The Overflow! where souls are filled and faith is spilled

Tag Archives: Encouragement for Today

When Your Buddy Bench Sits Empty (The Surprising Gift of Loneliness)

Welcome to the Overflow! Whether you’re an old friend or a new one, I’m glad you’re here.  This is a place where faith is spilled and souls are filled. I hope you’ll pull up a chair and stay awhile.

Today I’m over at Proverbs 31 talking about a little wooden bench called the “buddy bench” that’s helping to mend hurting hearts on my daughter’s elementary school playground.  If you haven’t had a chance to read it, you can find it here. But before you go, I’d love to tell you one more thing we’ve been learning from that little wooden bench…

She’s unusually quiet in the back seat as we drive home from school– no tales of recess adventures or girl friend giggles today. No laugh-laced echoes of lunchtime jokes or uproarious reports of rowdy boy pranks.

I glance in the rearview mirror and study her slouched shoulders, her downcast eyes. And I know there’s a story tucked beneath the hush.

But  her big brother is giving a play-by-play of the football game he won with a hail Mary on the playground, and her big sister is telling me about the paper she’s writing in lit class, and the road that winds home is slippery with fresh snow. So I fix my eyes on the road and listen to her siblings’ chatter, and I pray that as the afternoon unfolds, God will help me hear what’s NOT being said by the sullen eight-year-old in my mini-van.

When we get home, the silence gives way to surly quibbles. She argues with her brother, grumbles at her sister and yells at the dog. I give her space and grace and count down the hours til bedtime.

Then, finally, when the moon spills through her window, the sadness seeps from her sleepy eyes. As I pull the covers to her chin, she puts words to the churn inside. “It wasn’t my very best day today.”

I stroke her hair and wait.

“I felt sad at recess today…” she admits with a breathy groan.

“I couldn’t find my friends by the purple slide where we usually meet and the monkey bars were busy and the swings were all full.” Her lips quiver as she remembers. “And the boys were playing a really fast game of tag and I didn’t want to be it so they said I couldn’t play and my kindergarten friends were playing baby games and my thinking spot by the tree was muddy…”

Her eight-year-old playground woes dribble out between sniffles and whimpers. I listen with empathy, but when the ramblings cease, I gently remind my daughter that one imperfect recess need not ruin a perfectly good day.

“I know, Mom,” she agrees. Then she names the real source of her sadness.”But I sat on the buddy bench and nobody came…”

Her slender shoulders tremble beneath the blankets. “And that’s when I felt sooooo lonely.”

I feel her honest words in the pit of my stomach and pull her a little closer in the dark.

And I think about my own lonely seasons–


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When Your Faith Falls Short on a Long Silent Night

Welcome to the Overflow!  Whether you’re an old friend or a new one, I’m glad you’re here.  This is a place where faith is spilled and souls are filled. I hope you’ll pull up a chair and stay awhile.

I’m over at Proverbs 31 today talking about how to survive those long nights of the soul. If you haven’t had a chance to read it, you can find it here. But before you go, I’d love to tell you what the Christmas story has been teaching me about holding on to hope when my faith falls short on a long silent night…

I sit alone at the end of a long day, my weary frame wrapped in a wordless sigh and a plush red blanket.

The woods beyond the window are wrapped in velvet darkness; bare branches strung with shimmers of starlight and swaddles of snow.

And though I can’t see the moon from where I sit, I know it hovers high in the midnight sky because moonbeams mingle with the twinkling lights of our Christmas tree in the corner.

I want to sink into the peace of this silent night. But my heart refuses to take its cues from the hallowed hush.

For years–when wee ones wailed and the midnight hours dangled long – I dreamed of quiet like this.

But what I didn’t know when I rocked babies in the starlight and held toddlers in the dark; when I walked the hallways with sleepless sons and soothed the tears of anxious daughters; is that children aren’t the only ones who fill the night with noise.

Sometimes the quiet quakes noisy, too.

Questions that are drowned out by the roar of the day can resurrect with a ruckus in the lull of night.

Doubts can clamor loud when the hours grow hush.

Maybe you know this clank and clamor.

Maybe you know just how long a silent night can feel.

There is a prayer that spills from my lips in these midnight hours, an impossible and beautiful plea that only Jesus can answer. My prayer is steeped in His promises and rooted in His faithfulness.

And on most days, I can honestly say that I trust He is answering my cry even though I can’t see what He is doing.On most days, I will tell you that I believe in a Savior who does the impossible; a Father who makes a way where the road appears impassible.

But sometimes my reckless hope grows wary.

It’s in the long dark hours between God’s promises today and His new mercies tomorrow that our trust can tremor and our doubts can swell.


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How The Habit of Gratitude Opens Our Eyes

Over at Proverbs 31 today, I’m sharing about that day I hid 1000 pennies in our house in a crazy attempt to squash some grumbles and grow some gratitude. Of course, I had no idea when I scattered those copper coins–in underwear drawers and on bookshelves, in closets and in cupboards–that those small pennies would give birth to giant joy. And I certainly never imagined that my unconventional quest for contentment would launch our family into a lifelong adventure that we’ve lovingly dubbed “Penny Praise.” If you stepped into our home today, you’d see a humble glass jar of copper coins sitting on a bookshelf in plain sight. It’s our daily reminder that thanksgiving isn’t just an American holiday, but a wonder-filled way to live.

If you haven’t read my “penny tale” over at Encouragement for Today, you can find it here. But before you go, I’d love to share how hunting for pennies had taught me some priceless lessons about gratitude. And I’d be delighted if you’d linger long enough to chime in on our Praise Party and enter to to win your very own penny praise package.It’s been many years since I first hid 1000 copper coins all through our our home and challenged my family to give thanks each time they found a penny. Those were the days when constant discontent rumbled in my heart and the ache of joylessness sapped my strength. Those were the days when I lived half-blind, stumbling through my hours without noticing the hand of God all around me. Little did I know that our silly little game called “Penny Praise” wouldn’t just change my cheer-less attitude; it would alter my visual aptitude.

These days, our home is no longer teeming with copper coins. Little ones don’t waddle around in diapers or sap my strength with midnight feedings. But after years of prowling for pennies, we still find ourselves spotting those little treasures wherever we go. We spy pennies lingering in parking lots and tucked under other people’s couch’s. We spot pennies mingling with dust bunnies and hiding in the crevices of car seats. We notice pennies planted on top of sand dunes and parked beneath playground benches. We find pennies on bleachers, in ice cream stores and on grocery store floors.

In fact, sometimes, this habit of penny praise can lead to embarrassing moments. I mean, there was that day when my son crawled under a friend’s dinner table (right in the middle of a meal) and offered up a loud and definitive shout of thanks as he plucked a rusted penny off of her dirty floor.

And then there was that moment in our small town bakery when my toddler found a penny and let out a whoop of pastry-praise: “Thank you Gawd for donuts!”

Of course that same toddler grew into the little girl who once payed for a piece of candy with a palm-full of pennies. And as she handed her copper coins to the unsuspecting cashier, she declared with a smile, “Now you have tell me twenty things you’re thankful for!”

Our penchant for penny hunting may lend to awkwardness now and then, but it’s also grown awareness. Thanks to our well-trained eyes, we see copper gleams that we once would have missed. And in the same way, giving thanks has opened the eyes of our hearts to see glimmers of God’s goodness and shimmers of His grace.

Perhaps that’s the most amazing thing about gratitude! It doesn’t just change our mood; it changes our vision as well.

In His powerful book, The Rest of God, Author and pastor Mark Buchanan writes: “You cannot practice thankfulness on a biblical scale without its altering the way you see.”

Perhaps that’s because when recognize a gift, we’re reminded of the giver.

When I look at the wedding ring on my finger, I think of my husband who gave it to me.

When I see the brightly colored picture hanging on my fridge, I think of my daughter who drew it for me.

When I slip into my fuzzy wool socks, I think of the friend who made them for me.

James 1:17 reminds us:“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…”

The sustaining power of gratitude is this– Giving thanks doesn’t merely give light to our eyes; it shifts our eyes to the Father of lights.


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When No Really Means Yes

Welcome to the Overflow!  Whether you’re an old friend or a new one, I’m glad you’re here. This is a place where faith is spilled and souls are filled. I hope you’ll pull up a chair and stay awhile.

I’m over at Proverbs 31 today talking about a birthday girl, a surprise party, and  how sometimes God’s no today is simply protecting His yes for tomorrow. If you haven’t had a chance to read it, you can find it here. But before you go, I’d love to tell you about a crazy little holiday we used to celebrate when we needed a break from our ordinary life, and how learning to “talk backwards” taught me a surprisingly sweet lesson about God…


They knew what day it was when they woke up to cereal in the bathroom sink, silverware in the toothpaste drawer and pajamas  dangling from the coat hooks in the entryway. They knew when they heard Christmas music in July and found Easter Eggs in their underwear drawer that they’d be eating under the kitchen table instead of on top of it and greeting the sunrise with a noisy “Good Night” instead of a grateful “Good Morning.”

They knew they’d be wearing pajamas when they went out to play and slipping into play clothes when they climbed into bed. They knew that they’d be allowed to wash their hands in mud puddles, to savor dessert before dinner and to eat candy corn instead of asparagus.

And though my kids may not have known how every moment of the day to come would unfold, they knew for certain that the minutes would be long on laughter and short on structure. They knew that absurdity would reign and boredom would flee.

‘Cause that’s just how life worked on Backwards Day!

Honestly, I’m not sure when the crazy tradition began or exactly when it ended, but for several years while my children were young, we tossed “normal” on it’s head and created our own in-house holiday.

On Backwards Day, we did all things backwards and upside down. We outlawed the humdrum and predictable, the common place and conventional, and we embraced twenty-four hours of pure goofy gala.

Of course, learning to talk “backwards” was confounding at times. Because for one day out of the year, our yes’s meant no and no’s meant yes…

“Mom, may I have another popsicle?” my preschooler asked as he sat cross-legged in the steamy sunshine, his pink lips framed with a bright purple ring.

“No, I think one’s enough,” I said as I dabbed his face with a washcloth.

“Okay, thanks!” he answered with a green-eyed grin, his voice unusually cheery for a kid whose mom just shot down his plan for another round of shameless snacking. He gave me a one-armed hug and hopped off the deck. But instead of running to play in the yard with his siblings, he made a beeline through the garage for the freezer.

Next thing I knew, my four-year-old was back on the deck slurping another frozen treat.

“Honey,” I said as I watched a dribble of melting blue ice zig zag down his chin. “I told you no more popsicles.”

“I know, Mommy,” he responded as he swiped at the sticky drizzle with the back of his hand.  “I heard you. And that’s why I got another one. ‘Cause it’s Backwards Day. So whenever you say no, it means yes, right?”

I laughed out loud at my son’s inverted logic, yet I couldn’t argue with my cunning kid.

It took me hours to get the hang of it, but eventually I learned how to dialogue in reverse. I turned affirmatives into stop signs and negatives into bold green lights. I said no to whimsy and yes to endless work. I said sure to downers and no way to delight. And just when it seemed I’d finally mastered the art of  Backwards Day discourse, our self-construed holiday ended, and I had to shift back to colloquial conversation.

Sadly, as the kids have grown, our annual Backwards Day has slipped quietly off our calendars. It’s been several years since we’ve spooned cereal from the sink or dined on dessert beneath the table. We haven’t said yes to crabbiness and no to craziness for a while, either.  But not long ago I was flipping through my prayer journal, and I realized that God doesn’t need a Backwards Day to practice the art of “reverse dialogue,” too.


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How to Pray When You’re Hanging By a Thread

Welcome to the Overflow!  Whether you’re an old friend or a new one, I’m glad you’re here. This is a place where faith is spilled and souls are filled. I hope you’ll pull up a chair and stay awhile.

I’m over at Proverbs 31 today telling about a time I found myself dangling above a swirling sea and talking about how prayer is a bit like rock climbing. If you haven’t had a chance to read it, you can find it here. But before you go, I’d love to tell you how I’m learning to pray even when I don’t know what to say…

I should never have done the math.

I’m a word gal, after all, not a numbers guru.

And, really, what good does it do a desperate mama to calculate the number of days she’s foregone a full night’s sleep?

Blame it on a mind numbed by years of inconsolable infants or on the sheer monotony of wiping faces and bottoms and floors, but on that gray winter’s day long ago, I tried to tally my exhaustion.

2,920 days. That’s how long it had been since I’d slept through the night.

Four kids and forever  buried in diapers and wails, midnight feedings and midday meltdowns, I hadn’t clocked a full night’s sleep since we’d brought home our first wrinkled bundle of wrinkles and wiggles.

Never mind that the experts claimed babies should be sleeping through the night by six months old; mine preferred to embrace the moonlight hours with eyes open wide.

Never mind that my friends told tales of quiet nights and contented cuddles; my wee ones came wrapped in colic and wired with wails.

Never mind that everyone knows that sunrise signifies a fresh start, my toddlers woke in the dark of night and begged to start their day beneath the starlight.

We’d read parenting books and consulted experts. We’d monitored eating habits and routines, schedules and stimulus. We’d established consistent nighttime norms and expectant bedtime prayers, yet nothing seemed to change the fact that our children resisted sleep like a cat runs from the swimming hole.

“They’ll sleep when they’re teenagers,” a well-meaning mom once told me with a wink.

But in the fog of exhaustion and exasperation, I’d stopped wondering if my offspring would ever sleep through the night, and I’d begun to wonder if I’d be alive to celebrate the momentous day.

“Can a woman die of sleep deprivation?” I asked my dear husband after I’d catalogued my fatigue with a senseless sum.

My husband was a doctor beyond the walls of our home, but once he walked through the door, he was just”daddy” beneath our roof. But for a rare moment, I needed my man to don his physician hat and assure me I wasn’t losing my mind. Or my life.

So, I cornered him in the coat room and voiced what any woman who had just calculated eight years of sleep deprivation might be compelled to ask.

He  scanned my face to see if I was joking.


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