Monday, April 30, 2012

Are You Kidding Me?

Apparently, the chicken wire fence does not descend deep enough.  The groundhog has returned, and this time, within the boundaries of the carefully prepared soil of our vegetable garden.

Last year, I compared him to the Enemy of our Souls, and I provided 4 questions to keep him out. 

But today, he (or she) is already in

Planting season begins at the end of May here, so we have exactly 31 days to figure out how to remove a groundhog from within the vegetable garden. Most likely, this task will involve creating the illusion that a predator is near.  The groundhog will flee and relocate if threatened with predator urine (I know, delightful!).

We'll send him running, deepen our fence, and secure the perimeter.  

I just can't believe he got in before I even started planting.

It's like he knows.   

Well, I'm not going to worry.  He actually made a huge mistake today, showing off as he did with this enormous hole that suggests he's the size of a bear.  He alerted us to his schemes, and we can strike preemptively.  No plants were ever harmed.  No plants will be. 

Thank you, Groundhog, for your warning.

Sometimes that enemy attack alerts you to a scheme that educates you at just the right time.  PS.  Do you know how to get rid of a groundhog?  

Sunday, April 29, 2012

In God Alone

This morning, I remember a great truth--the Greatest Truth--that sets everything right. 

In Psalm 62 King David writes, "My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him.  He alone is my rock and salvation; He is my fortress, and I will never be shaken." 

When it comes right down to it, all my coping mechanisms and all the wonderful things in my life (family, community, beauty, writing) do not provide true rest for the soul.  Even when everything's in place and I'm doing all the right things for mental health, God reminds me that the rest I need comes from Him alone.  He alone is my rock and my salvation.  Not even family.  Not even amazing community.  Not even beauty that points to His glory.  These things reflect and remind.  But they aren't Him. 

My soul finds rest in God alone. 

I pour coffee, sit in the morning sun, and read the ancient words.  I cry out to the one who alone gives rest. 

Do you keep coming back to this Great Truth again and again? 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

That's All

I'm talking about photography again and how you just have to stay alert all day long to the beauty the light illuminates.  You just never know what you'll see when you're really looking.

I'm telling my mother-in-law this as we drive through the neighborhood, and we just happen to pull over to visit with a neighbor who discovers a nest of baby bunnies in her yard.  We grab our cameras, of course, and marvel at the tiny bunny that's no bigger than our hand.

I think of Peter Rabbit and smile. I just can't get over the soft newness of him.  Those little ears!  That wriggling nose! 

Then, we take the little one to see the baby chicks down the road, and with camera in hand, I marvel again at the soft newness of this little chick that hasn't even grown feathers yet.  Look at those bright orange feet and the big eyes! 

So that's all.  You take your camera with you.  You stay alert.  You find delightful things right in your own neighborhood.  

That's what I do now.  That's all, and it's so big I can hardly contain it.

Have you been able to marvel at things right in your own neighborhood? 

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Best Worst Thing

My husband and in-laws are driving with me to run errands, and my husband tells the story of the worst internship he ever had as a veterinarian's assistant.  It involved losing a dog, being attacked by a cat, and other tales too graphic for my blog. 

"It was the best worst thing," he claims.  That experience helped direct him to his true calling--far away from the vet--and towards another field. 

The best worst thing!  I just love the expression.  

We decide to ask one another for our "best worst thing" stories. 

"The military.  The worst experience of my life and the best thing that ever happened to me," my father-in-law says.

I offer my battle with postpartum depression as my best worst thing.  I learned things I could only know through that darkness. 

I also laugh about nearly failing a biology course in college and realizing the medical field would have to do without me.  I think further back to particular heartbreaks that led me to a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus.  They were the best worst things. 

And just last week, I ask my sweet daughter why she was turning into such a confident young woman with so much joy and wisdom inside.  She says, "Being bullied and made fun of in the second grade.  That makes you so strong."  

It's her best worst thing so far. 

I love that our worst things become our best things.  I think that's the whole point of living with flair, don't you?

I would love to hear your best worst thing.  Do you have one? 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

My Best Teaching Practice

Today, my professional development seminar on teaching practices concludes.  Participants have been asked to bring in their "best practice" to share with the others.

I'm sharing this quote from "The Life Model: Equipping People with Skills to Thrive" study I'm reading:

"The world is a fracturing place, and each of us is split to some degree by the evil in the world.  Yet within each of us is the drive to withstand the world's assaults and to become the persons we were intended to be.  God created us with minds that automatically seek to be whole, and the quest for wholeness is wonderfully boosted by joy. . . "

In the classroom, I think about what I'm actually doing when I teach writing. I'm teaching how to analyze and make sense of things with every assignment.  When I talk about grammar and developing an authentic writing voice, I'm teaching wholeness and integrity.   

Why is it that I'm always aware of whether my classroom has joy or not?  Why is it that joy somehow ushers in those teachable moments? 

Over the last decade, I've considered the relationship between joy and learning.  Neuroscience tells us that in the right orbital prefrontal cortex of the brain, a "joy center" exists.   Psychologists often call this the seat of well-being and emotional regulation.  When a person operates out of joy, they come closer to their authentic selves.  They begin to learn with curiosity and wonder.  They begin to express themselves in community.  Fear and shame depart, and something happens when the pen hits the page. 
As I study this concept, I learn that it's not as difficult as I thought to trigger and grow the joy in another person.  When we act glad to see others; when we smile and let our eyes light up when we talk to them; when we seek to delight others with gifts and acts of kindness; and when we create a sense of belonging, we feed the joy center.

With joy, classrooms, neighborhoods, and families change.  

I want to be a joy builder.  I have a lot to learn and articulate, but I will say this:

I'm beginning to think my best practice is joy. It leads us to Joy. 

How do you build joy in others?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Leaders Take the Long View

Last night my husband reminds me to "take the long view."

When something goes wrong (a boring class, an argument with a friend, a dieting failure, a rejection from an agent, a poor parenting choice. . . I could go on and on), I tend to make catastrophic statements:

Everything is horrible!  I'm a disaster!  I'm the worst parent ever!  I'm quitting!  I'm never writing another book!  I'm the worst friend ever!  Things will never get better!

I could win an academy award for drama.

"Take the long view," my husband says as I bury myself either in the pillow, in the bubbles in the bathtub, or in my own crossed arms.

The long view?  What's the long view?  He reminds me that this is just one moment--one day--and that I have to think of my life in terms of months and years and even decades.

"Ride this wave out," he advises while making big wave motions with his hand.  "Take the long view."

It turns out that people who know how to take the long view succeed.  I read interviews of business leaders who knew how to take the long view and not seek short term profit.  I read about persistence, about vision, and about focus on the future.  Small failures and setbacks become part of a larger picture.

I read about families who take the long view with debt reduction and savings.  I think about everything from community organizing to weight loss.  I think about blogging and motherhood and even gardening.  I think about ministry.

When I take the long view, I'm not caught up in today's catastrophe or short term win.  Instead, I lift my head up and remember my long term goal.  I'm growing into a beautiful thing that reflects the glory of a Creator.  Over time, my marriage, parenting, friendships, writing, teaching, and ministry get better and better.  Small bumps in the road are just that:  bumps in the road.  But I'm still on the road, and I can see a glorious destination.

Have you learned to "take the long view?"

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The First 10 Minutes

Today, the neighbors and I discuss how the first ten minutes of the day set the tone for the whole day.

"It's so true!" we all agree.  If we wake up and snuggle children, sip hot coffee, and enjoy the view from the bedroom window, the day unfolds differently--and better--than mornings started with a jolt and a scowl.

Some neighbors snuggle.  Some sing.  Some pray.  Some begin a gratitude list.  I pet a cat and listen to that gratifying purr.  I welcome the little ones into a new morning:  "Hello!  You're awake!  Welcome to this beautiful day!"  (OK, that's only on my very best mornings.) 

Maybe it's true about the first ten minutes of every beginning:  phone conversations, classes, projects, dinner, bedtime routines, soccer games.  What if I began well and strong within the first ten minutes of each new thing? Perhaps, with that great momentum, I'd find myself carried into joy simply because I began well. 

I want to wake up well tomorrow.  The first ten minutes might just shape the whole day.

Do you agree? Do you  have tips for the first ten minutes of the morning?

Monday, April 23, 2012

When There's No Time To Be Self-Conscious

I'm at my very first youth soccer game.

My husband--the reserved man who doesn't want any attention--watches my youngest daughter play.   I'm sitting beside him, trying to fit in. I have some things this culture requires, including my minivan, my folding camping chair, and my beverage.  I still need the rolling cooler, a better camera, energy drinks, granola bars, the over-sized purse with things like band-aids, and a smart phone to really fit in. 

I feel self-conscious in this new culture. 

Normally, I'm not the self-conscious one.

So there I sit, watching this game. Right before half-time, the coach comes over to the sidelines and tells my husband that he has a scheduling conflict during the second half of the game. 

"You need to coach for me.  Thanks!"  He gives my husband a manly punch on the arm and runs off the field. 

With no time to object, my quiet and unassuming husband has been thrust into the fray of a dozen little six year olds. 

And then he transforms into the best coach (he's never coached a game of soccer in his life) the world has ever seen.  After finding out the players' names, he's hustling down the field, organizing all the children, rotating players in, and shouting out encouragement. 

"You were awesome!" I tell him after the game. I'm amazed at the Inner Soccer Coach that just emerged on cue. 

"Well, I had no time to be self-conscious," he says.  "I'm glad I had to just do it." 

We've decided that sometimes you just have to do things and not give yourself time to think about being self-conscious.

I'm wondering what else resides in us that could come out if we let it.  I'm wondering what could happen today if we abandoned that self-consciousness that keeps us hidden.

Have you ever been forced to do something with no time to be self-conscious about it? 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Go Beyond the Obvious

I'm often asked to help teenagers prepare for their SAT or AP writing.  I immediately direct young writers to the two most important tasks:  choosing strong verbs and employing varied sentence patterns. (Of course, I also tell them to read How to Write with Flair!)  

Once they do this, I tell them that graders look for critical thinking skills.  What does this mean, and what does it look like?  For a young writer, it means moving beyond the obvious.  Obvious refers to easy, apparent, and predictable examples in writing.  When answering a question that requires a thesis and examples, go for the most complicated and most hidden. 

What you think of first normally represents the least complex and most predictable answer.  It often involves something self-referential.  Instead, move into examples from history, from current events, from philosophy, from psychology, from theology, and from science. 

Place your answer into a different context--beyond your immediate experience--and see what your mind does. Find answers from sources outside of your own limited viewpoint. 

It won't stop with the SAT.  Critical thinking and moving beyond the obvious serves us for life.

Think beyond what's right there and practice looking deeply into a problem. Do this every day for the rest of your life.  Take whatever happens to you and put it into a different framework.

For me, I'm learning to shine the light of God's love and goodness on the problem to see what my mind does.

I have to move beyond the obvious to see the good inside.

How do you move beyond the obvious every day?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Who Does All the Work?

This morning, my husband announces that the Northern Cardinals have returned to the Winterberry bush to begin their nest.

"The male does all the work," he claims.  "Look at him!"

I start laughing.  "That's not the male.  The male is the bright red one up in the tree."  The female is the one working hard to build the nest of twigs, vines, and bark.  She darts back and forth into the bush.  She'll work for over a week to build a four story home:  twigs first, then leaves and moss, then bark, then grass. 

"Oh," my husband says after watching the male. "Yeah, the male's not doing anything."

Well, actually, we learn he's on high alert to protect and defend.   What looks like rest and relaxation in a nearby tree is actually guarding.  He also brings food to his mate the entire time and will continue to care for her while she lays eggs and incubates them.

I love learning about Northern Cardinals and how they make life work.  Both work so hard, but in completely different ways.

When I think I'm doing all the work, I realize I'm really not.   Living with flair means we acknowledge all the ways we work together.

(You don't want to disturb these birds in their nest building phase, or they'll abandon the site to find another.  I didn't take photos for this reason!)  

Do you often wonder if you're the one doing "all the work?" 

Friday, April 20, 2012

I Caught My Children Plotting

Just now, I catch my youngest daughter and her friend plotting

"Let's get in our bathing suits.  You get on the swing.  I'll spray you with water as you swing.  It will be just like a water park in your yard."

"Yeah!  Let's do it!  Run!  Hurry!" 

The older daughter rushes to be part of the action.  I'm sitting in the kitchen hearing shouts and squeals and giggles. 

I realize that they can plot their own afternoon.  They love to plot!  They love to devise, make secret plans, and find adventure.  Why should I do it when they can? 

I remember that when I'm tempted to over-schedule or pay for planned childhood diversions, I should sit back and let the afternoon unfold, unmediated and unstructured.

When I do, they plot

Living with flair means stepping away from the cliche plan (the expensive, contrived, and media-constructed one) to let the experts write the script.  It means I let my children plot.

Do you remember afternoon adventures that you wrote yourself? 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Without You, We're Doomed

This morning, my neighbor points to her apple tree's blossoms and announces her worry regarding the lack of pollinators this year.  Have we seen many bees and butterflies yet?  Without pollinators, she won't get fruit. 

No fruit?  But I love my fruit.  

I explore my backyard and indeed find them: bees, butterflies, and moths dart and dance across the strawberry and blueberry blossoms. 

Strawberry Patch

Then I remember something about these new blueberry bushes.  I remember how they can't produce fruit alone.  They not only need pollinators to fertilize them, but they also can't be fertilized with their own pollen.  In the case of these blueberries, for example, you need different varieties to cross-pollinate in order to have fruit.
Blossoms on the Blueberries

So confusing!  So dependent and conditional and troubling!  Can't she just produce alone

I call my husband:  "Sweetheart, did we plant two different varieties of blueberry bushes?  Did we?  Because you know that. . . "

"Yes," he interrupts.  "Yes I know that you need different kinds in order to cross-pollinate.  We're good."  He hangs up and returns to work.  I'm so thankful that he knows what he's doing. 

Because I don't.

I'll never make it without you.  The older I get, the more I realize how much I need others and they need me.  We are as interdependent as pollinators, one kind of blueberry, and an entirely different kind of blueberry.  If even one component doesn't show up, we're doomed.   

Have you come to realize this? 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Years Later, It Returns

Today, the Italian Mama asks if I'll join her on a particular shopping mission.

She's a trained ballerina who once danced at elite schools and in elite companies.  I've seen pictures of her posing with one leg fully extended above her head and every inch of her body exquisitely controlled as only a true ballerina knows how.

But that was years ago.  37 years ago.  That was before a career, a husband, children, and Italian Mama neighborhood living.  That was before the tortured decision to leave dance in order to live a different life.  Maybe one day, she'll tell the whole story.  Only her heart knows it.

Today, I realize this as I think about her: 

Sometimes, the thing you love that you have to leave comes back to you.  Sometimes, the thing you want most of all returns in a different form, at a different time, and for a different reason. 

Recently, word spread that the Italian Mama was once a glorious and sought after ballerina.  And our community just happens to need a ballet teacher.  Would she ever consider teaching ballet?  Would she ever come back to it after all these years?

Yes.  Yes she would.  She's ready.  And so the Italian Mama will purchase new ballet shoes this week.

37 years later.

I will cry tears of joy at every performance of her most blessed students. 

Have you had some joy returned to you after decades?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How Dare She!

I notice that a tree branch is growing through my fence this morning.  

That little arm--what audacity!--writhes its way in and actually proceeds to grow.  How dare she!  That little branch will eventually take down the whole structure. 

As I look at this little branch, I begin to love her audacity.   I'm strangely attracted to it. Audacious living means you disregard obstacles, intimidation, and fear, and you just move in and start growing.  You aren't restrained by convention or propriety.  

Some folks might see it as rude and disrespectful.  Some folks might say, "How dare she!"  

What nerve she has!  What insolence!  She's taking too many liberties!  

There's something about audacious people that attracts criticism. But living with flair means when God says we go, do, or be--against all odds and against all conventions--we embrace the audacity of it. 

How dare we!

Are you going to have a little audacity today?  

Monday, April 16, 2012

What This Means

It's 84 degrees today, and everything (even me!) wakes up happy.  The tulips proclaim we are fully in Spring.  There's no going back to winter.  

Tulips in Spring

My husband then reports that the strawberry patch has her first blossoms.

We are in Spring.  There's no going back to winter.  I let my heart rejoice with what this means.  I come out of hibernation--in all its forms--and move into a season of vibrant color and fruitfulness.  Let it be, Lord!  Let it be as grand and colorful as the tulip.  Let it be as promising as the pure white blossom of the strawberries that will--that must--bear fruit in time.

I love the promise of it.  

Do you feel hopeful this Spring?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Making of a Great Person

I'm at a very special birthday party last night where my dear friend (the one who says the sign of a happy childhood is dirty children, the one who taught me to tell my children how much I want to be with them, the one who sent me double-dutch jump ropes to advance the Neighborhood Fitness Group, and the one with five beautiful and creative children who inspire me).

This friend has invited women to journey to a restaurant to celebrate her 50th birthday, and her two oldest daughters also attend. Women come from all over the East Coast, and I've driven all the way from Central Pennsylvania.  I would have driven from California if I had to. 

We all begin to share how much we love this woman and how simply great she is. 

As my friend introduces each guest around the tables, she tells everyone why that woman matters so much to her.  She finally concludes by offering her motivation for this wonderful party:  "I wanted to show my oldest daughters what makes a person.  It's our friendships." 

She shares about the women who've journeyed with her through her life, and I find myself in tears at the beauty of it.  Here I sit with 20 women who all don't know one another but who all know my friend.  At this party, we're not talking about the birthday girl's accomplishments, her advanced degrees from Harvard and Princeton, her publishing, her work with the school district, or her time in China.

We talk instead about friendship

Guests pass photo collections around highlighting us.  The conversation around the tables is about us

Even during her 50th birthday celebration--when she's supposed to be the star of the show--she's talking about others.

That's living with flair. 

Don't you feel so blessed your friends?  What a gift from the Lord to have friends!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

An Impossible Path

I'm driving on Route 76 in Somerset County, and as I approach the Allegheny Mountain Tunnel, I have the strangest feeling that such things cannot be.  A tunnel through the mountain?  How?  The mountain rises up to block the path, and yet I'm sucked into the tiny black hole in its side.  I'm driving in that silent tunnel, and I'm thinking of impossible pathways.    

The Red Sea.  The Jordan.  I think of Psalm 77: "Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen."

I think of all the strange and unfamiliar and just impossible paths God sets us on.  When I ask, How will I get through this? I remember this from Isaiah 42: "I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them."

When I'm on what looks like an unfamiliar (strange, impossible path) these days, I know that every obstacle has an equally powerful tunnel that God cuts in the unmovable rock.  

That's how I get through.

Aren't tunnels just amazing?

Friday, April 13, 2012

When Your Love Language is Obscure (but Amazing) Christian Books

This week, my friend tells me I must read Francois Fenelon's collection of letters during the time he was spiritual advisor to Louis the XIV.  This collection, entitled simply Let Go, dates back to 1689.

"You know my love language is Christian books," I tell her.  I hold the book in my hand and remember when another friend, Faith, introduced me to E. Stanley Jones or when still another friend, Patrice, gave me Thomas' Saving Life of Christ.

I was never the same.  

These books don't make the best seller lists, and hardly anyone tweets about them.  I feel cheated that it's taken me this long to find them. How could I have been alive all this time and have never even heard of Fenelon?  And then I learn this:  Fenelon advised readers to study Madame Guyon's reluctantly published book, Experiencing the Depths of Christ.  I order this book and discover that at one time, this little collection of words was publicly banned for the kind of influence it was having in French society. 

Any Christian writing that powerful and that upsetting just might have to be read. 

I feel so loved by people when they direct obscure Christian books my way.  I cannot wait to pour a cup of coffee, sit in the sun in my rocking chair, and read what Fenelon and Guyon might teach me.  I'll pass on what I learn!

Do you have a favorite but not well-known Christian book?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Thing for Today

I'm beginning to think that if a day goes by and I haven't stopped to observe at least one truly beautiful thing, then something's wrong.

The day hasn't been juiced yet; I haven't done the work of extraction to find the thing.

So I'm driving home down the same old road, and out of the corner of my eye I see a rich reddish and pinkish (which one?) tree set against another blue sky.

I pull over, stand in the middle of the street, and snap some photos.  Maybe it's the contrast of blue against pinkish redish.  Maybe it's the way the mid-morning sun encloses it.

Maybe it's just that I love blossoms in Spring.

I don't know why, and I don't know how, but this tree is beautiful.  I know because I step outside of the ordinary when I'm beneath it.

I don't know why for sure, but I like the mystery of the feeling.  
Did you find your beautiful thing today?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Returning with Treasure

Today on the walk to school, my friend suggests that we are all on a Hero's Journey, and sometimes we stop at Step 2:  The Refusal of our Calling.   His wife pulls up the steps of the Hero's Journey on her phone and recites the narrative pattern for us.  This pattern, noted most famously by the American scholar, Joseph Campbell, follows various steps which we find in so many stories but also in our own psychological development.  

The steps include a Call to Adventure, a Refusal of the Call, Meeting with a Mentor, Crossing the Threshold into our calling (where all the rules and values seem strange), the Period of Testing, Joining with Friends on the mission, the Main Ordeal, the Reward, the Road Back, Death and Rebirth, and finally, Returning with Treasure and Power.

The hero, after these steps, emerges transformed and renewed.

We ask ourselves where we are on our own journey as Ordinary Heroes.  Some of wonder what our calling is.  Others know but refuse it.  Others are in their period of testing while still others are on the road back.

Thinking of the journey in this way, we remember that it's natural and patterned to go through refusals, trials, ordeals, and deaths. But we remember that most important step of joining with friends on the mission.  And we remember that one day, we'll return with treasure. 

On the way home from the morning walk, I realize that I'm returning with treasure indeed.  

Where do you find yourself on the Hero's Journey?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Coming into Your Own: When the Italian Mama Tried My Chicken-n-Dumplings

Today, I call the Italian Mama to tell her I will be delivering her Chicken-n-Dumplings in the afternoon.  I promised her family (especially her sons) that I would make them.  Ever since I let the Italian Mama and her sons sample my recipe a month ago, I've been beaming with pride about her response.  She loved them!  She wanted more!  She couldn't believe the flavors!

And did I mention that her sons--her Italian sons--wanted them? 

I repeat: The Italian Mama and her sons want some of my Southern Mama cookin'. 

I do have something to teach and share in the kitchen.  I do have something to pass on.  You know you've come into your own when the Italian Mama wants some of your cooking.

Enjoy my own recipe below.  

Live with Flair's Chicken-n-Dumplings

  • In a large pot with a lid, saute some vegetables in butter and a tablespoon of thyme, a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of pepper.  Good vegetables to use are corn, celery, onion, carrots, peas, and sweet peppers.  

  • Add 4-8 cups of water or chicken broth and bring to boil. (Less water means you'll have more dumplings and less of a "soupy" dish; more water will make more of a creamy stew.)
  • Add 3 raw chicken breasts cut into bite size pieces.  Let chicken cook for 15 minutes.  

  • Then, turn down the heat to low, and add tablespoons of biscuit dough (either refrigerator biscuits, Bisquick, or homemade with flour: all three ways taste great). I like to have at least 20 little dumplings per pot. Put the lid on your pot and cook for a full 20 minutes. Dough will puff up and become cooked through while absorbing all the delicious flavors of your vegetables and broth.   You can add more salt and pepper before serving. 


Do you have a special secret Chicken-n-Dumplings recipe?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Hidden Pictures

This week, we've been having so much fun with a Hidden Pictures Sticker Fun book from Highlights (remember those as far back as 1946?)  We're giggling over the teacup hidden within an armpit or a banana that's a man's tie.  We find toothbrushes in the rafters, socks in the leg of a dinner table, and sailboats in the bed.

Look closely!  Things are not what they seem!  

Children love to see that something could be one thing but also another.  You train the eye; you go deeper into the scene.  You have to learn to see a different way.

The morning unfolds before us.  We can skim the surface, or we can delve into the hidden things:  the blessings, the mysteries, the greatness.  It won't immediately look this way, but it's in there.

I'm off to find the hidden pictures today. 

I hope you find the hidden picture today!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

He Is

In my home this morning, I tell my daughters about the call and response we might say in church this morning.  If somebody says, "He is risen!" we would exclaim, "He is risen indeed!"


Our friend calls on the phone, and my oldest shouts, "He is risen!"  The friend replies, "He is risen indeed!"

Then, we ask, "Why do you say, is risen?  Wouldn't it be has risen or was risen?" 

Because He is.   It happened and is happening.   And that lovely adverb indeed means to emphasize the truth of it even more

Happy Easter!  Today, I remember the lyrics to a powerful song called "He Is" that my friend, Elizabeth, played for me back in 1994.  I was so struck by the integrity of the Bible and how I could find Jesus in every book.  I've posted the lyrics below from Aaron Jeoffrey's song:  

In Genesis, He's the breath of life
In Exodus, the Passover Lamb
In Leviticus, He's our High Priest
Numbers, The fire by night
Deuteronomy, He's Moses' voice
In Joshua, He is salvation's choice
Judges, law giver
In Ruth, the kinsmen-redeemer
First and second Samuel, our trusted prophet
In Kings and Chronicles, He's sovereign

Ezra, true and faithful scribe
Nehemiah, He's the rebuilder of broken walls and lives
In Esther, He's Mordecai's courage
In Job, the timeless redeemer
In Psalms, He is our morning song

In Proverbs, wisdom's cry
Ecclesiastes, the time and season
In the Song of Solomon, He is the lover's dream

He is, He is, HE IS!
In Isaiah, He's Prince of Peace
Jeremiah, the weeping prophet
In Lamentations, the cry for Israel
Ezekiel, He's the call from sin
In Daniel, the stranger in the fire

In Hosea, He is forever faithful
In Joel, He's the Spirits power
In Amos, the arms that carry us
In Obadiah, He's the Lord our Savior
In Jonah, He's the great missionary

In Micah, the promise of peace
In Nahum, He is our strength and our shield
In Habakkuk and Zephaniah, He's pleading for revival
In Haggai, He restores a lost heritage
In Zechariah, our fountain

In Malachi, He is the son of righteousness rising with healing in His wings
He is, He is, HE IS!
In Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, He is God, Man, Messiah
In the book of Acts, He is fire from heaven
In Romans, He's the grace of God
In Corinthians, the power of love
In Galatians, He is freedom from the curse of sin

Ephesians, our glorious treasure
Philippians, the servants heart
In Colossians, He's the Godhead Trinity
Thessalonians, our coming King
In Timothy, Titus, Philemon He's our mediator and our faithful Pastor

In Hebrews, the everlasting covenant
In James, the one who heals the sick.
In First and Second Peter, he is our Shepherd
In John and in Jude, He is the lover coming for His bride
In the Revelation, He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords

He is, He is, HE IS!
The prince of peace
The Son of man
The Lamb of God
The great I AM

He's the alpha and omega
Our God and our Savior
He is Jesus Christ the Lord
and when time is no more
He is, HE IS!

Happy Easter!   

Saturday, April 7, 2012

And Then There Were Violets

In the caked mud by the side of our house, I notice bright wild violets.  How can they grow here

I bend down to see the world from their perspective. 


They remind me of a day I stumbled upon a field of violets deep in the shaded woods.  They seemed painted there--out of place and magical--like some fairy's secret ministry.

And here, by my own home, right in the mud and muck, they rise up. They resurrect every Spring. 

I learn that these blue violets can take over a whole landscape.  Gardeners describe them as invasive and uncontrollable

I want that kind of resurrection this Easter.  I want invasive, uncontrollable. I want to let the Risen One rise up--as He did and does--in the mud and muck of me

Are you a violet lover like me?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Remotely Controlled

Today at the park, I see a remote-controlled airplane turn loops and dives against the blue sky.  The plane arches up high above us and then engages in a spiraling nose dive.  Next, a barrel roll.  Now a smooth glide across the landscape.

Just when the plane achieves that peaceful flight, it spins again, flying upside down and nearly crashing into the forest.  Before the collision, the plane turns, flies and flips upward, and begins another chaotic maneuver.

What hand guides this acrobatic display?   Who designed this dance and this danger?  We all gather to watch, holding our breath as the plane dives again.

It's beautiful because of the danger.

I find the man with the controller perched on the hillside.  I think about the One who guides my life. 

He spins me around, guides me to peace, and takes me on upside down adventures until I finally land.

Does life feel like this sometimes?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Pysanky and Kistkas: Ukrainian Easter Eggs with Children

Today I learn two new words:  Pysanky (the ancient art of writing on eggs with wax) and Kistka (the stylus one uses that allows melted wax to drip through a hole to write on the egg).  My most crafty neighbor invites my children over to make Ukrainian Easter Eggs.

The kistka looks like this: 

You fill the little hole with wax, melt the wax over a candle flame, and finally let the melted wax flow through the tip to make designs on your eggs.  Before we arrived, my neighbor and her daughter poked tiny holes on the ends of eggs and blew gently to empty the egg.  They set out bowls of intense dyes, candles to hold our kistkas over, and drying racks.

You make designs on your egg, dip it in the lightest color, and then make more designs with wax.  You progressively add darker colors until you have a fun design.  Real Ukrainian Easter Eggs look like this:

Pysanky Wikimedia Commons, Luba Petrusha

With little children, you can let them experiment with different designs to learn the fine art of it.  Although we cannot replicate the Ukrainian folk designs, we do have fun trying it.

We thread yarn through the eggs, and the children decorate the Weeping Cherry with them.

I don't care that the blossoms have fallen.  Each season bring its own delights to this little tree.  Today, it's Easter Eggs!

How do you decorate Easter Eggs?  Any fun tips?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Help, Protect, and Advise

Now that my youngest can ride her bike, she pedals off into the sunset while exploring the rolling biking trails of Central Pennsylvania.  You just can't stop her. 

Last night, my husband takes my daughter to a biking trail, and my biking expert neighbor joins him.

"I'm sorry, but the cyclist in me can't handle this," he says as he looks at my daughter.  "Her helmet isn't adjusted correctly.  Let me help you." 

He fixes my daughter's helmet so it properly protects her head, and he tightens it in all the correct ways (who knew?). 

This morning, I go out into the yard to thank him.  "No problem! We just can't have her head unprotected!" 

No we cannot.  I think about the loving gesture to help, protect, and advise.  What if every neighbor took care of one another like this?  What if every neighbor intervened?  This neighbor didn't stand aside, worried about offending us or worried about being too nosy.  He didn't worry about coming off as a know-it-all.  He didn't worry about what we would think at all.  It's because someone--a little one among us--was in danger and needed protection.

That mattered more than anything else. 

Living with flair means we help, protect, and advise our neighbors.   Especially when it comes to children. 

What keeps you from reaching out to help, protect, and advise? 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

On This Day: A Promise to Yourself

On this day, I will, as Oswald Chambers writes, let God "fling me out."

Let God fling you, my friend reminds me all week.  She's talking about letting God send me out into those unknown and unsafe purposes, those amazing and unimagined plans.

Before school, I push my daughter on the swing, flinging her as far as she'll go.  She can't stop giggling.  She's terrified and delighted in equal measure.  This is what it feels like to let God fling me.  Am I ready for this whirlwind?

Chambers concludes: "The only way God sows His saints is by His whirlwind... Let God fling you out, and do not go until He does. If you select your own spot, you will prove an empty pod. If God sows you, you will bring forth fruit."

I walk on with all the neighbors to school, and I see a blossom stretch out to me, strangely distinct--flung out--dangling.  How beautiful to see what this tree brings forth in this spot, right here, today.  

Have you let God fling you out before?  

Monday, April 2, 2012

When You're Not the Best

I'm watching my oldest at track and field practice.  She's her own girl, running and jumping (something I've never done on a team), and I'm amazed at how different we are. 

She gets in the backseat of the car and rests her chin in her hands.  As she gazes out the window, she says, "I didn't finish first, but I didn't finish last."  She's talking about her mile time.  I'm nodding, trying to remember the kinds of helpful questions to ask a runner.  In the silence, she speaks again and tells me this:

"I don't want to be the best, Mom."


"When you're the best, you don't get to have any goals." 

She raises her eyebrows and smiles.  She's talking about how next time, she'll add a foot to her long jump and cut 15 seconds off her mile time. 

I remember that my neighbor and I prayed that morning that our daughters would love track and field even if they weren't the best

I love answers to prayer. 

Have you struggled with not being the best? 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Hobbling Along

This morning in church, I introduce myself to the family in front of me.  The wife uses crutches from an injury.  

"What neighborhood do you live in?" I ask.  Most folks who go to this church live in nearby neighborhoods.  It's a satellite church from our main church building.  We meet in an elementary school, and now we've grown so big we need two morning services. 

"We live almost an hour away," she says. 

"An hour away?  You drive that long to come to this church?"

"We do.  We come to this church because we were so tired of being judged other places because of our clothes or our issues.  We wanted to learn about God without feeling judged the minute we walked through the doors."  She pinches her thumb and forefinger together and says, "Those churches make you feel this small." 

I'm nodding my head and looking around.  I wonder why the recovering addicts, the newly divorced, the abused and the depressed find such a home here.  I suppose it's because we have one thing in common:  we are all desperate for God.   

The pastor mentions the wife with the crutches and how she must hobble to get to the communion table.  He says that's the picture of us all--hobbling--in desperate need of God. 

To hobble means "to walk in an awkward way."  We're terribly and beautifully awkward here in church this morning. 

Maybe that's why we've grown so much as a community.

You're welcome here.  We're all just hobbling along here, desperate.

Don't you wish every church made folks feel welcome?