up, down, up: taking time to heal and grow

I type this with one hand while the other is pinned under a snoozing baby and starting to go a little numb. It is a slow, quiet day. Finnegan had surgery a few hours ago and is sleeping it off, and I don’t want him anywhere else.

We were up with him in the wee hours when he woke an hour after the cut-off for eating, drinking, and nursing. It was what I had dreaded and prayed against. Vince and I took turns holding him while he cried and screamed; we prayed and patted him while pacing the living room, lit only by the speaker’s LED screen while slow songs by Crowder played on the lowest setting. Finn finally fell asleep an hour before the alarm was supposed to go off.

up, down, up: taking time to heal and grow

Vin took him in and I prayer-dozed while waiting, anxious for updates. It went fast. It was fine. Which means, of course, it was not fine but we all made it through, and they were home again in the late morning.

With only two hours of sleep under our belts, we spent the day on the couch reading to the kids, poking around the internet, and watching movies. And we held him. He dozed through that day and the next as the anesthesia took a little longer to wear off that it should’ve.

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The first day we expected him to be slow, but the second day surprised us when he still couldn’t sit up on his own or even crawl; he had a fever; he still slept most of the day away well past the 24-hour mark when he should’ve been back to normal. We talked to nurses and hospital staff. I tried not to worry when our healthy 15-month-old acted like a five-month-old who couldn’t crawl yet, or even sit up without being propped.

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But the next morning he was back his normal self, getting into things and keeping us on our toes. We put the baby gate back up. We hid all the pens again. He was all over everything again and it was marvelous.

We slipped back into our normal routine of school and chores and the day was brought to us by the letter N. All week, actually, was brought to us by the letter N; Reagan was having a hard time with school again and we can’t always tell if it’s hard on purpose or on accident. She couldn’t (or wouldn’t) write the letter N, and for days it looked like it was the hill she was going to die on. The line goes up, down, up. She would get the first “up” and then stall, though she knows this – she’s done it many times before, but for some reason that week was a struggle.

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Across the table, Andrey continued his own struggle, but he is easier to figure out – we know he can write all of the letters perfectly, but every day he chooses to do a few of them wrong on purpose. Success is scary. Success means freedom, and freedom means trust, and trust means not being in control of everything. So here at the table, doing most of the letters beautifully but some of them wrong on purpose is safe, though not very fun. He’s watched Chamberlain pass him up in reading and math, and we can see the wheels turning as he processes what that means. What he will do about it remains to be seen.

The day was also brought to us by a kitchen full of dishes, a package of diapers on the floor, various things from the pantry that Finn scattered everywhere, and the cat licking a pan on the stove. He is old and shameless, refuses to be civilized, and has to be locked in the bathroom almost every time we eat because, well, he’s kind of a jerk during meals.

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But Finn was better and up to new tricks – he followed the cat to the kitchen counter via the dining room chairs. I would lure him back to the floor with something fascinating like measuring spoons, which kept him busy for about twelve seconds. Then he was back up there again, repeating the cycle of climbing up and down the chair.

Reagan had the hardest time just getting off the chairs when she first moved here. That was four years ago; she was almost seven. Finn is 16 months. He is cautious, but she was terrified — probably because she knew more about pain than comfort, and knew less about climbing than falling. He has fallen, too, but learns faster, fears less, and has always been loved and protected.

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He’s had a safe place to fall, but she didn’t until she moved here – and by then, she didn’t believe safe places existed. I think we’re slowly convincing her. It’s taken longer than we hoped to meet milestones; trauma from early childhood isn’t fixed surgically and won’t wear off like so much anesthesia.

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I grieve for what could’ve been and where she should be by now. Yep, I know God has good plans, you don’t have to preach to me – but she’ll be eleven next week and Finnegan will pass her in milestone after milestone over the next several years.  Just like Chamberlain has passed Andrey. Just like, sort of.

Choices are unsparing things; they keep us from being a victim of anyone but ourselves. Reagan’s and Andrey’s delays are different – they both stem from early childhood trauma, but at this point her delays are mostly biological and his are mostly by choice.

A few weeks ago we were in church singing, I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God. The kid who stood next to me has walked in fear for almost eleven years now. He tried to catch the eye of strangers around us throughout the service, and we know it’s for the wrong reasons when he won’t look us in the face.

Fear and anxiety radiate from him. It used to seep into the rest of us, but now for the most part we rebuff it, beating it back with calm and peace. I don’t mean to sound new age-y – I mean it’s a palpable, almost-visible fight to maintain our ground, to keep our home as the sanctuary, to give His Presence primacy regardless of what anyone is doing or feeling or thinking.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

– 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, ESV

That song was singing, though, and He said, Put your hand on his back, Love. Be My conduit, and reach up for him. He still tells me this all the time.

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When we met Reagan and Andrey five years ago, we realized their challenges were significantly more than their paperwork admitted. It was what we had dreaded and prayed against. We knew at least one of them would probably never leave our home. We prayed. We told ourselves we were ready for this. We lied, but it was on accident.

That first year, Vince and I took turns holding them while they cried and screamed. We had no idea how much dross would burn off us as we walked through the fire of adoption, special needs, and attachment.

But another thing He always tells me is, Do not feed the fears. And in the car on the way home a couple nights ago, He said, When you see wounded, I see mended. It was from another song, and He’s still singing it to me.

It is slow going, slow growing – up, down, and up again. Not one of us passes unscathed through the process of sanctification because the unhealthy and corrupt has to die off of us before we can live free. It is the only way we go from glory to glory.

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Related: Where do we want to be in five years? What do we do with the curves in life? Sign up here for the November newsletter, coming at the end of the month.

filling the lake: thoughts on rest from a mom of seven

It was cruel. No doubt about it.

Right in front of the kids, I scooped vanilla ice cream on top of two fresh biscuits with strawberries. It was for me and I wasn’t sharing. And to add insult to injury, two of the kids can’t have dairy and one is fasting from gluten.

I ate it right in front of them, shameless, because a) my own lunch was two hours late, and b) they do similarly cruel things that I’m jealous of all the time, like going to the bathroom by themselves.

filling the lake: thoughts on rest from a mom of seven

I don’t want to push them away, I just want to breathe my own oxygen every once in a while…and eat ice cream for lunch.

But my body isn’t cooperating with this and I need to rest from sugar once in a while. I haven’t had ice cream in months. No sugar in coffee, no jam on toast, and aside from a half-eaten brownie a couple of weeks ago, no chocolate. No cookies. Not even a stinking animal cracker. When we eat pancakes, mine are topped with tears and self pity.

(Kidding. Please don’t eat pancakes around me.)

One day in desperation I threw together some no-sugar, banana-oat-raisin cookies. Too impatient to bake, I fried them in a skillet like hoecakes and they were so divine you could hear angels singing the Hallelujah Chorus. I immediately thought, These would be perfect with vanilla ice cream, then mentally slapped myself and poured whipping cream over them instead.

curbing-sugarMy body needs to rest from sugar. I can’t ignore the symptoms no matter how much I want to eat everything on my Pinterest board.

But I am learning that it’s not just my body that needs rest; my mind and routines need rest, also, beyond a weekly Sabbath. God and I have been talking about this a lot lately. Just as I over-do sugar and have to cut way back, I over-do…well, a lot of things. And He’s telling me to cut way back there, too.

I’m not very good at it. My idea of “rest” is to check something off my list, revel in a brief four seconds of exhilarating freedom, then move onto the Next Big Thing that has to be done. Somehow I think this isn’t what He means by resting.

What is rest, anyway? Is it to stop doing something, as in, “resting from your labors?” Because there’s no rest from mothering, housework, discipline, the tasks that hound and hang over us and are never done.

So it must be that we are to also rest in those labors that we can’t rest from. We must rest in motherhood. We rest in our homes, in the midst of washing dishes and sorting piles of fermenting laundry. It must be the difference between sautéing and scorching – which is what I did to my soup veggies while Instagramming about rest. Scorching, that is. Because I told you, I’m still not very good at this.

All the behaviors, all the needs, all the stuff on my list drains me during the week, and yet I feel guilty for taking quiet time to rest. My lake runs empty but I neglect filling it, thinking it’s my job to fill others until all I give are the dregs of what churns up. The simple, white-space-filled life of several years ago is now covered in scribbles of nine different colors of handwriting.

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And I love the colors, but somewhere we lost our ability to keep clean margins. I don’t recognize my own handwriting in the midst of everyone else’s anymore. I live for the weekend, pushing through full, frantic days until Vince carries more of the burden of diapers, cooking, discipline, and consequences.

What if you lived like I was home with you, Love, and I carried the burden? God asks me.

But You don’t make dinner or change diapers, I argue. He does not strike me with lightning, ground me, or take away my car keys.

Those are less of a burden if you let Me do the heavy lifting, He says. Trust Me with your kids. Trust that I’m speaking to them, growing them, and transforming them. That’s not your burden to carry.

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We feel nothing when we’re on empty – no pain, no pleasure, no up or down, no nothing – just a numb plodding on from one day to the next, a flatline of exhaustion in a stagnant wasteland. The same thoughts, the same words churning up from the same sludge at the bottom of the lake.

It’s where I’ve been. To be honest, it’s a big reason why I can barely keep up with one post a month lately. My thoughts feel repetitive and I hate to think I’m boring any of you or wasting your time. I don’t want you to come here for the view only to see the same muddy water at the bottom of the lake.

But we know relief and comfort because we are first acquainted with pain and discomfort, and to be refilled after being sucked dry for so long is like a rebirth.

Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

– James 5:11, ESV

So He gave me a new to-do list. It includes reading, journaling, processing things out that need hard thinking, and making time for those neglected projects that keep getting pushed to the backburner. It also includes writing down dreams I’ve been afraid to look in the face, to see what they really look like and if they’d like to come into existence.

But mostly, it means viewing these things as non-negotiable. They are just as important as making sure everyone has breakfast and clean underwear.

This new army doesn’t get tired. You know why? They know how to lie down in His presence. They know how to rest in His arms. They know how to lay their heads on His chest and listen to His huge heart. They weep with Him over the dying, the crying, the broken, the abused and the lost. Do you really think you can work hard and start a revival? Just run out there and get them? Sorry. You can’t. But when Jesus shows His face and He breathes life into the dry, dry, bony Church, and that Church stands up full of His presence, carrying His glory, nobody can resist anymore!

Heidi Baker, There is Always Enough

I’ve been coming upstairs in the afternoons for my own refilling whenever Finn is napping. The kids who aren’t napping are under strict instructions to not knock on my door unless a) someone is injured, b) something is on fire, or c) they’ve shot an intruder (which should technically go under “a,” I guess).

I bring my tea (with cream, no sugar) and sometimes write a page or two. Sometimes I work on those projects, sometimes I read a little. Sometimes I just goof off on Instagram. And sometimes, I cry like a woman in labor while we wait for God to birth this new season out of us.

Then I go downstairs and pour out with joy, rather than serving on empty and feeling sorry for myself. Our location on the spectrum between drudgery and joy is determined by the depth of water in our lake – and our rich overflow comes from rest, when abundance bursts out of a life filled with His water.

Recommended reading: What is Mother Culture? by Karen Andreola

meant to hold us: when we’re restless to move

We’ve reached the stage where nothing is safe.

There ain’t no counter high enough to keep things away from Finnegan. He pushes stools, chairs, bins, stacks of books, whatever, around to get where he wants to go. And where he wants to go is up.

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He climbs on the chairs to stand on the table. Stands on top of the cats’ scratching post to get on the windowseat. He scales up the toilet to stand on the toilet paper roller, his hands inches away from the edge of the bathroom counter, to turn on the faucet. Have mercy.

In the kitchen last night he used an upturned box to reach dirty silverware next to the sink. He didn’t care that he was exceeding the structural capacity of the cardboard, or that one of his feet sank halfway through the slit in the middle while his other chubby foot compensated by gripping the edge with curled toes – he just wanted to see something new.

We scramble to put things out of his reach – scissors, craft projects, dishes, houseplants, elderly cats who don’t defend themselves, anything dangerous or breakable – and, oh, does he protest, wailing the Grievous Lament of a Baby Who Wants to Bash the Counter with a Can Opener. Or something like that.

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But I get it. Don’t you? We could sit down with our coffee and give each other a list of things we’d like to reach for if we only knew how to attain them…because we’re restless to move, too.

I’ve been stalking five different real estate websites to find a house, and Vince says to wait. Apparently God agrees with him (so annoying). I’ve scoured one listing after another, none of them quite what we’re looking for, but close…ish… Okay, not even close, unless you compare them to a four-walled tent on an acre of swampland.

Vin is steadfast and keeps pointing me back to the list of standards and specifics we’ve prayed about. He says we should hold out for the gourmet pizza instead of settling for a hot pocket with allergens in it. But I am so hungry.

What will we do when we feel thwarted, hemmed in, and restless? Will we breakthrough by trusting Him above our fears, doubts, and insecurities, or will we breakthrough by rushing into something in disobedience?

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

– Matthew 5:6, ESV

We looked at a house last weekend – it had plenty of space, acreage, bedrooms, and the right price. But we knew in the first minute that it wasn’t meant to hold us any more than Finn’s cardboard box is meant to hold him.

The baby on the dangerous block configuration, the kid bouncing on the fragile lid of a plastic bin, the false ideas we lean against, the wrong relationships we depend on, the easy answer we rush into because we’re tired of waiting – none of these are meant to hold us. They are the opposite of the fermata, where we hold and are held perfectly. How do we learn to be held when we are restless to move?

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That afternoon, Finnegan and I wandered through the yard collecting dried seed pods while Vince repainted our garage door. Almost all of the flowers in our yard came from Jess, who thinned them out of her own garden years ago when we were still new here, when this house held us with room to spare. And at this rate it looks like we’ll still be here next spring, but if not, I want these flowers to go with me. Whenever we go.

What do you do when you want to go – you are called to go, and the promise is that you will go – and yet, for now, you are told to stay?

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles.

– Romans 1:13

We’re in good company, I guess. Paul, the guy who wrote most of the New Testament, knew what it was to be held back from something he wanted. To just stay. To wait. To do what’s right in front of us.

My child, this world is a new place, and strange, and often terrible: but be not afraid. All will come right at last. Rest will conquer restlessness; faith will conquer fear; order will conquer disorder; health will conquer sickness; joy will conquer sorrow; pleasure will conquer pain; life will conquer death; right will conquer wrong. All will be well at last. Keep your soul and body pure, humble, busy, pious – in one word, be good: and ere you die, or after you die, you may have a glimpse of Me, the Everlasting Why.

– Charles Kingsley, Madam How and Lady Why

What are we hungry for? Pride is a violent thing, lying to us about our abilities and inabilities, stealing credit and dishing blame with liberality. The truth behind “in my weakness I am strong” isn’t that God-loves-us-very-much-and-has-a-miserable-plan-for-our-lives, but that He is more patient than we are, unwilling to settle for less than what He intends for us. And what He intends only comes to fruition after our character is developed in the dark places, ready to be unearthed. That’s when we’ve reached the point where nothing is safe.

We can go anywhere, do anything, and while we whine and protest about wanting to see what’s up there, He is moving dangerous stuff out of the way so we don’t hurt ourselves.

We want up so we can see more, do more, be more, and we’re tempted to prop up things to hold us higher – but blessed are you who hunger and thirst after what He has called you to. You will be fulfilled.

God is not slow, He’s patient: aligning people, events, and circumstances for His glory and our joy. He is meant to hold us.

And sometimes He holds us back, and our restlessness is a sign of momentum. Soon. Just maybe not as soon as we want.

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delivery: what comes after a season of weakness and waiting

It began innocently enough. I was eating a quesadilla and getting some work done, the baby was sitting in my lap while tearing up a paper towel; we were both happy. And then I dipped my quesadilla in sour cream and typed a few sentences, not realizing until the next paragraph that little Finn had dipped his paper towel in the sour cream, too, and was painting the couch with it.

delivery: what comes after a season of weakness and waiting

Shortly after this Vince spent an evening steam cleaning the couches. The next day, while the cushions were propped against a wall to dry, Finn and I sat on a slightly damp and cushionless couch sharing a late lunch — and I’m sorry to admit it, but I was hungry and exhausted and had already been sick for weeks…and I fed him small pieces of chicken that he routinely dropped on the freshly cleaned couch. His greasy little fingers were all over the place and I did what any mama would do who’s been out of commission for weeks: I erased the evidence with a baby wipe and let my husband read the confession while proofreading this blog post.

It was – and still is, sort of – a harder, slower season with different priorities. Two days after the last post, I got sick and found out later that I had pneumonia. The last seven weeks have been a long haul of getting well again and every few days is a new phase of pain or relief. I don’t know why it took us five babies to figure this out, but a pregnant, nursing, or special needs mama takes longer to recharge and recover than normal because her battery is always on and running even when she’s asleep, plugged in and charging.

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This week, the current phase is bruised ribs on one side and a cracked rib on the other. Reaching for things is difficult and moving hurts, and I slept til noon on Vin’s day off and was still exhausted five hours later and completely wiped by bedtime. Our routines are totally off. Homeschooling? I haven’t read aloud to the kids in almost two months. Housework? There’s a load of laundry in the washer from yesterday that wasn’t flipped and probably just needs to be washed again. Writing? I’m squeaking everything in under the wire and barely touching the projects without deadlines that I really want to work on. And gardening…let’s just forget about that.

I wasn’t feeling too sorry for myself until the week I was finally starting to feel better and then caught a cold. My lungs were finally clearing but suddenly I had a stuffy nose, full sinuses, sore throat, the works. Whiskey tango foxtr—I mean, what the heck?!

I cried. I probably said bad things. And I wondered when life would be normal again – when I would have energy to do things, when I could start reading that book to the kids that’s been on the shelf for two months now, when we would find the house that fits the list of priorities we’ve been praying for.

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It feels like it’s been a long season of waiting (but aren’t we always waiting for something?) and I dunno if you’re like me, but I don’t like to wait – I like to figure things out and check them off.  Everything is a riddle made to be answered. Puzzles should be put together, mysteries should be solved; and this is probably why I love Dickens so much because I love them, all of them, except when they describe the season of life you’re in. What are we doing, where are we going, how are we going to do any of it? No idea. Not a clue. Maybe a few vague ideas, but we are waiting for clarity, healing, and answers.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

– 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, ESV

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The season of weakness and waiting reminds me of those early months in pregnancy: not cooking, sleeping whenever possible, living in a grace-saturated survival mode until sometime during the second trimester, when you can see the world in color again. But that, at least, holds the promise of great gain in the birth ahead. And there’s no birth and delivery to look forward to in this labor.

That’s what you think, He says.

May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

– 2 Thessalonians 3:5, ESV

But I don’t like waiting, don’t like surprises. Just tell me, or let me figure it out. Or at least tell me if I’m getting hot or cold. Give me some pieces that fit together. Tell me what to do.

So last Tuesday morning shook me up a little. The day after the rib cracked, the first day of a long school week with nothing exciting in the works — until I was in the middle of typical morning chaos, in the middle of an unexpected phone call with a dear friend who moved out of state two years ago, and the kids start yelling that someone’s at the door, and it’s my husband and that dear friend who had plotted with him for months to surprise me. And, holy moly: screaming, hollering, crying, the works. And I might’ve said a bad thing or two while throwing my phone on the table, but I don’t remember and you can’t hear it on the video Vince took so I think we’re okay.

Our expectations tend to keep our hand in the monkey trap, holding onto what’s holding us back. But maybe there’s something ahead we never saw coming. Something we never would’ve expected. And what if it’s…good? As in, really, really good?

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.

– 2 Thessalonians 3:16, ESV

Breakthroughs don’t begin with fanfare and fair warnings. I think — I hope, at least, from what we are experiencing now and have seen in the past — that they start with waiting and weakness. Our need beckons the breakthrough.

And we know He often brings answers to His people from His people. But lately He’s been telling us repeatedly, Don’t look to so-and-so for your solution. Don’t depend on such-and-such for your victory. When I bring your breakthrough, you won’t see it coming because you’ll be looking the other way. This will be a special delivery.

I want to surprise you, Love. Let Me.

praying shelter: how we bring safety to our streets

You can’t possibly have missed it, the news is everywhere. Facebook is alight with grief and opinions, the talk shows are full of hype and outrage, and the celebrity news anchors are still speechless but that hasn’t stopped them from sharing clichés and propaganda.

praying shelter: how we bring safety to our streets

And none of this is about race or racism. It’s a problem, but it’s not the root issue: there’s always a Thing behind the thing. And that is what needs to be dealt with, or the other thing will just keep happening.

The Thing behind the thing is multifaceted. We could call it evil, but that’s also cliché – what we have is a culture of fear and pride, people insecure in their identities and their mission. And as a result they are unsafe.

Unsafe. As in, they might not be safe, but also, they might not be safe to others, either. People who have forgotten they are the Beloved are afraid, and afraid people do stupid things.

The enemy seeks to kill, steal, and destroy and his primary weapon is fear. But his other weapon is distraction.

The enemy attacks, distracts, tries to keep us from praying on the offense against his schemes – and sometimes it works. But if we are alert and aware of it, we can use it to divert our focus to something more powerful, like going from simply praying against an attack to praying for the hearts and repentance of the attackers.

We stop hacking at the branches and start attacking the root, because two can play that game and God’s already declared us the winners. We can do more than thwart enemy plans. We can also cause his players to defect to our side.

We can let people know they are safe. We can let them know they are loved. We can remind them they are the Beloved.

I don’t mean this in the vapid, politically-correct kind of way that throws around the word “love” like it’s the latest trendy hashtag and we can’t disagree on anything without calling it hate. We can and should disagree. We can and should hold firm to our deepest beliefs even if it offends people. And we should be safe to do so. We should be loved and loving whether we agree or not.

This is not rocket science. This is maturity.

We can’t make everyone feel safe and loved. But we can pray against fear, pride and insecurity. We can pray for people to have mature identities instead of just impassioned knee-jerk ignorance.

We can pray safety into our streets like there’s no tomorrow. Because for some tonight, there’s no tomorrow.

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We can pray deep and wide: deeply and often for our neighborhoods and our families, and wide and scattered over the intersections and businesses of our cities. In His authority we can cover these places with safety.

We can pray for government buildings, sidewalks, and bus stops. We can pray security into people as we pray over their homes, their workplaces, their driving routes.

Because all of these lives matter. Yours and mine and theirs.

We can pray shelter over each other, flinging it wide, everywhere we go.