Just as the morning becomes, we run together beneath the sun. A light breeze wraps our shoulders. I glance up at the sky—blue, the color rich like Morpho wings, with wisps of sea foam cloud. I stare hard, gasping. Day after day, the heavens pour forth speech. “They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” So clearly I hear: Glory. Glory to God Almighty (Psalm 19). More and more, I think I could lose myself in that sky, just dissolve and float away. Except.
Except she smiles, and it’s joy undefeated, glistening, glorious. I feel her eyes and return her gaze, and she grounds me, happy. She carries her Ipod in one hand, a water bottle in the other. Her hair swings behind her, marking time like the golden pendulum of a clock. I’m not even sure why she wants to do this. Gross motor skills have never been her strength. As a baby, she toe-walked so much we took her to see an orthopedist who x-rayed her little body and concluded that she did not have any physical deformities contributing to her problem. We used to buckle her into a swing in the back yard and push her until our arms were sore in an effort to support her limping vestibular system. I remember the way her blond curls blew in the wind, back and forth, back and forth. Now, no one would know just watching her walk, but when she runs, sometimes her feet don’t fall evenly. Somehow it seems that the rapid movement requires more intentional effort for her than so many of the rest of us.
But she wants to run a 5K. And eventually, she wants to be a triathlete, like her dad. And she wants to be here with me, smiling under the sun as the sweat beads up on her forehead and drips down her cheeks.
“It’s time for us to walk,” she says, as her Ipod chimes. She loves telling me what we need to do next. So we walk, and I remind her to drink water on her walk breaks. I talk to her about school and how she feels. I tell her I’m proud–and so thankful—to be her mom.
I pinned her final sixth grade report card to the bulletin board over my desk in the kitchen, a reminder that all our pressing on together bears fruit. I sat in a meeting with her teachers and they told me, “She earns these good grades. We don’t give them to her.” And I know it’s true, because I watch her work three times as long. And sometimes, the work feels like running through mud. Sometimes I say it’s the homework that will one day consign me to rocking silently in front of a window. I say these things, but she never complains. She says nothing. Instead, she works, and clearly I hear: Glory. Glory to God Almighty.
She is my sky, always proclaiming without words what must be heard to the ends of the world.
“It’s time to jog,” she says as the Ipod chimes again, and I remind her to breathe.
“The most important thing to learn when you’re learning to run is to breathe. Don’t panic. Feel your lungs filling with the air you need. Breathe deep. In and out, in and out. Think about it. Relax and breathe.”
“Mmhmm,” she says, acknowledging me. She lets me hear an audible breath.
“That’s it. Keep it slow and steady, okay? Not too fast at first.” I force the pace slow, barely lifting my feet. She tends to push too hard on the run. In so many ways, she wears gentle, sweet. She lives happy, mostly, with a peace that spreads to the rest of us. That peace has always been her gift, something we felt when we carried her in our arms, snuggly wrapped. But beneath that easy stream, determination glints like iron. Her determination makes her strong. Determination pushes her, pressing her past the challenges that should be limiting. Determination makes her practice the hard things hours after the rest of us would give up.
She is my sky, my ocean, my mountain. Her living speaks a stunning blend of love and power, a wordless proclamation: Glory.
I watch her face as we jog up a hill, hearing her quick breaths. The effort hardens her expression. Her eyes darken and focus with power. She will not give up.
“You okay?” I ask, studying her.
“Yes, I’m okay,” she says, and the Ipod chimes.
But she doesn’t finish. She doesn’t say, “It’s time for us to walk,” when I know she will, when I turn my attention to the van idling in the roadway in front of us and wait for her voice.
And when I look at her, she’s walking still, but her eyes are locked ahead of her. Locked and empty.
“Hey, are you okay?” I ask her, but she says nothing, and I know. I link my arm with hers and steady her, leading her to the side of the road, looking up again at the idling van to see that no driver sits behind the wheel.
“Riley? Riley.” I call to her, willing her back from where ever she has gone. I know she could just dissolve, right there, right into the wide, blue sky. Except. Except for me standing there, calling her back to me. It’s over quickly—in a minute, but in my heart her seizures go on forever. She blinks.
“Mmmhmm?” She says, gradually returning, beginning to move. She turns to look at me, and it’s all slow motion.
“Are you back with me?”
“I think you had a little seizure.”
“Mmmhmm.” The Ipod chimes, and she looks down. ”Mom? It’s time for us to jog.”
“I don’t know if–,”And that’s when I look at her and I see them, those determined eyes, hard and focused with power, daring me. ”Do you think–”
“It’s time to jog,” she says again, already picking up her feet.
That’s when I hear it, clear: Glory. Glory to God Almighty, and I surrender my mother doubts to Him, and I jog. I remind her to breathe. Breathe, please just breathe. Wasn’t this my low tone child, my toe-walker? The only thing that would bring hot tears just then, the only thing that would make her angry would be my insistence that she stop. She will never give up. She will always finish what she sets out to do. She has something to say, something she says day after day, pouring forth speech without a word. And this is the voice only quieted by fear.
And so we jog and we walk, and I talk to her, and the whole time I’m pondering what I will do the next day, to avoid whatever triggered that seizure. She will eat first. And take her pills. And have energy drink instead of plain water. And I will pray that God will help me let her. Because hers is a life lived loud, and mine should be too.
“I’m so so proud of you,” I tell her at the end of the work out, when she turns to me and says, “That’s it. That’s week one, day two.”
“I think you’re amazing,” I say, and the words come out in a whisper, nearly choked by everything I feel for her.
“Mmmhmm,” she says, nodding, looking right through me with eyes the color of the ocean lit by the sun. ”I am.”
And she smiles with a joy that is brighter than the sky.
And the voice goes out into all the earth:
Glory. Glory to God Almighty.