A Hopeful Lent

Where are you finding hope? What does hope look like for you right now?

In my own struggle with whether or not to get dressed in the morning, I know that I’m struggling to find hope. It feel like a nice idea or even like something that we once had. Maybe even something we will have again but that still feels like a long way off. Like so many, I am exhausted.

My children are little. They know about the yucky germs and know that we can’t go near people without our masks on. I keep more distance because my youngest isn’t old enough to wear a mask and we still live in Texas where there are people that think this is a hoax and refuse to wear their own masks. I worry about what I’m teaching them by telling them to keep such distance. I worry so much about my own sanity and theirs that I’m not sure that I have energy for anything dramatic this Lent, but I know I need something. I need something to reframe my frustration and sorrow.

In her new book, The Hopeful Family: Raising Resilient Children in Uncertain Times, Amelia Richardson Dress invites us to imagine that by doing simple things that hope could come live inside us. She begins by naming parenting with hope like this:

Hope has both an inward component and an outward one. Practices of resilience help us to find courage and trust. They comfort us in times of struggle. But they also inspire us to believe in the vision that Jesus gave us, that God’s reign will come here on earth.

Amelia Richardson Dress

It took my breath away. It is repeats again in other wonderful words throughout the book but I don’t want to quote so much that you feel like you’ve read the book. You should read the book especially if you find yourself struggling in this uncertain time. If you are not struggling, you are a superhero. I am not sure what hope looks like right now. That’s the honest truth and that’s why I need to enter into these simple practices of generosity, hospitality, forgiveness, blessing and storytelling. Yes, all of these are possible even for someone like me who takes quarantining to a whole new level.

With Amelia’s abundant blessing, I’ve adapted the practices she offers for the seven weeks of Lent. It’s seven because it includes Holy Week which means you get one more practice to share in with the wisdom offered in this wonderful book. I can’t take on that much more and I am willing to bet that’s true for the families in your church. It might even be true for you, dear pastor. You are doing so much raising your children and caring for the blessed souls in your congregation. Whether or not you feel on edge like I do, you really are a superhero. You are doing amazing things every damn day.

There is nothing strict about this approach to this pandemic season of Lent. There is a calendar but it’s really only because I don’t know what day it is and I need something to orient me on some kind of timeline. There aren’t practices for every day but something you are trying together as a family each week. As Amelia says again and again, try this. It’s an experiment in hope. Try it. See what it might show you about God.

It could even be fun. There are a few extra practices if you get bored or want to try something else.

Each week, there is a blessing written by Amelia, the practice that will frame your week, and some hints at beautiful books to read with your children in the Bible and from children’s literature. I also included some questions for grown-up conversation so that you can practice talking to grown-ups again about big ideas and stuff that matters.

I designed this for myself. It’s what I’ll be doing with my family. I’ll be dragging my husband into the conversations even though he doesn’t do God or church. I framed these questions in such a way that they are not too Jesus-y because I know that there are more families like mine, but I also wanted there to be something like this that would be easy for you, dear pastor, to send to the families in your church.

I know you’ve worked hard to create brilliant and wonderful things for families all year long and that some of you feel like you have no good ideas left. This is for you. You’ll find the link to A Hopeful Lent (for Congregational Use) here. By ordering this version, you have full ability to share it with your whole church for this season in whatever way makes the most sense to you.

I also created a version for families to use at home on their own. You’ll find a link to the A Hopeful Lent (for Family Use) here. When you purchase this version, you’re promising to be a nice person and tell your friends about this cool thing you found and directing them to the link rather than forwarding them the rad PDF you just got in your email.

I’m so thrilled with how it came together and I pray it will help families, like mine, find hope in this pandemic season of Lent. I’m so grateful that Amelia blessed this project. You should totally buy her book even if you don’t do this for Lent. It is, indeed, a gift for this uncertain time.

Thirty Three Years Later

Last night, my baby girl couldn’t sleep.

It has been many months since she was up every two hours but last night she returned to this familiar routine. She wasn’t always hungry.

It seemed that she just wanted to know I was there. It had only been a dream. It was only some trick of the mind, something that happens when we close our eyes. Fears jolt us awake. Terror takes hold but it was only a bump in the night.

It was only a dream. It wasn’t real.

Once she was cradled in my arms again, her little body would release those fears. She would grow heavy in that comfort that can only come from Mom.

It is, of course, not true. That was what I was telling myself every time I picked her up. Every time I gently patted her back and bounced her in my arms, I tried to convince myself that this isn’t something that only comes from a mother. It can come from a father. Or grandparent. It comes with love.

It comes with presence. It comes when that child knows that this is the person who is there. This is the person who will always be there. This is her scent. That is her voice.

I don’t remember these things about my mother. She was there when I was little. She was always there but when I was nearly six years older than my sweet baby girl, she died. I have no memory of her scent. I swore I’d remember the sound of her voice. I told myself I couldn’t but I did. It happened faster than I would have ever thought possible, but of course, I was only seven when she died so I didn’t really know what was possible. I thought I knew. I knew more than the adults thought I did but after thirty-three years of feeling this grief, I didn’t know. I couldn’t.

It is the anniversary of her death today. It has been thirty-three years since that day. It seems impossible but it also seems impossible that that same little girl who didn’t sleep last night and didn’t nap much today was determined to crawl across the floor this afternoon. It seems just as impossible that my toddler cleaned up all her toys tonight with only one tiny bit of encouragement. It’s impossible that they will never know their grandmother and I will never quite know how to explain it to them.

When they’re finally old enough to understand that Mommy can have a Mommy, I’ll try.  I’ll try to tell them about the love that I know shushed and patted and cradled me. I’ll do my best but until then I’m going to be amazed by this thing that happens over and over again with my kids. There is so much love around them but it is my embrace they want.

I’d awake with the same fear. I was older but it would shake me from slumber just the same. It was the same except that she was never there. She had died. She was dead. She was never coming back. It wasn’t just a dream. It was real.

It is still real, so real that I don’t know how to respond when my darling girls seek my comfort. I wonder if I should assure them of how much love surrounds them. It’s not just me that loves them. There are so many others but then it doesn’t feel right to push them away. I still crave that comfort, that comfort that only my mother can provide.

That has never gone away.

I don’t know if it ever will.

Grief and Parenting, Part 5678

I didn’t take my daughters to my mother’s grave. 

I meant to. It was something that I intended to do while we were in the area for my sister’s wedding. My brother had even asked if we could go together. That was something we hadn’t done since he and I were small children, but it didn’t happen. We didn’t go. 

We had the opportunity but we didn’t go. My girls don’t know the difference, of course. At three months and nearly two years, it wouldn’t occur to them that Mommy had missed this opportunity. They barely know that Mommy had a Mommy, not just in the usual way that children can’t fathom relationships beyond themselves but in the fact that Mommy had a Mommy that died. Mommy had a Mommy that they will never know. 

Last time I was so close to my mother’s grave, I took my daughter. It was just the two of us and it felt important. It felt like something I had to do to introduce my then ten-month old daughter to her grandmother. So why didn’t I feel that way again with my second daughter? Or why didn’t it feel just as important to bring my eldest daughter back? Surely she doesn’t remember the last time. Repetition is kinda important at this age but I didn’t do it. 

We didn’t go and it’s only now that I’m wondering why. On Thursday, I’ll have the opportunity to be interviewed for In Other Words which is a ministry of United Church of Christ Longmont. That’s right. This lovely church in Colorado hosts a podcast that focuses on the unique issues parents face. I am amazed by the brilliance of this idea and so honored to be among its guests. The host and pastor found me through my blog. She actually found me through this post and suggested that I was an expert on parenting with grief. I laughed when I read this in my email. I’ve only been a parent for two years whereas my grief has consumed thirty-two years of my life. 

I was back East away from the Texas heat for a big family event and it was wonderful. It was wonderful to be together because there is something truly magical about placing your child in the arms of a cousin or aunt or grandparent, but then it was my sister’s wedding, my sister who is the only child of my step-mother. I don’t see much value in pointing out that Mary is my half sister  or even that Jana is my step-mother. They are family and I love them fiercely, but I do wonder how to best explain this to my girls. How do I tell them about Mommy’s Other Mommy without it tarnishing their love of the grandmother they know? How do I share my sadness with them? Or maybe the better question is when? 

I’ll wait because they’re not quite old enough but if I’m honest, it feels dishonest to wait. It feels just like it did when I was eight years old and laughed at something silly when I should have been sad because my mother had died. Gosh, I wish that feeling would go away. It has been long enough but it persists. It hasn’t yet gone away. I still don’t know how to overcome it. Until I do, there will be a picture of my mother cradling me in my girls’ room. It doesn’t feel like enough but its all I know to do right now.

I don’t yet have words to explain how it feels to have my mother in the background. Since I became a parent, she’s more present than she was. There are memories I didn’t know I had and instincts that have startled me. My mom is here as much as she’s not here. 

Maybe that’s why I didn’t feel like I needed to go to her grave this time. Grief has taught me in this new season that there’s nowhere I need to go to find her. She’s always with me.