letter to my nephew

T,
Hey bubba. I miss you. Who am I kidding, I always miss you! Today isn’t your birthday and it’s not Christmas. There is no special reason I find myself writing you this letter other than the fact that I have some things I want to tell you. There are a few things I want you to know and remember.

I want you to know about the day you were born. How I rushed and rushed and even walked in quite a bit of snow as soon as I heard you were coming. I want you to know that the day you came home from the hospital was my birthday and you were the best birthday present I have ever received. It was snowing both of those days. Loads and loads of snow. A striking white covering everything. White as wool. A new beginning. A clean slate. I could feel something inside of me saying this was the start of something beautiful. And, T, it has been so beautiful. You bring joy and laughter and smiles wherever you go. Thanks for bringing all those things to me. I love you for it.

I want you to know about the many nights we sat, you and me, in the dark coolness of your room rocking back and forth, back and forth, just talking and singing and praying you would sleep. Well, mostly I was praying you would sleep. I think you enjoyed our time together and figured you could sleep later. And mostly, I was the one singing…you just made all those sweet little noises babies make. And really, you didn’t talk to me, you just listened and patted my mouth every once in awhile. I sang every song I knew. Sometimes two and three times. And, bubba, thanks for not bringing up how horrible I sounded. Or how much I didn’t know about feeding a bottle to a baby or changing explosive diapers. Thanks for being patient with me.

I want you to remember the time you got sick. I know you’ve seen the scar on your little belly and you’ve heard the stories about that time but you don’t remember. We were so scared and confused. We took you to the hospital and the doctors figured it out and fixed what was wrong in your tummy so fast. I am grateful to them for that. And plus, you’ve now got that awesome scar. You were so brave. You always have been brave. Except when it comes to bugs. I remember you would squeal like a little girl every time a lady bug would land near you or an ant would walk by. “BUG BUG BUG!!!” – and you would run off. It was so funny, bubba. Do you remember?

I want you to remember when you first started drawing and writing. “Asson, bus. Asson, face” I loved that you couldn’t say my name. I loved hearing the many variations you called me. “Awison, bus!” You wanted me to draw a bus. So when I drew a bus, and a pretty stinking good one, I was so confused when you said “no, no, no…BUS!” and proceeded to show me. Three simple circles. Thats all you wanted. Oddly enough, it was very similar to your version of “face”. And bubba, I loved it.

I want you to remember when I moved to Dallas. I know, I hated leaving you. If anything could have kept me there, it would have been you. Sometimes I feel like I should have stayed, but I couldn’t, bubba, and this has been so good for me. Don’t get me wrong, I miss you like crazy. I think of you more often than not and pray for you daily. Hourly, even. It would probably get on your nerves how much I pray for you. Do you remember the time you stole Pop David’s phone and called me from under the kitchen table? You tried to convince me to come to dinner. You told me it was only 4 o’clock and I was only 2 hours away. I could make it. I love your convincing arguments.

I want you to remember that you have changed my life. You have made me want to be better and do better and love better. Don’t tell anyone, but you are my favorite person. I want you to remember the conversation we had several years ago where you told me you wanted to go to college and then play pro ball. (You promised me you’d get me free tickets to see you play, so don’t forget) But even if you didn’t, T, I’d be there. I’d pay full price and I’d probably buy all my friends tickets too. Just so we could sit in the stands and cheer you on. I would make everyone scream as loud as they can. Until then, I am cheering you on right now. I am in your corner. I am on your team. One of your biggest fans. Always.

You can do whatever you want, bubba. Play ball, go to college, date a nice girl, get married, have an awesome house…you can do ALL of those things!! But, T, listen. You have to keep loving well. You have such a tender and sweet heart. Please, don’t lose that. Keep making friends with the kids that no one else wants to be friends with. Sit with someone at lunch who doesn’t have anyone else sitting with them. Play ball with that little boy who isn’t as good as everyone else. You won’t be the best at everything. Sometimes you’ll fall. Sometimes you’ll strike out. Sometimes you won’t make the cut. And that’s ok. Because no matter what, NO MATTER WHAT, I will ALWAYS be in the stands cheering you on. I will be so dorky and goofy and embarrassing holding signs of your name and wearing buttons covered with your face. I will scream until I lose my voice. I will clap until my hands burn. Why? Because I believe in you. I believe in the story you are telling.

So, T.P.W., know that I love you more than I ever thought I could love someone. You have brought out the best in me. You are a gift in my life and I love laughing and giggling with you. I love playing basketball and swimming with you. I love when you tell me all kinds of wrestling statistics. I love when you make those goofy faces. I love you not based on your accomplishments. I love you for who you ARE. So just be you, bubba. Be brave. Be bold. Love deeply and dream big. You are worth it. And I am for you.

In your corner and cheering you on,
Aunt Ali

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what I say to myself

“Stop it! The power of life and death is in your tongue!!”

Usually those words are spoken in response to something we say to others. We should realize that what we say has the power to speak life or death into someone’s fragile heart. Not often are we reminded that we also have the power to speak life or death into our own.

Our hearts have long ago been damaged and destroyed by words not our own, we figure they wouldn’t even notice the difference of life and death anyway. And in some moments, the words of life feel most like death. It is so foreign. So sharp. So pointed. They are so contrary to everything we have come to believe about ourselves that we are appalled and offended by their flavor.

I won’t lie, (I say that, but then again, that’s all I seem to do to myself on a regular basis…but, I won’t lie to you. That’s better), I am horrible about speaking life to myself. But for you, for you I want to breathe life into, speak truth into you, love you, and push you to be a better you than you are now, and realize the greatness that is you already. I’ll tell you that you are lovely. That you make me laugh and that you’ve got important things to say and offer the world.

But for me? Negative. I believe that I peaked when I was 7 and its been a steady but constant decline ever since. I don’t believe that I am lovable or lovely. I don’t believe that people actually want to be around me. I don’t believe that I really have anything to bring to the table when anyone else has pulled up a chair. And I tell myself these things often.

This past weekend, sitting in the middle of the floor wrapped up like a freaking glow worm, I said something not entirely unusual about myself. Chances are it wasn’t good and to tell you the truth I don’t even remember what it was. What I do remember, however, is the response I received from a dear friend. She didn’t try to sugar coat it. She didn’t mince her words. She didn’t even try to figure out the most gentle way to say it. She just put her hand over mind and told me to stop it. She raised her voice, in a firm but not unloving way, and exclaimed that my tongue has the power of life and death. She wanted me to stop speaking lies and settling for death. She sees things in me that I can’t, or maybe choose not to, see. She wants life for me. She wants freedom for me. She wants me to bring whatever I have to the table, no matter how small or insignificant I think it may be. She wants to hear what I have to say when I don’t know how to say it. She sends me messages out of the blue, without knowing that I am curled up on the floor of my bathroom reminding myself to breathe. Awkward silence doesn’t seem to phase her. And the more I try to push her away, the more determined she seems to stay. Now, don’t get me wrong, she isn’t perfect. And maybe that’s the beauty of it…she isn’t perfect and doesn’t expect me to be either. That is a life giving thing. She sits silently with me on patios and just lets there be silence. She doesn’t offer simple cliches or suffocate me with out of context scripture. She lets words be jumbled and scattered and repeatedly assures me “no, it’s ok. you’re ok.” And the funny thing? I start to believe her.

So words matter. Your words to me matter. Your words to you matter. My words to you matter. My words to me matter. And while I still haven’t quite got it down yet, I am working on it. And you help. Call me out. Shut me up. Remind me of true things when all the lies are disguised as truth. I love you and I need you. I need your words to help my words. My words are still a work in progress and I am trying to believe they are worth hearing. Because I cherish you so much, I would never want to do a disservice to you with my words. So be patient. I’m trying. I won’t apologize for the silence anymore. But I also won’t allow myself to stay there. Here’s to the power of life in my words. Here’s to the power of breathing and speaking life to you. And here is to speaking life to me.

Let’s never shut up about life, ok?

they remember for me.

this morning i sat out on a dock on this pathetic little river and wrote furiously for almost 2 hours. furiously wrote nothing. snippets here. vague memories there. and far off dreams that seem to forever sit on the horizon. forever out of my reach.

as my feet dangled just above the water i realized that the five year old me who played in these exact waters would slap the shit out of the me sitting here now. and who could blame her. i have all but completely destroyed that beautiful little girl.

i have believed lies. i have told them.

i have damaged and punished my body for simply existing.

i have forgotten the little girl who laughed so hard soda came out her nose.
the little girl dancing in the rain and jumping in puddles.
i have forgotten the little girl splashing with reckless abandon in this very river.

as I see her dancing in the water, completely unaware and unconcerned with the 20 years that are to come, i am overwhelmed with things to tell her. mostly things i hope for her to remember through all the shit that’s about to go down. “you are loved and you are lovely. you are enjoyed. you are beautiful. you are fun and you are funny. your laughter is contagious and your smile lights up rooms. you don’t have to prove anything. you are enough. you are valued and worthy and precious. regardless of what ANYONE tells you these next 20 or so years please, please, please don’t buy in. please don’t believe that you are ugly and worthless and not worth fighting for. i am on your side. i am for you. not even the future version of you, which is technically me, but the you right now. all five years of you. i am fighting for you. you are important. your story, this story that you are telling and living and, let’s just be honest, owning…this story matters. and so i am fighting for it. i am FOR you. don’t give up, little one. please, don’t give up. i need you. and your story. after all, it is my story too.”

at the edge of the river these words wouldn’t come. when it was just me sitting there i came up empty. unable to tell myself any truth at all. as i opened the door to this place, life and laughter covered me like a thick blanket. this circle of women – i need them. just like i need five year old me. i need them to remind me of things i can’t seem to remember or believe on my own. i need them to ask me questions like “what are things you would tell your daughter?” or “what would your greatest encourager say to you?” and when i come up short on answers they send me a text from across the room. i need them to sit out on a patio and ask me what i am passionate about. and why. and encourage me in those things. literally, these women and their words PUT COURAGE IN ME.

so. more than the miles that separate us. the different life stages we find ourselves in. or the different roles we are called to play – at the end of the day we have our words. we have our dreams. we have our passions. and we have each other. grateful to stand side by side with these women.

they help me not forget.
and when i do. they remember for me.

all things new. proof.

“I want to do what God wants me to do. Then the moment comes when He actually asks me to do it. And all of a sudden I don’t want to do it anymore.”

This seems to be a banner over my life. I want to do what He asks. I want to be obedient. I want to follow Him above all else, trust Him above all else, and rest in Him above all else. Until that’s what He asks of me. It’s scary. It’s unknown. And usually it involves dying to myself. And death sucks. It’s not supposed to feel like daffodils and butterflies.

I knew this day was coming. I knew that this addiction couldn’t last forever. I knew that one day He was going to acknowledge me standing before him pouring out my worship and praise and awe and then say to me “I love you. But before all this, we have got to talk about whats in your hand.” I don’t know why I thought for so long that He would just overlook “this”. I have been willing to talk about almost everything else…everything else was open for discussion…but not this. This is my thing. My one thing. It is the thing I defend at all costs. It is the thing for which thousands of justifications have been made.

It was Good Friday. I knew that it was the day. Plans had already been made to meet up after I got off work. The cold and shiny razors that had been my companions for years would no longer be in my possession. I couldn’t bear the thought of throwing them away. I mean, really, who could throw their best friend into a dumpster? To calm some of the anxiety over it I decided to give them to a friend. When I say “I decided”, what I really mean is that she asked me for them and I reluctantly agreed.

I paced back and forth, up and down, around both cars…anywhere I could attempt to escape the moment. She didn’t force it but she was very intentional.

“What are you feeling? What are you thinking about all this?”

I was terrified. I was angry. I was sad. But in the same instant, there was a sense of pending relief from this burden. I thought maybe, just maybe, this would be the end of it. I waited until the last possible moment. I knew that she needed to get to bed. It was already the beginning of saturday morning and the thunder and lightning started several hours before. After she graciously prayed over me, I jumped out of her car with a fleeting thought of escape. I got about as far as my driver side door before the thought left me. I reached across my center console and grabbed all the razor blades I collected from various hiding places. I couldn’t even look her in the face. I opened her door, dropped them on her passenger seat and slammed the door. I heard her yell “I LOVE YOU AND I’M PROUD OF YOU!!”

The rain started falling and we just sat there in our cars. I didn’t want to leave. But she wasn’t going anywhere until I did. So I put the car in drive and pulled away. I didn’t go home. I just found another empty parking lot, which isn’t difficult in the pre-dawn hours. Car in park. Best friend gone. And I got out. Mostly to bury my tears beneath the rain.

I stood there. In that empty parking lot. On Good Friday. 2,000 years after all this sin was paid for. He invited me and asked me to put sin to death in my own life. He gave great courage and great hope. So I just stood there, letting the rain fall on my face with fury. A baptism of sorts. A symbolic washing. Again. It was in those drops I heard the beautiful refrain “you are clean.” And so I just stood there for a moment. Soaking it in. Begging God for a glimpse of what this means. He didn’t offer any platitudes or cliche responses. He just stood there with me. In the rain. In that instant, even though I’d been clinging to sin so tightly, he reminded me again – “I am making all things new.” At 2 o’clock that morning, as water covered my face, I was left standing there. A monument to his pursuit. A marker of his faithfulness. And an ebenezer to his promise of making me look more like his son. I was living, breathing, soaking wet proof that he is constantly making all things new.