Blue Christmas


barnstarThe holiday season this year has not been merry for me. This past week has been particularly trying, exposing for all the world to see my poor parenting under stress. Yesterday I dropped off my two youngest boys with a friend while I rushed to keep an appointment. Both boys were sockless in late December, the baby still in pjs, his face orange and messy because he ate mac and cheese—yes, fake fluorescent-orange powder, boxed mac and cheese—for breakfast. This morning’s breakfast was Christmas cookies . I reason that they can’t be any more sugary than donuts or Pop Tarts or Lucky Charms. Right?

After I dropped the boys off yesterday, I got in my car and cried. This happens a lot lately. Our family is suffering a serious loss this winter. The weight of it, combined with the everyday burdens of working and mothering (which I already do not bear as well as I should), feels like it will crush me.

When I picked the boys up from my friend, I apologized for the baby’s cheesy cheeks. She told me, God bless her, that he may have had Kraft for breakfast, but that his belly and his heart were full. I confessed to her that I didn’t know how to celebrate this year. For the first time I can ever remember, I wish only for the holidays to be over and done with, to be able to navigate this particular hardship without the added pressure of putting on a smile, even for my own kids.

Later that night,  I sat in a quiet, candle-lit church sanctuary for a Blue Christmas service. “The idea of Blue Christmas,”  writes Ruth Graham, “is to acknowledge the darkness, and let it be dark…Some churches refer to the event as the ‘Longest Night,’ because many services take place on December 21, the winter solstice…The structure varies widely, but common motifs include candles, music in minor keys, periods of silence, and time to privately share specific sadnesses and fears.”

The dim church, the desperate passages from Isaiah and the Psalms, the haunting lilt of “O Come Emmanuel”—these bring me more true comfort than any manufactured Christmas glee. Next year, I hope, Christmas will be gleeful and merry again. But thank God there is space for mourning on those years when it isn’t. I light a candle. I stand up. I name my grief out loud. I sit back down between two friends and, mercifully, cry my heart out.

After the service, I walk outside. It is the longest, darkest night of the year. I look up and in the blackness of the sky I see a cold, blue pinpoint of light. A star. A guide to orient me, to tell me where I am and keep me on course even in the dark when all other touchstones have disappeared. Though distant and small from where I stand, in reality that pinpoint blazes and dazzles through light years of space to reach me.

I believe, though I do not feel, that there is truly cause for joy—joy that is infinitely deep and solemn, joy that weeps as often as it laughs, joy that lives in darkness but sees great light.

There was once another light that hurtled through eternity to reach this earth and set it on fire.

Oh come Emmanuel. Please come. God with us, be with me. Be with me in darkness as I walk toward the light.


Running toward Joy

woman-runnerIt’s a late-summer Sunday evening. I’m training for the Baltimore half-marathon, my first-ever running race. Today’s goal is eight miles, the farthest run yet. I’m chugging up a long, gradual hill on the last leg of the run at a pace barely above a walk. I can barely see my two training partners ahead, both veteran runners who, without meaning to, naturally and steadily increased the space between us. Desperately thirsty and hungry, all I can think about is how much I’m craving watermelon. My legs hurt, my back hurts, my right hip hurts. Three of my toes, smashed against the front of my too-small running shoes, throb so agonizingly I almost stop. Almost.

No one is more surprised than I am that I somehow find the grit to keep going. And here’s the thing – when that hill levels out for the final mile before home, I fly. It’s not any easier. Everything still hurts and my body feels like lead. But some other part of me—some dormant part that I didn’t know existed until right now—is powerful and free. This body I inhabit is propelled by something more than muscle and bone and even will. Will is what pushed me up the last hill. What I’m running on now is pure spirit, and it feels so good.

I’ve only been running regularly for a few months. At the beginning, just one mile was a painful, rasping push to keep going. I told myself “It won’t always be this hard,” imagining that soon I’d bound through that first mile like a deer—tireless, light, and graceful. I’ve since logged run after run, and not once have I bounded.

That was the hardest lesson, that, at least for me, the first part never gets easier. Waking up in the dark, forcing my body to move, struggling to catch my breath every damn time. But then the sun comes up, my raggedy breathing evens and slows, my feet fall into a rhythm that echoes in my head—one-two, one-two, one-two. I feed all my anxiety, stress, and worry into that meditative movement—step-step, step-step, step-step. One foot then the other, over and over and over.

After the pain comes the joy. A friend and mentor once described marriage that way. She told me that all marriages go through stretches of pain and hard work and seeming futility, but if you push through that, you get to the best parts. She said the problem is that most people quit before they get to the joy. It’s just like running, and probably anything in life worth having. Physical goals, career ambitions, relationships, parenting, artistic expression – all require journeys through enough pain, dissatisfaction, risk, boredom, suffering, and vulnerability to make us all want to lay down right where we are and say “I quit. I’m done. It hurts too much.”

But let’s not do that. Let’s keep running. The joy is coming, and I don’t want to miss it.

Lent for Mothers

Photo by Jennifer Balaska via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Jennifer Balaska via Wikimedia Commons

My dear friend Kristen, mother of three boys ages four and younger, recently posted the list below on Facebook. I loved it so much, and she graciously gave me permission to reproduce it here. Here’s why I love it. First of all, it made me laugh. I identified with every single one of her penances. I love that there can be as many different parenting philosophies as there are parents in the world, but there are also so many things that all mothers share and understand. I also love this list because it is so encouraging. It’s so easy at the end of a long day at home with kids to look around at your toy-cluttered house, laundry piles, and spaghetti-crusted dishes and wonder what in the world you have to show for your day. This list is a reminder of all we mamas lay down for the sake of our babies and families.

I love the Lenten season, and I love the opportunity every year to look at my life and myself and see where God wants to eliminate some flaw or build up some new sacrifice that will straighten out my crooked character. This year, my Lenten penance is to continue to do all of things on this list that I already do, but to do them, as much as I possibly can, cheerfully and without complaint. Be encouraged, mothers! Our work is important!

I keep seeing a lot of Lenten suggestions and challenges in my news feed. So I have decided to write a list of Lenten suggestions for mothers of infants and young children:

  • Wake up every two to three hours – stay up for about 20 minutes.
  • Wake for the day around 6:30 a.m. (if you are feeling extreme wake up at 5 a.m.)
  • Make a cup of coffee and leave it on the counter.
  • After it is lukewarm, put it in the microwave. Leave it there.
  • Do the same thing for some of your food.
  • Carry a 15 pound weight at all times and learn to use one hand.
  • Take something expensive that you own or something you really like and break it.
  • Wash and blow dry your hair, then put something that resembles spit up in it.
  • Put this same substance on all of your clothes – if you are really feeling penitential put it on your favorite clothes.
  • Make a recording of loud sounds and play them all day. Turn up the volume when you are on the phone.
  • When you find yourself on the brink of some sort of melt down, go ahead and drop something heavy on your toe.
  • Write only half of a response to an important e-mail, save it in your drafts, and forget about it.
  • Wash someone else’s laundry, do their dishes, or clean up after them without looking for praise.
  • Live out some gospel recommendations – care for the sick, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, etc., etc.

Or my greatest suggestion – go easy on yourself!!

I’m a Writer


Photo by Chance Agrella via

There’s a comedy skit where a would-be writer moves in to an apartment next to noisy neighbors. When they get too loud, he calls the cops, protesting weakly, “I’m trying to write in here! I’m a writer!

It’s an inside joke between me and my brother – we say it to each other when I’m talking about writing-related business. There’s always been a little part of me, though, that believes I am that stereotype – the whiny dilettante that always tells everyone how I do some writing work, or want tohope to, would really like to be a writer. 

My husband put up a permanent note on my desktop that reads “You are a writer…so write!” I see it every time I turn on my computer. And he’s right. I’ve written since I was a kid. When my best friend and I were teenagers talking about the future and she didn’t know what she wanted to be, I always did. I studied English and writing in college. My first post-college job was a business writing job. Then I floundered for awhile, doing restaurant and secretary work, but always, when anyone asked, I said I was doing such and such, but what I really wanted to do was write.

My problem was that I needed to get over myself. I love Dave Eggers, and I thought that if I hadn’t published a critically acclaimed book by the time I was in my early twenties like him, I was washed up. That mindset was so much pride. Of course, like any artist or creative person, I want my work to find an audience. Beauty wants to be beheld, not kept hidden. But writing only for the sake of publishing, or making money, or earning accolades will rarely produce good work. These days, I want to write for a living because I love it – from editing small details to creating something entirely new – and I want to do it all the time.

And finally, after years of part-time, piecemeal, freelance work, it looks like I might be able to do that. I’ve got more work coming in than ever before. So much, in fact, that I started my own business, something else I thought might never actually happen. Yup. M. M. Parker Writing & Editing, LLC. Registered in the state of Maryland. A little scary and a lot exciting all at the same time.

It’s ok – and actually healthy – to claim one’s talents and name one’s identity. I am a writer. It’s who I am. It’s how I see the world and how I live my life. The only difference is … now it’s in writing. Pun intended.

Early in the morning, my song will rise to thee…

Photo by runrunrun via stock.xchng

Photo by runrunrun via stock.xchng

“In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Mark 1:35

I crave the peace of early mornings. The silence is almost physical – a soft and welcome assault on my ears. I was never a morning person, but with three children, mornings have become my refuge. Sometimes I am productive, busily putting things in order, finishing leftover chores and making breakfast before anyone is awake to distract me. Sometimes I am contemplative, praying and listening for God in the quiet. Sometimes I am blessedly unproductive, resting in the stillness before the day requires anything of me.

This morning we were out of coffee (an unacceptable state of affairs in our house) so I walked to the corner store to get some before my husband had to leave for work. It was 14 degrees out and mostly dark. The trees were empty, the space between them just barely stained sunrise pink. The world’s first faint sounds stirred as it prepared to wake.

The early morning has always felt holy to me. It feels like the dark before creation, the breath of God hovering, waiting to call everything into existence. Or the Resurrection morning: “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed.” (John 20:1) Can you imagine the sorrow she felt in the darkness, and the deep, solemn joy that was already stirring, unknown to her, waiting for daybreak? As the psalmist says in one of the most beautiful phrases in the Bible, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

I wish I could say I get up early every morning. The truth is I hit my snooze button until the last minute just as often. But when I do get up, I am reminded why those hours before dawn are so precious, so holy. God waits for me, there in the darkness, the joy and light the day offers as yet unknown to me, but not to Him.

Guest Post: Faith and Motherhood


I had the privilege to be a guest blogger for a good friend: author, pastor and father, Adam Feldman. You can find my post about how motherhood has impacted my faith here, and while you’re at it, look around and enjoy his writing!

I met Adam and his wife Kim several years ago, when their church was meeting in the living room of someone’s house, none of us had kids yet, and we had a lot more free time to spend at coffee shops, reading and writing and talking. It’s amazing to see where we are now – Metanoia has grown by leaps and bounds, we’ve all had a bunch of kids, jobs and life changes, we see each other much less, but our hearts are still close.

I love when that happens.

At the end of the day…

“Thus far the mighty mystery of motherhood is this: How is it that doing it all feels like nothing is ever getting done?”

Rebecca Woolf

This is what goes through my mind as I finally lay myself down in bed tonight. I yelled at my kids, there are dishes in the sink, and I’m just pretending not to see the pile of laundry in the corner of my room.

But…I got one-on-one story time with my littlest, talked with my 5 year old about when our unborn baby got its soul, and painted my daughter’s fingernails.

And that counts.

Starting Over

Sometimes you have to admit when you’re beat.

31 day blogging challenge? I’m beat. I’ve always been someone with plenty of intention. All kinds of intention. I just have a hard time on the follow-through. I was determined to write 31 posts on one topic, even if they weren’t published consecutively, but I realized that at least in this instance, my blind will to finish my commitment was keeping me from moving forward – I got stuck on 31 days, and let all kinds of other writing ideas and inspirations disappear into the creative ether.

There is something to be said for keeping a commitment for commitment’s sake. In fact, it’s something I want to practice much more. But not now, not today. Today I’m moving on.

Today I’m thinking about new things. About a new year, a new day, a new life. A new baby growing in my belly. An unexpected gift. Though logically I should be anxious, this new little one was so unplanned that I can’t do anything but accept. I smile to myself to think about this little secret seed I carry, safe and warm and hidden, in one of the coldest, dreariest months of the year.

I’m beat. I’m tired. But I’m hopeful and expectant. Things are changing as they always do. I’m letting them change, letting them pull me, lift me, take me somewhere new.