Love, Grow, & Overflow

My cup overflows. My laundry does too.

Page 2 of 6




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.





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.



IMG_2343My husband is traveling this week.  We miss him, so as my daughter spins around the living room in her princess gown, I snap a photo and send it to him.   He texts back: “So beautiful.”

She changes from her gown to her footie pajamas and heads for the computer, asking if she can type.  We open a blank document and her little fingers steer the mouse, change the font to 72-point.  Her eyes scan the keyboard, searching and searching, and then she presses a key.


She doesn’t believe in the space bar.  She hits enter, sound out a short aaaaaaaaaa, searches and pecks.  She hums, searches more, finds the m.



“How do you spell beautiful?” she asks.  I stretch out the syllables, remind her what it sounds like, and she finds letters for each phoneme, slowly listening and choosing and searching and typing.


Enter, again.

She is four, and our words are truths she plucks from the air and puts on paper as her own.  The spelling is laborious but the believing comes quickly, simply and surely.

Soon enough, the typing will come with ease.  Soon enough, she’ll discover the question mark, rearrange the words, find herself afraid of the answer.

I stare at the screen, her first autobiography, primitive and succinct, and make a silent promise to her:  I will sound it out, always.

I will remind her of the strength of her legs, the contour of her face, the taper of her fingers, the beat of her heart.  Beautiful.  I will point it out in the games she creates, in the paper she cuts and glues until it becomes something new.  Beautiful.  Like a mirror, I will reflect it back when I see it, the giggle she can’t stifle, the snack she shares, the way she runs as fast as she can to deliver a note to our next door neighbor.

Beauty.  Tiny glimpses of the divine.

When she begins to hate her round cheeks or her nose, I will sound it out.  When the world tries to redefine it, to reduce it to pettiness and prettiness, I will say it slowly, certainly, clearly.  When her braces make her smile close-mouthed, I will sound it out.  When her heart gets broken and her face puffs up from crying, I will speak it over her like a blanket, stretching it out syllable by syllable.  When she offers goodness and is ignored, misunderstood and mocked, I will tell her what she knew when she was four.  You are beautiful.

On the days when her actions are ugly, I will remind her.  Beauty redeems, renews.

And on the days when she doesn’t believe it, I will hold it up for her like a sign until she believes again.




In great measure.   In giant, shouting font.


IMG_1048-001My daughter’s favorite coat is long and minky-soft, zebra print with a ruffle around the bottom.  The inside is lined in hot pink.  Last week she wore it with big white furry boots and a red boys’ snow hat that looked like a race car.  She carried a fluffy white stuffed cat in her arms.  It was quite the outfit, completely over the top.  She wore it, happy and beautiful.

The zebra coat is a loaner, actually.  It came our way by means of a complicated pipeline of hand-me-ups and hand-me-downs that my mom friends have designed to maximize the cute-clothes wearing in our group.  It doesn’t matter to my daughter that someone else’s initials are on the tag.  It’s hers because she wears it, because someone draped it across her shoulders.

She just turned four, my little girl in zebra stripes.  We joke that her birthday is becoming a season in itself.  Our family lives out of town, so we started celebrating a couple weeks early when relatives surprised her with a couple gifts.  We had cupcakes at her grandpa’s house and more cupcakes the next day with two of her grandmas.  When we returned home, traveling friends stayed overnight and brought a gift for her.  Her godmother had her over for a special dinner with cloth napkins and jewels scattered across the table.  On her birthday, more friends stopped by.  Relatives posted a video of them singing birthday wishes.  Others left messages for her.

One thing is true: my daughter is loved lavishly.

I don’t believe in “too much love,” and I am so thankful for people who remind my daughter that she is cherished and dear.   I know, though, that many kids are also phenomenal, and yet not all have a parade of people waiting to pour love and cuddly toys upon them.  I know it’s unfair.  I don’t want her to become spoiled or entitled. Sometimes, it leaves me a little conflicted.

My daughter has no such conflicts.  She is loved.  It is hers because she wears it, the love of so many people draped across her shoulders.  It bears the marks of the people who have passed it down.  It is broken-in love, lavish and soft.  It is bright and loud, sometimes a bit over the top.  When she wears it, she is beautiful, bold enough to stand against the piercing winds.


It’s almost eleven pm.  Already, my daughter has cried out at least four times.  She has these nights infrequently – usually when she is getting sick or when she’s had a long day.  We run in, and her eyes stay closed, her mouth drawn into a frown as she cries out.  I kneel by her bed, try to whisper her away from whatever scares her.  Sometimes I sit on her bed and sweep her into my lap, hoping to wake her fully so I can find out what is wrong. She doesn’t respond, buries her head in the meat of my shoulder and tries to fall back asleep.  When I lay her down, she tosses a bit before her body quiets and her fists spill open on her pillow.  I say softly: “Shhhhh.  I’m here.  It’s OK.  You’re in your room in our house.  I am protecting you. You’re safe…you’re safe…you’re safe.”  I know she isn’t fully conscious, but I speak the words anyway, truth like a blanket tucking her in.  I hope that on some level she hears me, rests.

We spent last weekend at a cabin on the Alleghany River.   It was ten minutes off a real paved road, a rustic little place backed up against the mountains with a dock along the shore. The dock was our favorite spot, poking out into the river like a finger testing the water.  My daughter loved to walk the length of it, take tiny steps from one wobbly platform to another.  My son tossed sticks into the water and watched them float away until they were out of sight.  At night, after the kids were asleep, my husband and I lay on the dock with our hands behind our heads, Milky Way ribboned overhead.  I forgot how many stars there are, stars upon stars upon stars.  I felt like the sky, clear and calm and full, and we stayed there until our eyes grew heavy and the river started to rock us to sleep.

I know God’s language is clouds and fire, mountains and stars.  He spoke them into being like my fingers type words, syntax set with the waters’ divide and the rising of the sun.  He embedded his promises in all of them, promises upon promises, but I forget.  I worry.  I get overwhelmed.  Daily distractions pop up like parking-lot lampposts and obscure the stars and the promises.  He speaks them anyway, truth like a blanket, his love bannered over me like the Milky Way.  He leads me besides quiet waters.  He restores my soul. And sometimes, even through the distractions, I hear.  I rest.


Photo by Curtis Gregory Perry

It’s summer.  We do summers especially well here in the north, where snow may fall in October or May.  Even early June sometimes keeps us in the occasional sweatshirt, so when summer really comes it’s like cracking an egg, sunshine and warmth running thick and golden across our town.

I take the kids to the town festival – my two little ones, and two more who fall into the sweet category of chosen-family.   I’ve known them since their momma could hold them both at the same time, one on each hip.  They’ve known my kids from birth.  Even before that, when my babies were still in my womb, the boys prayed for them by name, earnest and velvet-rich words of children who know their prayers are heard and avail much.

My children are silent and awestruck.  They take it all in: fried foods and flashing lights and music and crowds.  I’ve got a strip of ride tickets in my hand and a couple of guys who can’t wait to use them.  The rides seemed so innocuous five years ago, but now I feel my stomach plunge as I watch them careen into the sky.  They go so high.  They go so fast.  I lean forward to tell my kids the screams are fun screams.  I say a quick little prayer that the boys will choose rides that aren’t named after ways to die.

They’re preteens now.  Their faces grow more angled, their shoulders broaden, foreshadowing the young men they are becoming.  They choose the Matterhorn, which, despite its mountain moniker, stays blissfully low to the ground.  They’re old enough to catch the eye of two whispering girls who hop into the car behind them, and young enough not to notice.  They wave at us enthusiastically before the ride starts.  We wave back, standing in the shadow of a midway stall where a dunk-tank clown taunts the passersby.  For the next ninety seconds, the boys are a blur.  Our eyes search for them, but before we can point them out, they’ve flown by.

They exit the ride smiling, and my daughter decides that she wants to ride too.  We’re nowhere near the kiddie rides, but she is adamant.  I’m about to tell her no, to offer a bribe or consolation prize, when I see the Tilt-a-Whirl.  It’s bubble-gum pink with cupped benches that spin in small circles.  This ride’s greatest risk seems to be centrifugal vomit, so I say yes and hand over three tickets.

She hops out of the double stroller and they climb the stairs hand-in-hand.   The sign says she has to ride with a responsible person, and I debate that definition in my head.   We wait forever, my mind contriving possible disasters.  What if her shoelace gets stuck in the track as they walk to their car, and no one notices, and the ride starts up?  What if she hates it, screams in fear for the next two minutes?  I call up instructions to have her sit in between the boys, and they nod.  One puts a protective hand on her shoulder.

They board the ride.  She’s snug in the middle, like when they play video games on the couch and she wedges herself between them to watch.  They pull the bar down across their laps, and she grabs on.  When the ride starts, their car spins and I can’t see them.  When it spins into view again, her face is pure joy.  Her eyes dart from side to side as she tries to focus, mouth agape, laughing.  The boys laugh with her.  Her head lolls forward a little, and then the car catches a hill and spins faster.  She leans back, looks up, laughing harder.  I laugh, too, suddenly amused and relieved and sentimental all at once.

It’s so beautiful, this moment blinking in the midway lights.  How did we get here so soon?  Sometimes it terrifies me, the speed of this life, the dips ahead I am blind to see.  It’s warm and gold like summer, though, this journey with the people I love.  We sit leg to leg and shoulder to shoulder, holding tight and laughing, heads thrown back to the sky.

One Foot in Front of the Other

My 5K was a week and a half ago.

I was not ready.  I went anyway.

Originally, I enlisted a running buddy and we developed a pretty straightforward plan: do an eight week training program, run the race at the end of it.  Unfortunately, due to several different factors including crutches, crises and unexpected out-of-town trips, neither of us was prepared to run.  It was important to us to still complete the 5K, since we were participating long-distance in a tribute 5K in memory of our friends’ daughter, so my running buddy became my walking buddy.

Other than the Komen Race for the Cure several years ago, in which I bobbed down city streets in a river of thousands of pink-clad casual walkers, I’ve never participated in a 5K before.  There were a few hundred participants in this one, and most of them were runners showing off lots of thigh muscle in die-hard runner clothing, fancy smartphone armbands around their biceps.  And then there was me, wearing my race shirt (apparently most people don’t wear their race shirts to the race – who knew?) and baggy shorts.  However, I’m pretty sure that once I pinned my race number onto the front, no one could tell the difference.

In addition to the awesomeness of an official bib number, the race started with a pistol shot in the air.  (At least it sounded like a pistol.  I was pretty far back in the crowd because I didn’t want to get trampled by the real runners, so I didn’t actually see it.  But it’s nice to hear a gunshot in an urban area without feeling the need to duck and cover.)  And there were real tables of people handing out water along the way, with empty cups scattered across the grass by the runners who were so dedicated that they did not have time to use the trash can.  Hard core.  And there was a nice person clocking us at the end of the first mile, which was amusing – nothing like official proof that you are not very fast.

We weren’t running, but we clipped along at a pretty good walking speed for most of the race, close to the front of the non-runner crowd.  The race was two big loops around an urban park, which meant that halfway through, we got to watch people who were twice as fast as us cross the finish line.  A few hundred feet into the second loop, we noticed that one of the police cars on race patrol was coasting at our heels.  Apparently, most of the walkers had stopped after the first loop instead of doing the full 5K, and we were the last people in the race.  The very…. last…. people.

Well… we may be newbies to this 5K thing, but we were certainly not about to be last-place newbies.  So we started running.  We ran past several people.  We speed-walked past several more.  And then we saw the orange cones marking the finish lines, and we ran the rest of the way.  I’m sure it was humorous to the people at the line to see us almost-last-place folk carrying on like champions, cheering as we ran across, grasping each others’ hand victoriously in the air.

We felt honored to complete the race in celebration of the life of Samantha, and in support of our friends who will race this coming weekend.  Still, I expected the 5K to feel a little disappointing and anti-climactic.  After all, we’d failed to reach our goals.  Instead, I found it inspiring and fun.  I still don’t understand how people can get addicted to running, but I can see myself doing more 5Ks – and running all the way.


Photo by viewerblur

During my early years of teaching kindergarten, we had an incubator in our classroom.  A local farm gave us chicken eggs, and we placed them inside, rotating them a couple times a day.  One Saturday, when I stopped by to turn the eggs, I noticed one was rocking a little.  There was a tiny triangle-shaped hole in its shell, then another next to it, and from within the chirp of a chick about to hatch.  I pulled up a chair from one of the tiny desks and sat to watch the hatching.  It was amazing, this earthy miracle of straining and pausing and straining again, glimpses of beak and feather poking out of the ever-lengthening crack in the shell.  Finally, the chick broke out of its egg and laid on its back for a moment, matted and wet and exhausted and beautiful.

The next day, when I stopped by, the chick had dried out and rested up.  He was this sweet, fluffy little thing, chirping incessantly.  I picked him up, felt his downy softness in my hands, his claws tiny pricks against my palm.  I moved him to his temporary home we’d set up – a cardboard box outfitted with newspaper and mesh, food and a lamp.  Soon the box was filled with chicks, yellow ones, whitish ones, mottled ones, all chirping and pecking.  My students were fascinated by them.

Whenever I lowered my hand into the box, one chick ran straight for it.  It startled me each time, and I’d pull my hand back quickly before he reached me.  It seemed unusually aggressive!  After a couple days, I decided to leave my hand in the box and see what the chick would do.  I lowered it in, palm up, and held still as the chick ran for it… and hopped into my hand and sat down.  I realized it was the same chick I’d held.  He wasn’t trying to attack me; he had imprinted on me and was trying to be near me.

I love the term “imprint.”  It reminds me of the mother’s necklaces I have seen where a child’s thumbprint is pushed into clay before it is baked, reshaping the clay permanently, a hollow where there wasn’t one before.  I wonder if the mother chicken feels that hollow when her chicks grow feathers and fly off.

My son just turned two.  He is lean, but he still has thick baby ankles, little dimples on his hands where his knuckles are.  Of course, I sit here wondering about how fast it is flying by as I watch him, caught between baby and little boy.  I puzzle over the dichotomies of parenthood – how the pouring out can be so satiating.  How the filling up leaves me empty, hollow in places that weren’t there before.

The years ahead will be full of growing, pushing against the circle of my arms.  They aren’t meant to hold him forever, I know that.  The quiet moments where he snuggles perfectly into my body, wraps his long arms around my shoulders and gives me a “hog and tiss” – those pauses will shorten.  He will strain more and more, toward independence, big-boyhood and eventually manhood, and sometimes we both will be hurt, hollow, exhausted by it all.  Still, what a blessing it is, our hearts imprinted on each other.  I get to be a spectator to this amazing little life, this earthy miracle.  My boy becoming.


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.

Unpretty Trees

There is a little tree on the side of our yard that I love.  Its branches are high enough to walk under, but low enough to reach up and touch (or lift a child to touch).  It stands about the size of our one-story home, so it fits well in our yard.  Its leaves are a deep, bright green, and it has lots and lots of branches that mushroom out into an almost perfect dome.  It is a fantastic tree to anchor a game of ring-around-the-rosy.  It’s just a great tree!

This spring, the tree didn’t bud.  All the trees in our neighborhood were in bloom or at least on their way, but my little tree buddy’s branches were stark and lifeless.  We rent, so my husband mentioned it to the property owners who asked their gardener, a mutual friend, to check it out.  He came out a week or two later and declared it alive and about to bud.  Sure enough, leaves have now appeared everywhere and are on their way to maturity.

In passing, the gardener mentioned that it was sort-of an ugly tree!  Our friend knows far more about plants than we do.  I’ve seen his work; he has a green thumb and a great eye for natural beauty.  We, on the other hand, are not landscaping people.  I have a hard time telling which plants in our yard are weeds and which were intentionally planted by the former owners.  I’m guessing most people who know anything about trees might find themselves sharing the gardener’s opinion.  I’m fascinated that the tree could be something of such great worth to one person and of such low value to another.  I guess it all depends on the rubrics we use to measure worth.

Ultimately, it’s just a tree.  Its success as a tree isn’t swayed by either the gardener’s opinions or my own.  The same idea applies to people, though.  I wonder how many people I have mentally marginalized because they’ve struck me as unpretty trees.  I’m not one to be intentionally cruel, but there are plenty of people that it’s just easier to pass by: that relative who always has something negative to say… the coworker who is so difficult to be around… that young adult who doesn’t say much and is hard to engage.  They are someone’s beautiful trees, in this realm or the next.  Perhaps, with the right eyes, they could be mine.

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