Acting Like a Keystone Species

I’m reading a book about alligators with my youngest daughter, and I learn the definition of a keystone species.

A keystone species uses the environment in a way that shapes and benefits an entire community.  The alligator, for example, digs a gator hole for her own use that supports hundreds of other species.  Without the alligator, a whole ecosystem falls apart.

Only the alligator knows how to find the water deep within the land. Only the alligator has the ability to access the water and build the gator hole (she does it with her tail). 

I hear that whisper of truth that challenges me to the core. Does my behavior shape and benefit an entire community or do I harm and diminish my community by my actions?  Support or threaten? Build or crumble?

I think about my family and consider our role as a keystone species in loving, protecting, nurturing, serving, and growing a neighborhood. Do we act in isolation or do we act in ways that build an entire community?

I love reading books about animals; I learn so much! As I put the book down, I recall the moment of insight I had 2 years ago in September when I learned about how frogs breathe in the froglet phase.

Alligators and froglets! The world is full of lessons to learn.

Do you have a good lesson you learned from a creature?  



Places Within Places

I’m reading a line in Jamie Zeppa’s memoir from her time in Bhutan about her love of secret places. As a child, she loved finding hidden places. 

She calls them places within places.

The line shimmers for me. I just can’t stop thinking about it. Maybe it’s because I’m learning how to dwell in the “secret place” of the Most High God. I’m learning about the inner refuge–the place within–of peace and joy. 

Places within places. 

I remember how my children love hiding under the Weeping Cherry. In that secret place, hidden away, they let the arms of that great tree fall around them.

I walk downtown with these little ones, and I remember a child’s love of places within places.

I know about a secret pond that’s tucked away right behind a building on campus.   

“You won’t believe it!” I tell my daughters.  “Just wait!”  We round a tall building, and there we find a little pond that I could cross in just five steps if I wanted. 

We find newly hatched goslings, great turtles the size of dinner plates, and beautiful ducks. 

We had to go deep within the campus, behind the structures, into the unseen.  Places within places. No matter where I am, there’s a place within this place full of wonder. 

I don’t know why, but I just love duck feet.  And I wanted to hold those little goslings so badly!  Have you found a secret place within a place recently? 


The Stormy Weight of It

The wind whips around my body as I bend down to the strawberry patch. Within only a moment, the garden darkens. I look up, amazed at the contrast of light blue to dark grey. It’s happening so quickly; the clouds roll over upon one another, swirling, dipping down, racing.

I love it.

The whole atmosphere feels excited, more alive, more ready for anything to happen. I brace myself for the lightning and thunder. I’m ready for enormous, relentless rain to absolutely drench me.

Storm Dips Down

That amplified feeling reminds me so much of our own artistic tendencies–our dark moods, our unpredictability, our imperceptible shifts that make the world go dark–that make up my whole self. It’s always this way. We writers spin beneath a cyclone of wonder, terror, expectancy, despair, and joy. Everything carries electric, amplified, stormy weight.  

I’m not afraid of it anymore. I don’t resist it anymore.

I stand beneath it, snap a photograph, and I write.   

I write!  You write!  We write! 

The poet in me knows you can’t really and honestly know the light without the dark shadow of a storm. I brace myself and welcome that downpour.

It’s just how it is. I love it. I’m not afraid anymore.

Can you turn your dark moods into art? 


One Thing Ends and Another Begins

It’s the last walk to school!  I tell the parents, “It’s the end!  It’s really the end!”  One father says, “Or the beginning.” 

It is the beginning. We pick honeysuckle and let summer drip onto our tongue. 

Picking Honeysuckle

We walk under trees in full bloom. 

 We climb the hill through the woods for the last time. . . for now. 

We’ll do it again next year.  But for now, we let one thing end and another begin.

Happy Last Day of School!


Learning from the Best

Today I have lunch with a dear friend who truly knows how to have a great family. I couldn’t wait to talk to her and learn from her.

Some families–like hers–truly delight in being together. They love to play games, read books aloud, make crafts, complete puzzles, and just be together.

I’m always out in the community. I’m always with other families, other children, and other moms. This has been a special calling in my life, but now–for this summer–I want to spend more time as a family.

I think God wants to teach me how. 

I realize I don’t have many more summers left alone with these girls. While it’s good and right to serve a community, sometimes I need to nestle in with my own little family and delight in them.

So I ask my friend, and she’s full of great ideas that cost almost nothing.

She knows how to bind books and design covers so my daughters and I can write together. She’s skilled in games of all kinds, and she wants to share her knowledge with me (I’m horrible at games! “You will learn,” she says calmly.) She can gather her family around and read amazing books to them, and even the teenager enjoys listening.

As I drive home, I realize that some activities in my home just don’t build family togetherness. I want togetherness.  

I love the word togetherness. This summer, that’s what I want most of all.

What’s your best advice for family togetherness? 


She Taught Me How to Love My Neighbor

When I moved to this town and showed up to retrieve my oldest daughter from kindergarten, a woman came to find me. She introduced herself, welcomed me to the neighborhood, provided her phone number, and immediately invited me over to her home for an after school snack to meet her children.

I went.  I had nowhere else to go and nobody else to talk to. 

She connected me to all of her friends, cooked for me, offered to watch my children, and essentially did whatever I needed to help me transition to this new community.

Know this: She’s a working single mother with three children, a busy schedule, and needs of her own.

And yet.

And yet she loved her neighbor.  She took the time for me!  

I think about this dear woman, Kristen Caswell, whenever a new family moves into the neighborhood.  I find myself running to find the new families, providing a note card with my phone number, and offering to do what I do best: walk children to school and cook Italian meals.

My kitchen right now has all the ingredients for Chicken Parmigiana.  I’ll deliver a meal to a new family and ask, like Kristen did for me, “How can I help you?  What do you need?”

She taught me all the simple ways to love a new neighbor. Since the Lord is teaching me to love in ways that are uniquely me, I’m going to love my new neighbor with loads of mozzarelle (I already discovered they love Italian cooking).  And remember, the only reason I can do this is because the Italian Mama was a good neighbor to me last year when she taught me how to cook out of the goodness of her great Italian Mama heart.

I’m learning what it looks likes to help and to love.  I’m going to love my neighbor, and I’m so excited.  

What else does a neighbor need?


“The Moment I Picked Up My Pen, I Declared War on the Darkness.” Katye Riselli

I find myself reading Ever Bitter Thing is Sweet whenever I can.  Today, I read the entry, and I want to hug this woman, read her journal, and celebrate her life with her.  She endured great pain, and she wrote in her journal on the day her fiance was killed that, “the moment I picked up my pen I declared war on the darkness.”

She picks up her pen, and she declares war on the darkness.

You can read her story here

Perhaps we should all pick up our pens, grab our journals, and declare war. 

Have you declared war on the darkness?


“We Teach What We Most Need to Learn”: What I Most Need

As I write the summer devotions for my daughters, I’m reminded every moment of Parker Palmer’s great words, “We teach what we most need to learn.” 

When I get to the devotion that asks the question, “What does it really mean to love someone?” I find myself teaching my own heart the truth all over again. 

I write to the children what I’m learning in Romans 12 myself.  This isn’t just for you. This is because I need to learn this.

Romans 12 tells me that real love is sincere. It’s devoted. It honors others before oneself. It blesses. 

Sincere, devoted, honoring, and blessing.  I’m failing at this!  Lord, help me! 

I think about sincerity for the whole afternoon.  Sincere people speak genuine words at all times.  They don’t flatter to get people to like them. They don’t say things they think others want to hear.  They aren’t concerned with just making people happy or manipulating people through words. 

Instead, they speak and behave out of genuine feeling. 

We teach what we most need to learn.  Today I realize that I most need instruction in the fine art of sincere loving. I want to sincerely love–genuinely, without pretense, without fear, and without manipulation. 

Have you felt sincerely loved? 


Oh, How Quickly We Forget: A Confession

I’m rolling my eyes as I look out to the garden. I have to harvest the berries again

It takes so long.

I get so dirty.

Then I have to store them.

Lord, why do we have all these berries?

Can you believe how quickly I can forget my longing for a berry garden? Can you believe how quickly joy and celebration turn to complaint and drudgery?

So very quickly.

For years, we lovingly cared for the soil, the new shoots, and the blossoms. We expertly staked and fed and watered and waited.

Strawberry Patch

Blackberries On the Way

Raspberries Just Emerging


Now the harvest has come and is coming. Now the thing I’ve waited for arrives in my palms, and I just roll my eyes, exhausted by it. 

Oh, how I need a Savior! The human heart wants what it does not have and balks at it when it gets it. We can turn every gift into a burden. We can turn every blessing into a complaint.  

As I pick strawberries and see the red juice stain my fingers, I recall how quickly the thing we long for consumes us, becomes too much, and sours in our hands. 

Even the berries carry the curse.

Do you often complain about the very thing you asked to have?


Make Yourself that Somebody Part Two: Maybe I Should Write It Myself (A Summer Devotional Book for Kids!)

Last night, I’m searching two different stores for little summer devotional books for my children.  I want to take seriously my role in helping them develop spiritually.  I spend so much time fostering their social, intellectual, and physical development, but I don’t often know what to do with their spiritual growth.

I end up blaming other people for not doing a better job helping my children grow in their relationship with God.  If only the church were better!  If only someone would write a great book for my children!  Somebody should really do this for me. 

Remember what happens when I say, “Somebody should really. . .”?  

So I search for resources, and then I start complaining.  This is too cheesy!  This is too boring!  This is too watered-down!  This is poorly written!  This is doctrinally inadequate!  This is outdated!  My girls will never read this!

(I can be so arrogant and picky.  God is working on me.  I know that there are many great devotional books out there, but I want one tailor made for my girls.) 

Somebody should really write a better devotional for my children.  

I’m standing there complaining.  I had just read a parenting book challenging mothers to “parent out of their strengths,” and I wrote in the margin that my main strength in this world is writing.

Suddenly, I hear that Holy Spirit nudge that if I’m so upset about all the spiritual material for young girls, I should write some myself

I should get a glittery, fun 3 ring binder (they could decorate it!) and fill it with pages of devotions I write myself made to suit my children.  I realize that I have things to pass on, and these girls are at that ripe age of development where biblical truth can sink into the soil of their hearts.

I wake up, and I make a list of the 30 things I want them to know.  If we have three devotions a week, these 30 pages will take me through the whole summer with them.  Each little devotion will be less than 300 words (at their reading level) and contain an action point for their lives with a real-world scenario that they’ve faced, are facing, or will face.  Here’s my list.  What would you add that’s essential for a child to know? 

1. What God Thinks About Me
2.  God is on My Side
3.  Every Rejection is God’s Protection
4.  God Gives Me Power to Live
5.  What Real Love Looks Like
6.  What Purity Looks Like
7.  Having a Thankful Heart for the Rest of My Life
8.  Becoming a Royal Servant
9.  I Never Have to Be Afraid
10.  The Smartest Girl in the Room
11. What If I Feel Lonely? God is my Friend
12.  What If I Feel Sad?  God is My Comforter
13. The Things I Hide in My Heart (How to choose the right movies, shows, and internet sites)
14. What If I’m Not Like Everyone Else? 
15. What If I Don’t Feel Beautiful?
16. What If I Mess Up?
17. How Do I Talk to Others About Jesus?
18.  What Is Abundant Life?  It is Fame and Wealth?
19.  How to Be a Friend and Choose a Friend
20.  Discovering Who God Made Me to Be
21.  Looking for Beauty Around Me and Having a Heart of Wonder
22.  Why Should I Read the Bible Every Day?
23.  Does God Answer Prayer?
24.  Does God See Me and Know Me?
25.  How Do I Please God for My Whole Life?
26.  How Do I Make Godly Decisions?
27.  What is Gossip?  How Do I Stop?
28.  Remembering God’s Faithfulness by Journaling
29.  Living an Excellent Life
30.  Worshiping Him 
So here I go!  I’m praying that God helps me write a great summer devotional book.  Interested in a free copy?  Just send me an email, and I send on what I write for FREE!   Would you like to add a devotional to my list for children to read?  Email me your thoughts!