As I was putting Alea to bed I told her, “You’re my favorite Alea in the whole world.” We giggled and snuggled and I finally got her settled into her nest of pillows and blankets. I turned my attention to Cora and found her avoiding eye contact and turning away from me. Her body language communicated more than enough. Injury, anger, and defensiveness all rolled up into a physical ball with her knees pulled to her chest and her arms wrapped tightly around. “What’s wrong?” I whispered, unsure of what had transpired in the last few minutes other than being subjected to the indignity of being told to put on her PJs.
“You said Alea is your favorite girl in the whole world.” It was part whimper and part explosion, but it came tumbling out all edges and sharpness, her eyes aflame with anger and wounding.
I sucked my breath in quickly and did my best to fill my gaze with as much compassion and tenderness as I could muster. “Oh sweetie! You must have misunderstood me. I said Alea’s my favorite Alea in the whole world. Just like you’re my favorite Cora. You are two parts of my heart and together you make the whole. I could never choose which one of you is my favorite… I’d never even try! I love each of you differently and I have different favorite things about each of you, but I would never try to put one of you above the other. It would be impossible!”
Sometimes we don’t get back on the rails quickly after such derailments, but this time we did. She softened and giggled and admitted that she didn’t really think that I favored Alea over her. The moment passed, and I made her laugh with some goofy joke and a well-placed tickle and she scampered to the kitchen for one last drink of water. Alea saw this as an excuse to get out of bed as well, due to her own insatiable thirst of course. I walked behind them and rested my hand on Cora’s shoulder. As she turned back to her room she looked over at Alea and said, “You’re mama’s favorite little girl and I’m her favorite middle girl.”
I’d expected her to say she was my favorite big girl, a role she so dearly relishes as someone who is, after all, seven whole years old. I was surprised when she didn’t claim that title. She must have realized I was puzzled because she quickly added, “And Du! Du is your favorite big girl!”
My best friend in high school once told me that love doesn’t divide it only expands. She said this as much to herself as she did to me I think, as she told me when she was expecting her second (or maybe was it third?) child and wrestling with the age-old question: Can I love this child as much as the one before? And she told me again when I was about to travel to meet my second daughter, that time as a reassurance from one mama to another.
And I thought of her words again as I was struck by a child’s capacity to multiply love mere moments after being worried there’s not enough. I’m not sure either of my girls would remember a time in life when they didn’t know Du. We met her when Cora was a toddler and she was a teenager; a newly arrived refugee from Myanmar. She’s been in Alea’s life since the day Alea came home. Though they’ve known her for years, Du’s only lived with us for a few weeks. But in those few short weeks, I’ve watched my girls step into this new arrangement as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. She’s not just a friend, she’s an older sister, an aunt, “our Du.” And my own daughter ever-so-naturally made space for her in the land of her mama’s heart… territory I know she prizes and fiercely guards.
You know they say the universe never stops expanding? This might be a stretch, but hang with me for a moment. I think the exercise of trying to wrap our brains around the universe somehow helps us dance around the edges of comprehending the immensity of God. And the Bible defines God’s nature as love. So isn’t it perfect that the very nature of the universe is that it never stops expanding? I don’t know about you, but that’s nearly impossible for me to grasp… there’s nothing that doesn’t have a boundary or a limit. Limitless expansion? What does that even mean? But what if it’s meant to point us to an even deeper truth? What if we’re meant to understand that love never stops expanding?
This isn’t how we grown-ups usually live. We measure out love – especially love we give to the others in our midst. We measure it judiciously and carefully and with cans that have banged-in-edges and scooped-up bottoms so as not to err on the side of giving too much. Let’s be honest, I believe you can find this measuring tendency at the heart of hotly debated issues like immigration. We are like the Cora in the first half of the story… always watching for ways we may be slighted and not getting enough for ourselves. Keeping track and always hypervigilant for moments to cry “not fair!“
But God is inviting us into the place Cora found herself at the end of the story. He’s inviting us into the ever-expanding universe of Love. He’s inviting us to live in a world that is spacious and roomy and where there’s room enough for us all; where there’s love enough for everyone. He’s inviting us to slide on down and make space for another… to have our own “Du is your favorite big girl” moments and realize, as a broad smile spreads over our face and settles in our hearts, that the truth of that statement doesn’t mean we are any less loved or provided for. We realize we aren’t coming up short but are instead overflowing.
Because in those moments we will find that what we thought might have cost us something is really only paying us undeserved and extravagant dividends.
May we live loved, my friends. And may we live in love.
So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding.
Colossians 1:19, MSG