My first baby was an Advent baby. Born just a few days after the Church calendar turned over in late November, she arrived in the thick of Christ’s own birth season. As such, her birthday (and mine too, in a sense) now serves as a preface to all of my Advent meditations, forever changing the way I come into Christmas each year. It invites me to remember the vivid physicality of her birth — its pure wonder and raw intensity — and to ponder the Christmas story in light of it. Particularly the role of Mary, who was singly invited and appointed to aid in bringing deliverance to mankind through her own very natural delivery.  

Where was the mystery I’d felt as a child, the anticipation and excitement? The flicker of hope in the candlelight of our Christmas Eve vigil? In the midst of stockpiling my childhood traditions of Christmas joy and imposing them on the life of my new immediate family, I seemed to have signed up for more than my spirit could handle. 

And then Peter began collecting little things.

It’s not only that God shines out from orange slices and bookshelves. It’s that with grace, these things make love and goodness. These things—caring for these things, building and cleaning and keeping these things—make a place for the heart to rest and be cared for.

I am contemplative and introverted. I am tactile and love to make things. These are all catalysts for articulating my individuality. I am also an alcoholic, a drug addict, an egomaniac with an inferiority complex and an emotional lightning rod. These things do not supply my identity either, though they are as much a part of me as the traits I cherish. And I am equally grateful for them because the helplessness they triggered ushered me further into dependence on God and finding my place on the path, one step at a time.

Young children naturally explore who they are and what their world is by spending their time wondering and discovering the world through the joy of play. I learned about friendship, nature, and my small town Ohio world in my hours of play with my friend Kim, and those memories have inspired me to give my own children time and opportunity to imagine and wonder without my interference. The mystery and magic of the benefits of play must be experienced as a child, and if a little water and mud are mixed into the process, then it’s even better. 

Like committing crummy jokes to memory, remembering is intentional, the discovery of great gain in contentment. Where the debris of spilled baggage reaches its angle of repose, the place where physical objects come to rest along an incline (to borrow from Wallace Stegner), there is rest from the near-constant onslaught of shame, of striving to be enough, to make ourselves worthy, to, in effect, make gods of ourselves. And maybe not being enough is a healthy place to be, a place where God is good and is enough, all the time.

I think fiction writers do have something I lack. They must have the capacity to close their eyes, at least a little bit, to the world outside their window. With eyes half open they are free to imagine. Free to conjure whole worlds and lives. They are magicians as much as artists, and I am the grateful recipient of their magic.

But I cannot close my eyes. Not even a little bit. I write nonfiction because so many memories are tapping at my window, there is no room left in my mind for any invention. I am wholly preoccupied observing and studying that which is already there. 

Fidelity is not a cheap word, and it is not an easy word. Its hunger to consume every morsel of life grudgingly offered it — to yield abundance in return — is insatiable. There is no doubt that fidelity includes our sexual habits and behavior, but at the same time it becomes lost if we confine it only to sexual behavior. Fidelity invites us to better understand our relationship to everyone and everything, to enjoy the blessings of rootedness instead of enduring disorientation, and ultimately allows us a better perch for seeing and engaging reality.

One cold and sleepless night I was suddenly overtaken by a thought that gave me such a panic that I immediately got up, wrapped myself in a quilt, and went to the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea. What if this was it? What if my mother never came back to us? What if all the stories I had heard my entire life went with her?

I know that I can never conquer the yoga mountain. I can never do enough to have ever arrived. I can’t fix all the problems and have an incredible, pain-free life. And at the end of my days, no one will tally all the items I crossed off of my to-do list and say, Look at all she accomplished. Because none of that is truly important.

For two women who had plenty to be angry about, nothing was more cathartic than jumping up and down over a ninety-yard punt return. For a woman filled with rage over the slow disintegration of her husband, screaming at the ref for missing another obvious face mask was therapeutic. There had to be justice and fair play somewhere. Couldn’t it at least be found on the gridiron if nowhere else in our lives?

Sometimes it seems that I woke up and found myself here all of a sudden, living this middle-aged version of myself. I catch sight of this body, this secret garden, in the mirror, and I am surprised. It is wild and untended but alive, so very alive. This is the key, unearthed. The decision to love this one body I’ve been given, the decision to care for it well.

My mother was doubtful, my sister surprised, my friend Abigail wistful. “You’re so brave,” she said. I’m fairly certain they all expected me to be nervous about spending three days in the city alone. But I could hardly keep the glee out of my voice. 

Beginning Violin: On the Joy of Opting in to Failure

The violin has forced me out of my cubicle into a world without muscle memory or transferable skills. Everything is a battle. My hand cramps holding the bow. C sharp never sounds quite the same in the second measure as in the first. I can’t tune without my teacher’s trained ear. It is humbling to arrive on Irene’s doorstep having made no progress from the previous Tuesday. The opportunities for me to fail on the violin are daily and infinite.

There are places in my history where I came to know myself in real ways. There is land that reminds me who made me. There are hills that sing to me of who my people are, and theres a road where I ran until I understood the girl that God had created within this lanky frame. These are the places that made me, and when the earth is shifting at home, or when I just forget the truth, these are the places I crave.