Saturday, December 31, 2011

Under New Management

I'm driving home from North Carolina, and I see an old restaurant with a dangling sign, half-lit.  It says, "Come In!  We're Under New Management!" 

Something about that sign grips me and won't let me go.  It's hope.  I know it like I know my own hands typing on this keyboard.  The broken-down restaurant gets a fresh start--a new dream--under new management

The old has gone, the new has come.  2012 will be our best year yet.  We're under the new management of a Great God.  We're surrendered, strong, and steady.  Under new management means whatever was left broken down, hurting, and hopeless gets a makeover.  Renovated, restored, renewed.  

Living with flair means I'm under new management.  Sorry Self.  Sorry Satan.  I'm under new management. 

What in you needs to get under new management in 2012? 

Friday, December 30, 2011

One Simple Thing We Need

Last night I consider what a wise mentor once told me:  "Sometimes your most spiritual activity might just be taking a nap."

I'm so tired I feel sick.  I'm so tired my head hurts and everything in the world seems wrong and terrible and nothing will ever feel right again.  I hate everything, and my whole entire life is falling apart.

My husband reminds me that after a good night's sleep, I'll feel refreshed again.

The funny thing about getting a good night's sleep is that it works.  When life feels overwhelming and impossible, maybe we just need a good night's sleep.  I think about what happens to my children when they don't get enough sleep.  The simplest tasks (putting on shoes, brushing teeth, buckling a seatbelt) dissolves them both into puddles of tears.  

Go to bed, my sweet child. You'll feel right in the morning

Living with flair means we sleep.  Call it sleeping with flair.  It's a simple challenge to take care of a simple need before we try to conquer the day.
What's keeping you from a good night's sleep?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Go Find the Brokenhearted

This morning, I'm speaking to a group of 1,000 people about how I encounter God.  As I pray about what to report, one phrase resonates over and over again.  In my sleep, in my waking thoughts, and in my attempts at writing, the same phrase erupts:

Go find the brokenhearted.  Bring them to the throne of God for healing.  

That's it.  If I want to encounter God, I go where He is.  Scripture says in Psalm 34 that "God is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."

If God is near to the brokenhearted, I want to be with Him.  I want to draw near to whatever pain, whatever sorrow, and whatever deep despair imprisons the people God puts in my path.  I want to journey with them to the throne of God to meet the Healer.

I want them to know the Healer who healed me.

Do you know a brokenhearted person who needs to go to God's throne?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

You'll Make It

Today, my youngest daughter and I float petals in the creek.  She loves to launch a flower where the creek begins and watch it find its way to where the creek flows off into some grand distance she cannot see.

We root and cheer for the little petal as it braves rocks, sticks, swirling eddies, and sandbars.   We observe delays, near-drownings underneath dams of leaves and bark, and the wilted, water-logged exhaustion of a petal on her journey.

When she's stuck, we see how when she simply turns to the ease of the current, the water takes her where she needs to go.

It's just like living, I tell my daughter.  You're on the journey, and when roadblocks come, you just relax and find your way back to that current of Living Water that always takes you home

Don't you just love watching things float down the creek?  Oh, the joys of childhood!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

When You Just Can't Contain God

I'm speaking at a conference this week for 30 minutes on the topic of how I encounter God.  I'm finding I cannot possibly narrow the topic down to 30 minutes.  I could speak for hours!  I could teach for days upon days about every moment of surrender, every beautiful instance of suffering, every story of entering the spiritual journey of another person, and every abundant blessing that came when I obeyed God's boundaries for a simple life. 

Surrender, suffering, spiritual journeys, and simplicity.  That's how I see Him.  That's how I experience Him most of all.  Whenever my faith moves from theory to practice, I see Him. 

But there's also beauty and wonder!  What if I used the 30 minutes to reveal what I learned of God by blogging about the acorn, the Lady Slipper Orchid, and the snowflake? 

Maybe, instead, I'll talk about the coconut cake that's in the kitchen at this very moment.  How could I not experience the goodness and presence of God when He makes something so very wonderful as the coconut?

Focus, focus. I'm thankful that there's just too much to report.  What a great God we serve!

How do you encounter God best? 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Graceful Adulthood

Whenever I return to my husband's little hometown of Fuquay-Varina, NC, I'm always amazed that people actually do grow up.  The little children who once ran down the aisle for children's church now hang back and talk about politics and sports.  The young girls who once tugged on my sleeve announce college acceptances. The high school students I used to know now have careers and spouses, and to my amazement and delight, new babies!  

Children do become adults in this little town.  And at least here, they don't seem to mind.

I've been studying theories of emerging adulthood this month.  Researchers worry that many adolescents in this generation do not transition well into adulthood.  They seek pleasure, fame, and ease and delay assuming the adult responsibilities of financial independence, marriage, family, and careers until well beyond 30 years of age.

Nobody wants to be an adult anymore.

But not in this town. This community celebrates, encourages, and teaches the graceful transition to adulthood.   It's a privilege and a joy to raise children, work hard, and serve your community.  Your own father did this, and his father before him.  Your own mother did this, and her mother before her.  You welcome the hard work of it.  You welcome the blessing of dying to self and raising up the next generation.

I'm sitting quietly in the pew, watching the new generation.  I feel old but full of peace and joy.   There's something so right about growing old and serving others.

Maybe the researchers need to come visit this town.  Some American children do grow up well.

Do you worry that children aren't growing into adulthood well?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

My Christmas Debacle

I'm at a Christmas Eve party in an unfamiliar home, and I go upstairs to find my daughters to alert them we're heading home.  All the children play a nice, quiet game in a room behind a closed door.

I gently open the door, but I don't know there's a step to go down into the room.

I proceed to tumble into the room, arms flailing, shrieking and grabbing onto anything that can keep me steady.  My black sweater rises above my body like horrible wings.  The sweet children see this monstrous figure lunging for them, and they scream so loudly that all the party guests start inquiring from downstairs.  The children keep screaming as I regain my balance and try to explain myself.  One little boy begins crying.  He runs to his father's arm while another boy relates the tale of the Creepy Mother who attacked the good little children at the Christmas Eve Party.

"I think it was the Freaky Mother, not the Creepy Mother," my oldest reports.  At least my own children laugh hysterically and talk about how fantastically terrible my entrance was.  "You enter a room with flair!  You were awesome!"

I spend the rest of the evening apologizing to parents as they comfort their children.  I feel horrible about myself.  My husband says, "Well, you made the best Christmas memory.  Nobody's ever going to forget that party."

Living with flair means you see your Christmas debacles as memory-makers.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

We Have a Problem

My youngest daughter receives magnetic earrings from Grandma to pretend as if those little ears are really pierced.  The magnet jewel sits on top of the earlobe, and a powerful magnet backing goes behind her ear to hold the earring in place. 

In theory, this works.  However, we quickly realize that strong magnets latch onto any metal she passes.  I'm on my hands and knees half the day, looking for whatever metal thing has attracted her jewel.  Her own headband, for example, sucks the earrings away from her ears. 

She needs the real earrings--piercing deep inside--to keep the jewel in place.  That night, I think of my own heart, drawn away and sucked into the vortex of shiny objects and luring ideas.  I want my heart pierced so deeply with God's truth that nothing else can attract it.

As we count down to Christmas morning, I'm so thankful for the birth of a Savior that pierced me for real.  Whatever passes by cannot shake that rare Jewel within me. 

How do you resist the lure? 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Another Dimension

This morning at grandpa's house, I take a moment to read a pop-up book by Robert Sabuda, the paper engineering genius.  I marvel over the intricate designs and how, when you turn a page, an entire world unfolds in another dimension.  The book enters the room, right upon my lap.  Why haven't I found these books before? 

On Mr. Sabuda's website, he teaches you how to make your own pop-up creations.  I cannot wait to try them.  Maybe I'll invite my children to join me. 

Sometimes, you leave the digital book and remember the wonder of paper and turning pages.  With pop-up books, you remember what it means to interact with texture and smells, sounds and movement. 

I'm going to try my hand at the reindeer, snowman, and angel.  Living with flair means you read a pop-up book and remember the ancient enjoyment of books you hold in your hand.

Do you remember the wonder of pop-up books? 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Great Christmas Verb

This morning, I realize that Christmas delights.  Delight (as a noun) means great pleasure and joy, and (as a verb) it means to both give and receive such joy.
I delight in your company!  Your company delights me!  You are a delight! 

At Christmastime, I recall the Lord's great delight in us.  Psalm 18 says:  "He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because he delighted in me."

Zephaniah 3 tells me this:

For the Lord your God is living among you.
He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
With his love, he will calm all your fears.
He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.

Jesus comes because God delights in us.  His verb turns us into nouns; we are a delight. 

We delight--giving and receiving great joy--today.  We walk about in dust and shadow knowing we are a heavenly delight.   

Do you feel delightful today?  You are!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

3 Ways to Be a Christmas Blessing

As we gather to see friends and family this weekend, I wonder how we might be a true blessing.  I've spent too many holidays easily offended, moody, exhausted, irritable, judgmental, and negative.  I've spent too many holidays thinking of myself and my own needs.

Since action flows from belief, I've fashioned 3 tips to help me be a blessing

1.  Believe I'm on assignment from God to bless and encourage through words, gifts, and prayer.  Ask God to show me where, who, when, and how to bless. 

2.  Believe the best about everyone.  Assume pure motives.  Imagine the highest good about others instead of judging, criticizing, and complaining.  I forgive and release bitterness when I ask God to help me see the best in others. 

3.  Believe other people have extraordinary things to teach me. I ask God to make me humble, teachable, and amazed by others. 

We believe we have a Christmas mission.  We believe the best.  We believe in the capacity of every soul to teach us.

Do you have a tip for being a Christmas blessing?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Even the Toilet

This morning, I read Emily Dickinson:

The only news I know
Is bulletins all day
From immortality

I'm on the look out all day for heaven's news: inklings, whispers, hints. 

Here, we clean toilets and scrub dried egg from the breakfast dishes. I have nothing to report but that heaven reaches down into even the toilet, even the dried egg.  Immanuel--God with us--even here.   Is there a better story anywhere?  That's the only real news I know. 
Do you see whispers of God in the ordinary cleaning day? 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Thundersnow Really Happens

Today, my husband remarks that we might get thundersnow this week.

"You're making that up," I laugh.  "What in the world is thundersnow?"

"When you get a thunderstorm, but instead of rain, it snows. It's a real thing.  Thundersnow.  David the meteorologist told me."

All day, I think about this phenomenon.  I imagine the colossal boom and roar of thunder coupled with the dainty, delicate fluff of snowfall that melts and dissolves on my fingertips.  I'm laughing just imagining it.  I want to race out into the fear and terror and find the gentle wonder of snow falling all around me.  

The shout of thunder and the silence of snow come all at once.

Is God like this?  A beautiful thundersnow of contradiction?   A sublime moment of daunting delight? We laugh and dance about in the fragile flakes, even as a storm's voice echoes. 

When that baby came to the manger, surely, it thundersnowed. 

Have you ever been in a thundersnow storm?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

I Refuse to Wear My Coat

Every single winter, my daughter insists she doesn't need to wear her winter coat.  You'd be amazed at the resistance to outerwear from the children in my family. 

Today, I decide to just let her go.  She rushes outside in a tank top, shoes with no socks, and a flimsy sweater.  There's snow on the ground from flurries; it's that cold.  "See!  I told you I didn't need a coat!  I'm fine!  I'm fine!"

A few minutes later, she returns to me, freezing.  

Does God just let me go sometimes so I finally feel the effects of my own wandering?  He stands there by the door, coat in hand, waiting for me to feel it and return.

Why don't children want to wear that winter coat?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

What Children Love Best About Making Christmas Cookies

I decide to ask my children what part of making Christmas cookies they enjoy the best.  It occurs to me that it's a good idea to get their perspective every once in a while.  Do you remember when I returned from our glamorous New York City trip and asked my children to recall their favorite memory?

It was the amazing birds.  Feeding the birds.  Not the fancy restaurants, shopping, huge buildings, or museums.

Maybe my children don't even enjoy all this fuss about Christmas cookies.  Maybe we should forget the whole thing.  

"What was your favorite part about today?" I ask.  I'm wiping flour from my face, removing sprinkles from my shoes, and scraping dried frosting from the counter.  The food coloring spilled everywhere just drives me crazy.  Next year, I'm going to prepare all the colored frosting bowls myself and make neat little stations for them to frost and decorate cookies.  Next year, I will not let little children anywhere near the food coloring.

"My favorite part," my daughter cheerfully answers, "was definitely the food coloring.  We got to make all those colors!" 


Living with flair means we recognize that the very thing we can't stand might be the thing they love. 

What thing do children love and remember that adults tend to not want to bother with?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Waking Up to Cat Breath

This morning, my cat who looks more like a skunk wakes me up with very loud purring.  She's right in my face, purring with that horrible cat-breath.  I'm not moving, so she puts one little paw on my nose.  Purr, purr, purr. 

I pet her and lean in to figure out the source of her purring.  The purring mechanism confuses even the most intelligent of scientists; nobody can discover how a cat actually purrs.  It just seems to happen.  It's not even daylight yet, and already I'm encountering mystery.  How do you purr, little cat?

We don't know how they purr, but we hypothesize why.  I read that cats purr for three reasons:  happiness, friendship, and intention.   They purr to communicate contentment and relaxation.  They purr as a sign of offering friendship.  Finally, they purr to express a specific request or intention (feed me, love me). 

What if my communication today rose up from a deep mysterious place of good tidings?  What if my sounds offered to the world around me today, even from daybreak, expressed happiness, friendship, and clear, good intentions?

Consider the mysterious cat.  I approach you purring, pouring out happiness, friendship, and good intention.

Just so dogs don't feel left out today (hello, Roberta!), I wanted to leave you with the quote, "Wag more, bark less."  For cats, it's "purr more, hiss less."  I'm asking God to help me turn from hiss to purr today. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Is There Such a Thing?

Today, my friend tells me I have the spiritual gift of "celebration." Is there such a thing?  There must be!  Living with Flair has been my 632 day journey to celebrate the day.  It never gets old for me. 

Lord, help me continue to celebrate! 

I want to remember to celebrate when I have long, boring days of work and chores and sadness and disappointment.  There's something  or someone to celebrate here.  There's something to dance a jig about, slap a high-five for, squeal-with-my-hands-over-my-mouth for, perform little jumps in the air for, grab-my-friend's-shoulders-and-jiggle-and-jump-and-kiss-on-the-cheek about, pump my fist over, whoop and holler about, turn a cartwheel for, sing the Hallelujah chorus over, write a blog about. . . 

You get the idea.  Living with flair means we're gonna celebrate.  There's always something--or better yet, Someone--to celebrate.  It might be anything--large or small, obvious or hidden--that's just waiting for us to observe and cheer over.   Woo-hoo!  Yahoo!  Yeah! 

Do you have something to celebrate today?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Dangers of Blogging: Some Things Are Just For Now

I think it's sometimes hard to have a blogger for a spouse.  We're tempted to think about family events in terms of blog entries instead of just experiencing them. 

We're driving down a country road, and the moon hangs low and buttery yellow in the deep black of night.  "Pull off the road!" I cry.  "I want to photograph it!"

He pulls off into the dirt of a farm, and I roll down the window to try to capture the moon.

You can't do it; the moon never photographs well, at least with the kind of camera I have.  I look out at that moon and wish I had a record.  I wish I had the film to prove it, to share it. 

He holds my hand and says, "Some things are just for now." 

Some things, I learn, you don't need to always blog about.  You don't need to capture them at all.  They are just for now. 

If you're a blogger, do you find that you start evaluating your day based on what would make a good blog instead of just living it?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Good Choice!

While out to lunch with a friend, I order nachos (boring, I know).  The waiter responds with a huge smile and exclaims, "Good choice!"  When I add some guacamole, he cries, "You go, girl!"  When I order iced-tea, he sounds equally enthused about my excellent choices.  When my friend orders her sandwich, he compliments her on her fine taste:  "Good choice!" 

We find ourselves laughing and loving his enthusiasm about what great choices we've made. 

"I obviously don't get enough affirmation," I say to my friend.  "I think I need people telling me I've made good choices more often!" 

It feels so good just to have someone, even a complete stranger, affirm that I've made a good choice.

How simple to have someone affirm a choice!  I realize this:  As a wife, mother, friend, and teacher, I make what seems like a million choices a day. Nobody sees them; nobody affirms them.  What if they did?   I want to affirm today all those choices we make in any given hour and say, "Good choice!" 

I'm sure you've made many choices today.  Good choice!  I'm glad you chose that. 

Did you make a good choice today? 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Only You

Today, I recall the First Lady's quote, "I can only be Michelle Obama."  She doesn't try to be anybody else.  

The statement resonates. I can only be me. Why would I try to be somebody else?

The me I am is the me people love. 

When we're trying to impress at holiday parties or when meeting up with old friends and family, just remember this:  The you you are is the you we love.  We don't need impressive, thin, wealthy, salon-made, well-rested, designer-dressed, or even clever.

We love you:  the quirky, complex, out-of-sorts, moody, restless, down-to-earth, a little plump you.  (Oh wait, that's me!)

We love that extraordinary you. 

Doesn't it just feel free to say, "I can only be me"?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

They See What You Don't See

I'm sending a novel pitch out to agents, and one responds with interest.  This means it's time to send a full proposal:  synopsis, character sketches, sample chapters, author bio.

Years ago, I forged ahead with confidence and zeal, believing I was hot stuff.  I didn't need anyone to tell me how to revise or improve my writing.  I was young and smart and perfect and error-free.  Now, after a decade of rejection after rejection, I've realized the beauty of humble living.   I've realized the danger of an independent spirit that--when left alone and unchecked--makes a person believe they are better and more important than they are.

This time (older, wiser, realistic), I send my chapters to neighbors who respond with the most insightful and clear revision suggestions.  The Local Artist, for example, sees what I don't see:  unclear sentences, confusing details, unrealistic scenes, clichés.  Her commentary rids the prose of excess and turns each sentence towards its best position.

I want her to now edit my life.  Living with flair means abandoning my independent spirit so others can suggest and revise.  They see what I don't see. 

It's hard to let others see your work and your life, offering it up for revision and commentary.  Have you had good experiences when you allow others to "edit" you? 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Beautiful Answer to Prayer

My daughter gives permission to share the following true story that just delights me:

I'm tucking my daughter in bed, and she opens up and starts crying about how nobody plays with her at recess.  She spends the time walking alone around the school track with her head buried in her coat.

She's not athletic and still enjoys imagination games, and unfortunately, she can't find friends her age in those categories.  And when she tries to join a group of girls, they are gossiping and using bad language.  They don't let her in their circle.  

"What can I do, Mom?"  She feels so lonely and so rejected.

"How should we pray about it?  What do you want to ask God for?"  My heart aches, and I fight tears. 

"Just one friend.  Just one little girl who wants to be friends with me tomorrow."  So we bow our heads and ask God to send a friend.

The next morning, I pray for my daughter. The Bible verse in Hebrews 1:9 comes to mind each time I start to ask God for help:

You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
   therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
   by anointing you with the oil of joy.

I pray the whole morning that God would simply anoint my precious daughter with the oil of joy.  Bring her joy.  Bring her joy.  Bring her joy.

That afternoon, she bursts out of the school doors and reports that a new little girl came to find her at recess.  "She wants to become my friend, and we played the whole time!"

"What is her name?" I ask.

"Her name is Joy."

The Lord brought Joy indeed. 

Do you have a great answer to prayer to share today?

Friday, December 9, 2011

This Will Hurt

These past few days, I've been talking to students and my daughters about what it means to do the right thing.   We decide this:

It hurts.

This generation, I'm told, avoids pain at all costs.  We've become experts in pleasure and experts in denying and avoiding suffering.  

Doing the right thing hurts.  When you do what's right, you often risk your reputation.   You risk losing relationships.  You risk your own comfort.  It's painful to choose what you know is right--what you know God wants--especially when everything in you desires the path of least discomfort.

Why should I go against my nature?  It feels so very wrong!  I think about Proverbs 14:12 where the wise man states: "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death."  It seems right because it feels right--or makes sense--for profit, self-promotion, comfort, security, or pleasure.

But God lays out this whole other way of living, and I'm realizing that it's not always comfortable.  When I obey God, it usually hurts somewhere.  That kind of pain, however, produces this overwhelming, incomprehensible, sublime peace and joy.

Nothing compares to the peace of doing the right thing.

I don't want to be surprised by, fearful of, or repelled by the pain of obedience.  I anticipate it.

It hurts, but it's good. 

Can you remember milestone moments in your faith journey when obedience was painful?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What We're Meant For

Today I notice the Weeping Cherry, and the beautiful intricacy of the ice on her limbs captures my attention.

Ice on the Weeping Cherry
A swirling scaffolding of crystal sparkles in the late afternoon sun.   It's so beautiful that I almost forget how terrible this weight is for my Weeping Cherry's fragile branches.  She's not meant for it. 

When I think about what I'm meant for, and when I start to desire that shimmer of fame or importance to capture attention,  I remember this:  God made the Weeping Cherry for its own unique kind of blossom and rich green foliage.  Let everything else melt off and free her to be what she was meant to be.  She'll bloom in time. 

Why do you think this generation desires fame so very much?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

It Begins When it Ends: Saying Farewell to Students

As the semester ends at Penn State, I face these students one last time.  We'll never be together like this--in this way--again.  These freshman will move on, and I'll remain to greet the next class in January.

I never know what to say on the last day.   It never comes out right.  

Sometimes I just say good-bye and shoo them all away like they're magnificent interruptions to my important schedule. They walk past my desk, and I pretend not to miss them already. 

I remember a seminary professor who told me this:  "A good course is never finished;  it just begins when it ends."

We aren't ending.  We're beginning.   That helps me walk away.  I might not ever see them again, but I hope that something began in them this semester. 

Great teachers begin something beautiful.  Lord, let me be that teacher.

What was your best teacher--or best course-- like?   

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Everything You Need

My neighbor tells me that a little mouse is wintering in the sandbox by her woodpile.  Her daughter discovered him yesterday when she lifted the sandbox lid to play.

Little Mouse in his Winter House

The little mouse (who looks just like Mousekin from Mousekin's Golden House) has built himself a cozy nest of leaves and twigs to prepare for winter.

A Mouse's Winter Nest
All of a sudden, I'm brought back to the wonder of that childhood story:  the tiny mouse survives the harsh winter by building the warmest nest.  The snow and ice come, but Mousekin snuggles deep inside his winter home.

As a child, I loved the comfort of it all.   I thought about being that small against the enormity of winter.  With warmth, protection, and the feast of decaying pumpkin (or seeds and bark in this case), the mouse has more than enough. 

My neighbor invites us all over to peek in on our own Mousekin.   Winter doesn't discourage the little mouse.  He's plump, glossy, bright-eyed, and busy.   Something about that little mouse just delights me.  With such fine accommodations, this mouse will enjoy the winter.   He has everything he needs.

And for the moment, so do I.

As winter comes, I'm so thankful for the basic gifts of warmth, shelter, and food.  Who in my community needs more of these things? 

Monday, December 5, 2011

What Not to Say While Holiday Shopping

I'm standing in line at the store, and the salespeople rush around, trying to relieve the long lines waiting at each check-out station.  Every intercom announcement sounds off the code red.  People are waiting!  Lots of people are waiting!  Hurry, hurry!

A traffic jam of shopping carts blocks everyone's path as people maneuver for the best possible position.  When a new line opens up, ladies fight for that precious spot at a free register.  Somebody is going to get hurt. 

What's happened to our manners?

I'm yawning in my line and feeling awfully cozy in my winter coat.  I'm still sick and in no mood to rush around. 

The shopper in front of me decides to sign up for some special program. The cashier turns to me, nearly in tears, and says, "I'm just so sorry.  You can find another cashier if you need to.  This is going to take time, and I'm just so sorry." 

"That's OK," I say.  "I really have nowhere to be.  I'm not in any hurry."  I shove my hands in my pockets, look up to the ceiling, and wonder what I might blog about today.

Silence.  People glance over at me like I've just said a bad word out loud.  Someone frowns at me.  How dare I hinder this holiday rush? How dare I support the one slow-poke in everyone's way?  

"Take all the time you need," I insist to the slow-poke. Those six words wrap the two of us in a warm holiday embrace.  The cashier smiles and looks as if she might actually hug me. 

Living with flair means--especially in December--we let people take all the time they need.  What's so important in my shopping cart anyway?  What makes my day more important than another person's?

Are you the rushing one or the slow-poke?  I'm both!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Easy Does It (How to Survive the Holidays)

Tonight, we host a Christmas party for graduate students.  We've learned, after all these years and all sorts of gatherings in our home, that easy does it

Nobody cares if my cabinets have hand prints on them.

Nobody cares if I forget to dust the top of the refrigerator.

Nobody cares if I don't have the kind of Christmas centerpieces you see in glossy magazines. 

We're here to be together, so everybody can just relax, put their feet up, drink some holiday punch, and sing carols around the freshly tuned piano.

I decide to create some holiday cheer for guests with one of the easiest recipes I know:  Peppermint Bark.

We melt some white chocolate, add some peppermint extract, crush up some candy canes, sprinkle them on top with with chunks of white chocolate, smear it on a pan, let it cool in the fridge, break it up, and serve it.

Children love things that involve verbs like crush, smear, sprinkle, and break.  It's so easy and fun, that we think of ways to embellish the recipe.

What if we make coconut bark?  Imagine!  Coconut, dark chocolate, and white chocolate:  

Bring on the season!  Living with flair means you can celebrate with easy and fun.

What's your easiest and most fun holiday treat?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Unlikely Sucess

Today, Jack alerts me to a beautiful bird in the Weeping Cherry.

He talks to the bird with that strange broken meowing sound, moving his jaw rapidly.  I've wondered for years why cats make this sound when they look at birds. 

My husband tells me that cats imagine eating the bird and therefore make munching sounds with their mouths.

Jack's on the hunt, imagining success.  Would a cat ever capture a bird like this?  Unlikely.  Would a cat with one eye, indoors, catch a bird like this?  Never.

Still, the cat munches.  Still, he visualizes success.

Maybe one day.  The confidence of my One-Eyed Cat inspires me.  The bird flies from the tree, uncaught, and Jack, undaunted, settles under the lights of the Christmas tree.  Maybe, in his mind, he simply let the bird go. 

Oh, Jack, you crazy cat, living with flair, in lights for all to see.  You don't give up.  We won't either.      
Happy Saturday!  Are you inspired to persevere today? 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Small Deposit, Big Return

Frost covers the clover this morning.

Frost Melts on the Clover

The children bend down, astonished by these small deposits of tiny white ice crystals.  Children teach me that the smallest thing often holds the most wonder.

I stand above the clover, and then I bow down to observe it.  I marvel at the conditions that frost this clover; that unseen hand requires air saturated with water vapor on surfaces cooler than the dew point.

I don't understand it.  It fades within the hour from the warmth of the rising sun.  Frost, when I really observe it well, astonishes indeed. 

It's not even noon, and I've already marveled.  Living with flair means marveling--being absolutely filled with wonder and astonishment--today.  I want to live my life greatly impressed.  Instead of cynicism or complaint, I want to marvel. 

What has astonished you today?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Something New to Try: Growing a Pineapple in Your Kitchen

Today, with my sore throat, chills, and aches, I walk around campus as one wading through swampland.  What good can come of this day?  I teach in a fog, drag my feet to the store, and then robot-like and half-asleep, put groceries in my cart.

Pineapple is on sale.

Back home, I read about the best way to cut pineapple, and I learn this from a neighboring website:  

You can grow pineapples inside your house.   A website shows me a step-by-step guide to cutting off the pineapple's crown, letting in root in water for several weeks, potting it in soil, and then watching it grow to a mature plant.  Other sites claim that this fun project will keep children enthralled for the whole winter. 

I'm doing this!  I'm right this moment going to cut my pineapple, soak the crown, and let this new thing grow in my windowsill.  I'll report back the progress.

Suddenly, the day shimmers with sweet pineapple warmth.  Living with flair means--no matter what kind of day we're having--we discover some new and wonderful thing to try.

Have you tried this?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Hope for the Out-of-Tune

Today, the Piano Tuner comes to tune the piano.

We have to be very quiet so he can listen.

I learn that the Piano Tuner makes minute adjustments to the tension of the piano strings. He's listening for how the notes on my particular piano interact and tunes my piano based on its unique features.

The piano will not, on its own, stay in tune.  The whole instrument experiences continual stress from both internal and external sources.  Even slight changes in atmospheric pressure can undo my little piano within just a few weeks.   

So we call the Piano Tuner, and he sets the instrument right.

I listen, watching him work. "Is it hopeless?" I ask, embarrassed for how long it's been.

"Not at all!" 

When he's finished, he plays extraordinary music--warm, beautiful, rich, and resonant--that I didn't realize could come from this piano.

There's hope for the out-of-tune!  There's hope for me yet!  

Lord, come and set me right today.  Make any adjustment you need; apply or undo any tension.  Let music flow out of me that's tuned perfectly to your perfect ear. 

I know how quickly and how thoroughly I go out of tune (not just with my horrible singing voice!) in attitude, ambition, and action. I remember the great hymn and sing out:  "Tune my heart to sing Thy grace."

How does God tune the out-of-tune in you?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Happy Greeting

Last year, I learned the power of the Warm Welcome when folks return home, but last night, our family considered the importance of the Happy Greeting. 

I'm teaching the children (and myself) how to greet another person.   To greet means to show verbal and visible signs of recognition and welcome:

Good morning!  Good afternoon!  Good evening!  I'm so glad to see you!  How are you?  You look lovely today!  I'm so happy you're here! 

We practice greeting each other--by name-- around the dinner table.  We use cheerful voices, and we form big smiles and twinkling bright eyes.  We realize that every person we see today is made in the image of God and endowed with dignity, mystery, wonder, and unfathomable beauty.  Each person we see today matters. 

The Happy Greeting includes saying that person's name to honor that no other person--amid the 6 billion people on the earth--is like that person.   When I think about the unique treasure each soul contains, I'm humbled and awed by that special presence in front of me.

Living with flair means we give a happy greeting today.  I'm so very, very glad to see you!

Who needs a happy greeting today? 

Monday, November 28, 2011

3 Lessons from a Magnificent (But Terrifying) Spider

Today I meet a cross orbweaver spider.

Cross Orbweaver Spider
In the cooler weather, I know these spiders find warmth inside my house.  Spiders terrify me, but I want to give her a chance.  One can't destroy another just because of fear, just because of misunderstanding. 

Orbweaver Spider in the Woods

I learn that this spider rarely bites.  In fact, it's supremely difficult to provoke her.   Inside a home, she'll eat dust mites, fruit flies, and various pests.  Her webs help clean the house. 

I also learn that she eats her web every single night and builds a fresh one every single morning.  She keeps her web free of debris by starting over every single day.

I love that she starts fresh each morning, removing debris from the day before.  I love that she stays calm and unprovoked.  I love that she's helpful. 

I want to be more like her.  Welcome, little spider.

Do you encounter unusual spiders in your home this time of year?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

I Didn't Even Know I Was Empty

The original title of this blog was, "In Praise of Big Breakfasts." 

I married into a family of big breakfast eaters.  My mother-in-law, up before the sun, presents platters of bacon, fried eggs, toast, fresh coffee, and jam.  In this world of Southern Living, you wake up to kitchen aromas that beckon you from bed.  You gather at the breakfast table, you bow your head in prayer, and you eat

Early on in my marriage, I realized that most things, according to my sweet mother-in-law, (fatigue, headaches, bad moods, various ailments) might be traced back to one fatal flaw:  you didn't eat breakfast

But I'm the type of girl who spills out the door with just coffee--too rushed and not hungry--to start my day.  Besides, who is ever hungry in the morning? 

I'm told I am hungry, but I just don't know it yet. 

I begin to notice a trend amongst the happy, energetic, fit, and positive folks around me:

They eat breakfast. 

They eat big breakfasts.

So I try it.  Living with flair means you take cues from folks who live like you want to live.  For a whole year, I eat eggs and toast just to see what would happen.

By Golly!  It works.  This morning, I up the ante:  Greek yogurt, fruit, egg and toast.  I fill up. 

There's something about breakfast.  Living with flair means you eat it.  Imagine the truth of it:  I am hungry even if I don't feel like I am.  I wonder what else I need physically, emotionally, spiritually, socially, that doesn't register yet. What am I missing? 

I finish my yogurt and move into the day.  I'll filled, and I didn't even know I was empty.  

What do you eat for breakfast?  Tell us about your big breakfast!   

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Your Own Mulling Spices

I put a tablespoon of mulling spices in a pot of water and allow them to simmer. These mulling spices include dried orange peel, cloves, allspice, and cinnamon.  Sometimes I add ginger or vanilla.

The simmering mulling spices fragrance and humidify the dry winter air. 

I'm standing over the simmering pot, and I think about this particular blend of spices mulling.  I love that the verb mull also means to think about something deeply and at length.

I want to mull over the right kinds of things.  

When we mull over beautiful things; when we mull over hope and possibility; when we mull over our blessings, this simmering sends up the kind of aroma that softens and fragrances a whole home.  I imagine I'm throwing various spices into my heart that generate peace and predictable cheerfulness.

What will I mull over today and what will it produce in this little heart, these little children, this little home?

What's a good thing you like to mull over? 

Friday, November 25, 2011

How to Write a Great Holiday Letter

After years of trying to write good Christmas letters, I realize that my own letters fall into one of three categories. 

1. Too Much Information
2. Too Much "We're Awesome"
3. Truly Inspirational and Insightful

Too Much Information means I'm telling readers what I ate at every Mexican restaurant on my trip.  Too Much We're Awesome means I use the letter as a catalog of all my children's (and pets') accomplishments.  

I want to inspire and teach, not brag and exhaust. 

Truly Inspirational and Insightful Holiday Letters teach us something.  They inspire us--and even make us laugh--with the insight we've gained this year. When these letters (I'm thinking of some of my favorite over the years) arrive, my husband literally sits down with a cup of coffee to enjoy the humor and insight that he knows the letter will offer.

With this goal in mind, we can eliminate any extraneous information that doesn't offer insight.  With this goal in mind, we can ask ourselves if we've designed a paragraph intended to evoke jealousy or prove our worth.  With this goal in mind, we can purify our motivation to love our reader.

If the sentence doesn't match these goals, chop it out.

As a devotional practice, I use the Holiday Letter task as a way to reflect on my year.  What did I learn?  How did our family change?  What did we overcome?  What wisdom can we offer now? 

These holiday letters inspire.  These holiday letters are worth sending.  And sometimes a great holiday letter will matter more than the cute photo of my children in matching sweaters by the tree. 

You can use the "Flair Checklist" below to help with your writing style.  Enjoy! And here's a link to the Italian Mama's sample Holiday Letter.

(How to Write with Flair:  Strong verbs, cool punctuation marks, varied sentence lengths and openings, some garnish, and appeals to your audience.  Order the book here:

Flair Checklist

1.   Do I use vivid verbs?
2.   Are my verbs in their strongest form (cutting board test)?
3.   Do I juggle some secret ingredients throughout my writing (semicolons, dashes, commas, parentheses, and colons)?
4.   Do I “stir the pot” with varied sentence structures and lengths?
5.   Have I embellished my writing with garnish in some form?
6.   Have I analyzed my audience? Do I know them?
7.   Do I attempt to build rapport with my readers?
8.   Does my diction match my intent and my audience?
9.   Have I shown my audience that I understand them and have listened to them?
10. Would my audience feel cared for by me? Do I put in some love?
11.  Do I appeal to emotion in this writing (pathos)?
12.  Do I seem trustworthy (ethos)?
13.  Do I engage the reader’s reasoning skills (logos)?
14.  Do I make use of good transition sentences?
15.  Have I demonstrated the importance of my topic? Do I tell my readers why this writing matters?
16.  Was I able to form an analogy to advance my point?
17.  Did I enjoy the process of writing this? What can I do differently to celebrate the writing task?
18.  Do I offer a unique contribution to the conversation surrounding my topic?
19.  Do I avoid cliché in my writing?
20.  Is this writing memorable?

What advice would you offer for writing great Holiday Letters? 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Feast on the Empty

We're walking in the woods this Thanksgiving Day, and autumn has starved the whole landscape of color.  

When I look up, I see tree branches stretched toward heaven like coral against a blue sea. 

Tree Branches Like Coral
The branches tangle up in currents of blue and white

Tangled in the Sky

We're all down here, swimming in a great blue sea.  I'm miniature against an enormous coral reef.  I see it in my mind, and the whole story unfolds in color. 

The emptiness invites the poetry.

When life seems stark, you get to make the beauty yourself.  You feast on the empty. 

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cutest Turkey Vegetable Platter

I find this adorable vegetable platter made to look like a turkey (thank you, Amy Locurto at "Living Locurto" for the great idea), and I can't resist.  After the Boo Platter tradition began, I learned that even my simplest attempts to create whimsical traditions don't go unnoticed or forgotten. 

We arrange bok choy and spinach, then carrots, and then sliced peppers of alternating colors for beautiful feathers.  We use cucumbers and then half a green pepper as the face.  We improvise with olives and a pepper slice to finish the turkey's expression.  Finally, we use celery for feet. 

Turkey Vegetable Platter

I actually have to force my children to stop eating the vegetables so I can take a photo.   Welcome, Turkey Veggie Platter, to our Thanksgiving traditions. 

Isn't it funny how children will eat vegetables made to look like something else? 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

If You Know How to Use It

I read this morning a fascinating quote from E.Stanley Jones:

"A young army officer said this, 'Weather, in war, is always favorable, if you know how to use it.' That is the point--if you know how to use it.  The fact is that everything that comes to you in life is favorable--if you know how to use it." 

I look at the day before me and grimace over the tasks, but then I wonder, Is everything favorable if I know how to use it?

I look out at the icy rain and frown over the weather, but then I ask myself:  How can I use this? 

Beautiful things are coming; I'm already choosing joy.  Over these last 600 blog entries, I'm learning to use whatever comes in order to learn, grow, and find beauty. That's God promise, and I find that He keeps it. 

Do you know how to use whatever you're going through?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Invest in Future Happiness

Emptying the dishwasher late at night does not make me very happy.  I'm tired.  But I do it, night after night, because when I wake up to a clean kitchen and an empty dishwasher, I feel so happy. 

"I'm investing in future happiness!" I call out to the family.  I'm picking up toys, straightening pillows, and organizing for the next day. 

I realize that when I don't want to do something (exercise, cleaning), it's because the payoff often comes later and not right now.  But right now isn't always the most important thing. 

I have to remember that living with flair means we learn to invest in future happiness too. 

How do you invest in future happiness?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Little Thing

I'm sitting by a woman, and we start talking about creativity and how God uses our creativity.

She tells me she's been baking. 

She enrolled in a cake decorating class with her family in order to make "occasion cakes" for children and teens who don't have anyone to make a cake for them.  For birthdays or graduations, local shelters and juvenile detention centers alert my friend about any cake needs. 

She'll bake and decorate a cake and then deliver it to a teenage who never once had somebody make a cake for them.  Never once had this teen been celebrated with something so simple as a birthday cake. 

I start to imagine all the recipients of my friend's cakes.  I see the looks on their faces as the beautiful birthday cakes arrive with their names on them.  I start to imagine how--for this one moment--they feel something start to bubble up inside.  Maybe, just maybe, I'm loved.  Maybe, just maybe, somebody sees me and cares

It's a little thing: a birthday cake decorated for someone who never had one before. 

Living with flair means using creativity to bless someone who needs it. 

What can you make for someone who needs a blessing?   

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Your Mad List

My daughter stomps around the room and throws her sweater on the ground.

"You seem mad," I say, trying to recall all those parenting books that teach you how to be a good mom.  I have no idea what I'm doing.

"I am so mad," she says.

My attempts to soothe her, distract her, punish her, or insist she display only positive emotions all fail.

So instead, I get out a pen and paper and cry out, with my finger in the air, "We are making a list!  We are making a Mad List of all the horrible and terrible things!"

"Yes!  Yes!" she smiles and curls up beside me as we sit on the bed with our notebook.

"Tell me all the Mad Things," I calmly direct.

"OK," she says, "But you are going to need more paper."  We start numbering, and soon we have 7 things she's holding deep inside of her.  Playground hurts from last year.  A sister's tease from last month.  A disappointment.  A fear.  A lie someone told.

"Keep going," she says when I stop to rest my hand.

Soon, we have a whole page full of Mad.

"Now what?" We stop and look at the list together.  I search my mind, recalling every parenting tip, every seminar, and every wiser mother's wisdom.  Then I find the answer:

Jesus says not to let the sun go down on our anger.  So I start wondering how in the world to get rid of all this Mad.  We open the scriptures because we need to clean our heart.  We find this in Colossians 3:

"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues, put on love. . . And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts."

"This is too hard for me," she says. 

"I know.  It's too hard for everyone.  God has to do it in us because we can't do it ourselves." 

Lord save us!  We can't let the Mad rule.  We forgive.  We seek to bless.  We move down our list, and we ask God to help us forgive, to help us love.  She starts to feel clean inside.  She starts to let go of the Mad.

I retreat to my own heart and compile my Mad List.  I start to forgive.  I seek to bless.  I want the Peace, not the Mad, to rule my heart.   

Do you just need to make one big Mad List and get it all out?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Just In Case

When my youngest daughter even thinks we might leave for a long outing, she gathers essentials just in case. 

She compiles all her jewels just in case a spontaneous fancy party invite comes her way.  She folds several sets of pajamas just in case an extended pajama party occurs.  As I try to put things away, she simply gathers more things just in case she meets new friends and needs to share stuffed animals or toys. 

I love the hopes and dreams of a child awaiting adventure.  She anticipates joy and prepares herself for it.

I want to prepare for joy.

Let's gather some essentials just in case.

I'll brew extra coffee.  I'll clear the afternoon schedule.  What does it take to prepare for joy?  My Bible, my journal, my new pen?  Your sweet face across the table from me? 

How do you prepare for joy?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Permission to Take a Break

I'm driving by news vans and reporters, and in the midst of more frenzy, this town feels so tired.   

My students slump over their notebooks, eyes dark and heavy.  They tell me they can't wait to just go home.  We talk about their favorite Thanksgiving dishes and their family traditions, and we find ourselves smiling for the first time in days.  Go home. Take a break, I tell them.  Sleep well; eat well.

We can't move on from the scandal around us, but we can rest and refresh for the battle ahead.

It feels wrong to enjoy a light-hearted moment today. As I think about my conflicting emotions, I consider how important it is to refresh during crisis and suffering.

We have permission to take a break.  

I recall Psalm 23 and another Dark Valley.  I notice the importance of resting--of lying down--and refreshing in order to stay strong for the work ahead. 

 1 The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
 3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
   for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
   through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
   for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
   they comfort me.
 5 You prepare a table before me
   in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
   my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
   all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD

Living with flair means you let yourself be led to green pastures and quiet waters when you're in a Dark Valley. I'm so thankful that God will prepare a good table.

How do you find the "green pastures" when you are in Dark Valley?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Weeping Cherry Speaks

My husband calls me over to the Weeping Cherry because a bright red cardinal hides within its branches.  He flies away before I see him.

The gloom settles on the tree; it too chokes and freezes with each news release surrounding Penn State.

This isn't going away.  It shouldn't.

I observe that little tree and notice the black bare center.  Stripped down to the core, the tree offers nothing but its own naked shame.

You can't wish the season away or ignore it.  You can't imagine your way out of it.

But you can hope.

I stand by the Weeping Cherry, and I think of all the ways shame turns glorious.  We aren't who we thought we were!  The glorious revelation that we can't ignore stands:  sin is real.  The ancient story stands!

We've fallen short of glory in a million ways: Those who tease Penn State students have failed in their mockery.  Those who detach from the pain have failed in their denial. Those who move on have failed in their lack of compassion for victims who never, never move on.  Those who insist they would have acted differently have failed in their self-righteousness. 

Who hasn't--when laid bare before a Holy God--failed?

The Weeping Cherry will stay in the stark reality of failure for all the time it takes.  And, at just the right time, the sun will pierce through and send it blooming.

How glorious it will be!

Journal:  How has Penn State's scandal affected you?   

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Broken Umbrella

I'm sloshing through this rainy Tuesday in my yellow boots.  I carry an enormous blue and white umbrella--big enough to cover at least 5 people.  One side of my umbrella dangles awkwardly, broken from years of abuse from high winds.

I look on with envy at folks who have very small, tightly domed umbrellas that fit securely over their heads and fall just above their purses or backpacks:  unbroken, private, and effective in keeping one person protected.

Why would I want a big, broken umbrella when I could have a perfect, made-for-one version that covers me fully?  That's the way to stay safe in this storm.   

Isolated!  Secure!  Proud!

It only appears beneficial.  As I think more about that perfect umbrella, I think of the loneliness that security brings.  I don't want to be alone in that perfect umbrella; I want you here with me under this broken one.

Let's walk in this storm together and stay vulnerable.  We'll have to cling tightly. We'll have to feel the rain.  But we're together and more safe than we could imagine. 

 Isn't community a beautiful thing?

Monday, November 14, 2011

We Are. . . Family

I'm packing a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child to send to a child I'll never see and never meet.  I tell my daughters to imagine that child is family

Suddenly, we realize the difference it makes when you see someone as family.  She's our daughter!  He's our brother!

What would change? 
Packing that shoebox helped me realize why we hurt so badly here at Penn State. Happy Valley grieves so collectively and so deeply because we function as a family, and we see keenly where we have failed to love as a family.  The victims are part of our family; the shame we feel as a group stems from realizing people that were part of our family committed horrific crimes.    

This is how we should feel.  I wish I felt this way about the whole world.  We belong to one another. 

Today, the students come together as family with a new hope, and this video below gives you a sense of what's happening here:


Living with flair means we expand our definition of family.  When a child suffers, we all suffer.  When one person sins, it affects all of us.  But when even one of us acts with courage and love, we all benefit.

We belong to each other. 


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Scatter the Darkness

This morning, my youngest announces that enormous dark birds cover the front lawn.  That shroud of winged darkness descends to greedily feed, cracking open whatever fruit it finds. 

I've not even had my coffee yet, but she's running outside to stomp her tiny foot in the middle of that flock. 

The birds scatter in terror. 

I remember our power against evil--that Defeated Foe--who falls to feed.  I stomp my foot against it, and it has no choice but to flee. 

I love that image of a flock of birds scattering at the stomp of a child's foot.  Why is it so hard to remember that Satan is a defeated foe? 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Turning the Page at Penn State

I watch with my own eyes how two rival teams come together midfield, kneel, and pray for several minutes while fans watch on in tears.

"Is this normal?" I ask my husband since I don't know everything about football.

"No, this isn't normal," he says, as we watch grown, powerful men bow before God in prayer. 

For once, the media silences themselves before a holy moment. 

If critics have said Penn State is a microcosm for everything that's wrong with the world today, I suggest that Penn State moving forward is a microcosm for what hope and healing look like:  You come together; you get on your knees in humility, and you pray.

Something beautiful just happened in this little town.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Torn Apart, Water Flows

I'm volunteering in my daughter's classroom today. 

Surrounded by flowers, magnifying glasses, and scissors, I'm told I should let the children observe, draw, and then tear the flowers apart for scientific purposes. 

"There's juice in here!" One boy cries and squeezes out the insides of the flower's stem.   "There's lots of juice in here, but it smells like asparagus."  He passes the stem around to let the others share in his discovery. 

"Did you know," another boy claims, "that if you cut a cactus in half, you could drink all the juice inside and live for days in the desert? Did you know that?" 

"I'm so relieved!" I say.  "We wouldn't die out there.  We'd find a cactus and slurp all the juice." 

"We'd be OK," the children say, comforted by the thought of it.

We would.  I look at flowers and stems cut to pieces around me.  At that point of destruction, water flows.  We keep tearing, and I think, "Even in the desert, we'd survive."

We're all nodding together as water seeps onto our magnifying glasses, our fingers, and even our desks. 

We will survive.  No matter what the drought, we will.  Torn apart, water flows. 

Penn State needs continued prayer.  Thank you. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Deep in the Heart of Man

This morning, the neighborhood children call me over to a huge, gaping hole in the earth.  Construction workers have dug down so deep, you can see sewage lines exposed.  With this rare vantage point, we peer into the secret inner workings of our town.  Even under the most beautiful lawns and gardens, excrement flows. 

It's not very pretty.

I think about sewage in the human heart as I remember the truth in Ecclesiastes 7:20:  "Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins." 

I can't escape the reality of sin today.  On this day, I cry on the bus with others who sit in complete silence as they think about innocent boys abused; as they think about authority figures they mistrust; as they think about a beloved coach who said he wished he'd done more; as they think about their own angered response in rioting.  

I go back and peer inside the hole with my daughter beside me.  This is the truth about our hearts.  This is why we so desperately need a Savior

Thank you for praying for our community today.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Bring More Mothers

This morning, my daughters walk to school holding the hands of another mother.  They want to talk to her about everything ranging from new earrings to loose teeth.

I'm walking alone behind them, watching how their little faces look up into this other mother's face. I shove my hands in my pocket. I'm tempted to run up and interfere, take my daughters back into my own hands, and direct their sharing back to me

But I don't.  There's something beautiful and right about my children connecting deeply with other women.  The more mothers around, the better.  The more folks who love them, listen to their stories, care about their earrings, and witness their growing, the better. 

I love being in a community of women who know we're all in this together.  The more mothers, the better.  May there be countless children who say, "She was like a mother to me." 

Do I care for other children like a parent?  Do I let other mothers into the lives of my children? 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Talking to Penn State Students about the Scandal

Campus feels heavy, quiet, and ashamed.

What a strange contrast to the beauty and warmth of this fall day in Happy Valley.  It's as if an undercurrent of sadness and confusion carries us to our classrooms beneath the shadow of that grand football stadium.

For once, nobody cares about the big game on Saturday. 

I ask the freshman how they feel, and they say that they "don't want this terrible news to be what our school is remembered for."  College students from other schools tease them on Facebook and on twitter and make jokes about their great university.  Their hearts are broken for the children harmed.  They feel humiliated.  They feel deceived.

How will we move forward?  

Penn State students reply: "The actions of the few don't reflect the character of us all." 

My students tell me how hard it is to feel let down by adults.  How have you recovered from that kind of disillusionment?

Monday, November 7, 2011

One Strange Parenting Tip from the Italian Mama (It Works!)

My daughter granted permission to relate the following story:

I'm having dinner with the Italian Mama, and I explain how my daughter currently seems to enjoy disobeying me with emotional tantrums about everything.  

"You need to compliment her for what's really happening in that tantrum.  Find something good about what she's doing in that moment of frustration, and then redirect it."

What?  You want me to reward the tantrum by praising my daughter while she's exploding at me? Won't this enable her?  Doesn't this go against every parenting book?  Doesn't this contradict all the parenting techniques about punishment and my authority?

But it's the Italian Mama speaking.  I trust this woman. 

The next morning, my daughter just screams at me.  Instead of punishing her or sending her to her room, I say, "You know, you are really good at alerting me with a very loud voice when you want something.  That could come in handy if the house is on fire or if you fall out of a tree or if someone were in danger.  You actually have a fabulous screaming voice."

She tilts her head, wide-eyed, and stares at me.

She hasn't screamed or talked-back to me in 3 days.  In fact, at breakfast, she leans over and whispers to her sister, "Mom told me I have the best alert scream, and I could save the family one day."

Have you ever found something good within a tantrum?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

There's a Child In There

My daughters help rake the leaves into huge piles on the lawn.  They use the tree swing to launch up and across the yard, releasing themselves like summer swimmers into a lake of golden water.

If you want to experience the season, burrow into the leaves with the children.  

They hide deep within the piles, and even though it's decades later, I still recall the burnt spiced smell of leaf piles.  I feel their scratch and crinkle on my face.

A Child Hides in the Leaf Pile
I see the afternoon sun filtered through a million brown leaves.  I hear that particular muffled silence that changes the whole world for a moment.  I taste the leaves' earthen powder on my lips. 

My daughter surfaces, smiling. 

She's in there.

Living with flair means we burrow deep, experiencing it. 

Do you have leaf pile memories?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Crock-Pot Recipe that Reminds Me to Wait it Out

The whole house smells of seasoned broth from a crock-pot of vegetables, chicken, and spices.

A crock-pot represents that glorious Unseen Hand that takes all the bits and pieces you can hardly stand separately and simmers them together into something nourishing.

I glance at my old crock-pot and think about all my life's fragments and frayed ends that--by God's grace and timing--simmer down and build this perfect recipe that makes sense.

Normally, I have no patience for things that take all day.  But crock-pots not only make it a joy to wait, but there's this strange, cozy comfort in knowing that they sit there on the kitchen counter, working.  

In this crock-pot of the heart, you wait it out and know that, at just the right time, He'll have made something of it all.  There's a warmth and a fragrance in this beautiful waiting. 

Crock-Pot Chicken and Pasta Soup
1.  After breakfast, add frozen peas, carrots, and corn to a crock-pot.
2.  Add one chopped onion and one chopped red pepper.
3.  Add 3 frozen chicken breasts and season with salt, pepper, and anything you love. Add 3 cups of water.
4.  Cook on high half of the day.  Then, shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces.  Stir the pot and continue cooking all day.
5.  An hour before dinner, add your favorite kind of pasta and cook until tender.  Enjoy as a soup, or add less liquid for a hearty pasta dish. 

Don't you love that feeling of having dinner made by breakfast?