i pray you have a wilder imagination

Dear tiny person, 17 weeks alive now,

You will start hearing my voice soon – the sound of my heartbeat, loud and steady, the movement and rhythm of my body in the midst of all the ordinary work of these spring days. And you’ll hear Dad’s voice, the voices of the people around us, the noises of this life you’re coming into.

I have been hearing a lot of questions about you. People ask me, “but how will you still be a student?” and “will you quit school?” and “aren’t you going to need more time off?” and when I say no, they look at me surprised, a little concerned, a little knowing. They let the silence hang between us, the wide-eyed looks that carry the message across the inches of dusty floor – surely, surely, you didn’t think all this was possible. haven’t you underestimated how hard it will be? 

I am praying that you never hear these questions from me.

I am praying that when your dad and I hold you, we tell you the stories, again and again, that we are a people who never underestimate anything but the power of the Lord Jesus to walk into our lives and unfold the most surprising, most marvelous, most extraordinary things.

Your life is the gift that your dad and I never imagined we would be so privileged to see so soon. Your life is the greatest gift God has given us.

I pray that I do not ask you questions that say your imagination is too unrealistic. That you can’t possibly think you can do this and that at the same time, that you are underestimating how hard it will be, how much work it will be, how likely it is to fall apart.

I pray that you will hear me say instead that our imaginations should be wider, and wilder. I pray you will hear what I know in my bones, that we too often live limited lives because we limit our imaginations. We think that motherhood and philosophy graduate seminars can’t possibly both be successful; we think that you must choose between art and biology; we think that you cannot travel AND or be married AND or work this challenging job AND or …

and we teach this to each other, with our well-meaning questions and our expectant looks, with our heartfelt, “but how will that work?” Our imaginations grow small in the shadow of what we think more realistic.

I pray that your imagination is wilder than that. I pray that you hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, who will call you to get out of the boat, to leave behind what you know, to go into towns and cities, to leave the empty tomb with just the wild hope and these words: “I have seen the Lord!”

I pray you know that this is enough reason to rejoice in even what seems difficult or strange in the eyes of the world. It might not satisfy other people. And right now when I put my hand over the place where I know you’re growing, and I tell those who ask me these questions that I am not afraid to be a student and a mother, to be a wife and a philosopher and to hold you in the long nights and read to you about epistemology and the Rainbow Fish –

when I do this, it probably doesn’t satisfy the person who asked me.

But if it does not – if the question still lingers, how can she think all this is possible, then I dare them all to take that question and place it before the Lord Jesus. I believe Jesus will widen their imagination. I believe that Jesus will remind them of the stories:

Abraham, who left everything he knew to follow God,
Moses and the people of Israel, who followed God into the water of the Red Sea and walked safely,
Ruth, who left everything she knew to go with Naomi,
Hannah, who did not leave God alone in praying for her son,
Mary, who gave birth to God Himself in Jesus,
Peter, who got out of the boat, and even when he doubted, cried out and Jesus saved him immediately,
of the people Jesus healed, and ate with, whose faith, whose wild imagination carried them into the very heart of God.

And I believe that you, and me, and Dad, we are one story numbered among the thousands that Jesus tells about those who love Him. They are all stories of wilder imagination. They are stories of people who love, and this love, it casts out their fears, their idea of limits, their idea of what will be too hard and too much and so hard to imagine how it will all work. 

And so, beautiful, breathtaking tiny human being listening to my heartbeat, I pray that you are filled up all these many years with a wild imagination. I pray that you feel these stories around you, in your bones. I pray that you know most of all that God loves you, wildly, beyond your imagining – and when God calls out to you, you need never fear – it is His love, calling you to Himself.



12 thoughts on “i pray you have a wilder imagination

  1. this is so beautiful.

    I’m staying home with my 9-month-old and her 20-week-brewing sibling right now, and I don’t know if grad school is in the future or not — I think about it. I think about more writing. I think about lots of things. Imagination is good, and someday before too long we will get to start making decisions about which big dreams are the best vision God has for us. Right now we know me being here is the best choice for us since my husband is finishing a post-doc and we want to get settled in a job for him (likely in another state) before making firm decisions about more school for me. But I have just about had it with the approving comments I receive from some older Christians about how nice it is to see women with their priorities straight, as if others who prayerfully make different decisions are wrong. I think your child is very blessed to have a mama who knows faith is about opening wide our hearts and lives to the call of God, not about conforming to a cramped life based on what other people (or ourselves, even!) might have originally imagined.

    blessings to you and your little one!

  2. I’m pretty sure God had me scrolling through Facebook this evening just to see my friend post this. (Or something to that effect… God’s providence has been a confusing topic for me this year.) But anyway, I’m really glad that I read this.

    As a student currently halfway through her master’s in theology, and hoping to pursue Ph.D. work, my husband and I have been having the whole “when do we have kids?” conversation lately. It really doesn’t seem like I’ll have any “easy” years coming up for awhile (does anyone?). Who knows if, when, or where I’ll have a career established as a professor. So we’ve been toying with the whole “welp, let’s just try and line it up with some kind of summer break” thing, but then it seems scary to try and do school + baby, but then it seems scary to wait until I’m in my 30s to have kids… Bottom line, God’s got it figured out, and like Kara said above, the fact that academia is interrupted/disturbed by child birth (literally vital to the survival of the human race) just means that academia will have to learn 😉 Good for you and your wider, wilder imagination.

  3. Hilary, thank you so much for writing on this topic. From the perspective of a married twenty-something in grad school (who is contemplating questions about the future and family), your writing is a breath of fresh air. I often find that the topic of motherhood + career is a difficult topic to discuss in both academic circles and the church, so your timely post (and also Kara’s thorough comment above) was a welcome perspective for me to chew on. Keep writing!!

  4. dear hilary,

    I am delighted for you and Preston, and I pray that you will be given wisdom with one another and your community as your baby continues to grow. May you be granted patience and perseverance along with your joy so that you can sustain the love which is evident in this post.

    Every child and family is different. When I started at Yale for my masters Peter was 2 months old. In some ways it *was* harder than I expected,… but overall it was a great blessing to be a graduate student and a mom. I certainly had a lot more freedom to negotiate work and family responsibilities than many of other new mothers who worked full-time at an office, school, farm, or restaurant. Finding ways of expressing my needs to my academic peers was hard,.. yes my situation was different than theirs, but I didn’t want “slack,” I wanted conversation and a community of learning which could accommodate the fact that I had to take time (and a space!) to nurse every 4 hours and acknowledged that I had to be home at a regular time to put my son to sleep. My husband’s commitment to sharing parenting responsibilities equally (which sometimes meant doing more, not just as much, as I did) was also invaluable.

    Doing my PhD at Notre Dame so far has been different. Now that my son is older and I am not a brand new mom I have a clearer sense of what his needs are and will be (although I am still surprised, but not overwhelmed by changes as he grows). Also more of the people in my program have children of their own,… although few are the primary caregiver for infants. In general there is less of a “singles-bias” structure to professional/community life, although no doubt that is in part due to the fact that the PhD is a much more independent endeavor all-around. And as I have grown more comfortable with my role as a parent, I have realized that as a brand new mom I sometimes let parenting ostracize me when it needn’t have,… it sounds like you already have a sense of how to stretch the imaginations of your professional and social network. I am glad. I wish I had be given that gift sooner… thankfully I was given stubbornness and a few good friends along the way. May you be blessed with those as well.

    As we are looking forward to the arrival of another new member of our family this summer I know that my working schedule and patterns, and the patterns of community-involvement I need as a mother and a scholar will have to adapt. I am thankful for a family-friendly community of Notre Dame, even while I know that even in this community there will be an ongoing negotiation of what I can and can’t commit to during the first year. I am thankful for my spouse and my son who are so eager and delighted that our family is continuing to grow. And I am thankful for other women who are saying “I can” to both motherhood and academia,… I think it stretches the university while it stretches us. The fact that it gives us and our social networks new perspective isn’t a platitude,… its just a basic epistemological fact. The reality of the embedded patriarchy and male-neutral gaze of Western professional cultures, including the academic, is interrupted and disturbed by the possibility of child birth,… and out of that many new possibilities are generated. So while I am delighted about the arrival of this baby (and yours) for her own sake,… I can’t help but believe that she is also making this a better place of learning, possibly making me a better future-professor, just by her very existence. God sure has a way with secondary (and tertiary,…etc.) causes.

    yours in friendship,


    P.S. The world of parenting advice is often best ignored. (I will now practically ignore such a norm). I have found that there is always room in the diaper bag for a couple of books and a kindle/tablet… and putting an extra diaper or two in the briefcase/backpack isn’t a bad idea either. Reading on a laptop while nursing never really worked for me. And you may want to grow your tolerance for being the source of loud-noise in quiet places, messes in clean places, and smells… pretty much anywhere. (cf. Hare for the way we treat mother-child as a unit for evaluative purposes, http://www.calvin.edu/academic/philosophy/writings/moralato.htm)

    1. Thank you for writing, Kara. I am grateful for your thoughts and for the encouragement – and I am so excited to hear how life with your newest family member is when she arrives!

  5. Hilary. This is some of the bravest most beautiful writing on motherhood I’ve read in a long time.

    I wish we could sit down and I could tell you about the women I know who have bravely walked forward with this kind of wild imagination – who have stretched my ideas of what motherhood looks like, who have wrestled hard to live fully in their full calling, who have marriages that are crazy strong from supporting each other in changing seasons and roles. You are not alone in your brave, beautiful dreams.

    Celebrating with you and Preston as your family grows, as you paint this landscape of wide imagination for this baby, and he or she widens your capacity to love and to see and to imagine.

  6. Those early months of motherhood (3 months) are flickin’ hard! But you start to find your groove in about 40 days.

    Women before you have done it.
    And women after you are going to do it.
    I believe in you.

    Also, anybody who has the cajones to look into the future and say “I can” instead of settling into a bathtub of tepid fear has my respect.

    I can’t wait to hear about your experience of motherhood!

    Much love to you and Preston!


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