my daughter, I have been loaded into the wheelbarrow a number of times and gifted with words and affection toward Story that I cannot claim to have conjured on my own. Some of the tenderest moments of our times together have come after I failed her, and how does that happen? Grace.

There are other graces going on in this season too. The warmth of pre-spring days and the anticipation of life on the lake again. New friends who might move to Greenville. Mary Oliver’s “Mindful” poem, sent to me by my friend Barbara who writes me real letters. Making our bed (mostly TJ) in recent weeks. Therapy. Reading. Writing. Time with friends at Tandem, per always. Also and surprisingly, Epsom salt baths. (The fact that I have taken three baths in the past two weeks, after not taking a single bath in ten-plus years, tells me that we actually can change.) There are many ways these days that I strive to gain clarity and to grow into who I’m meant to be. I may or may not arrive entirely, but I love getting a chance at life and love.