Last night, you went to sleep a three-year-old, and I climbed up onto your bunk bed to pray over you just like I do every year.

And today you're four.

Sorrow, Then Joy

I got my first official rejection letter in the mail last night. Like, the actual mail. The one with stamps and everything.

I submitted a hard copy of my book proposal a few weeks ago to an agent across the country. And when I sealed that envelope and dropped it into the outgoing mail, I felt a little swoop in my belly that told me I wouldn't be receiving the response I wanted.

The Story of My Midriff

Since I was a little girl, I have been afraid of my midriff.

More precisely, I've been afraid of what my midriff might influence others to do.

At age seven, a friend's father said my wearing a two-piece bathing suit at his house was inappropriate and unacceptable.

At age twelve, I heard for the very first time that modesty was a girl's work and that showing her stomach would cause good, Christian boys to stumble in their faith.

At age seventeen, I was called to the principal's office after someone reported that when I raised my arms my shirt rose up to reveal an inch of my belly.

At age twenty, I wore short shorts and tight tank tops but judged every girl on campus who dared showcase her midriff just because she felt like it.

At age twenty-three, I married the man who made me feel more secure than anyone and instinctively covered my stomach when he took off my wedding dress.

At age twenty-eight, I spread my legs wide and delivered a ten-pound baby girl to a room full of strangers and covered my jiggly belly when I looked down to see what had been left behind.

And at the age of thirty-two, I decided I'd had enough of being afraid and selected this outfit for our ninth anniversary dinner:

This was brand-new territory for me. I sent messages to my small group and they wholeheartedly embraced the look. I drank a glass of wine while I primped and shaved and lotioned and curled. I danced to my Going Out playlist on Spotify. I reminded myself that this was less about showing off and more about giving a gift: to myself for having been scared of my sensuality for so long, and to my husband who has seen my body in every way possible except like this.

I didn't want to show myself off for the sake of trends or even the romantic occasion. Admittedly, I struggled with the Biblical basis—or lack thereof—for dressing in a way that would more than likely turn a few heads. And I thought about all the times I had been treated as an object simply because I was female and not because of what I was wearing. But I'm not twelve anymore; I know at this point in life that it's not the woman or the outfit that demeans her worth, but the person who chooses to demean.

Shortly after, I realized that even when we decide to stop being afraid, it doesn't mean others do. And, try as we might, we can't always escape their fears.

Dressing in more provocative clothing does not equate to freedom or womanhood any more than dressing in modest clothing does, at least not in the ways that truly matter. But in choosing for ourselves, we confront the things we've been told about our bodies and identities and begin to discover what is actually true and what is actually good.

Since I hit puberty, I have walked a very tight line between pride and shame. I have been over-confident to the point of arrogance or so dogmatic and fear-driven that I bury my head in the sand when confronted with my own sexuality. And, like so many women who love Jesus, I have recently discovered that neither of these options is healthy or a reflection of my Creator. He molded this body with His hands and it is good. It is not shameful or embarrassing. It is full of life and love and passion and tenderness, and when I allow myself to view this body through such a lens I am free to live life without abandon. To make love without shame. To walk through the world as though I have a right to be here, in whatever I'm wearing, and to be treated with dignity and honor.

I hear the words of people online and in conversations saying, "But when women dress to show off their bodies, they dishonor themselves." And my response to that is this: Context matters. And even if the former were true, you are the one declaring her dishonorable. You are the one separating yourself from your neighbor. You are the one who thinks there's a limit to treating someone with honor, even if that person does not choose to do so for herself.

We live life in our bodies. Living is accomplished with hands and feet and every other element of flesh and blood. What a great disservice we do to the world when we try so hard to put a stop to it. What a tragedy it is when, as little girls, shame becomes the driving force behind what we show, or don't show, to the world.

As for me, this is my midriff. It is tucked into high-waisted pants that hide the softness from bearing a child, and it is camouflaged by black. But here it is and here I am.

A mother.

A wife.

A friend.

A Jesus lover.

A sister.

A daughter.

A woman.

When Life Gets Quiet

I don't blog nearly as much as I did in the past. I remember, back in 2012 when blogging was really in its heyday and suddenly every semi-religious mama with pretty kids and cute style was bringing home six figures, I tried my hand at making this space A Thing. I tried style posts (cringe), took my camera with me to the yogurt shop (before we had iPhones), and copied pretty much every blogger I admired in an attempt to matter.

Like many of us do with Instagram these days, I exhausted myself trying to be someone else's version of lovely. And for what? Attention? Money? Importance? None of which I achieved, mind you. Even I didn't believe myself. So when I had a mental breakdown in early 2013 (not triggered by blogging, I should clarify) followed by the realization that I was pregnant with Lucy, I decided to try, instead, for honesty.

And like most things, honesty really was the best policy.

Now, I definitely don't garner enough traffic to make money off this blog, nor do I care about anything like that. But I have cultivated a special place for myself on these here internets, a place where I have memorialized the earliest years of motherhood, the process of writing two books and seeing them published, and the decidedly unglamorous struggle to live with mental illness.

And I'm quite proud of it. I'm even proud of my posts from 2012. (They make me laugh, anyway.)

I'd like to try my hand at blogging more regularly these days. So much is changing in my little world, in all the small and quiet ways that life often changes, and it will do my soul some good to step away from the rigamarole of books proposals and grant applications and social media to simply write what I know for the sheer joy of collecting my thoughts and sharing them.

If you've been reading since 2012, God bless your soul and you have my apologies. If you're somewhat newer, I'm glad you're here.

As always, thanks for reading. I'll see you again real soon.

Puzzle Pieces

She picked out the puzzle, and I bought it.

Lucy loves to use her mind, to wrestle solutions from problems. She is unencumbered, the way children should be, by fear or insecurity or lack of knowledge. She hasn't yet learned to let any of those things get in her way. Puzzles are a delight for our little girl, our extroverted bundle of energy who was, miraculously, stitched together with a healthy dose of independence that her dad and I are only far too eager to cultivate. She finds equal joy in jumping and climbing as she does sitting with a puzzle, literal or otherwise. So when we went to Barnes & Noble that afternoon in search of an activity to take home, Lucy selected the best one on the shelf.

The aforementioned puzzle is three hundred pieces total, a bright, bursting combination of colors that are so numerous the prospect of piecing them together felt slightly overwhelming when we first spread it out on the table. At least it did for me. But we did it, over the course of four hours, between eating dinner and playing outside and getting ready for bed. And then we did it again the next week. 

On Saturday, Lucy pulled the puzzle down from our hutch and began working on it herself. She didn't ask for my participation or assistance, so I didn't offer it. Instead, I sat in the living room and finished The Forgetting Time while taking periodic breaks to listen in on the conversation she was having with herself. Lucy sang and talked to her baby doll and pretended to be a teacher lecturing her students, and all the while her little fingers stretched over the table, hovering, searching for the next puzzle piece. For two hours, she sat up on her knees and surveyed the landscape of color on top of our dining room table, perfectly content with the work she had completed and what still remained.

Every once in awhile, Lucy would call out, "Mommy! Daddy! Come look at how done I am!" And we'd scurry into the room to clap our hands and declare how proud we were of her progress.

This continued, on and off, for five more days. And last night, just before bed, Lucy finished the puzzle.

There are only simple lessons here, lessons I am always learning. The first is that children are vastly superior to adults in almost every way. Aren't they always? The second is that a little encouragement goes a very, very long way. Our words have potential to be so life-giving, don't they? We can build up people, leaders, and nations with the power of our speech...and destroy them just as quickly. Finally, there is just as much delight to be found in the process of making something—whether that something is a career, a family, a book, a plan, a home, or a business—as there is in the end result. Perhaps even more. 

I daresay, yes, definitely even more.

I watched my daughter pore over a puzzle more than half the size of her body and she saw nothing more than possibility in the progress. The possibility for a little bit of fun, for the pleasure of finding that next piece, for accomplishing something difficult all on her own. Without the pieces, a puzzle is just a picture. There is no possibility. There's only what already is. 

I am in the thick of not enjoying the progress that opens up to more possibility. Oh, progress is happening, I feel sure of it. But it is drudgery. It is pain. It is heavy and frustrating and, more often than not, discouraging. 

I'm writing a book that talks about lessons I've already learned, lessons I want to share. And two weeks ago I realized they are lessons I will have to keep learning every day for the rest of my life. They are not one-time realizations the way Jesus' death on the cross was a one-time salvation for all who believe. They are daily graces that must be chosen out of all the noise surrounding me, graces I have to submit to every single morning, over and over again. They are pieces of a puzzle, bright and colorful, that will remain incomplete until I stand at the feet of Jesus. 

Still, the promise from Philippians remains:

"And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (ESV)

Perhaps the delight I'm seeking should not be my own. Perhaps it is His delight. Like like that of a little girl looking out over a beautiful puzzle, He fits my days together, one by one, gasping with joy as He watches me become the woman He designed at the start. 

The delight is in the progress, and the delight is His. 

The delight is me. 

The delight is you.