Monday, March 31, 2014

Valued Competency and Adulthood

I'm learning that one of the marks of enjoyable adulthood is knowing you have a competency that a community values. In other words, you've developed a skill or an area of expertise that can serve others. One reason I love teaching college students is that I can watch their growth into their adult competencies. 

It feels so satisfying to say as a twenty-one year old that you've developed a true competency. You know what you can contribute. You have an area of expertise to continue to develop.  You have a skill to pass on.

The community needs this skill, and you therefore feel valued.

(Being famous, by the way, isn't a skill to benefit a community. They realize this.)

I meet with men and women who suffer from a certain kind of despair. They don't feel worthwhile or useful. They don't know their place in their communities. I ask, "Where do you feel most competent? Where do you feel most like an expert? Go serve there."

I remember the exact day when I felt like I was competent as a teacher and writer. This is my area of expertise, and once I began serving others with these skills, a particular sense of well-being and satisfaction began to fill my heart. I knew I was deeply valued just because I was a child of God, but I also knew God made me to serve and bless others. Developing some adult competencies to pass on not only provided a base for community living, but it provided a career and a lifelong endeavor.

I want to continue helping others identify, develop, and pass on their skills. You don't need a fortune to do this. You can read and study on your own and apprentice under other experts to develop skills. I love finding creative ways for others to figure out how to learn and grow into an area of expertise.

As a mom of growing young women, I'm on the look out for signs of their future competencies.  And as someone wanting to be used in ever-widening circles, I'm studying how to improve my communication and leadership.

What are your competencies? What could be your area of expertise? It's so fun to think about!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Cool Definition of Friendship

I'm writing on the theme of friendship for some devotional material, and I remember a special verse in Romans 1:11-12 where Paul writes something precious to his friends.

He writes, "I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong--that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith."

Wouldn't it be wonderful and life-changing to have friends that want to impart a spiritual gift to make you strong? Wouldn't it be wonderful and life-changing to have friends that, when together, felt mutually encouraged?

Longing to encourage. Longing to impart. Longing to experience this mutually. That sounds like a cool definition of friendship. If this kind of encouragement isn't happening, maybe it's time to work towards these kinds of friendships.

I ask myself if I leave my friends having given a spiritual gift to make them strong. This might come in various forms of spiritual truth speaking. It's convicting to think that I leave them with other things instead: my problems, my complaints, my gossip, or my negativity.

Living with flair means we impart spiritual gifts wherever we go. We redefine friendship as those who do this for one another.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Pace You Keep Is Yours Alone

As I continue to live in a family and larger community, I realize the various pacing of my family members and friends. The energy levels, speed, capacity, and focus of all of us differ greatly.

We must accommodate and plan for our differences.

For example, the youngest in our family is up at 5:30 AM and has accomplished seven things already. On the weekend, she'll have a sleepover, epic play dates, swimming, dance parties, and baking. At 8:00 PM, she'll announce she's ready for bed and promptly fall asleep.

The older one? It's 4:00 PM, and she's still in her pajamas. It's all leisure and reading, thinking and lounging. She's a little philosopher who wants to sit still, do one thing (maybe), and then think about this activity for the rest of the day. Don't rush her. Don't put her in the car to go places. She just wants to sit and think. Her sweet friend comes to visit, and they quietly bake lemon tarts together.

Others of us need lots of introverted time to tinker and strategize. Still others like to chat and drink coffee and write entire novels.

You can be yourself here--with your unique energy, speed, capacity, and focus. Living all together like this means we figure out ways to do this that don't harm one another.

It's fun to try to figure it out. I send the little one on her way with a bag packed for the day. The older one receives her quiet and space.

We're still figuring it out. I'm learning that one way to love each other well is to appreciate and accommodate for all the different kinds of pacing.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Try This for 5 Minutes Each Morning

This morning I recalled the wisdom of Elizabeth George and others who taught me some basic housekeeping principles early on in my adult life. Normally, I rush out the door to work, but this morning, I give myself five minutes (I actually set a timer to see if it's possible), to get the home ready for our return from work and school.

In five minutes, you can straighten the beds and wipe down bathroom sinks. In five minutes, you can clean kitchen counters, load up the breakfast dishes, and even throw frozen chicken breasts and sauce in the crockpot.

In five minutes, you can straighten up the pillows on the couches, fold the blankets, and organize all the piano music on the piano.

It makes a difference to return to the sanctuary of an organized and tidy home. Some women claim that just making the bed (since it takes up 75% of the room) creates a profound sense of order.

The point is that these things don't take long. They don't consume much time and energy in proportion to the payoff of entering the door to a soothing atmosphere.

So I pause and give the house five minutes before I rush out the door. Living with flair means keeping a tidy home for a family to enjoy. I can't give my life to cleaning--and I wouldn't even if I did have the time--but I can give a few minutes each day to creating some order.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

My New Favorite Verb in Scripture: Endure

If you study the number of times Christians are reminded to endure, you'll find great hope today. The Greek translation of the verb means to remain under whatever challenges the Lord allows--because He allows them.

Endurance is the power to remain under difficult circumstances without giving way, without faltering, and without giving up.

When I read Romans 15, I learn that God "gives endurance" and that through "the endurance taught in the scriptures" I have hope. In Colossians 1:11, I'm told that I need the power of Jesus in my life so that I might have great endurance. The book of Revelation repeatedly talks about the great and patient endurance believers need and will need.

Why do we think that hard circumstances and suffering mean we've fallen out of the favor of God? When did we stop valuing the biblical character trait of endurance? When I think about my greatest growth in maturity--and subsequent joy and connection to God--I think about what God asked me to endure through His power. For the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross.

It's a special grace to endure. Perhaps we're to remain under affliction, learning great endurance, because we'll become acutely aware of the joy set before us and the hope in our hearts.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Best $3.00 to Spend on a Child

On Sunday, my husband brings home two Jiffy Greenhouses from Lowes. They cost about $2.00, so you can spend some change on all kinds of seeds.

We plant our seeds into the provided pellets of growing soil, and then we put the greenhouses on the sunny window ledge. Each daughter chose her own favorite vegetable and flower combination. My daughters clap and cheer, and the oldest exclaims, "I just love growing things! I just love it!"

Every morning now, they wake up and look for signs of growth. It's hard to wait, but wait they must.

Wait they must. (Raising children who know how to wait seems suddenly so important, so worthwhile.)

Growing a garden brings such joy. In May, we'll transplant our wildflower garden and vegetables into the ground. Everyone can't wait! Personally, I'm going to roast beets and cut bouquets of zinnia and bluebonnets all summer.

How does your garden grow?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Tale Told 'Round the Fire

My youngest daughter asks the family if we know how ancient people passed the time long ago. "What did they do when they were bored? Can you guess? Instead of toys and entertainment, guess what they did?"

She tells us that they told stories

We learn that from the beginning, storytelling was both entertainment and a way to pass on vital information to the next generation. Stories captured the values of the ancient cultures. I discover that part of ancient storytelling involved the speaker presenting his story and the audience responding in approval or disapproval, comments or silence. Great stories would be shared with others. 

I laughed out loud as I pictured Facebook likes, twitter retweets, comments, and shares. 

We haven't changed much. 

The urge to post the stories of our days, right down to the minutiae of cats, recipes, and lattes isn't novel or strange. It's exactly what we should be doing. Instead of sitting around a campfire, nodding our heads in approval or whispering a repeat of the tale to our spouses and children, we like and share, retweet and repost. 

And the best stories? Those go viral like the main tale told 'round the fire.  

As I think about my posts and comments as part of storytelling, I wonder, then, what vital information I'm passing on--what wisdom, skill, or relief I provide--to aid the next generation.

If someone observed my trail of stories, would they all be cats and lattes? I'm thinking differently about the uses and abuses of social media, and I'm inspired to keep my voice raised as one telling her story around a fire. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Why We Write Essays

I love teaching Ander Monson's "Essay as Hack" essay. He inspires us to continue to write essays for various reasons, but my favorite reason is because the essay represents a "simulated mind." He explains: 

Each essay we read is as close as we can get to another mind. It is a simulation of the mind working its way through a problem. This is not to suggest that every essay is good, revelatory, successful, fruitful, interesting. But stepping into an essay is stepping into the writer's mind. We are thrown into the labyrinth, a huge stone rolling behind us. It is a straight shot of the brain in all its immediacy, its variety, strands of half-remembered text, partly-thought-through ideas, images below the surface of memory. We are thrown into process: of thinking, which is like an algorithm, a machine for replicating or simulating thought.

Monson later tells us that "reading essays gets us closer to others' thinking, or at least the most recent version. Writing them gets us closer to our own. It at least allows us to interrupt the constant motion of our minds to put something down and consider it, think about it from a year removed, or from space on the shuttle, or in a different space, overlooking another view from a new hotel in a different city."

This is why yesterday marked the 4th year of blogging. All 1460 (yes, 4 years) entries that interrupted the otherwise constant motion of my mind have enriched my life and my relationships. These "little essays" have made all the difference. 

Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Set Your Mind Right: Reading 2 Peter 1

Sometimes, I just feel so out of sorts. I forget who I am, what I'm made for, why I'm here, and how I'm supposed to live. This morning, I read Peter's precious letter written to guide growing Christians. He jumps right in with what I need to know most this morning:

"His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires." 

Peter then talks about continuing to grow in faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. He encourages Christians to "make every effort" to gain these things and that this kind of focus keeps us from "being ineffective and unproductive in [our] knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."

He says he must always remind us. We must always be refreshed in this knowledge. No matter how old we are or how mature we feel, we must remember these things. When we feel out of sorts, we refresh ourselves with these words so we might participate in the divine nature.

It sets our minds right.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Barely Warm Enough to Grill: Saturday Kabobs

Right this very moment, in a huge bowl, I have chunks of fresh pineapple, chicken, red pepper, onion, and mushroom marinating in Italian dressing. Later, we'll thread beautiful patterns of these items onto our kabob skewers.

Once grilled (for about ten minutes), we serve our kabobs over brown rice. It's our favorite meal on summer nights. After such a long winter, this 50 degree weather feels like paradise, like grilling weather. 

If you need a great kabob recipe, try this one from (great pics here, too!).

I hope your Saturday plans include something yummy for dinner.

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Problem: Waiting for Something to Happen

Today in class, we talk about campaigns for social change. We talk about problems we see around us. For the past few semesters, students report that they have many friends who "sit around, checking Facebook, waiting for a text."

They want to change this. There's something wrong and so troubling about it.

These people don't do anything but check and wait. For what? Something. Maybe they cannot even articulate what the something is. 

A laugh? A funny video? A clever tweet? A photo? An invite? 

Meanwhile, life happens elsewhere. Beautiful, amazing, satisfying things are happening. You don't have to wait for them. It's now. 

I tell my students it wasn't like this for me as a young adult. Nobody sat around, waiting with a screen in our hands. We were out there, living.

So I'm not waiting. I'm doing it.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Fresh Woodpecker Nest Photo: Welcome Spring!

My friends on the walk to school point out the fresh woodpecker excavations in the pine tree. I research the habitat of the pileated woodpeckers in our region, and the description of the nest fits perfectly.

Pileated Woodpecker Nest
We're so excited! We'll keep our eye on this site and hope to find baby woodpeckers soon. Spring in Centre County rewards the neighborhood children with many nests and blooms. The walk to school educates us and fills us with wonder. Welcome Spring! We've missed you.

PS: In case you're wondering (I was), the woodpecker makes many attempts to get the nest just right. That's why you see so many holes. Each one might take a month to excavate, but if it's not right, the woodpeckers try again until they feel happy with their site. It's not a waste, however. The other holes make wonderful residences for. . . wait for it. . . OWLS! I can see owls!

Can this day get any better?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

How Not to Want More Money

As I continue to study the strongholds of appearance, affluence, and achievement, I talk to many folks who just want more money. I've actually only met a few people in my whole life who've said to me, "I have plenty of money." Most people agonize over money; it's all they think about. It's a source of stress and heartache.

Money is a strange thing. I read in 1 Timothy 6 this morning that the love of money is the root of all evil. That's a terrible thing to consider! The root of all evil? How could this be? Perhaps it's because it symbolizes independence from God's provision. I learn in verse 9 that those who "want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction." Later, Paul writes that some people, "eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs."

My goodness! I don't want this at all. Temptations! Traps! Foolish and harmful desires! Ruin and destruction! Even worse, wandering from the faith and piercings with grief!

How do I avoid it? How do I protect my heart from the love of money?

Paul's final charge to Timothy is twofold: Flee and Pursue. Flee the desire for more money and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. But how? What do I need to believe about God and money in order to do this?

The answer comes in verses 17-19. Put no hope in wealth. Put all hope in God "who richly provides all things for our enjoyment." Instead of obsessing over becoming rich in dollar bills (which isn't to say it's wrong to be rich; it's all about our focus), we're to be "rich in good deeds and generous." In this way, we "lay up treasure for [ourselves] as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that [we] may take hold of the life that is truly life."

I need to affirm that God richly provides. I don't need to fall in love with money. I shift my gaze and enjoy what God provides today. Can you imagine the freedom of this becoming true for us today?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

On Being Asked to Deliver a Chicken to the School

As we walk to school in the lonely doom and gloom of another cold, dark morning, I snap a photo. The day feels heavy.

Then, out of nowhere, someone drives up to me and my friends to ask if we'd help her deliver a live chicken to the front office. The men grab the cage from her trunk as the chicken squawks. I grab the food pail.

The children--who seem amused by all this--watch us. One girl simply says, "Oh, yeah. That's Vera's chicken." We pass off the chicken to the office staff.

We all part ways. One friend walks on to keep pace with his step goal on his pedometer. We're all off to work. The chicken, however, seems like a portent of strange and wonderful things to come.

We're living a curious life out here in Centre county.

A life with chicken deliveries. Now, the day seems crazy and adventurous. I'm so glad I was asked to deliver the chicken.

Monday, March 17, 2014

He Will Sustain

Today I remember that God is a Sustainer. It's a great verb! Sustain means to strengthen, support, encourage, and carry--both mentally and physically.

As I search the scriptures for this verb, I learn that the Israelites often referred to God as the one who sustains them. And in the Psalms, I love the way the writer reiterates that the Lord sustains. In Psalm 18:35, we read that "You make your saving help my shield, and your right hand sustains me; your help has made me great." Psalm 41 discusses how the Lord sustains us on our sickbed just as Psalm 55 reveals how we cast our cares on God "and He will sustain [us]."

God sustains the widow and fatherless, the orphan and the poor. He sends help to those in distress and uplifts them with sustenance. Ultimately, I read in Hebrews 1 that Jesus "is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word."

We need Him! We need Him. Our circumstances might not change today; in sickness, lack of resources, loss, discouragement, anxiety, and real fear, we know that God is the sustainer. He will sustain! I think of exhausted new mothers who need to know this. I think of those out of work. I think of those with loved ones fighting cancer. I think of those in the battle of mental illness and confusion.

The Lord carries you.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

For the Tired

I'm learning that sleep isn't the most important thing or the crucial component for peace and happiness. I used to get so mad if I didn't sleep well. 

Being tired just ruined me.

As I age, great sleep comes and goes with fluctuating hormones. As my children age, I stay up later and wake earlier. As I travel more and stay in hotels, I don't sleep well. 

This morning, God comforts me with the thought that "sleepless nights" might be part of my calling right now. Can the Lord  sustain me even in this

Yes! It's another way to grow and trust. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Best Way You Know How

Today I hear a great speaker, Jada Edwards, who reminds the audience that "no one can tell your story better than you." She encourages us to tell our stories "the best way we know how."

In whatever way, by whatever means, tell it. Don't worry about sounding smart, getting it right, or being the best. It will be the best, because nobody can tell it like you can. 

So tell it the best say you know how. Maybe it will come in a way nobody has thought of yet. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

I Don't Like Manicures One Bit

Sometimes when I speak before large audiences, especially in the south, I think, "I should really get a manicure. I should really do my nails."

I grew up with a mother who had a fresh manicure every week. She was actually a hand model in her younger years. A hand model! I come from beautiful hand genes!

But I simply detest having nail polish on my nails. I keep them short, unpolished, and boring. Too long, and they make annoying clicking sounds on the keyboard when I write. Too bright and shiny, and I have no choice but to start picking at them.

So no manicure for me.

I realize that my lack of nail polish represents something of a signature style. It's a little act of differentiation, uniqueness, and personal preference that asserts my individuality. This is a good thing. I remember this when one daughter wants to wear the same leggings and t-shirt every single day or when the other daughter needs a little clutter to feel comfortable in her room.

Allowing--indeed celebrating--difference is part of motherhood, friendship, and personal growth.

When God knit me together, He knew I'd dislike nail polish even though I come from great nail genes. I'm OK with this, finally.

What's something that gives you your signature style that's totally different from your mom?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Power and Maturity: 2 Comments on 1 Corinthians

This morning I begin to study Paul's letter to the church in Corinth. I'm struck by two things:

First, Paul reminds his readers in 1 Corinthians 2 that his message and preaching were "not with wise and persuasive words but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that [our] faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God's power."

The power of God's Spirit goes beyond all human intellect or persuasive wording. It's a humbling reminder and a joyous assurance that God's work does not depend on our rhetorical tools, no matter how wonderful.

Secondly, I note that Paul claims in the 3rd chapter that two marks of immaturity or "worldliness" are jealousy and quarreling. When I think about the most mature people I know, they rarely, if ever, quarrel with others, and they don't live in jealously. As I look at my own children, I know that their jealousy and quarreling come along with their immaturity; older, wiser women leave these childish ways behind by the power of God's spirit. They live in peace as they rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. They live in contentment.

Power and maturity: I love studying Paul's letters.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Day Come and Gone

Sometimes I scroll through blog posts from all the years past on this very day. I like to see what I was thinking and learning about. I like to look for patterns and growth.

On this day in 2011, I was so worried about our friend in Japan. The tsunami that hit Japan had us sick inside. Almost three years have come and gone, but this day stays in my mind.

Friday, March 11, 2011

On Watching the News of the Tsunami in Japan

As I grade papers today, I want to ignore the background buzz and flicker of a news channel showing footage of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  I watch someone's home burst into flames and float away.  I watch a cargo ship turn over on its side as simply as a man changing positions in his sleep.  From an aerial vantage point, it seems like someone has poured buckets of black paint over the farmland.   I want to turn away from this news and this reality. 

I see a minivan turn circles in the water like a silver leaf.

Not until the voice behind the footage reminds me that I'm watching a wall of water moving at 500 mph do I suddenly imagine the noise, the wind, and the smell of it.  I look at that minivan and think of a family going about their day.  It's not a leaf.  It's a family in a vehicle. 

Just this morning, my youngest daughter hears the radio announce that an earthquake has hit Japan.  Tears well up and she says, "Mama, Aki is in Japan."  

We leave for school and go about the day with that tsunami in the background of our minds.  I force it to the forefront--choosing to remember, choosing to pray.  It's too easy to forget.  It's too easy not to hear that background story of a country in crisis. 

I force myself to write about it.  But I don't want to think about it.  It's not happening here.  It's over there

I go back to grading.  A student has written an analysis of W.H. Auden's poem, "Musee des Beaux Arts."   Auden writes about how, in the face of widespread human suffering, "everything turns away / Quite leisurely from the disaster" because we have "somewhere to get to." 

I don't want to turn away.  I'm in this, and for me, being in this means I write.  That keeps it in the foreground.  That's keeps me from turning away today.

I write and pray for Japan today, and that's how I'm choosing to live with flair.    

Journal:  How can I stay "in this" today?  Is it important to do this? 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Full Measure of Blessing

In Romans 15:29, Paul writes, "I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ."

All day, I think about what it would mean to come to people "in the full measure" of blessing. I think about people I know who somehow seem to bring this full measure of blessing with them. These people make me feel closer to God. I feel like anything can happen when I'm with them.

It's a powerful thought and a powerful prayer. It's a great way to live; I want to bring the full measure of blessing wherever I go. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Thing Itself is the Prize

This morning, I was so happy just to have some time to write. It makes me sad not to write.

I realized that writing is the prize. Doing it is the prize. It reminds me of the way I'm learning to love God--just for Himself, just to be with Him--and not for what could come of it in the way of blessing. He is the blessing. That is the prize.

When thought of this way, I enjoy the thing I'm doing--whether writing or praying. I sink down deep into it because the doing is the prize. Sure, you can think about agents and publishers and book contracts and signings, but that's a whole other thing. That's the business of it that may or may not flow from the writing.

I predict that if one enjoys the prize of writing itself, the suffocating clutch of future reward will loosen its dark grip. The reward will come, but it's also already here.

So write! Write, write, write, and rejoice.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Lovely Melting

My youngest and I put on boots to stomp in puddles. It's warm outside! Snow melts, and glorious muddy puddles await.

We go in search of puddles. Eventually, we find our way to the other side of the house.

We have our first Spring Thing to Monitor. Soon, we'll be checking on bird nests and berries. For now, we'll check on the daffodils for blooms. How lovely!

Friday, March 7, 2014

But It's Impossible!

Today I learn about Impossible Bottles.

Have you read about the painstaking process of creating impossible scenes inside bottles (the ones with tiny, tiny necks)? These bottles are "impossible" because they showcase objects that could not possibly fit through the opening of the bottle.

Maybe you've seen them.  Ships, knots, playing cards, tennis balls, coins, various toys. I learn that the creators take apart these objects and then patiently and carefully reassemble them inside the bottle using special long tools. Normally, in the case of ships or cards, the artist collapses and folds the objects to fit them through the opening. Once inside the wide, round part of the bottle, the artist then pulls a string to coax the object back to its normal position.

Even when knowing the technique of it all, viewers sit dumfounded over how these scenes came to be. It's impossible. It seems like magic. The object simply cannot fit inside the neck of the bottle, so that's that.

Once I learned how the artists do it, I realized that the impossible things actually make sense when understood from the artist's point of view. He knows what I don't know. He has tools I know nothing about.

This impossible scenario that I cannot imagine actually isn't impossible. As I think about fitting things into my life or wondering how something seemingly impossible will come about, I remember the Artist with tools I know nothing about.

Of course He'd put that thing into my life within boundaries that cannot possibly hold it. He's making good art of me.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Save Yourself Some Pain: Don't Ever Assume You Know What People Are Thinking

Today I remember how much pain and distress we can save ourselves if we don't imagine what other people are thinking.

You just cannot know. You aren't in their minds. If you're confused or concerned about what someone might or might not be thinking, mature adults simply ask that person what he or she is thinking.

We avoid so much confusion if we just ask.

Many of my conversations with my husband begin with my theorizing what a friend or family member must be thinking. He often tells me, "You don't know that." Twice today I misinterpreted what someone was thinking. Twice! (And I'm someone who reads people very well--it's part of teaching for over a decade.)

Living with flair means we don't assume we know what people are thinking. Just ask them. This saves much pain, confusion, and distress.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

15 Kinds of Gratitude

Today my friend reminds me to practice different kinds of gratitude. What do you mean kinds of gratitude?

She tells me that gratitude takes on several forms. You can practice gratitude for people who have blessed you or circumstances you enjoy, for example. This got me thinking. How many kinds of gratitude are there?

I thought of 15, but I think many more exist.
1. Gratitude for people
2. Gratitude for surroundings
3. Gratitude for suffering and what it produces in us
4. Gratitude for hope in our heart
5. Gratitude for the provision of food and shelter
6. Gratitude for forgiveness of sin
7. Gratitude for the ability to bless others
8. Gratitude for worship
9. Gratitude for creative expression in all forms
10. Gratitude for work
11. Gratitude for restorative sleep
12. Gratitude for laughter and the ability to perceive humor and irony
14. Gratitude for the capacity to learn
15. Gratitude for growing things of all kinds

This whole entire day just shimmers with gratitude. I feel better already.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Soul-Corrosion of Success

Author, scholar, and Bible translator J.B. Phillips, in his autobiography, The Price of Success, explains a particular type of soul-corrosion that comes with success. He writes:

     I was not nearly so aware of the dangers of success. The subtle corrosion of character, the unconscious changing of values and the secret monstrous growth of a vastly inflated idea of myself seeped slowly into me. Vaguely I was aware of this and, like some frightful parody of St. Augustine, I prayed, "Lord make me humble--but not yet." 
    I can still savor the sweet and gorgeous taste of it all--the warm admiration, the sense of power, of overwhelming ability, of boundless energy and never failing enthusiasm. I still do not regret it; in a sense it was inevitable, for I was still very young for my age. But it is very plain to me now why my one man kingdom of power and glory had to stop. 

These sobering thoughts remind me to step back for a moment. Pastor Phil Davis talks about Christians driven to achieve and produce (like me!). He says, "It is a good quality, but it has a dangerous side. In our flurry of achievement, we need to ask ourselves: Is this sanctified ambition, or is it my own need for accomplishment and achievement?"

My prayer this week is for sanctified ambition. Success seems like a good thing. Success seems like the right thing. Success even seems like a fruitful thing. But apart from God's sanctifying hand in it, it quickly becomes worship of self, a one man kingdom of power and glory. The subtle corrosion will begin.

The trend in Christian publishing and speaking--both things I love--require fame. Publishers who write to me have noted that I'm not famous enough yet. Once I am--by proof of followers of blogs and tweets and other social media measurements--then I've earned the right to sell books. Once this happens for any of us, the monstrous machine begins to churn: we're known; we're successful; we're powerful.

Oh, Lord! Save me from it! Who can escape the soul-corrosion in such a time as this? We're not strong enough. I'm not strong enough for fame. Who is?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Alright, Alright, Alright: What Matthew McConaughey Needs Each Day

If you haven't heard Matthew McConaughey's acceptance speech for best actor last night at the Oscars, click here.  It's wonderful! He tells the audience the three things he needs each day: something to look up to, something to look forward to, and someone to chase.

Something to look up to.
Something to look forward to.
Someone to chase.

He looks up to God because he knows "He's graced my life with opportunities that are not of my own hand or any other human hand."

He looks forward to being with his family who "he wants to make the most proud of [him]."

And he chases the man he'll be in ten years. He's knows he'll never get there, but he keeps chasing him.

I like thinking about life this way.

It was a great speech, and I'm so glad I heard it.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Glamorous Life!

Our family loves watching the Oscars (mostly I do). We love the Red Carpet gowns and all the glamour of it all. When I was younger, I dreamed about what it might be like to be on that Red Carpet.

Not tonight. On this night, we're making little appetizers and watching the Oscars in our pajamas with a cat or two curled up by our feet. We already bought dumplings and little egg rolls to enjoy. We can't wait to hear Idina Menzel sing "Let it Go." For fanciness, we'll make Shirley Temples and drink them through straws.

We'll look fabulous, darling. Who are we wearing? Target, by Target. Our post Oscar plans? Snuggles.

I'm so glad I'm here and not there.

My kind of glamour involves a comfortable seat, lots of snuggles with those I love, and performing fake interviews and fake acceptance speeches in order to get everyone laughing.

It's a glamorous life!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Walking Around, Astonished

I love curiosity. Curiosity goads the depressed out of bed, the bored off the coach, and the apathetic into the world.

May we never cease wondering about things. May we never stop asking ask why and how.

May we never stop thinking about more than what we normally think about.

I love so many things about my husband, but one thing I really love is his curiosity. Life is always an adventure for us; there's just so much to wonder about and explore.

Before most of my classes begin--before the formal teaching of semicolons and vivid verbs--I like to find out what students are wondering about. I like to share something I've been wondering about, too. Maybe I've encountered a curious new verb somewhere. Maybe I've read a new neuroscience study. Maybe I've identified a new bird in the wild.

If a student says, "Nothing really. I'm not curious about anything really," then I know what to do. I astonish them with something amazing from nature: the mimic octopus or amazing photos of beautiful things in nature.  I might ask about something elusive or ineffable like intuition or deja vu.

So much of teaching, parenting, friendship, and even our relationship with God is about having a curious heart. I want to always keep wondering. I want to walk around, astonished.