Thursday, March 31, 2011

When You Don't Get Recognition

All day, I think about the verse in Colossians that implores, "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory."

Crocus Hiding in Snow
What does it mean to have a hidden life?

I wake up to a snowfall.  The forest that just yesterday made a glorious, boastful display of buds and bird nests and bullfrogs now stays silent, keeping secrets. 

It's deathly quiet on the way to school.  Snow buries the crocus and daffodil shoots.  Oh, that I could bear the weight of a hidden life with such grace!  Oh, that I could see the beauty in this tomb of snow when I was expecting Spring's grand performance!

What if we are hidden away at the moment when we're supposed to bloom? 

The temptation to be seen, to be public and praised, to be recognized and valued loses its power when I think about what it means to be hidden.

Later, I stand in my kitchen.  I'm crying about hidden things:  the years behind us and the years ahead of us of invisible labor.  We do beautiful things today that nobody awards or congratulates.

But God sees.  Being a hidden treasure is a way to live with flair.  And the scriptures teach that God "who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

Journal:  How is a life hidden in Christ our greatest blessing?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cut Out the Unhappy

Today my friend sends me the results of a study that suggests older folks--in their 80's--are the happiest.  The report published in the American National Academy of Sciences claims that as we age, we "become more selective with how we use our time, focusing more on doing things we enjoy and cutting out parts of life that make us unhappy."

It seems like such a simple prescription:  Focus on what we enjoy, and cut out what makes us unhappy.

While I'm not sure it's possible to simply "cut out" what makes us unhappy, I wonder what life would look like if we did indeed focus more on doing enjoyable things.

And what if we stopped doing things that make us unhappy?  Not getting enough sleep makes me unhappy.  Drinking too much caffeine makes me unhappy (why do I keep doing this?).  Not exercising makes me unhappy. 

And what if we learned to turn unhappy circumstances (the ones we often cannot change) into moments of flair?  

So (of course), I ask my students to tell me one thing that makes them really happy.  Diet Coke, travel, musical solos, penguins, driving with the windows down on a warm night, watching Hello, Dolly!, playing the game Angry Birds. . .

It's a nice reminder to enjoy life today.  It's a challenge to stop doing what makes us unhappy.  And when we cannot change our circumstances, we learn to find the flair.  Maybe it is that simple. 

Journal:  What makes me happy?  What thing that makes me unhappy can I stop doing? 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sneaking Up on Jack, I Caught Him Doing This:

Jack Basks in the Sun
He was basking

My One-Eyed Cat, Jack, continues to teach me how to live with flair.  First he learned how to purr and taught me something about finding yourself again, even when you've been wounded.  Then, he let out his first meow, and I learned something about rediscovering my voice.  Then, despite those wounds, he began caring for other cats, and that showed me the power of serving others. 

Then he started becoming fully alive, doing all the things that normal kitties do.  Next, he learned courage, standing up for himself and proclaiming what he loved and needed. 

But then his scar started leaking, and it felt like were were starting over.  But Jack got better, and today, I find him basking in the sun.

That cat won't leave the warm spot in the window.  He gazes up in the bright sunlight and lets himself become toasty warm.  As I watch Jack basking, I suddenly want to join him on the window ledge.  To bask means to receive great pleasure from something.

Did I bask today?    I want to bask in the love of God.  Did God design us to derive great pleasure from knowing Him and enjoying creation?  Oh, the great pleasure of sleeping in a sun ray, eating fresh pineapple, teaching a boy to jump rope, finding a perfect verb, or listening to a cat purr.  What things exist in my life today that God places there from which I am to derive great pleasure

Jack wants to know as well.

Journal:  What things did I derive great pleasure from today? 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Scheduling Nothing

Here's the Big Thing at after school pick up: the children huddle and negotiate who plays where and when.   After school scheduling feels like I'm on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange; I'm signaling certain parents, tapping my foot, swinging my purse around, and checking my texts. 

It's stressful.

Today, I decide to opt out of the game.  I need a break from after school chaos.  I warn the girls as soon as they exit the school, and I usher them down the sidewalk before tears ensue. No playdates?  How will we survive?

Oh, we survive.  We finish our homework for the week, have a fun snack that involves sprinkles, decide in peace how two sisters four years apart will both play in the living room, and then do nothing.    At one point, the youngest reminds me that we need to check on the daffodils.

Later, we decide to go look for robins in the field. This feels like a perfect day!  Didn't I learn this lesson last year when I scheduled deliberate boredom for my child? 

I turn to my daughter and ask her what she thinks about this "Scheduling Nothing" day.  She says, "Mom, it's cool because I get to talk to you about things."

I gotta run.  My oldest has things she needs to talk about.  And I've got a whole afternoon to do it.

Journal:  When can I schedule nothing this week?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Most Selfish Little Girl

I wake up this morning to the sound of my daughters screaming about who gets what toy.  They have little stockpiles of toys in the living room for an imaginary game, and they both want the same doll to add to their pile.

How dare they! They have so much, and instead of being generous, they insist on more, more, more.   I call them into the bedroom for a grand lecture on greed, but as I look into their faces, I realize I am looking into a mirror of my own selfish heart.  How am I different from these girls?

I'm that little girl demanding more. 

I'm overcome with compassion as I realize the depth of the cultural myth--the deeply spiritual myth--we all adopt.  I believe in the poisonous narrative of greed.  I believe that if I had more wealth, more productivity, more time, more anything, I would have the good life.

It's a lie that's killing us.  

"Girls," I insist with tears in my eyes, "I want you to put something to the test.  I want you to practice generosity and see how it feels.  You will never be satisfied with stuff.  Your heart will only be truly happy when you live generously.  Besides, it all belongs to God."

I even read the scriptures aloud where I learn the wisdom of Proverbs 11:  "A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed" or the truth of 1 Timothy 6 that we are to put "no hope in wealth" but to "hope in God who richly provides all things for our enjoyment."  The writer continues by saying, "Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life."

I want to be rich in good deeds.  I want to have a generous heart that wants to share.  There's a life out there that's "truly life," and I fear that my heart's desire to accumulate more robs me of that true life.

Later in church, the pastor announces his message is on greed (isn't that funny?), and meanwhile, my daughter works the registration table to greet families and give out name tags.   As I watch her serving others, I see that carefree smile--those bright, refreshed eyes--of somebody giving to others. 

The day goes on: toys, food, games, and the stuff of childhood.  All day, I wonder about the path to happiness. 

I ask my daughter when she was happiest today.  She replies, "at the registration table."

Journal:  Is it true that when I refresh others, I am refreshed myself?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Waking Up with a Sore Throat

This morning, I realize immediately that I have a sore throat. 

I know what this means:  I'm getting sick (or maybe it's an allergy or just the dry air in my home or the fact that there's snow on the ground one day and daffodils blooming the next).  Whatever the cause, that irritating sore throat signals something.  It's a constant, annoying reminder to slow down, drink fluids, rest, and get better

I can't ignore the feeling of it.  With every swallow and every word I speak, I experience that whisper of raw pain telling me:  slow down; get better.  When I want to push through and scurry about to clean this house, the throat says: slow down; get better.  When I want to schedule a million things for the family, that throat responds: slow down; get better.

So Saturday cleaning day isn't happening.  Living with flair means you respond when something or Someone tells you to slow down and get better.   I just wish I didn't have to wait until something painful happens to realize the benefit of slowing down.   

Cat vomit, bad parking, and sore throats can teach me something about living rightly, and so far, Year Two of Live with Flair challenges me to learn from whatever negative, inconvenient, or painful thing comes my way. 
Thank you for inspiring me to live this way.  

What in my life is telling me to slow down? 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Finding the Worst Parking Spot Ever

There's some convention in town, and the campus swarms with people in every direction.  I turn into my usual parking lot to find that there's no parking on any of the lower levels.  I'm driving around and around the parking lot, whiplashed and frustrated. 

Finally, I'm spit out into the light of the uppermost deck of the lot (nobody wants these spots because everybody knows about the pigeons that assault your car with excremental gifts).

I pull into a spot far, far away, and as I walk through pigeon droppings, I look out over the valley (I'm that high up).

It's gorgeous.  The sky is clear blue, and the wind whips across my face.  I take a deep breath and look out across the mountains in the distance. I actually stop right there in the pigeon droppings and gaze out.  I'm humbled and diminished by how small I am compared to this huge valley. 

I'm thankful for this particular inconvenience and this particular mess.  It's beautiful up here, and I wouldn't have seen it had I found a spot lower down.

Living with flair means I realize my missed opportunity might spit me out onto a higher level--the one that has the thing I'm supposed to see.

Journal:  Is God in control of even inconvenience? 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Stepping in Cat Vomit

I woke up this morning and landed in cat vomit.  Apparently, I overfed my cat.

This is no way to start year two of Live with Flair.

Then I remember my friend in Japan whose father sent word that we might send canned food items for him to distribute to the disaster areas.  I remember that in some places in the world at this very moment, a mother would give anything to rise from a warm bed, place her feet on the ground, and greet the day with two healthy little girls who can't stop laughing at their mother's foot covered in cat vomit.

In some places in the world (in most places), nobody talks about the luxury of overfed cats.  But here, even the animals gorge themselves.

There's too much here.  There's not enough there. 

Stepping in cat vomit was a great reminder today as I think about ways to send relief to the hungry.

Stepping in cat vomit sounded the alarm about ways to be thankful for the fact that I even have too much cat food. 

Living with flair means I cultivate a grateful and generous heart.  I have too much. 

Journal:  When I'm tempted to complain about all the inconveniences and all the misfortunes of my day, what do I need to remember to cultivate a grateful and generous heart?  For me, it's cat vomit.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Greatest Thing I Learned After Blogging Every Day for One Year

I woke up to an ice storm complete with power outages and school delays.  This cannot possibly be the kind of day to celebrate a Year of Blogging with Flair. 

But one thing I've learned after blogging every day for a year is that I can choose to find the flair in an ice storm. 

What's it going to look like to embellish with wonder and deeply infuse the ordinary with some spiritual reality?   Can I do this again today in the midst of the humdrum and the common routines?

I've taken on the spiritual discipline of finding God's truth reflected in the ordinary object:  acorns, a cat's injured eye, a snowflake, a wandering albatross.   I find that bit of truth that shows me, by analogy, a kingdom reality.

The ordinary day shimmers with God's radiance.  The mundane does indeed become marvelous, and we simply have to worship.

Even when the ice storm destroys the freshly bloomed daffodils.  All the fresh buds bend down.  There's beauty in the ice.  There's beauty in the bowed head of that daffodil.  The daffodil, after all, is a narcissus plant whose name derives from the Greek myth about Narcissus.  As you may know, Narcissus becomes obsessed with his own reflection at the water's edge, falls into the water, and drowns.

Is it God's loving hand that sends the thing into our lives that invites us to bow down in worship?  The thing that reminds us that He is God and we are not?  The thing that forces us (for once) to take our eyes off of ourselves and instead gaze upon the beauty of the Lord?

Send the ice storm if it means I bow down.

Journal:  What bows me down when I tend towards narcissism?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Give Your Life Away

My arms are sore from turning double-dutch jump ropes. 

From 6:30 PM-7:30 PM, 30 (yes, thirty!) parents and children came out to the parking lot for Monday Night Neighborhood Fitness.  Imagine a swarm of children riding bikes and scooters or playing football and Frisbee.  Imagine a car blaring music from an iPod so a group of children can dance.  Imagine moms and dads walking together and connecting in their own neighborhood. 

Imagine a little boy tugging on my sleeve to announce he rode ten times around the lot which I clocked for him as one mile.  Imagine another little girl finally learning to jump rope. 

I need more kites!  I need more cones for obstacle courses!  I want hula hoops and another set of ropes! 

Why am I so happy when I'm turning jump ropes?  It makes no sense that something like this would so deeply change my life. 

Over the weekend, I hear Larry Crabb (a Christian psychologist) talking about the goal of Christian therapy.  As someone who battled depression all those years and reads everything I can about finding happiness, I drop everything to listen. 

Crabb tells me that, typically, we think about counseling and our own happiness as answering the question, "How much can I get out of my life?"  But therapy in the truest, Biblical sense asks, "How much can I give of my life?"  In practice, I have found my own happiness bloom fully when I'm involved in tasks that serve others and let me forget myself.

I want to give my life away.  Turning jump ropes isn't glamorous, and it doesn't generate any revenue.  But something about this task has secured more happiness for me than anything else I've done this year. 

Journal:  How is God asking me to give my life away? 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Do You Know What Quiescent Means?

It means "tranquil repose."

I find the word this morning when trying to determine if it's true that my daughter's silky dogwood has grown this winter.

Can trees and shrubs grow in winter?  We stand on the back porch in our rain boots.  Huddled together in the pouring rain, under a huge blue and white umbrella, we examine the silky dogwood.  The snow has melted (finally), and my daughter races outside to check the growth of that tiny little wisp of a sapling she planted two years ago.

We haven't even had breakfast yet.  Even my coffee can wait; I've learned this year to follow a child where she wants to lead you.  

We peer over the deck.  It grew!  It grew into a whole bush.  I can't believe it.  I thought everything went dormant in winter.  I imagine trees and shrubs in suspended animation.  

Apparently, even in the winter, trees can grow.  Dormant isn't the same thing as quiescent.  In winter, roots experience "winter quiescence."  They are resting but ready.  As soon as roots encounter nutrients, water, and even a slight elevation in temperatures, they spring into action. 

The dogwood was resting but ready all season.  It took advantage of every warm day, every bit of moisture, and every nutrient. In tranquil repose, it waited and experienced growth as the days allowed. 

I like to think of living in tranquil repose. I'm resting but ready as soon as my environment offers nutrients for spiritual and emotional growth.  And I have to remember that the sapling wasn't dormant--growth happened--it only looked like suspended animation on some days.

Living with flair means we embrace quiescent days.  We are resting but ready, and we are growing.  

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Screaming "Base!"

Today I chase my daughter around the living room to tickle her.  At one point, she defiantly stops in her tracks, places one hand on the couch and screams, "Base!" 

"I'm safe!  I'm safe on base!  You can't touch me!"  she insists, nodding her head and putting one hand up as a stop sign. 

I wait patiently for her to move from "base" only to find that as soon as she's nearly in my grip, she just touches the wall and screams, "Base!" again.  

For little ones, the concept of a "moving base" saves them every time.  They just have to touch something--anything--claim it as their safe haven, and stop the attacker (in this case, the Tickle Monster).

She's onto something.

I imagine enemy attacks against us in various spiritual forms.  I reach out my hand, wherever I am, cling to God and scream "Base!"  You can't touch us here.  We are safe. 

Living with flair means I realize I'm on base.  

Journal:  What do I need to scream "Base!" to as I claim my safety and protection in God?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Why I'm Jumping Up and Down

Yesterday, I receive a large, bumpy envelope in the mail from the Baker family.  I know it's gonna be good. 

This is from the mother who advised me that the sign of a happy childhood is dirty children.   This family doesn't own a television set, and the children don't play computer games.  Whenever they come to visit, I'm inspired to find new ways to take my children away from the screen. 

Just yesterday, we walk in the woods. 

My daughter's image blurs as she races away. 

Breathless from running, she pauses to show me leaves larger than she knew existed. 

Back home, I remember how much I want to keep my children (and myself) moving.  

I open the large envelope and find a gift from the family-who-owns-no-television.  

It's new double-dutch jump ropes!  My friend has sent long jump ropes made of soft rope that don't hurt your ankles when you mess up.

Her timing is perfect.  Monday night, we resume our Neighborhood Double-Dutch Challenge in the parking lot.  Because of the time change and the warm weather, we can finally go back outside.   We'll work on jumping in, turning the ropes for each other, and singing all the old songs. 

Who needs television when you have a double-dutch challenge? 

Journal:  What are my plans to move more this Spring? 

Friday, March 18, 2011

I Have Proof!

Bright Yellow Crocus
On the walk to school this morning, I see the crocus blooming.

I turn to examine the daffodils, and a ladybug greets me.

We made it through the winter.

The crocus symbolizes encouragement, hope, resurrection, and joy. It's a victory sign that the unrelenting winter has passed. 

Hello, Ladybug
The ladybug, in most cultures, marks this day as one of blessing, protection, and good fortune.

Nature proclaims something today: hope rises, defying the barren ground and crawling up the stalks.

Right down to the shimmering diamond drops of dew on that ladybug's back and right down to the silky case from which the crocus blooms, life delivers gift after gift.

We made it through the winter.


Journal:  What did I notice in nature today? 
Dew on the Ladybug

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Exploding Green Waffles and Why I'm Making Memories

I'm not crafty, imaginative, or even energetic when it comes to holidays.  I wish I were a mom who decorated better, thought of more exciting traditions, and planned memorable and delicious meals.

I'm not that kind of mom.

But when it comes to children, even the tiniest (and I mean tiniest) efforts don't go unnoticed.  I learned that from my Halloween Boo Platter that became public school legend.

I stir the waffle mix and let my daughter add a few drops of green food coloring for St. Patrick's day.  She can't stop giggling.  I'm starting to worry, however, that this isn't going to work.  

We pour way too much into the waffle maker. (See?  I can't even get this right!) The children scream and run around the kitchen to alert me to the explosion.  

Then I realize something:  I guarantee that this time next year, my daughters will remember the exploding waffle maker that oozed green slime.  Can it be that my mistakes make this a beautiful memory?  

Eventually, the waffles are ready.  But I've made green waffles that don't really look that green.  Plus, they exploded out of the machine.  

We are celebrating St. Patrick's day with almost green waffles.

It doesn't matter that they aren't even that green.

It doesn't matter that they aren't even that well-shaped.

What my daughters really care about--what really makes this memory--is the exploding waffle maker.

And that was the easy part.  I didn't even have to try for that one.   

Journal:  What tiny embellishments (or failures!) can make a lasting memory? 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Very Important Person

Today in my class, we discuss dignity.

What gives a person worth?  Why do we esteem other people (and ourselves)?  It is because of what they accomplish or because they have inherent value?

These questions matter.  Our answers determine how we view others and ourselves.  We tend to make ourselves into commodities; we believe that what we produce and what services we provide make us valuable, worthwhile people.

When I think about unconditional love, I'm challenged to radically love others regardless of their contribution.  I think that's the way God loves us.

Dignity relates to the word "dignitary" or very important person.   I remember watching American Idol last week and hearing Jennifer Lopez talk about a contestant.  She said that when she watched him sing, she knew she was "watching somebody very important."

What if I felt that way about everybody I met today?  What if I felt that way when I looked in the mirror?

You are somebody very important.   It's true in light of God's truth.  Not for market value or contribution.  Not for appearance, affluence, or achievement.  Not for anything other than who we are as declared by God. 

It's freeing and humbling.  We don't need to prove our worth.  It's already in there.

Journal:  Do I feel like a very important person?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

This Is the Day

Who knows what a day will bring forth? 

For the past week, I've become aware of how precious each day is.  I put out the flag (as usual), but I see things differently today.  Because of the time change, everything looks strange.

We walk to school as the sun rises. 

Illuminated by a new light, a pathway clears through the forest. It's a new day, and I witness it. 

"This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." (Psalm 118: 24)

As I look out into the forest--in that new light--I remember that God's mercies are new every morning.  I remember the prophet Isaiah speaking out on behalf of the Lord. 

He writes, "See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." (Isaiah 43:19)

I want to perceive the new thing today.  I want to find that way in the desert, that stream in the wasteland.    

Journal:  What new thing is God doing today? 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Rearrange the Day!

This morning, I scrape egg off of a blue and white plate.

I overhear a pastor, Tim Keller, speaking about work in a sermon video. I wipe my hands on the dish towel and strain to hear.

Keller says, "Work is rearranging the raw material of a particular domain for the flourishing of everyone."

I think about what "raw materials" make up this day.

So far, my raw materials are dirty dishes.  Later, I rearrange letters to make words and then rearrange words to make sentences.  Now, I position red peppers in a pan to roast for dinner.  At 6:30, I'll open the front door and welcome the children for neighborhood fitness group.   

I also have the raw emotions of fear about my sick friend and sadness for the Japanese.  I take the feelings and do the work of prayer.  

Suddenly, I look at my work in new ways.  Cleaning the kitchen, teaching grammar, making dinner, praying, and then hosting the neighborhood fitness group tonight all represent ways I rearrange raw material into new positions for flourishing.

And if what I'm doing doesn't contribute to our flourishing, then it's not the kind of work I want.  I think of Proverbs 14:  "The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down."  I want to be the kind of person who rearranges whatever she's been given today to allow everyone (including myself) to flourish.

Living with flair is a kind of rearranging:  We rearrange our circumstances, turn them towards the light, and find the good, the beautiful, and the hopeful.  

Journal:  How does my work advance our flourishing?    

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Some Pictures of Hope

The landscape in Pennsylvania, for the most part, still frowns with the weight of winter. 

Trees raise their arms in surrender to a blank sky.

After church this morning, my youngest daughter pulls on a double layer of pants and says, "Mom, let's go on a hunt for daffodils."  (How can I not follow her outside?  I'm struck by how I need to listen to and follow children more often.)

The hunt!  I put on my winter coat, and my old camera dangles from the strap around my wrist. 

We journey to the side of the house, the hidden territory in front of the gate.  With frozen fingers and faces, we hunt.

We hunt, and we find.

Lilies burst forth; daffodils announce victory over winter.

To hunt means to chase relentlessly.

Lord, let me be relentless in my hunt for hope. 

Journal:  What gives me hope today?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Vinegar for the Soul

Today, I learn that I can clean my crusty microwave by mixing 1/2 cup vinegar with 1/2 cup water and letting it boil for a few minutes inside the microwave. 

I'm doubtful as I stand waiting with one arm resting on a mop and another wiping down a counter top.  I don't think the website that gave these instructions has seen the inside of this microwave. 

Saturday cleaning day has felt particularly somber as I remember the tsunami as well as more local news of a dear friend, Micah, who fights for his life in a hospital in California.  His pneumonia became life-threatening this week, and I check my computer for updates about his condition.   Micah is a young father with a beautiful wife and three children.  His wife is due to have their fourth child any moment.  They are close friends of ours from our previous community.

The microwave sounds its signal, and I open the door.

I can't believe it!  Apparently, no old crusted thing can survive the presence of that highly acidic vinegar.  I take a cloth and wipe down the inside.  Not one stain resists me.  The vinegar dislodges every bit of bacterial splatter.

That's what it feels like today in my own heart.  The news of suffering comes into my soul with a sour sting, but it's the kind of work that purifies and refines.  I suddenly know what matters.  I remember what I love.  I remember God's comforting presence and what I need to pray for.  I take my fear and my sadness, and I let it do its complete work.  The crusty stains of selfishness and materialism break apart--just a little bit more--and I become closer to God today.

Journal:  What does sadness do to the soul? 

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? 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

An Environment for Personal Growth

For years and years, I've tried to bake with yeast.  I'm rarely successful in getting my dough to rise like I want.  But today, I try again.  This time: pizza dough for homemade calzones.

I read a specific detail from this new recipe that explains my failure.  This new recipe insists that I add the yeast and make sure the dough rests in a 70 degree kitchen.

That's what all the other recipes meant by "warm place!"  That's the simple explanation for my failed efforts!   My winter kitchen isn't always that warm (sometimes it's actually cold), so I put my bowl on a kitchen chair right by the heater (set at 70 degrees).

We check on our dough after an hour.  It fills the bowl--abundant, glorious, fluffy!   My first successful rising! 

It keeps on growing.  Tonight, we'll feast.

When I think about my own failed attempts at growth in various areas of my life, I have to remember the role that my environment plays.  If I'm in an environment that prevents my maturing, maybe I need to change something in order to create the kind of conditions that foster growth.

I like asking myself that question today:  What do I need in my environment to spur me on to become the person God wants me to be?  What do I need to purge?  What do I need to add?   I just asked my daughter the same question.  We have so much to talk about! 

Journal:  What needs to change so I can grow?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Be Still

My little joint stays swollen, so the doctor orders an MRI today.  

Stripped down, wrapped in warm blankets, and encased in strange foam to hold me in place, I enter the dark tunnel.

The MRI, I'm told by a technician who smiles kindly, will take one hour.

One hour?  What will I do for one hour inside that machine?  And I just finished two cups of coffee!   "You're kidding, right?"  I say and give the technician a wide smile.  "I thought this thing takes a couple of minutes.  And it's just this little finger," I remind him and wiggle it in front of him.  

"No.  It takes an hour," he confirms. 

I think of what I could accomplish in one hour.  What a waste! 

They put earphones on my head to pipe in music of my choice, but the channel turns to static (just my luck!). The machine growls and grunts at 2 minute intervals, and I feel like I'm being launched into space.

When I tell my body to stay still, it responds with twitches.  When I tell my hand to just calm down, it won't.

The command to be still challenges me to the very ligaments and tendons of my being.

Finally, I relax. Without distraction, I visualize each member of my family and pray for them by name.  I pray for my neighbors.  I pray for myself.  I start worshiping God in this bizarre place.  Suddenly, I'm having the kind of conversation with God I've been longing for, and it took me being practically mummified to hold me still long enough to face him. 

An hour passes, and they come and pull me out, unwrap me, and release me back to my life.  Within minutes, I'm driving in traffic I can hardly navigate.  It's all frenzy and lights:  cell phone ringing, clocks flashing, and bodies moving.  I can't think straight.  

All I want to do is go home to my bed, wrap myself in blankets, and get back to that space where I learned to be still. 

Journal:  When was I really still today?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

When You Feel the Pressure

I'm baking a carrot cake for my husband's birthday (Happy Birthday!), and I notice the instructions for "higher altitudes."  I see the detailed changes for baking when you happen to be up in the mountains.  Apparently, up that high, the altitude's low pressure creates a lower boiling point for water.  You have to cook your pasta longer in Denver than you do in Boston because the water boiling in Denver isn't at hot.

Even though it's boiling, it's a different temperature. 

It's not just boiling point.  Baked goods rise faster, ingredients stick to the pans more, and recipes need more heat to cook.  You can't trust what you're used to when your environment changes.  

A change in pressure changes everything.  Great cooks don't abandon their recipes; they adapt.  They measure different amounts to compensate for changes in elevation.  You add an extra egg, more flour, more liquid, more heat.  You diminish sugar, baking powder, and fat. 

All day, I consider how changes in atmospheric pressure influence behavior at the molecular level.  I think about "pressure" in a new way.

When my own "pressure" changes by forces around me (whether family or career), I don't need to lose control.  I just have to remember to make simple changes to accommodate for added stress.  I have to remember that I (my collective molecules) behave differently in different environments (as even tiny molecules do).  I might need to add in more of this and remove some of that so I can do what I'm supposed to do. 

Journal:  When I'm feeling new pressure, what can I do to relax and keep perspective? 

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Change of Plans

Snow Storm Coming
I had already run around in short sleeves.

I had already let my daughter frolic outside in flip-flops with butterflies on them.

I had already pulled out the spring clothes and encouraged my children to splash in puddles of warm melted snow. 

The weather report said a huge snow storm was coming, but I refused to believe it.   They said 7 inches.  They said even the University would shut down for the morning. 
Snow on the Winterberry

I look out the kitchen window, and it's here, right on my winterberry bush.  We have no choice but to stay inside.

The girls build elaborate block castles--not out of boredom, but of opportunity

It's not every day that you're snowed in.  I learn that the oldest has built a "Cloister Portal," and the little one has made her own "Observation Tower."

I take pictures of the structures.  I'm fascinated by the designs.  A Cloister Portal represents a beautiful concept.  A cloister refers to a place of seclusion, for spiritual purposes, and a portal refers to the grand entrance into this location. 

As I sit secluded indoors (not even making it to the skating rink), I remember this:  When nothing in my life looks like it's supposed to, and when my world doesn't follow the expected course, perhaps I'm to think of this time as my own God-given cloister portal, my own observation tower.  From up here, the seclusion teaches me how a beautiful winter storm (when it's nearly Spring) actually blesses.

It's a portal--my grand entrance--into the life God has for me.  

I snuggle into the rocking chair and realize it's not too bad to be snowed in.  There's beauty in this cozy room, too.  There's opportunity here. I look down, and I realize that Jack has stretched a paw out in my direction as he sleeps by the heater.  I love that little paw. 

Jack's Paw While it Snows Outside
Living with flair means I walk through that cloister portal when God wants me to.  

Journal:  How can I learn to see opportunity instead of delay or disaster? 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Smooth Move

Tonight in my town, the roller skating rink will host a free "Family Roller Skating Party" just for our elementary school.  While my children jump up and down, clapping their hands in anticipation of this event, I'm shaking in my boots. 

I'm going to put on those roller skates, wobble and tumble out into the rink, and make a complete fool of myself.  I'll probably end up hospitalized. 

What happened to the fearless me?  As I think about the joy of roller skating, I consider the beauty of gliding.   To glide means to move smoothly across a surface without effort.  You push off and slide, letting physics take over.  You don't have to do anything but cooperate

Most children tend to do this automatically after a few falls.  They find equilibrium and stay balanced on these bizarre rolling contraptions.  They speed by, skating even backwards and under limbo sticks. 

Uncooperative me can learn a lot tonight.  I need to push off and glide.  I need to surrender to whatever lies under my feet, cooperating with the kind of joy that might just send me into fabulous twirls, backward moves, and limbo stick bends. 

I want to live like one on roller skates:  I move smoothly as I surrender and cooperate. 

Journal:  What am I resisting that I need to surrender to and cooperate with? 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Flossing and Jesus

Sometime this year, I fell out of the habit of flossing.  I'm not sure when it happened.  Maybe it was when I ran out and forgot to put it on the grocery shopping list.   Maybe it was when I decided I was too tired one night and just chose not to floss.  It was easier to "forget" the next night and the next. 

This morning, I realize I really need to floss.  I find the floss, saw it down between my teeth, and feel surprisingly good about this activity. 

It feels like I'm living with flair when I floss. 

I learn that bacteria in the mouth starts to harden into plaque within only 48 hours.  In just 10 days the plaque becomes tartar--rock hard and incredibly difficult to remove.  Tartar leads to gingivitis which leads to periodontal disease (not fun). 

I think about my week and how hardened my heart often feels.  I wake up some days and feel the weight of my own selfishness.  In just 48 hours (or less), I can turn from a spirit-controlled, loving wife and mother into a narcissistic she-devil demanding her own way.  Left unchecked, in less than 10 days, I'm off in the pursuit of false dreams and false gods.  I'm in a rage: complaining, entitled, tearing apart my family.  Who is this woman?

How do these attitudes and behaviors lodge and harden?  What could I have done to break up that bacteria and stay fresh and clean before God? I remember the Psalmist who wrote,

"Search me, God, and know my heart;
   test me and know my anxious thoughts.
 See if there is any offensive way in me,
   and lead me in the way everlasting."

Living with flair means I floss.   I apply, on a daily basis, the truth of God's word against every surface and root out even tiny--seemingly harmless--bacteria that overtakes and hardens in just hours.  

I ask God to reveal "any offensive way in me."  And when he does, I confess and know that, as 1 John 1:9 claims, "God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."

I can't forget this habit, this flossing.  

Journal:  How can I build in the practice of confession on a daily basis? 

Friday, March 4, 2011

What Children Remember About Spring Break

This morning on the walk to school, a little boy tells us his plans for Spring Break. 

All week, we've been hearing what other families will enjoy. Between discussions about Disney World and indoor water parks, I'm jealous and sad.  I think about everything my children will miss out on. 

I think about "the good life" and how deprived we are with this tight budget.   I pray for a way out of this bad mood. 

Last year, we drove to New Jersey and then spent a day in New York City.  I took pictures of all the wonderful things my daughters experienced.  Every American family knows, after all, that you're not really a good parent of daughters unless you visit the American Girl store. 

Back then, I believed the myth that children need fancy in order to feel loved and enjoy their lives. 

Feeding Birds in New York City
So this morning a little boy tells us that he's going to New York City.  My youngest daughter turns to him and says, "I went last year!  You will not believe how amazing the birds are!" 

The birds?  What about the restaurants, the museums, the shopping?  What about the doll hair salon and the toy stores? 

She doesn't mention any of it.  What she remembers is sitting on the steps of a building and feeding the pigeons with me.  That lasting memory--the one she cherishes and talks about--cost nothing.  She goes on and on and on about feeding birds

Living with flair doesn't mean fancy or expensive.   Sometimes I just think it does. 

Journal:  When I'm tempted to think happy memories mean fancy, how can I remember that the best memories often cost nothing? 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

"Do Everything, Even the Insignificant Things, in a Significant Way"

Early this morning, before the chatter and patter of little girls and the swish and push of backpacks and coats, I read this quote:

"Do everything, even the insignificant things, in a significant way."  I'm reading an ancient little devotional by E. Stanley Jones, and his words hit me stronger than the aroma of the Dunkin' Donuts coffee I have brewing behind my back as I write. 

As I ask God to show me how to do this--how to make each moment truly significant--I'm interrupted by the purrs and meows of hungry kitties.  I stoop down to feed them, and as they swirl about my feet like I'm within some tornado of fur, I pause and thank God for these furry friends.  I thank Him for One-Eyed Jack and all I've learned.  I thank him for the companionship these faithful cats provide as a refuge for little girls. 

It becomes a simple moment of worship right there by the cat food bowls. 

I turn back to my question, and I already know the answer. 

I infuse each moment with a thankful heart and invite the glory of God in.  I want to amplify each moment like that.  I want to fold laundry and worship.  I want to empty this dishwasher and encounter God's glory.

I want those moments to be as powerful and symbolic as when I put my American flag out each day.  I stand on the porch as the sun rises, and I tell the girls how thankful we are to be citizens of a great nation.  I remember my friend Charity's brother who died in Iraq.  I ask God to protect our soldiers and to help my family honor their sacrifice.  I make a ridiculous bugle call sound with my mouth as if I'm raising a flag (I really do this, and it's completely ridiculous, but it's how I sanctify the moment). 

I'm moving forward today into a thousand insignificant tasks that now have monumental meaning.  I'm sanctifying mundane moments. 

Living with flair means I do everything in a significant way.

Journal:  How can I empty my dishwasher in a significant way? 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Little Girl, Big Puddle

The First Spring Melt

Can I Do This? 

Yes, I Can

Free to Play

Journal:  Can I see my fear as a puddle?  I won't sink; I'll play.   

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A New Approach to Serving Others

Today, I hear my husband explain a new way to care for folks in our community.  He says that we do things "with" people and not "for" them.  As a scholar obsessed with the nuances of language, I find myself baffled by how a simple change in a preposition revolutionizes how we act.

Prepositions reveal relationship.  Am I doing things "with" my community or just "for" my community?  For years, my husband and I followed the model of doing things "for" other people.  But two years ago, we wanted to belong to our community and not stand outside of it.

We had recently heard a Navajo Indian speaking about various groups that would visit his reservation.  They'd bring help or aid and quickly leave.  Yet what the Navajo truly wanted, more than anything else, was to be known, understood, and valued.  They wanted the organizations to be "with them" and not just come do things "for them."

In our community, I have learned (finally) to be with people.  The walk-to-school campaigns, the Monday Night Fitness Groups, and the Saturday Pancakes are all about being with my community.  We mutually encourage, mutually support, mutually serve.

In my parenting, I have learned (finally) to do things with my children and not just for them.  I'm learning to say, "I would like to do this with you and not just for you."  That philosophy seems to honor their dignity and mine as well.

It's the same with teaching.  It's the same with blogging.  There's a "withness" about this work that transforms it.  We are with each other. 

My husband reminds me that the incarnation is God "with us."  Immanuel--God with us--represents a prepositional phrase that's changed my life.

Living with flair means I learn the meaning of with. 

Journal:  How can I change my "for you" to "with you?"