Love, Grow, & Overflow

My cup overflows. My laundry does too.

Category: Faith

Beds and Flowers

(c) Tambako the Jaguar

(c) Tambako the Jaguar

Last weekend, my mother-in-law came to visit, her car packed with luggage and her father’s old tools.  She and my husband spent the weekend building a loft for my daughter, four generations intersecting on sawhorses in our driveway.  Over the course of three days, hubby and his momma measured and cut, sanded and painted, drilled and assembled.  When they were finished, we had a beautiful loft, painted blue to match the sky on the rainbow wall in my daughter’s room.  There’s a butter-yellow platform with stairs that go halfway up, wide enough for a reading nook in the back, high enough to hide below.  It’s amazing.

The bed is everything we want for our children.  We’ve built something sturdy and beautiful, strong enough to support their wild moments, soft enough to catch them if they rise too high and bump their heads.  It’s a safe place for the quiet, vulnerable moments, for reading and resting and dreaming.  We try to parent like this, with great thought and labor.  We seek plans, lay foundations in measured care, choose values that will hold firm as they grow, that will catch them softly when they fail and fall.  We don’t parent perfectly, but we parent intentionally.

We are not nearly as intentional about our yard. Sometimes, when the weeds get too high next to our garage, I think I should just stick a scarecrow in the ground and call it our weed garden.  When I start talking scarecrows, my husband knows it is time to pull out the weed wacker.  This year, though, we’ve become accidental gardeners.  First, one of my daughter’s teachers gave her a pack of flower seeds, which we planted in finger-dug holes in the front yard.  Next, our neighbor offered us her gardening extras – two tomato plants and a pepper plant.  (We accepted, largely due to my daughter’s recent hypothesis that green beans come from frog legs.  Apparently we are in need of agricultural education.)   We dug up the weeds from a sad flower bed in our backyard and planted them, along with some chives that another friend offered.  We threw down a bag of mulch we found in a corner of our garage.  For the next few weeks we watered our gardens, the flowers in the front, the vegetables in the back.

Then, I got pregnant.  In the stomach-churning first trimester, it felt like we pushed the pause button on our lives – on play dates and museum trips and neighborhood walks.  On grocery shopping, whenever I could avoid it.  We were just getting by, and gardening was easily abandoned.  And still, as the weeks went on, blossoms formed on our vegetable plants.  Tomatoes started growing on the vines.  The cutest little green peppers soon joined them.  And, in our front yard, the flowers have popped up, blooming in brilliant colors on tall, leafy stems.

I believe our kids benefit from our measured parenting.  I think God blesses the work parents do, the hard labor, the long, seemingly endless battles.  Even at our best, though, we are limited.  I’ve seen much grace in our lives in the last couple months, in my plants and my kids.  The God who dresses the lilies of the field and the zinnias in my yard doesn’t stop when I’m exhausted and sick. In my just-getting-by days, in the times when intention fails, when my measurements fall short, he’s there.  God is at work in the dark and overlooked places, breathing life into forgotten seeds, calling them forth to bloom.

Dandelions

The Mighty Dandelion

 

 

 

 

 

 

For S and T

When I was growing up, I loved dandelions.  My parents didn’t use chemicals on our yard, so as soon as the ground thawed and a couple spring rains came, dandelion weeds would pop up everywhere.  I loved their sunny faces, their tiny lush petals, and the wispy puffs at the end of their life that would carry wishes off on the breeze.

(Once I picked a bunch and tried to sell them like a lemonade business.  My mom bought them all up, either as a nod to my entrepreneurial spirit or a desire not to be known around the neighborhood as the weed sellers who lived on the corner.  Now the local CSA has dandelion greens as a product, which proves I was just before my time.)

Usually, I’d pluck a bunch and make chains. I’d dig my thumb nails in to split the hollow stems in two, then tie the halves around the bloom of another flower, over and over.  It was messy work, dandelion juice seeping out of the fibers. Sometimes I’d accidentally brush my hands to my lips and taste the bitterness.  But at the end, I’d have a garland, a necklace, a crown.

I have a friend who blog is Blooming Joy.  The subtitle reads “Finding the joy springing up out of the dirt.”  In my head, I’ve always envisioned tiny seedlings in carefully edged gardens, rising up from tilled soil to burst into bloom.  Today I’m thinking of those dandelions, leaves jagged like the jaws of their predator namesakes, pushing up and out in unexpected places.

My friend’s had her share of weeds.  Stephanie and her husband Travis have dealt with some excruciatingly painful events invading like dandelions, unwanted and unexpected.   They parented their infant daughter through health, illness, terminal diagnosis, and death.  They carry wounds that are healing but not yet scars, that maybe never will be completely.  They have experienced deep grief and sadness, but they’ve handled it all with such strength and love and honesty.  They are not sad people; they are people of joy.

I appreciate their joy.  It’s not greeting-card joy, born out of tidy platitudes that reduce life to simple sentiments.  It’s faith-joy, joy that can stand even against the unanswered questions.  It’s faith that God is not dead, that Christ’s absence from the tomb means God’s presence with us always, even in the shadow of the valley of death, even beyond.  It’s faith in a Christ who, in the midst of his own suffering, knew there was still joy set before him.

They know, too – there’s joy still coming.

Joy rooted in faith doesn’t stop when we’re split open and hollow, when the bitterness is strong enough to taste, when our breaths exhale wispy prayers that fade into the sky. Faith-joy holds it all up to God, the bitterness and the blooms together, trusting that he will weave them into crowns of life.

Hosanna

 

weary

It’s spring here, officially, although you wouldn’t know it from the twenty degree weather.  A thin layer of snow covers everything like dust in an attic.  Where the grass pops through, it’s brown and wilted.  A season of plowing has left tire ruts in the ground along the driveways, a bent sapling, stray rocks on the lawn.  A months-old snow pile sits at the end of the parking lot, shrunken and black with exhaust.

We’re weary.

It’s still cold enough for scarves and gloves but I leave them at home. I’m tired of the barrenness. We walk out in the mornings and breathe through our noses, waiting for the scents of pollen and buds and soil.  Our spring clothes are ready, sealed in plastic bins in the corner of the closet.

I long for children running and shouting in a place that is not my living room.

I long for forecasts that don’t use phrases like “wind chill” and “lake effect.”

I long for news stories that don’t use words like “victimized” and “unconscious” together.

 

So weary.

 

This Sunday is Palm Sunday, and I long for arrivals: for lush green palms to cover the dusty paths, for sun-kissed knees and shins and forearms and ankles, for breezes thick with life.  For hope.

Come, Lord Jesus.  Save us.

Hosanna.

 

 

Palms

c. Kaytee Riek - Some Rights Reserved

c. Kaytee Riek – Some Rights Reserved

Last week, my daughter brought home a coloring page from Sunday School.  On the back, she’d written her name in crooked preschool letters.  She’d flipped around the Ds to Bs, so her name was a different name entirely.  Underneath, her teacher had written capital and lower case Bs and Ds, and then my daughter had written her name again correctly.

Her Sunday School teacher is amazing.  She has a doctorate in reading.  In this house where we love words so much, that’s like being a rock star.  I love the way she lovingly incorporates reading skills into each lesson.  In her room on Sunday morning, it’s not God in one hour-long slot and literacy skills for another time.  They’re all together; God and the gifts he’s given, wisdom and truth and kindness cresting over each other like waves.

My daughter’s name is important.  I believe it is written on God’s hands, each letter inscribed across the flesh of his palms.  I admit I’m not sure what that means entirely, but I believe those hands are actively working in the world.  I believe they’re open and cupped with mercy, and my daughter’s life is written into that plan, steeped in that mercy.

A receiver of mercy.  A bestower of mercy.  That is what her name looks like.

I believe those palms rest on her teachers’ shoulders each day as my daughter writes her name, nudging, “Teach this child who she is.” So we work on the letters, parents and Sunday School teachers and preschool teachers together. With crayons on paper, we note the number of tines on her E, the directions of b and d.  We’ll keep working until she knows her name like the back of her hands.

We’ll keep working till she knows herself like the palms of God.

Wounded

A few weeks ago, my friend took her sweet little Havanese pup to a socialization class.  During class, a dog snapped at him, and he ran away whimpering.  The sound of his whimper set off two pit bulls, who attacked him and did some serious damage (physically and emotionally too).  After several stitches, an IV, and lots and lots of love, he’s recovering and doing well, but it has been a tough few weeks for them.

It’s been a tough few weeks here too.  In my life and in the lives of others around me, I’ve seen quite a bit of pain and heartache.  In some ways, I feel like my friend’s dog – under attack. I feel sad and powerless as I watch things large and feral rush in, teeth bared and bent on destruction.

And then, I remember.

It hits me like a wave, water pouring over the dry places.  You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…. God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Powerless.  There’s the word again – set in the past, not the present – and with it the reminder that all of these days are part of a bigger story.

Waves keep coming, washing over me, reminding me of truths I know deep down. “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

There is a lot of destruction in this world, yes.  Any power I have on my own has limits.  But I am not on my own.  May I never be so overwhelmed by the wounds that destroy that I fail to remember the wounds of Christ that save, heal, empower.

A couple days ago, my friend and her pup headed back to the trainer for another socialization class (this time, with small dogs only).  She’s a hoper, my friend.  She remembers too.  This big, beautiful story may have parts that will bring us to our knees in grief and pain and sadness, but destruction doesn’t have the last word.

Love does.

——Ephesians 3:16-19: I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

For Samantha

I’d like to tell you a little about this sweet baby and her parents.

Samantha was born beautiful and healthy on March 10, 2011.  At six weeks old, she was diagnosed with Group B strep.  She passed away at four months old.  There is so much more to say about Samantha, but no one could say it better than her family.  Samantha’s mom, Stephanie, has chronicled their story with honesty and poignancy on her personal blog, Blooming Joy, and Samantha’s CaringBridge page (along with some entries from Samantha’s dad Travis and her Aunt Allison).

Travis and Stephanie will tell you that they are not brave and strong, and that they have gotten through this only by the grace of a faithful God.  I believe that.  From my perspective, our faithful God equipped them to be extremely brave and even heroic – during Samantha’s illness, death, and after.  They parented her well when she was healthy.  They parented her well when she was dying.   And now, when Samantha’s free of pain, they continue to be amazing parents.  They treasure the time they had with her.  They’ve gone back to bring donations to the places that helped them so much during Samantha’s illness.  They honor her life.  They look forward to a reunion someday.

They are organizing a 5K to celebrate the life of Samantha.  This is a spiritual journey as well as a physical one.  They’re using the program Run for God, which is a Christian running program designed to strengthen people’s faiths as well as their bodies.  Money raised from the 5K will go to a sponsorship in Samantha’s name at Faith Lutheran School.

While I’m nowhere near Texas, my running buddy and I are running in support of Travis and Stephanie and in honor of Samantha.

Want to run too?

Stephanie’s 5K blog post

Run for God – a Legacy (post at Caringbridge.org)

Happy Easter, Baby.

Photo by HeroicZach

It hurts a little to share Easter with you.

Not the bamboo baskets and the plastic eggs and the bonnets.  That’s the fun stuff.  But sharing Easter with you, the real Easter, the Easter that would still be there even if the Dollar Store and Target closed – that means sharing Good Friday with you, too.  Letting you take a small, three-year-old step into the story of darkness and sadness and death.  You’re sensitive.  I know your heart will hurt a little at the story.

You’re just beginning to deal with scary dreams and scary stories.  “Tell me two stories,” you asked last week.  “A happy story about a dragon and a scary story about a dragon.”  I like to keep you sheltered.  If you hadn’t asked, I wouldn’t have told the scary one, with the dragon’s fiery breath and big sharp teeth.  But you asked, and I know you need to learn to work through fears in a place where you are safe – a place like my lap.  I want you to know you are brave and capable… that you will sometimes be scared, and that is OK.  So we journeyed together through the dark forest with the dragon at our heels, and at the end of the story, we were alive, safe, OK.

And here we are at Holy Week.  There are people who will tell you that this story was spun in someone’s mind too, but sooner than I’d like to admit, you will find out that the world is full of hurt and sorrow breathing down your neck.  It’s real.  It’s OK to be scared.  I like to keep you sheltered, but the thought of you getting hurt by the awful things in this world – it scares me too.

I need to share this story with you because it is your story.  It helps me to remember that the story’s end was written long before we ever crossed the threshold with you in our arms.  You shine so brightly, but you’ll have some very dark times in life.  I want you to know that even when you are not brave, and even when you are less than capable – because that story has been written, you have Jesus.  You have everything you need.  He did the conquering already, so you can have hope and forgiveness and light and happiness and someday, no more darkness or pain.

We will journey together this week – to Jerusalem, to the garden, and even to the cross.  I’ll hold your hand.  It’s OK if it makes you feel a little funny and sad inside.  It is sad.  There are some dark and scary parts, but what a beautiful story it is.  At the end of the story, Jesus is alive, safe, OK.  We are, too.

Just wait.   I’ll wait with you.  And come Sunday, we will celebrate together.

Happy Easter, baby.

Like a Hand

My one-year-old spent most of his short life as a passive observer, carefully watching his older, bolder sister.  Suddenly, he is a spitfire himself.  He self-advocates by shouting, pushing, or ripping a toy out of her hands when he feels he’s been wronged.  His sister is not one to back down easily, so I often find myself wrenching a toy from first one iron fist and then another.  My kids’ soft, dimpled toddler hands are deceptively strong.

In my religious tradition, children have the opportunity to go through confirmation when they reach a certain age – usually, around seventh or eighth grade.  My childhood church  was very traditional in its approach, so for an hour and a half each week, we were instructed in a narrow conference room with tweed wallpaper, walls lined with thick-framed portraits of previous pastors.

To prove we were ready to be confirmed, we were questioned in front of the congregation in between church services.  On Questioning Sunday, I stood for my first question.  The pastor asked, “How does faith save?”  I didn’t remember the question anywhere on our study sheets.  I stammered out an answer about being saved through faith by grace given from Jesus.  The pastor paused, cocked an eyebrow, and asked again, “How does faith save?”  I stared at him blankly.  He said, “The correct answer is ‘like a hand.’  You may sit down.”

That answer has bugged me for years.  Like a hand?  What does that even mean?   I recently got my answer as I came across a quote from theologian Jean Taffin.  In the early 1600s, he wrote,

“…even if you have only a tiny spark of true faith, you are still a child of God.  No matter how small, faith grips and appropriates Jesus Christ – not halfway but fully, like a young child taking an entire apple in his little hand and holding it tightly, even though not with the strength of man.”

I love looking at faith that way: a seed, a spark, an embryo.  Tiny, shaky, enough.  We grasp with what we have, no matter how small, and faith saves… just like a hand.

Unstuck

Today is Ash Wednesday.

Honestly, I have never been a fan of Lent.  In the past I’ve given up things here and there, but it was mostly because I like a challenge.  That’s not a very good reason for practicing what is supposed to be a spiritual discipline.  Also, while I realize my theologian friends will be quick to correct this, Lent always feels a little like we are pretending we don’t know how it ends.  Like we’re making serious faces  and being all emo and refraining from saying “Alleluia” (which means “Praise the Lord” by the way – and, truthfully, seems a little silly to stop saying or doing).

This year… I am into it.  Not in a gloomy black-turtleneck sort of way, but in a way that says “OK God, open my eyes.  Remind me of who you are.  Remind me of who I am.”

And Ash Wednesday answers.

———

One fall, I agreed to drive a couple teenagers from our church to the local corn maze for a youth event.  I was seven months pregnant, so I wasn’t up for a walk through winding pit-filled paths in the dark, but I parked the car in the lot and got out for a moment to say hello.

When I returned to my car and went to leave, my wheels spun ruts in the mud.  I was stuck.   Passers-by gave all sorts of suggestions – turn the steering wheel to the right.  To the left.  Reverse.  Hit the gas quickly.  All of their suggestions just made the ruts deeper and splattered mud further up the sides of my car.  My husband came and jammed some cardboard under the tires.  No luck.  I was feeling pretty pitiful, the giant pregnant lady stranded in the dark.

A friend called Triple A, and the most gigantic flatbed tow truck I’ve ever seen came out.  It navigated carefully through the narrow dirt lot before the driver told me that my car was, officially, too far from the actual road for a tow.  As he left, I went to walk back to where everyone was gathered, and I tripped on a rut and fell into a puddle.  I landed on my knees and palms, but I splattered muddy water from my head to my toes.  Clumsy, crying, mud-splattered, exhausted, hormonal.  Still stuck.

That is who I am.  After a tow from the tractor at the corn maze, after the birth of that baby, after a car wash, after all the mud flecks have been washed from my hair and from under my nails – I am still that person on their hands and knees in the puddle.  I would like people to see my intelligence, my creativity, my wit or my loving spirit – but most days, I am stuck.  I’m stuck in selfishness, in a life that is too focused on my own house, in judgy-ness and lack of discipline and a host of other things.  I can’t smart my way out, create my way out, or love my way out.  I need more.

And I am reminded.  Of sacrifice.  Of love.  Of how I get un-stuck.

Of forgiveness.  Thank you.

Alleluia.

Leaning into the Light

I love leaving the house in winter.

Let me rephrase that: I love the idea of leaving the house in winter.  In reality, it is a long, tedious process of potty and hats and boots and coats and zippers and mittens, all while one child or the other is talking loudly or removing a mitten or trying to play with the cat food – sometimes all at once.  Usually, by the time we are ready to leave, I am ready for a rest.

Today, in the middle of our fifteen-minute leave-the-house routine, my son grew silent and still.  He was captivated by a sunbeam, one hand outstretched, chubby toddler fingers moving slowly as he tried to grasp the particles of dust.  And then, he leaned his head forward, light and warmth washing over his soft, round face.  He closed his eyes and smiled for a moment before standing upright again.  Then he leaned in again and basked some more.

I once had a dream that felt like that.  I dreamt that I visited heaven. I spoke with a friend there and asked her a bunch of questions like “Do you miss life on earth?” Then I asked her if she’d seen Jesus.  She pointed to a dream-building and told me I could go see him myself.  The whole way over, I was playing out conversations in my head.  I had no clue on the etiquette for initiating face-to-face conversations with the Son of God.  The best I had was, “Hi Jesus.  My name is Jaime.  I’m visiting and my friend told me I could come in and say hello.”  And suddenly I was there in a room with Jesus,  and before I could say a word, he smiled and said, “Hi, Jaime.”  I was bathed in this beam of intense, magnetic love flowing from him.  I sat down at his feet and talked with him and basked in the warmth.  It was greater than any feeling I had ever experienced.  As we talked, more people came, and I remember feeling a bit of panic that this love-beam-bond would break.  But it didn’t.  I could tell they were equally connected, equally bonded, equally loved, but our connection didn’t lessen at all.

I had the dream over ten years ago, and it is still very vivid in my memory.  I just forget it sometimes, in the tedium of hats and coats and mittens.

My son gets it though.  It’s about leaning into the light.