What a Woman Is Worth — Launch Day!!

The Big Day is finally here! A wonderful collection of essays, edited and organized by Tamara Lunardo, is releasing today on Amazon! I am honored to be included — in fact, to contribute the final piece in the collection — with a remarkable group of women writers, speaking to the truth that women matter. No matter how life has treated us, we matter to God and we matter to one another.

Here’s the beautiful cover of our book and at the end of this post is a shot of the back cover, too. As those of you who read here with any regularity will know, this essay was written quite a while ago! Almost exactly two years ago, to be exact. Lilly is now 4 years and 2 months old; in this piece she is not yet two. But the truth of who she is is always the same. Here is the first section of the final essay in this fine collection:
Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00015]

Lilly is 22 months old, and a real pistol. Funny, charming, inquisitive, secure in herself and in the love of her family. She plays with us two days each week – one of the perks of grandparenting and retirement. And every time she’s here, I celebrate who she is becoming.

Last week, she climbed up onto my bed (where all good computer work is done in this house) and begged to see ‘pichures, pichures!’ So I opened iPhoto and went directly to her favorite event: her older sister’s 6th birthday party. Each time we look at this set, we scroll through all 90 photos, identifying as many people as we can, usually lingering longest at the pictures of the ‘happy cake-cake.’

Lilly has not quite grasped the truth that these ‘pichures’ she loves so much are only 2-dimensional representations and not actually tiny versions of the people she sees every day. Sometimes she will cup her hands next to the screen and say, “I pick her up! I pick her up!” puzzled that she can’t quite make that happen.

But one day last week, she surprised me with words that marked my heart in a powerful way. She surprised me with what she did understand. She saw a close-up of her own face. And she patted the screen gently, saying, “Oooh, that’s Rirry [still working on those L’s]. She so cute. I love her.”

“She so cute…I love her.” I wrapped my arms around her small body and kissed her on the back of the neck and said, “Oh, YES, Lilly. You are so cute and I love you, too. I hope and I pray that you will always be able to look at yourself in exactly this way. Always.”

What is it that happens to us between early childhood and adulthood? Why is it so easy for us to lose that clear, common-sense, of-course-I’m-loveable-it’s-just-so-obvious-I’m sure-you-can-see-this-too sense of our value, our worth, our intrinsic ‘rightness?’ And what, as parents, aunts and uncles, siblings, cousins, grandparents of girls – what can we do to foster an atmosphere in which little girls will always see themselves this way? When we look in the mirror at age 16 or 21 or 35 or 50 or 75 or 90, why shouldn’t we be able to see ourselves through eyes of love?

Is this not the message of the Gospel? Is this not the Truth that Jesus saw and taught and modeled and lived? That fundamentally, to be a human person is a good, good thing. So good that God chose to be clothed with our flesh, to walk through the steps of our life, to eat and sleep and laugh and cry, to connect with others and to spend time alone, to hang out with all different kinds of people and see each of them as interesting and important and valuable? Yes, I think so. . . 

To read the rest, you’ll just have to buy the book!

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00015]

A Letter to the Girl(s) I Once Was . . .

The Story Sessions community issued an invitation to speak to and for the girls we once were. And Bonnie over at Faith Barista has Lenten prompt on “Remember.” This piece seems to fit both places! My story is not particularly dramatic — no abuse to report, no major trauma in my home. In fact, I would venture to say that it’s downright boring, especially when lined up with some of these sisters, whose lives bear testimony to both horror and redemption. Still, like every human who has ever walked the planet, I knew my share of sorrow and confusion. Also? I have lived longer than almost everyone else who will contribute today, so there are LOTS of ‘girls’ to address . . .

44Look at you! Such a big girl!

And you were, too.
A very big girl.
Tall, right from the get-go,
smart and talkative and quite the walker,
or so I’m told.

You loved life!
Loved it —
all the people,
the streets and houses —
. . . and the busses.
Oh, how you loved to watch 
the bus go by.
“There-sa goes da bus!”
you’d yell and point.

I think you’ve done a lot of yelling 
and pointing in me,
little one.
You want me to see things,
to pay attention.
And I’m trying, honey!
I thank you for helping
me to keep my eyes
and my heart O P E N.

37Just barely two years old and
an interloper appeared on the scene.

And he was SO cute, wasn’t he?
He didn’t have funny feet,
or terrible skin,
or stick-straight hair
that mommy always wanted
to curl, curl, curl.

Trautwein_Scans_2_054But you kinda liked him anyhow,
even though you did fight now and again.

Only trouble was, his derring-do
made you want to be ‘the good girl,’
and you’ve spent an awful lot of years
playing that role, haven’t you?

Maybe it’s time to let that one go?

29Your dad’s mama lived in downtown Los Angeles,
in a sweet little bungalow.

And oh, how she loved you!
But she was so old,
and she told stories

about the south, about her home,
in Arkansas.

And sometimes the way she talked
made you feel funny.
Especially the way she talked
about people of color,
even though you’d never
heard that phrase in your young life.

27Your mom and dad loved each other a lot,
didn’t they?
And sometimes, you felt like an outsider
around them.

Most of the time, their love
made you feel safe and sure.
But once in a while,
they shut you out,
and that was confusing.

19Oh, I see that dreamy look in your eyes!
And I salute it. Dream on, girl!

Live inside your head all you want to,
curl up in the corner and read, read, read.
Don’t worry if you don’t want to socialize,
no matter how your mom fusses at you.

And pay attention in 5th grade,
when Mr. Naismith tells you you’re a writer.
Believe him. Believe it.


High school was kinda crazy, right?
Thank God for the church group,
because at school?
You were the resident nerd.
Choir helped, though.
You met so many different
kinds of kids, most of them
It was great to break out of the
molds that held you —
the brainiac and the church girl.

Yeah, singing was a good thing. 


And then came college.
And the task at hand?

Meet a good, Christian man
and get married!
And you did that,
right on schedule.

Aren’t you glad you found a good one?
Even when he makes you crazy,
he’s such a good man.


That talkative toddler,
and that displaced sister and daughter,
and that dreamy 10-year-old,
and that nerdy high schooler,
well they all showed up
on that December afternoon
when you tied the knot. 

And despite the baggage you
brought from a conservative,
complementarian home,
together you found a new way
to be a couple,
to share the journey 
as partners.


Of course, it took a few decades to do that.
And along the way,
you traveled halfway around the world,
you found yourself pregnant (!!),
you taught school,
and you lived on a boarding school campus
in a brand-new African nation.

The bike came in handy, didn’t it?
It helped you cement the independence
you were finding in those early
married years.

It gave the 10-year-old just a little
bit of breathing space,
and the toddler a chance to
see new things.

Trautwein_Scans_2_019And when that beautiful girl was born?
Well, a whole new chapter opened up.
You had just turned 23,
and in the next four years,
you’d have two more babies,
and all those “girls” in there,
the toddler and the 10-year-old,
the one who played with baby dolls,
and the one who read through
the traveling library truck;
the one who was too tall,
and too awkward,
and too loud,
and too bossy,
and too. . .
well, they got a bit lost for
a while.

But today, you bless them all.
You call them out and say,
“Thank you!”
Because every age,
every stage,
every experience,
every relationship —
they are all part of who you are
right now.

And who you are right now?
Despite the infirmities of age
and injury,
well. . . you’re not half bad, you know?

Two years ago, I wrote a similar post, under the flag of my African Journey page. Here’s a link to that one.

Joining with Bonnie – click on over and read the rest.

Ta Da! The Final Piece of the (in)Mercy Journey!


Back in September, I was privileged to be a participant in the very first project from (in)Courage magazine’s commitment to raise funds for Mercy House in Kenya.

The beautiful brainchild of Kristin Welch and her family, this home provides safety, security, education, healthcare and spiritual input for twelve moms and their babies — beautiful babies whose lives have been saved from destruction because of this place, this house of mercy.

We had a total of FIVE projects to raise funds for – and the first four have been completely funded, with almost eight thousand dollars already raised for the last, and most ambitious of them all.

Project Number Five is a SECOND HOME, another living space for unwed moms and their babies, a sacred space where we can double the impact of this life-changing ministry

It’s a big challenge, a big idea, a GOD idea! And we believe that our goal can be met between now and Christmas. When you’re making out your Christmas lists this year, would  you consider putting the (in)Courage (in)Mercy Phase Five home somewhere near the top?

For the last several years, the gift-exchange in our family of sixteen has included gifts purchased in honor of one another, with funds going to a variety of peace and justice causes around the world. Everything from our denominational catalog of gift ideas to World Vision to Heifer International. In addition, I purchase jewelry for loved ones from sources that provide a living wage to sisters living in poverty in Haiti, Mexico and Indonesia. And this year, I will also be making a donation in all of our names to this remarkable ministry. 

Please check out the links below for more information about how you, too, can participate in this gift of love. I cannot think of a better way to honor that baby in the manger than to help provide care for moms and babies in Kenya.

You can make donations by clicking on this line, which will take you directly to the great people over at PureCharity, who have a video to watch, some of the most adorable photos you’ve ever seen in your life, and options for you to give for this final phase of our big fall project. What a challenge – and what a gift!

If you are interested in purchasing any of the (in)Mercy materials from Dayspring, you can find their webpage by clicking on this link.

Tuesday’s Read, Read, Read! (a book review and a synchroblog to celebrate Sarah’s new book!)

First, the book review:

Every once in a great while, a voice arises that speaks truth in love for an entire generation of Jesus-followers. Sarah Bessey is such a voice. I began reading her blog three years ago, and quickly discovered a Soul Sister. Sarah has the heart of an artist, the skill of a surgeon, and the grace of a dancer when she begins weaving words together. And she has woven them into a masterpiece with this beautiful, heartfelt, lyrical book. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

With a foreword by Rachel Held Evans and a stunning manifesto by Idelette Mcvicker leading the way, Sarah dives into her topic with an extended version of a popular blog post, “A Bonfire on the Shore.” All of us — egalitarians, complementarians, feminists, non-feminists — are invited to join her around that bonfire, to listen to one another in love and to share stories, life lessons, observations, and most especially, questions and answers that we have lived in the everydayness of life as well as wrestled with in our minds. “I want to tell the truth, but first I want to live the Truth,” she says; “I won’t confuse critical thinking with a critical spirit,” she promises.

And then she dives into the whole Big Topic, declaring that yes, she is a feminist — but only because she is following after the ways, words and actions of Jesus, her savior and friend. She is learning from Jesus what it means for each of us to be a human person, whether male or female. Never discounting the differences between men and women, Sarah makes a strong case for her position without alienating those who might disagree with her. She stakes out her place: “Patriarchy is not God’s dream for humanity. It never was; it never will be.” But she leaves room for conversation: “I don’t think God is glorified by tightly crafted arguments wielded as weaponry.”

Telling pieces of her own story all along the way, Sarah looks at the whole of scripture first, most especially at the words and work of Jesus in the gospel narratives, refusing to allow the ‘problematic passages’ to take precedence over what she sees happening in Jesus’ relationship with women. She does this, however, without ever discounting the power and authority of the biblical message. She works hard to sift out the cultural specificities from the timeless truths, always with an attitude of appreciation and respect for the Word of God.

Sarah gives testimony to the partnership she enjoys in her own marriage, making a beautifully strong case for mutual submission. She makes room for single women at the table of full-personhood without diminishing the joy she has found in being married and birthing babies. And she calls the church to open-handed, open-hearted sharing in the work of kingdom living, inviting us to reconsider traditional ‘women’s ministries’ in the light of all that needs doing in the wider world.

This is a joyful book, an honest book, a welcoming book. I don’t know if you will find yourself proudly wearing the, “I am a Jesus feminist” badge when you finish it. I hope so. But I do know that you will be glad you read this book, that you will wrestle with the questions she asks and the stories she tells, and that you will stand up and cheer when you read the opening invitation and the closing benediction. Because Sarah writes truth, with a capital “T” — but she never tells it without love. And YOU, yes, you, are so very welcome here.

I received an advance release digital copy of this fine book from Simon & Schuster Digital Sales, Inc, in exchange for my honest review. This is it – and it is an honor. But I highly recommend that you purchase a hard copy of this one – it needs dog-earring and marking up. I compiled a 7-page document of favorite quotes and ideas, some of which are my own response to Sarah’s thinking in these pages. Now, that’s a good book.

And now, the synchroblog — my own reflections on why I am who I am:


 They came streaming down the center aisle on Sunday morning.
Men, women, children.
Students, grandmothers, professors;
building contractors, retirees, babes-in-arms.
Down they came, moving slowly beneath the chandeliers,
bending low over the basket,
taking a morsel of bread
and dipping it into the offered cup.

“The body of Christ, broken for you.”
“The Cup of peace, given for you.”

And, once again, I remembered who I am.


 It was All Saints Sunday, a day of remembering.
And we did exactly that.
We re-membered ourselves,
all of us — past and present — in litany,
in prayer, in memory.
The presence of those who led the way
to where we now are was palpable,
breathing out of the wood and stone and stained glass,
echoing in the guitars and piano,
standing right there in the worship center with us,
shoulder to shoulder.


 We lit candles to help us remember.
And we thanked God for friends and family
who have left this physical realm,
this place-in-space that only partially reveals the truth of who we are.

And we sang!
Oh, how we sang,
joining our 300 voices with the sound
of saints and angels
around the world and across time,
remembering who we are.


 This is our home, these are our people,
this is our song.
I am a woman, yes, I am.
I am glad to be female,
grateful for the power of my body,
the gift of child-bearing,
the ability to nourish.
But I am also a human being.
First and foremost, I am that.
And I am blessed to be part of a community
that celebrates both truths,
that doesn’t hesitate to acknowledge
the ways in which my femaleness
brings wholeness to the image of God
in the midst of the sanctuary.

 For the last forty years, this is the truth my husband and I have lived:
we are partners.
We are equal before God.
We bring different gifts and abilities
to our shared table,
but we are, each of us, seen by God for
who we are,
ALL of who we are:
redeemed by Jesus,
gifted by God,
called and filled by the Holy Spirit,
commanded to love God, others and ourselves,
sent to a world that hungers for grace.
Both of us.


The candles were still gleaming Sunday evening,
as a small group of us gathered to worship Taize style.
Sung prayer, lectio, and once again,
a shared table.

But this time, a litany of silence.
Deep enough to hear the bread tear,
quiet enough to hear the purplish fluid being poured out,
every last drop.


Dark enough to exhale.
To fully exhale all the worries of the day,

the carbon dioxide of doubt,
the staleness of fatigue.

It is within this context that I can say yes,
I am a Jesus feminist.
In the center of worship,
in the midst of the congregation,
in the place where I am known.

And in that powerful, life-giving truth,
I rejoice!

My deep thanks to those who lead our congregation in worship that is real and rich – Don Johnson, Jon Lemmond and Bob Gross. It is Bob’s voice that you hear, along with his composing and arranging skills, in the Taize songs I have linked in this piece.

I am joining this post with Sarah’s synchroblog, with Michelle’s weekly invitation and with Jennifer’s storytelling.

31 Days of Giving Permission . . . TO READ, READ, READ – A Book Review & A Synchroblog

I am happily joining the synchroblog launching Addie Zierman’s wonderful new book,
“When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over.” And so help me, I will, somehow, make this review fit the 31 Day theme I’ve selected.
(And I will probably do this same theme twice more, once on each of the last two Tuesdays of October, because I have had such a feast of reading the past few months. A veritable feast, I tell you!)

This particular idea has never been a problem for me – in fact, I have perhaps given myself TOO MUCH permission to read, read, read over the years (if such a thing is possible). But maybe you need someone to give YOU that permission – if so, please count yourself duly permitted. Because reading is one of the best ways I know to a.) widen your knowledge of the world and how it works; b.) broaden your vocabulary and your ability to dream artistic dreams; c.) take you to another world for a few minutes; d.) remind you that we are all part of something much larger, more wonderful, and more terrible than we know. So, welcome to the 1st of 3 reminders to give yourself permission to . . . READ, READ, READ. 

31 days of giving permission 200x130

I was a senior in high school,
and on my way to an early morning Bible study,
when I crashed my mother’s car and broke my tooth.
I was late to pick up my friend,
I drove my mom’s stick-shift-on-the-steering-wheel,
1950’s vintage Plymouth, which was always sluggish
at 6:30 in the morning,
I lived on a steep hill, which required me to make a turn to the left
as I crested the top of it,
and my books slid across the seat as I turned.

Naturally, I leaned over to rescue them,
and the next thing I knew, I had crashed into a parked car,
which crashed into a 50-year-old oak tree,
leaving the radiator steaming and my mouth bleeding.
And my initial, knee-jerk response?
Mortification that I was going to miss that Bible study. 

I am not a morning person.
I know it now and I knew it then.

But every week, I went to that Bible study anyhow,
because, I mean  . . . how could I not?
I was a Christian, for heaven’s sake.
And I was on fire.

I was a geek, too. Hard to reconcile ‘on fire’ with ‘geek’
but I pretty much rocked it.
And just about everyone in my class of about 500 knew
that I was an on-fire, geeky Christian, too.
I was taught to talk about it, to define it clearly, for myself and for others,
to not be ashamed.

I was also taught, both explicitly and implicitly, that my primary goal in life,
as a good, Christian girl,

was to meet a fine Christian man,
get married, have babies,
and volunteer with women’s ministries.

And we all know how that turned out.

Why is it, I wonder, that the church, and so many of its subsidiary organizations,
get and give such a garbled message?
We too often complicate the beautiful simplicity of the gospel of grace,
add on layers of dogma that were never part of the design,
and insist that others see the same rigid, box-like faith that we see.

There’s a lot of un-learning that needs to happen for many, if not most of us,
who were raised within the confines of an overly conservative,
mistakenly zealous version of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Addie Zierman has been a lyrical voice for that re-learning
for a couple of years now.
Her blog, “How to Talk Evangelical” has been on my top 10 list
for about as long as she’s been writing on it.
And her book is, in many ways, an extension of what you find
in that lovely space.

It is also more.
This is a memoir, a spiritual memoir.
But it is also a story of love gone wrong,
a sad tale of how “Christian” relationships can sometimes slip into abuse,
and how hard it is to recover from the garbage theology
we too often absorb in our ‘on fire’ years.

Slipping between 2nd and 3rd person narrative,
Addie tells a beautiful but painful story.
She writes movingly of adolescent earnestness,
life-long friendships,
moving into a healthy relationship,
then fighting to save it as depression
and churchianity take their inevitable toll.

She speaks honestly about using alcohol to numb the pain,
about stepping into therapy and finding Jesus there,
about her frustrating search to be at home in community.

Addie’s story is not my story,
but there are pieces of it that I know.
Something about my own family system made me wary
of catch-phrases, excessive cheeriness and simplistic recipes for anything.

Also, I did not have a boyfriend in high school,
a fact for which I give heartfelt thanks after reading about the boy
who manipulated and tried to control Addie during those tender years. 

But I do know all about trying to please.
I do know all about wanting to be the good girl.
I do know all about following the rules,
giving a testimony,
playing the role,
being on fire.

And I now know that there was much good intermingled
with the less-than; there was joy mixed in with the angst;
there was redemption, there was hope, there was. . .
and there is. . . JESUS.

And so does Addie.

I highly recommend this book to all who are struggling
through re-learning what they believe.
I highly recommend this book to all who have
done most of that re-learning for themselves,
but want to know what it feels like to
those who are younger.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves
lyrical, thoughtful, honest writing.

And I am honored to be part of this synchroblog
and to have received an Advance Reader’s Copy from Addie
and her publisher, Convergent.

You can find this book here 


Working Together: Mercy House with (in)Courage

Almost three years ago now, I began blogging in this space regularly. I was nearing retirement and knew that I would soon have a lot more discretionary time available to me. And I wondered . . . could I do more writing? More blog reading?

So I dove in, headfirst. This was when I began to understand why the internet is called ‘the web’ — everywhere I looked, I found links to somewhere else. And over and over again, those links took me to (in)Courage, DaySpring’s magazine for Christian women. I soon began to see that (in)Courage itself was also a web — at least 30 women writers were part of the creative team that made this magazine the thing of beauty it is.

I was definitely older than their general demographic, but it was fun for me to see young women — singles, marrieds, moms, not-moms — writing about, thinking about and acting out what the gospel looks like in our 21st century world. 

Somehow, I landed on a newsletter list. I have no idea how or why, but I’m glad to be there. Just over six weeks ago, I received a very special edition of that newsletter, inviting me to participate in a wonderful blogging opportunity. May I tell you about it?

Photo for MercyHouse by Bess Brownlee

Mercy House is the lovely brain-child of Kristin Welch, one of the very first bloggers I discovered all those months ago. A ministry of outreach and care to pregnant women living on the streets in Kenya, Mercy House provides living space and medical care for these women and for their babies, offering the love of Jesus in very tangible ways.

This fall, (in)Courage has teamed up with Mercy House to design a special Christmas Project — which we are calling . . . Ta Da!! . . . (in)Mercy. Together, we hope to raise enough money to keep the love of Jesus flowing in good, good ways. This God-sized project will roll out in 5 stages between now and Christmas and TODAY is kick-off day for the whole glorious shebang.

PHASE 1 – from now through October 6 – our goal is: $8,750 for a new van to help transport these lovely women to and from medical appointments

PHASE 2 – From October 7 – October 23 — our goal is $8500 for a new classroom to help these young moms continue their educations

PHASE 3 – October 24, happening at Allume – a text fundraiser to garner $1520 for a new generator for Mercy House.

PHASE 4 – November 11 – December 2 – $2150 for a new computer lab

PHASE 5 – going above and beyond the dreams of all those connected with this mighty ministry – $53,000 toward building a SECOND Mercy House, helping even more struggling women and children.

This is a huge dream, but not beyond the power of our God and not beyond the means of God’s people in Blogdom. 

That’s a total of $74, 000 in a little over three months!

Can we do it? We think so! 

PureCharity has set up an account just for us, to help make donations online and to track our success as we go. You can find our page at PureCharity by clicking on this link. And because of the brilliant way they have set up their site, you can also make contributions by . . . shopping! Hard to believe, I know, but go on over there and read all about it, okay?

We are now officially into Phase One: with 12 moms, 12 babies, 2 house mothers, a social worker, an accountant/assistant and a director, one 15-seat van is put into overdrive far too often at Mercy House. Please consider giving toward this first level of gifts and let’s get this wonderful, big-dream project off to a grand start!! Make your donation today, by clicking here to get over to PureCharity! THANK YOU!!

Dear Me. . . a letter to my teen-aged self

Emily Freeman is one of my favorite writers out here in blogland. And she’s just released her 2nd book, this one aimed at teen-aged girls. It’s called “Graceful.” So as part of that celebration, she has invited others to write a letter to their teen-aged selves. Here’s her button – and you can get any one of 17 versions of this over at her site. 
We’re all linking up on Friday at Emily’s blog, Chatting at the Sky.
graceful for young women

Hello sweet girl,

Somewhere between this fresh-faced 11-year old, on the cusp of the dreaded junior high school experience, the one with the barrettes in her hair and the sweet smile on her face . . .

. . . and this curly-haired (how on earth did that happen??), Peter-Pan-collared, 16-year-0ld high school student who is wearing just a little too much lipstick, I think maybe we lost a few things. 

And here, I am, on the other end of this long life of ours, trying to help us find them again. 

So to you, my just-barely-pre-adolescent-self, the one in the barrettes, I want to say this: your family moved that year, the year right before Junior High school, you moved to a brand new community, a brand new school. You left behind the only school you’d ever known, the one on Strathern Street in North Hollywood. The one where you had two outstanding teachers who were men. And the one in 5th grade? Mr. Naismith? Yeah, that one. He told you and your mother, when you were both standing there together at the school open house, he said that you were a writer. A really imaginative, gifted writer. 

And you didn’t believe him. 

You felt shyly proud, but you really couldn’t quite grab hold of it.  So hear me, please: believe him. And write like crazy, will you? Because if you don’t, that piece of you will be lost for a long, long time – the imaginative piece. And that, my dear, was one of the best parts of you before that move, before adolescence hit like a hurricane and made you disdainful of all things fanciful.

And you up there, the one with the artificially curly hair? The one in the collar? I see that face that can’t quite look into the camera, and I know how much you hate so many parts of yourself. Really, truly hate them. And that is because you’ve seen how your mother frets over you. And all her worries, her fears, her misguided thoughts, her anxiety-based worldview – that’s all becoming part of you. And it’s going to take you years and years to try and separate yourself from all those pieces of self-hatred. 

What you don’t know is this: all that angst you soaked in through your skin, the stuff your mom fairly breathed into you? It was really, truly about her and not about you. It was her own deep-seated insecurities that made her hover and wring her hands and give you home permanents that never worked right, and tell you not to walk like a duck, and drag you from doctor to doctor trying to find a remedy for your congenitally difficult skin, and then when you were sixteen and absolutely perfect (yes, you were — look at the pictures!) she took you to a ‘diet doctor’ and put you on pills, for heaven’s sake. 

She never meant it to happen, but it did. You were screwed up for the rest of your life in some ways, sweetie. Metabolism messed with, your relationship to food permanently corrupted, and really life-twisting anxieties taking stubborn root inside. 
This is a portrait you had taken right after you started at UCLA at the very tender age of 17 because your actual senior picture from high school was dreadful, even after two sittings. Did you see yourself well when you were this age? 
Not very often, I don’t think.

So I guess my number one bit of advice to you at sweet-sixteen is this one: move out from under your mother’s fears and just be yourself, your own weird and wonderful self. Proudly!

You are a smart girl, kiddo. You know that with part of yourself. You’re in the gifted classes and the other kids think you’re a bit of a nerd. And you are. 
Doing something silly for a church event, because that’s where you always, always were as a 16-year-old – at church, doing all kinds of things. And occasionally, some of them were silly.

But believe me, that smart stuff is really going to work out great for you. Yes, it is. In fact, I’d like to encourage you to relax into it. It’s a gift of God, one you don’t fully appreciate and that your mom is a little afraid of (“The boys won’t like you if you’re smarter than they are.”) But it will serve you well. 

There is this, though: being smart is not all there is. In fact, it’s not even the best of all there is. And there is a very big piece of you that knows this truth, too. In fact, that’s why you decided to join all those choirs in high school, even though you had to audition and that scared the bejeebers out of you. 

Because in those marvelous choral classes, you got to be one of the singers, not one of the brainiacs. And that was a very good thing for you to experience. So good that you’re going to do it for a whole lotta years and every one of those years will be rewarding and rich and will touch the part of yourself that is creative and artistic. So, sing loudly when asked. Say yes to the duets and eventually the solos. Because it’s really good to do something that requires you to face into your fears. Something that helps you learn just a little bit more about trust. 

Because, dear girl, that’s going to be the center of your journey for a long, long time: learning to trust. Learning to trust yourself and your instincts, learning to trust your husband and your children, and most of all, learning to trust that God is for you, not against you. No.Matter.What. 

You’re going through the motions so well, dear one. And you’re learning so much in that head of yours . . . so much. You’re a leader in your church youth group, you fervently read your Bible and pray for a long list of people. You help at home and never break the rules. You are a very, very good girl. 

But you’re beginning to experience some pretty deep questions about life and about faith, about relationships and about family. And if I could tell you anything, I would tell you this: lean into all those questions. Keep on asking them, without fear that you’ll fall of the edge of the earth and into some sort of cosmic lake of fire. Because this is the truth: God is so much bigger. SO.MUCH.BIGGER than you can think or imagine. 

God is way bigger than your doubts, your fears, your inhibitions, your insecurities. And this? THIS is what I truly want to say to you — 

                                   God believes in YOU. 

Yes, you heard me right. God made you, crafted you with love, calls you by name. God will walk with you through all that is to come – all the great stuff and all the terrible stuff, all the beautiful and all the ugly, all the terrifying and all the satisfying. So . . .
          write it all down,
               come out from under your mother’s fear-soaked shadow, 
                     don’t be scared of all the Big Thoughts you’re having,
                             and, most of all,
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart….” for God will “direct your paths.” 

And you are going to be SO surprised where God’s path takes you. 

Love to you from . . .

YOU, all growed up at age 67

P.S. Some of those pathways God will take you down? They’re going to be grand fun! 

FRIENDS: If you’d like to know more about Emily Freeman’s book, click on this line right here to read all about it.

I’m also joining this with Emily Wierenga, Ann Voskamp, and the SDG at Jen’s place, if it’s not too late: