Thursday, January 31, 2013

Whether by Many or by Few: A Different Way to Think About Your Platform

There's a great little Bible verse in 1 Samuel 14:6 where Jonathan claims that "the Lord will accomplish His purposes, whether by many or by few." Some translations say, "Nothing can hinder the Lord; He can win a battle with many warriors or just a few."

The phrase "just a few" resonates with me this week as I encourage fellow bloggers, book writers, community builders, and speakers. We're increasingly expected to produce proof of our influence though followers, retweets, shares, event attendance, mentions, and of course, book deals. Bigger is always better in social networking circles.

But is that God's way to think about influence? What about the few that we care for? What about the few that God calls us to love and influence?

I'm driving home from teaching my small class of students. Just 24 in each class, 48 altogether. In the world of influence and big numbers--of platform and importance--I am woefully inadequate. I'm a joke to publishers and conference teams.

I'm nobody. Even my blog doesn't rank high enough to mean anything.

But you read it. And I love you and am thankful for you. I'm not trying to measure influence anymore; one really can't. Jesus didn't employ performance metrics in his ministry on earth. He turned away from big crowds and invested in the few.

I'm realizing how much I love the few.

God accomplishes His purposes whether by many or by few. Maybe it shouldn't matter to us either.

Thank you for reading Live with Flair. Thank you for the privilege of teaching you if you are reading as my student. Thank you for the high honor of being asked to speak at any event you might have attended. I see you as you and not as a platform for influence.

* Thank you to Robin Kramer over at Pink Dryer Lint for helping me see this truth. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

"There's More to Life Than Being Happy"

A dear friend--who blogs at Grapes into Wine directs me to a fascinating article called, "There's More to Life Than Being Happy."  I immediately ask my students to read this text because we're grappling with what it means to pursue happiness.

In this article (which will take you just a few moments to read), you'll find what researchers argue is better than happiness.

It's meaning.

A meaningful life, studies show, makes you feel better than happiness does.

Can you believe it? Self-sacrifice, aligning with a higher cause, and giving rather than taking actually is better for your well-being than the pursuit of happiness.

Living with flair means we seek meaning over happiness.


What did you think of the article?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What They Don't Deserve

Sometimes I just want to punish students for asking me for recommendations last minute. I want to close my office door when they come by to get class notes because they overslept for class. I think about withholding all my good will and servant mindset because they just don't deserve it.

But neither do I.

I don't deserve any of the goodness and blessing of God, and yet He bestows it freely. I think about this theological truth and change my heart towards the people in my path today. Neighbors, children, students, and colleagues: their good (or terrible) behavior shouldn't change my opinion of them. I freely extend the grace God shows me.

Living with flair means we stop punishing people because they don't deserve good things. Neither do we.

Did you have to extend grace today?

Monday, January 28, 2013

My Day Is Not My Own

Today, nothing goes according to plan. With a school closure and all my dreams for solitary writing dashed, I prepare for the exact opposite: boisterous little girls and a whole day of activity. My quiet, uninterrupted day becomes loud, busy, and very messy.

My day is not my own. When God changes the plan, I'm learning to go with it.

Besides, I know that one day I'll give anything to have a house full of little girls who need a mom to stir brownie mix, attend to crafts, make lunches, and supervise makeovers. On this day, what was supposed to happen did happen.

Solitude can wait; there's a dance party to join in my basement.

Did this day go according to your plans?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Nest Filled with Snow

The sun explodes onto the backyard this morning. We shade our eyes from the snow's reflection of her. The whole scene sparkles and shimmers.

My youngest stands by the window to watch all the winter birds at the feeder. The Northern Cardinals, in particular, feast and then fly about the yard. We count seven birds that scatter when we pull on our boots to try to capture a photo.

The Northern Cardinal still stands devoted to that Winterberry bush. We talk about that old nest--the one the birds either add to or rebuild each year--that's now filled with snow. That poor nest! A nest filled with snow and not baby birds!

That's just what this season means. Our hearts are open nests for growing things, but maybe now's the time to fatten up spiritually and strengthen ourselves emotionally as we get ready for spring.

Meanwhile, I wait in the kitchen and will try again tomorrow to take photos of these beautiful winter birds.

Do you feel like you are fattening up spiritually and emotionally this season?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

An Eager and Humble Heart

Today I remember that I absolutely love spending time with people who--even after decades--maintain the curiosity and wonder of a child. I have a friend who can always tell you what new idea she's pondering or what new book she's been reading. She's as eager and humble as a new student in a foreign land. 

A therapist once told me that as some people age, they tend to become rigid in their ideas. They seldom change. They become hardened, unteachable, and proud.

But certain older people know how to stay pliable. They grapple with new concepts and maintain a humble heart. They admit they have so much to learn.

I want to keep learning with an eager and humble heart.

What are you learning these days?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Better Than You Found It

I'm talking about oath taking in my advanced writing course. We're reading the Hippocratic Oath for health professionals and asking ourselves what a professional oath might look like in our diverse fields.

I remember my husband reciting for me the Boy Scout Oath and adding on that you always want to leave a place "better than you found it." For him, this isn't just about camp sites; it's for grocery stores, restaurants, and even gas stations. Although technically not a Scout law, from the time he was a young boy, he pledged to leave places--and now people--better than he found them.This might mean picking up garbage. This might mean encouraging an employee. This might mean helping someone with a task.

What if we all left places and people better than we found them? Every encounter becomes an opportunity to add beauty and order. We leave a blessing wherever we go.

What can you leave better than you found it today?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Best Blogging Advice: Keep It Short

Most people spend about 30 seconds reading your blog. Maybe less.

I've heard from folks that if they click on a blog and see paragraph after paragraph of text, they don't want to read it. It's too much effort. It's too much commitment. Besides, many people read blogs when they have a moment between other activities. They don't have time to wade through pages of your thoughts.

Think concise.

I know how hard this is. I know because I've been teaching writing courses for ten years. Shorter is harder. Shorter means every word matters and packs a punch.

Think of a blog post like a little poem or song you offer up for the day. Think of distilling down your thoughts and compressing them into that golden nugget of insight.

Try to write your blog in under 20 sentences. Try to keep it under 200 words.  Your readers will love you.

Why do you think it's so hard to keep things short?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Keep Them Talking

My friends with teenage children tell me that one way to survive the teenage years is to "keep them talking." That's the most important thing. For them, hearing just a few words out of their teenagers seems like precious gold. Parents of teenagers cherish every conversation, every text, and every moment when the teen just wants to talk.

I needed to hear that today because in my life, there's so much talking from children that I think I might go crazy. Every meal time, dinner ride, bed time routine, wake up routine, homework session, and walk to school is too much talking. My little girls fight over who gets to tell me what next. My husband even puts his hands up over his head at dinner to referee between those of us who just have so much to say.

But it won't always be this way.

For now, I'm going to listen and keep them talking--even if it makes me crazy, even if the whole house is loud and buzzing with talking. It might not be this way in a few years.

Keep them talking.

Isn't it hard to listen to children talk all day long? I was told to "be quiet" so many times as a child!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Go Easy On Yourself

Today--despite all of our resolve and all of our goal setting to walk our mile to school every day--we drive in.

We have a -15 wind chill.

It's so bitterly cold that the three steps it takes to get to the car take my breath away.

Even the crossing guard tells us it's a day to drive in.

So we drive in.

It's OK to go easy on yourself. Some days, you just have to drive in.

It is bitterly cold! How are you going to go easy on yourself today?

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Squall Event

My weather alert email arrives to warn me of a squall event in my county. We're to prepare for sharp gusts of wind. It's sudden. It's fast. It's fierce.

Squall, I'm told, comes from an Old Norse word meaning to squeal or shriek.

We stay inside. We watch the snow swirl up and about. I'm bundled up, ready for squalls. The wind can shriek against us all it wants, but we are safe in here.

Besides, I learn something very hopeful from regarding squalls: 

After the sudden burst of bad temper on the weather's part, the sun may come out. It is not uncommon to see rainbows after such storms, and people may notice phenomena like half a structure being drenched in rain while the other half stays dry and sunny. These small, compact weather systems can pack a punch, and are usually gone very quickly.

I want to remember that when I'm in the midst of a bad temper--my own, others', or even the weather's: it ends quickly and brings the sun.  We can handle this. No matter how sudden, fierce, or fast, we can weather you.

Have you had a squall event, either personally or meteorologically, lately? 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Save It For the Worst Hours

I realize that I completely go downhill after 2:00 PM.

I'm always at my best between 9:00 AM and 11:00 AM.  From noon till 2:00 PM, I'm just OK, but after 2:00 PM, it's so much harder to be creative.

So I save the mindless activities for the late afternoon and evening when I have no creative energy anyway. I'm learning that I can save cleaning toilets and folding laundry till then. I can scrub floors, organize desks, and vacuum. I can clean dishes.

But I can't work on novels, plan lessons, grade, or blog. That's for morning.

It's taken me three decades to realize I have good hours and bad hours.

So I match activities to what kind of energy they'll require. I save the mindless things for the worst part of the day.

Are your best hours early or late? 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Real Apology

This morning, I observe my husband mediate between our two very angry daughters. One finally agrees to apologize to the other.

"I'm sorry, but. . . "

"No," he interrupts."Real apologies don't have 'buts'."

Each time she tries to apologize, she adds in the justification for her actions. She follows with the but. She's quick to blame even in the midst of the apology.

Don't we all? Indeed.

It's true. If we're going to apologize, we have to own it. We cannot have any excuses.  

No buts.

Isn't it so hard to apologize?

Friday, January 18, 2013

"Let it be. Just let yourself fall."

I'm reading a portion of a book that describes how a woman finally discovered a genuine way to connect with herself and God. She tried to keep it all together for so many years, but one day, she heard this: "Let it be. Just let yourself fall."

Let it be. Just let yourself fall. 

I think of her white knuckles clutching on to some ledge as she tries to keep order, purpose, and productivity going. She's finally had enough, so she just lets herself fall.

God catches her, and of course, that's exactly how it's supposed to be.

Do you need to just let yourself fall?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Maybe the Metaphor Isn't Right: How You Think About Teaching and Living

Today, I consider the metaphors that come to mind when I think about myself as a teacher, wife, mother, and friend.  In my professional development class, we're reading Parker Palmer's "Good Talk About Good Teaching." He recommends a simple exercise to help us uncover strengths and weaknesses about our practice as teachers. I find so many applications to my whole life.

We fill in the blank:

"As a teacher, I think I'm a _______________."

Some see themselves as coaches, orchestra conductors, cartographers, translators, circus ring leaders, lightening rods, or even fishmongers. Many see themselves as performers.

Then, we talk about certain teaching situations and ask how one might respond differently based on whichever metaphor governs the situation. If something difficult happens, a coach responds differently from a conductor. A performer will respond one way while a circus ring leader responds another. A drill sergeant would handle a situation one way while a gardener would do something else.

Sometimes, the way we see ourselves limits our responses. We might need to be more like orchestra conductors perhaps.

I fill in the blank for myself as a mother, and the first thing that comes to mind is the word, "Cheerleader." As a mother, I think I'm a cheerleader. Well, no wonder I'm exhausted trying to keep everyone happy and enthused. No wonder I become discouraged when the energy level sinks in the house. What if, instead, I saw a mother as a sweeper on a soccer team?

Maybe a mother is a spotlight or a gardener or a bridge.

Maybe a teacher is a warm fire to come sit by, an umbrella, a stick of glue, or a travel guide.

Perhaps, if things aren't feeling right in my various roles, it's because my metaphor isn't quite right.

What metaphors come to mind when you think about yourself and your roles? 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Robust and Hardy: Capable of Enduring Difficult Conditions

Lately, I've been praying for God to strengthen me. I'm too fussy. I'm too addicted to my comforts. What would happen if I were thrust into truly difficult conditions?

Over the years, I've learned to adapt, to find beauty, to think positively, and to rejoice through various trials, but I still have a long way to go.

I would like--in a few years--to be able to describe myself as hardy and robust.

I look out my window and see the Weeping Cherry patiently bearing the weight of winter. Experts claim the Weeping Cherry is hardy and robust. They endure harsh conditions. They richly bloom every spring despite whatever kind of winter they've had.

Lord, make me robust.

Do you feel robust inside? I think of Ephesians 3 and being "strengthened in my inner being." 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Stirring Up Controversy

At least four times today, something happens that I could have made a big deal about; I could have told someone else--stirring up controversy--and delighted in conflict.

In home environments, work environments, and neighborhood environments, it's so easy to stir up controversy. Many times in the book of Proverbs, we're warned against stirring things up. We're told that the foolish person "stirs up dissension," and that hateful and angry people "stir up quarrels." Certain people just love to "stir up trouble."

I'm fascinated by the verb. To stir means that you mix something up, usually adding something in to something else. Stirring things up mean we add others into a conversation they don't need to know about. It means recounting--over and over again--stories to spread anger and hate. It means inciting others just because we grow to love drama and conflict.

I don't want to be a woman who adds to controversy and who delights in spreading conflict around.

Instead, we're asked in Proverbs to conduct ourselves differently.

So when I'm tempted to stir things up, I pause and ask God to help me act with love, patience, and mercy.

Isn't it so tempting to "stir things up?"

Monday, January 14, 2013

"I Know That Already--At Least I Think I Do"

This morning, I remind my oldest daughter that she doesn't need to be perfect, and she doesn't need to make everybody happy.

After years of a codependent, people-pleasing kind of living, I'm acutely aware of the pitfalls that trap us.

What I want to tell her (and myself) is that we're free. Jesus loves us perfectly in all our imperfection. We aren't responsible for the happiness of other people, so right now, we can stop trying to manage everybody's moods. We don't need anyone's approval.

"I know that already, Mom--at least I think I do." She pauses and looks at me.

We know we're trying to swim against a great current--of being good and making everyone happy--and it's not how we're supposed to be. Don't take the bait, child. You'll lose yourself in others and forget wonderful you!

We're free and deeply loved. We can relax and let others be themselves too.

 Did you grow up trying to keep everyone happy?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Step Away from the Story

As I revise and rearrange chapters in a novel to prepare to present to publishers, I find myself so overwhelmed. Settings, characters, and dialogue swirl up and out of reach. I lose narrative threads; I forget what and where and why and how.

I remember that it's possible to get so immersed in a story that you lose the grand narrative.

My husband tells me to step back, summarize, and dive back in later.

It's a good word for writing and living.

You turn everything off, take a nice break, and come back later.

Do you find yourself stepping away from work in order to have a fresh start?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

"Find New Folks Each Time Around"

I take some girls ice skating today, and we're having the best time holding hands as we all go around the rink. But then, an official looking skater approaches us and tells us that we "can only hold hands with one other person."

Apparently, our long chain of hilarious bliss hinders other skaters. Our great little group blocks, distracts, and endangers others.

"Break apart!" I call out. "Mix up it! Find different partners each time around!"

Suddenly, I recall a conversation I had with a woman who still--after all these years--feels hurt by various cliques in her community. I see it visually: people holding hands, forming little groups of hilarious bliss, that, in all their fun and joy, end up hindering, distracting, and even endangering others. They end up oblivious to the journey others are on right beside them.

"It's a good lesson, girls."  

Don't hold so tightly to a little group that you hurt the flow of community. Mix it up. Find new folks each time around.

Were you harmed by cliques growing up?

Friday, January 11, 2013

What You Otherwise Wouldn't: In Praise of Gloomy Days

We all agree that cold rain is our least favorite weather event.

We're walking to school, and suddenly, the dark sky pours down cold rain upon the icy sidewalks. We weren't expecting this, and even our phone apps don't predict it.

We frantically borrow umbrellas from kind neighbors and dial our phones to beg for rides up to the school. Eventually, children find shelter by the school building, and the adults tuck themselves inside various minivans.

It's cozy.

Later, I find myself doing what I otherwise wouldn't: I boil water for tea, sit with a book and listen to the rain, and find myself generally slowing down.

The somber, gloomy day offers a slow-motion alternative. The soundtrack of rain with a setting of dark sky forces a certain calm. It asks you to get cozy, stay warm, and sip tea.

Exactly what I needed.


Are you having a gloomy day in your part of the world?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Night Before

I'm learning how to anticipate what's coming and prepare.

Simple things done the night before change the whole mood of the coming day.

Small things: Packing lunches the night before. Filling the crock pot with ingredients for turkey chili the night before. Laying out everyone's clothes the night before. Stuffing snow suits and pairing mittens the night before.

Nobody freaks out. Nobody's in a rush. We get out the door on time. We eat dinner on time.

I think about other ways to anticipate what's coming--emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually, relationally--and prepare. In this season of teaching more, writing more, and parenting more, I see the essential quality of preparation.

This way, I don't freak out. I don't have to rush. I'm out the door in the right mood. I'm on time.

How do you prepare yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually for what's coming?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Until You're Told: My Potassium Issue

Lately, I've been thinking about electrolytes because my new fitness plan tells me--at the end of the day--if I've met my nutritional requirements.

I'm absolutely deficient in potassium. Who knew that one needs 4.7 grams a day!

That's a lot of potassium. Apparently, I don't eat many foods that contain potassium.

And I need to. Potassium builds proteins, aids the heart, breaks down carbohydrates, helps you grow, assists neurotransmitters, and maintains normal blood pressure.

I need more bananas. I need more nuts and beans. I need more spinach and maybe even some dried apricots. Why not throw in some mushrooms, potatoes, avocados, and fish?

I had no idea what I was missing until someone told me. 

I tell the Italian Mama about my potassium problem (she's blogging over at Old Enough). She says, "Oh yes! I eat two bananas a day!"

Living with flair means we eat our bananas and apricots. Those little electrolytes do big things.

What potassium rich foods do you love? 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

You Just Haven't Met Them Yet

I'm amazed every time.

Just when I think my circle of interesting people has closed, I meet a whole new class of incredible people.

I'm sitting in an empty classroom, and they begin to arrive like little trickles of an incoming tide. Some talk. Some don't. Some smile. Some don't. By the end of the hour, I know about their hometowns, their travels, their dream careers, and their nicknames. 

Some will remain as lifelong teacher-student relationships. Some won't. For some, I'll write recommendations for law school, first jobs, or promotions. For others, I'll get wedding invitations, Christmas cards, and birth announcements. I'll get updates about publications, film and Broadway roles, and teaching internships.

People fascinate me. I could hear their stories and follow their lives all day. Maybe that's one reason I love teaching so much and perhaps why it feels so natural to me. The teacher is the student of the student. I'm studying them, fascinated. Maybe, too, this speaks to that inescapable urge to write novels. I can't get away from stories. I can't wait to hear yours.

On days that feel particularly small and lonely, I remember that the whole world is full of glorious people to know and care for. There are stories to hear and lives to study.

I sit in the empty classroom. Here they come. 

Do you find yourself fascinated by people?

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Mouse Walks By, and the Three Cats Sleep

We have a mouse in our house! He's fat, fast, and audacious. I mean, we have three cats. Three cats!

My husband sets a live trap so we can catch the mouse and release him back to the woods. Come on cats! Help us get this mouse! Let's move!

No answer. 

Jack wakes up, looks at me with that glaring one-eye, and seems so annoyed. Snowflake lifts her head and begs to return to her napping.

Well, excuse me, Cats. I'm so sorry to disturb you.

I won't even look at that trap! I don't like mice!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Meet Me at the Skating Pond: Some Old-Fashioned Things Remain

In a field by my house, the water has collected into a perfect skating pond. Children gather to skate and slide with nothing in their hands but sticks and snow.

I remember when I was 11 years old--the same age as my oldest--and I, too, found a frozen pond deep in the woods. My friend and I claimed this spot as our Winter Wonderland, and we twirled out majestic figure eights on the ice. Eventually, we just rested on our backs or stomachs--either watching the snow fall above us or gazing into the frozen world beneath us--and listened.

A frozen pond--especially one that's only a few inches deep--hasn't lost its wonder for children. They race outside to the pond and twirl out their own figures. There's something about walking on water that thrills the child within us; I also ventured out with my children and skated across the ice.

Did you skate on a frozen pond when you were little?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Singleness of Heart and Action

It all starts again next week. This time, I teach juniors and seniors. We begin with professional materials that include résumés, cover letters, and personal mission statements.

I love personal mission statements for their particular simplicity; they state in a concise sentence or two what a person devotes themselves to in his or her field or future career. Flowing from this devotion comes attitudes, behaviors, and goals.

Beyond our professional lives, I consider what it means to have a mission statement for marriages and families. 

It's actually very difficult. Students tell me that this particular sentence might be the hardest one they write in their lives. It's the hardest but perhaps the most vital. When you narrow things down to a single mission, it suddenly becomes so easy to make choices. You don't live a scattered life. You don't live out of control. You live purposefully, intentionally, and easily.

In the book of Jeremiah, I learn that God gives singleness of heart and action. Some translations refer to a unified lifestyle--one heart and one way--that I've always thought sounded so freeing and beautiful.

In 2013, I want to live purposely, intentionally, and easily. I want a singleness of heart and action that determines my attitudes, behaviors, and goals.

Do you have a mission statement? 

Friday, January 4, 2013

God's Mercy. . . In Whatever Form It Takes

I've always thought that God simply cannot resist us when we appeal to His tender mercy. 

We cry out. He answers. He loves to show us His great mercy

I read over and over again about this "God who is rich in mercy" and how the Psalmist prays that God's "mercy [will come] quickly to meet us, for we are in great need." I read in Isaiah, even, that: "In all their distress He too was distressed, and the angel of His presence saved them. In His love and mercy He redeemed them; He lifted them up and carried them."

I know that we have a merciful, wonderful God. When I pray for mercy, however, it often comes in the form I do not expect or want. But I think I know what it should look like. 

It suddenly occurs to me to pray, "God, I want to receive your mercy today, in whatever form it may take." I don't want to limit God or imagine what mercy looks like. I want to look through the lens that it's all His great, tender mercy today. 

Did mercy take on a form you didn't expect?  


Thursday, January 3, 2013

If You Would Have Told Me Twenty Years Ago

If you would have told me twenty years ago that I could carry a phone with me that fits in my pocket, I would have laughed at you. If you would have told me twenty years ago that I could look at my phone and see your face talking to me, I would have said it's impossible.

I take it all for granted. Today, I'm struck by the wonder of technology: my daughter emailing from school to ask a question, my friends on the other side of the world receiving instant photographs of my family through my phone, my asking my phone a question and it verbally responding to me with recipes, trivia, and directions.

Years ago, this was crazy--unimaginable, unheard of, and silly even. Today, I wonder what ideas we have that seem unimaginable and unheard of. I'm filled with wonder as I call far away grandparents and see their faces--and show them ours--as we eat breakfast. I'm so thankful.

Have you been so thankful for technology lately?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Grieving Your Limits

I learned this past year that emotionally mature people know how to grieve their limits.

I remember this today as I decide I just cannot attempt the Sushi Cupcakes for my daughter's birthday.

In years past, I managed the Hamburger Cupcakes, the Green Apple Cupcakes, and even the Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes.

But I've reached my limits when I view the recipe for Sushi Cupcakes.

I tell my daughter, and she simply replies, "No problem. What about just normal cupcakes?"

In 2013, I'm realizing that I can be average, imperfect, and just plain limited. Somewhere out there, men and women design amazing Sushi Cupcakes, and I, my friends, am not one of these people.

Isn't it so freeing to know your limits?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Too Good to Be True

I place my bird feeder outside, and within minutes the Northern Cardinals come.

They spy on the banquet: doubting, cautious, suspicious.

It's too good to be true. A feast? Here? Now?  Just when all the winter berries are gone. Just when we wondered if we'd make it.

I stand by the window and watch them finally--after much hesitation and much fuss-- dare to feast.

The whole scene calls out to me: Yes, there's a feast--here, now--and you are welcome to it. Cease the doubt, the caution, the suspicion. Stop fussing, come out of hiding, and just feast.

(And there's even more. I have a whole bag of food inside, waiting for you.

Psalm 36:8 "They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light."

What's keeping us from the feast?