The Right to Play

Social media is abuzz right now with phrases like slowing down, simplifying, and getting back to the basics. Heck, even the homes with the most “likes” are trending towards natural fabrics and neutral hues. Many of my all-time favorite Instagram accounts portray a slow and sacred lifestyle, a lifestyle that I crave. I crave a life lived celebrating beauty everywhere I go, a life where I create beauty with my own two hands. I crave nature and an intimate connection to it. I crave genuine relationships with my kids, and memories that last. (I do not crave several hues of white throughout my home, but that’s another post).

But have you noticed how easy it is to be “adult” in our pursuit of these very worthy things; how easy it is to make all the right choices externally, and miss the actual living of life entirely?

My point is this: you can simplify your wardrobe, throw out all of your unnecessary belongings, and only wear cotton dresses, and still be the kind of person who can’t make eye contact with her kids for an extended period of time. You can simultaneously snap a photo of your family backpacking through a state park, and spend the whole trip sifting through your phone instead of looking and truly seeing what’s around you. You can build a glass palace of curated squares on social media, and hide your misery behind it. Ask me how I know…

I am – if I’m honest – a mom who avoids playing like it’s the plague. I try to be a “yes” mom. My kids will probably even tell you that I’m a fun mom. But I know just how hard I have to wrestle internally to cross the line between navigating motherhood like it’s all-business and mothering like I’m truly alive.

It takes an absurd amount of energy to muster ten solid minutes of getting down on my kid’s level, in barefaced form, ready for gut-busting laughter should the opportunity present itself. You too?

What I want to know is, why?

Is it a personal thing or a generational thing? Have adults been so brainwashed into believing that play is a waste of time – or how about, that wasting time is a waste of time – that they are missing the gold right beneath their feet. Every single time without exception that I genuinely let myself join them in their honest pursuit of enjoying a thing, it’s like a buoying up that I didn’t know I needed. I was sinking and I couldn’t tell.

And yet, I fight it. In some measure, at least for me, this is a sticky stuck-on bit of my past that just will not let go of my ankles. When my daughter asked my husband why I had a difficult time playing, he said, “because it was raised out of her, Buddy. She needs you to teach her how to do it again.”

And last night when we got in from our walk/bike-ride down the street sitting around a very late dinner of salad and soup with unwashed hands and sweaty summer faces, my oldest said, “isn’t it sad that today will never happen again?”

What must it be like to live so hard that you’ll miss today when it’s over?

I intend to find out. Even if it takes me another 32 years to do it.

I’ve already got the best tutor around. All I need to do is pay attention.

Good Medicine

Photo by Kaique Rocha on

This place is full of fog. One moment I’m blissfully lost in the mystery of what could be next. It could be anything, really. Things are shifting and changing. My baby is almost five years old, and this homemaker life comes with so much room for ingenuity and flexibility. What an incredible gift to have so many options! I plan, I scheme, I dream, I check books out from the library. And the next moment, I can’t see where I’m going. I can’t see two feet in front of me. The not-knowing is the only thing that I know. Where are you taking me, Jesus? Why don’t I know? What is this time for?

As the sun sleeps longer each day, the girls come in from playing more quickly, and the whole world seems to be settling down. All I want to do is join the world in rest. We decide to start Advent a full week early. My brother is marrying my best friend next week anyway (two days after Thanksgiving). They’re leaving the country to serve and love the broken world. Life is moving. Minutes are dripping past. I can’t catch them. And I don’t know what this time is for.

Or maybe I do know, and the trouble is that I don’t want to do it: the waiting.

None of this is what I thought I would be doing. It’s not visible enough, glamorous enough, worthy of acknowledgement. There is no platform or applause for those who wipe butts and teach children good habits day in and day out. The better I am at “my job,” the more tuned-in I am to being present, the less those things are seen, the smaller it feels like I get. I’m not 100% comfortable with the enneagram, but I did brush by it and apparently I’m that number that likes to be noticed, that wants to be thanked and seen and rewarded, that wants to be the best at what I’m doing. No surprise there (for me or for Jesus). Motherhood then, is a series of tiny intentional deaths to that attention-hungry woman, the one I am most practiced at being. She doesn’t fancy being invisible.

Death is uncomfortable. No one volunteers for the electric chair. And this isn’t heroic “take me instead” stuff I’m talking about either, this is the kind of choosing others that no one even knows about. It’s choosing not to yell when your child has a sensory fit and chucks her shoes at your head. It’s choosing to model infinite and immediate forgiveness even when you really don’t feel like it. It’s one hundred thousand patient replies to impatient tiny people with bad attitudes.

Trying to describe the place I’ve been in, I said to my husband that it’s almost like I’m floating above my life, watching and waiting for something to happen. He tells me that I have permission to move (in case I needed it), to take a step in one direction and see what it feels like, see if it fits or falls apart; that it’s okay not to know exactly where I’m headed. So I write a little bit. I wait a little bit. I cry (because that’s how I handle frustration). And because the Voice that I trust seems unusually quiet.

Or is it just that I can’t stand what He’s asking me to do? To get low. To stay low. To pull in, settle down, and let go.

Yesterday I opened up to a devotional by Elisabeth Elliot where she talked about indecision and she said that “the remedy for [indecision] is trust.” She quoted the book of James and said that we should ask for wisdom if we don’t know what to do, “But when you ask him, be sure that you really expect him to tell you, for a doubtful mind will be as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind; and every decision you then make will be uncertain, as you turn first this way and then that. If you don’t ask with faith, don’t expect the Lord to give you any solid answer.” (James 1:6-8 LB)

I know a good piece of advice when I hear it. So I asked expectantly, desperate to put a cap on this restlessness and move forward. We finished with lessons for the day, and though the sky looked pretty mild and sunny, I was definitely resisting the pull to take the girls outside. It’s that part of the year where leaving your cozy place by the fire is painful. We were talking about beauty and finding it all around us, and I wanted to have them put together pinecone birdfeeders so I thought we’d go look for some. I followed them out into the open air. The squirrels hadn’t left us much to work with, but the fallen trees in the creek were covered in bright fluffy mosses and crusty layers of lichen. I followed my Biggest Girl into a tight spot, maybe a small deer path, new to our feet. We squirmed through briars and ducked under thin branches around and through and back up until we realized we were close to home again. I followed them and waited and just listened, so ready to receive, humbled by how little I had to offer these beautiful girls on this late fall morning.

When we got back up to the house with our treasures and stories The Big One goes, “You know Mom, This is just like Pinocchio – that part where he doesn’t want to take the medicine because it tastes bitter, or he thinks it’ll be bitter, but than he does take it and it’s really good and he feels stronger? This is good medicine, Mama. Even though it was hard to get ourselves to want to come out here, it was such good medicine. I think we should make it part of our routine.”

She is wise. We pile everything up on the table, spread colors and paints everywhere, and I did what I don’t normally do. I forgot about the dishes and laundry and dreaming and aching for something else. I lost myself sitting next to my girls, creating something beautiful side-by-side.

Something is happening here even if I can’t see it. It is safe to surrender myself (and even my questions) to the moment that I find myself in because the Keeper of my moments can see right through the fog. If He wanted me elsewhere, He would pick me up and plant me there. If I am here, there must be something right here that is worthwhile. Even if that something is learning how to let go of my life; even if it means learning how to die.