a letter to my son


Our oldest son got all busted up back at the end of March, healed quicker than anyone expected, then took off on his next adventure–just like that. For the past two summers Gabe has been an intern at a camp nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. For 8 weeks he works his arse off from 5am and plays hard in between mucking stalls, weed whacking the fields and cleaning toilets–among other camp-related responsibilities. He also eats up every minute of it.

But Austin and I have been even more forlorn this year than last year, our fibers and fragments pining in ways we didn’t expect and to help assuage the ache we wrote some letters to him and I thought to share, here on my blog, the one I sent him this week.


Dear Gabriel Marcus,

I had other plans for how I was going to begin this note, but just scrawling your name on the paper brings quick, tender tears to my eyes–fluid testimony that you are sorely, always missed. Testimony that there is a hole somewhere between my rib bones; a hole 13 years old, 5ft 9in tall and about 120lbs heavy. This isn’t said to make you feel bad for being gone from us. I embrace the ache of your absence and am at ease knowing you are right where you need to be–out taking risks in the great wide open, trying on new hats and ideas, finding oysters and learning delicacies about yourself. Carry on with your head up and a full heart, you are a rising son.

Gabriel Marcus.

I wrote your letters again because it brings comfort and I find myself pausing here and walking a few mental circles around the meanings of your name: messenger of God and mighty warrior. And I wonder what it will mean for you to be a messenger in a world full of noise? Or a warrior for the peaceful Kingdom?

What are your thinkings about these questions?

Anyhow, this is the original way I was going to start your salutation:

It’s 7am and I’m sitting on the back porch in my white rocking chair. The rhythmic back-and-forth motion soothes my somewhat scattered mind and sets a slow pace for the day; I still try to start the way I mean to go on. Sometimes I’m good at it, sometimes I’m not. I have a feeling, though, that this will be one of the things you remember about me–the way your mama rose early most mornings and began with quiet, small moments. Certainly you will remember how I danced around the bathroom in my bootie shorts and just how many times I lost my lid. What a show that always turned out to be! I hope we sit around a someday-table laughing about all the ways and occasions I went demented. I’ll never ever forget that one time you spoke into my insanity with more certitude and intuition than any 4-year-old should have:

“Mama! YOU driving YOU nuts!”

Ahhh. Truer words have never been spoken, “out of the mouths of babes” and all that.

My tea cup is half full with fixins’ and Yorkshire Gold. The air is gentle like a baby’s coo and especially cool for mid-July, smells part like salt, part like old city and mostly like new dawn. Or, forgiveness. The sky is strung with an appalling (appalling is the new awesome) assortment of collapsed and contorted clouds displaying my favorite shades of grey and I’ve been watching the robins hopscotch around the back yard for a good 10 minutes now. Today I find myself particularly captivated with the way they cock their little brown heads to the earth, this way then that way. The sound of their sustenance wiggles through the dirt, their very lives depend on . . . listening.

Their lives depend on how well they listen.

I mull over what it would look like for us to carefully observe and hear with the ears of a robin before feasting on our food, hear like our lives depended on making a connection before we carelessly consumed. And if we listened long enough, would we discern the story inside all the components of our daily soup? Would we count how many wrinkles or scars were cut across the hands of the person who plucked pieces of our lunch from the ground? Would we know by taste if they were paid a livable wage for their back bowing labor?

Did their unique energy mix into our meal?

We don’t ever listen often or extravagantly enough, do we? Not just to our food, but to all things related to being humans planted on this planet. I find myself wanting to be more like this humble, red-breasted worshipper; it appears that the wisest oracles don’t even need to speak.

The river is moving so smoothe right now, barely a curl or fold to be seen across her girth. But you and I know from years of living by her waters that this sporadic softness is just an illusion. Below the surface are crosscurrents strong enough to drown a full-grown guy who’s about to become a daddy; below the surface are blue crabs and bunker, eels and oysters and various other life forms stunning enough to make the casual or avid observer weep. It’s like gunpowder all knotted together with grace, eh?

I took a breath; a present second, shut my eyes, cracked my mind and imagined riding the tide; imagined floating spread-eagled and silent on the surface of this great mystery. When you come home, I’d like to kayak to the ocean with you–at least once–before the summer is over and high school (!!!) starts.

Speaking of high school, I stopped by Wilbur Cross the other day to drop off your registration papers. On my way to the main office I passed by a quote posted on the wall of the hall: “Work so hard your signature becomes an autograph.” I think you know me well enough to guess that I had a full-body, repulsed reaction to this TERRIBLE idea. I mean, WHAT IN THE ACTUAL LUNATIC WORLD?! Work so hard your signature becomes an AUTOGRAPH?! Which is to say: Work so hard you become FAMOUS!? How absurd!!!

Let’s work so hard we become selfless servants of Christ and each other.

Let’s work so hard we fall into bed at night because we’re wrung out from loving the whole globe, all the people and insects and animals and especially the divine mystery–everything we can get our small, awkward hearts around.

Let’s work so hard we have to scrape the mud out from underneath our fingernails and soak our sleepy feet in epsom salt and massage our sore muscles to soft again.

Let’s work so hard all our God-given gifts and talents are thrown and sown like big handfuls of seeds across the [in]fertile land we inhabit, leaving pieces of heaven to grow on earth.

<end mama-preach>

The longer I sit here rocking and writing and looking up, the more I see.

To the patient observer, nature is a magic show with top hats full of rabbits and hoaxes stuck up her sleeves and a well-practiced sleight of hand. The squirrels talk in morse code with their tales, the treetops bend for prayer like priests on their knees in church. Could an entire book be written just about the varying ways seagulls mount the wind?

To watch creation is to play with my own emotions.

I’m an amateur noticer, but am slowly learning to listen with my eyes and explore everything I can–constantly, obstinately looking for the “invisible” God I maintain aim to follow. Sometimes following looks like finally catching a microscopic truth between my thumb and forefinger and sometimes it looks like falling into a mystery that cannot be stuffed into (or dissected with) my finite mind.

I’m okay with the occasional finding and the daily falling and I’m okay with just being held by this Universal Structure as [s]he blows apart more of my circuits than [s]he connects.

Either way, I cannot hide from the way my senses are awakened in the presence of this great and unfathomable God, a God who also appears to draw near to me–I feel Someone pushing in on me from all directions and my journal pages are full of the enthusiastic evidence of a girl who can’t get enough of Them. For some reason I cannot escape and I cannot stop seeking. Just this morning I asked the Unseen my devoted question: “What is this power you yield over me?”

What is this power?

Is it the power of a cosmos-Maker who took off his shoes? Who unbuttoned his shirt, stripped naked, shrunk down and dove headlong into the amniotic waters of a virgin’s uterus, only to be born barefoot and bald in a place that smelled like animal shit? Think about it, all the implications and beautiful wonderful enthralling absurdity of such a story!

I’m certain that what captivates me is The Power that gave up all power in–certifiably–the craziest story that’s ever been told. A story too crazy to be make believe because all the human heads in the whole world put together couldn’t have made up a Love like this. Do you believe it?

I’m not so much a scholar as I am the girl-next-door and maybe I’m wrong about the whole shebang, but it matters not to my enchanted heart (what have I lost by following?). I could no sooner stop this Jesus-beat than I could halt a locomotive with my pinky finger. He is in my solar plexus and on my skin, melted into my spine my soles my breath and chest. Sometimes I envision that we are an undistinguished collection of atoms.

Are you learning a love like this while you’re at Uplands Reach and singing songs until your lungs are all dried-out? I hope you are falling in love, Gabriel.

My tea cup is empty now on the third morning that I’ve spent time stringing words together for this letter and your brothers are about to get up and ask me what we are doing today. But before I go . . . I just want to ask if you are being the fullness of your singular self down there in North Carolina? We miss all your weird, made-up words and funny faces and outbursts of energy. I miss your arms around me in the mornings and your kisses on my lips before bed. Thinking about it makes me teary and tender again. I can’t believe I get to be your mama.

Keep your eyes wide and open for me? Be a good watcher, a good listener, a good sensor. Learn the invisible God and tell me all about your findings when you get home–I hope to sit for hours on the back porch with you and go over your adventures with a fine tooth comb. And maybe you could bring home two fistfuls of wild mountainside dirt and we can mix it with some of our tired town dirt, then plant a seed that will grow up in reference to both places.

Breathe all the country wind you can and remember you are literally inhaling the Spirit and speaking the ancient phonics of God’s name every time you exhale.



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