Sunday, March 31, 2013

"Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it?" Annie Dillard

As I think about Easter, I recall Annie Dillard's quote about the power Christians have in the name of Jesus. Lately I've been thinking about how little I understand it and how little I invoke it.

What would happen if I did? What would happen if I lived my life in daily resurrection power? The kind of power that brings dead things to life, parts seas, brings down manna from heaven, heals the blind, walks on water, multiplies meager resources, changes one thing into another, finds treasure in the mouth of a fish, silences the demons, commands nature, cleanses, restores, redeems, renews, protects, provides. . .

Oh, if I did! Seeing my life's problems in the light of resurrection power fills me with a sublime joy. I'm filled with wonder before a Holy God. I'm skirting around the hem of glory, daring to touch a bit of the magic that upholds the universe.

We invoke a power we cannot comprehend.

Isn't it overwhelming to consider?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

For Best Results

I've been cleaning the grout on my kitchen floor all day long. With an aching back and knees, I take a hot bath with some fancy bubble bath that's supposed to soothe everything with lavender and chamomile.

I turn the bottle around, and it says in bold print, "For best results, breathe deeply."

I sink down and breathe deeply.

I'm soaking and talking to God all about the day, thanking Him for the New Day that tomorrow represents--that day in history that changed everything. I'm considering the meaning of Jesus's blood and that final blood sacrifice for sin. We're truly free--once and for all--from sin's dominion. We are prisoners set free.

I'm breathing deeply of these spiritual truths. I'm so thankful for time away by myself to talk to God, reflect, and marvel. Outwardly, I'm wasting away with these joints, but inwardly, I'm renewed. I'm ready for Easter in my heart. There's a way, in years past, that I missed Easter because I didn't take the time in my own mind for it.

For best results, breathe deeply.

I love Easter!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Some Spring Kitchen Whimsy: Let Children Paint the Silverware Holder

We're Spring Cleaning around here, and as I clean the crumbs from the silverware holder, I notice all the beautiful white paint has chipped off.

I want to buy another one to freshen up the kitchen, but my husband reminds me we can just paint each section with fresh white paint.

At the same time, I'm cleaning out the craft cabinet and gathering all the vibrant acrylic paints in one spot. Why use plain old white when you can use deep sea blues, rain forest greens, mandarin oranges? What about blushing pinks, royal purples, and warm lavenders? And don't forget the buttery, sunny yellows.

"Let's paint each section something bright and cheery!" You don't have to convince my daughters.

They work together and plan their strategy.

I love the rippling texture of the blue and green. It doesn't have to be perfect. Nobody cares about perfect today.  We care about splashes of color and kitchen whimsy.

Besides, once filled, you can't see all the drips and smears going up the sides. 

I love it. Every time I reach for a fork or a spoon, I actually smile. I'm going to remember this day when my girls are off to college. I'll reach for a cereal spoon and burst into tears. 

What's the most whimsical thing in your kitchen?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

We're Thinking Less; He's Thinking More

Our church is studying Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby and Claude King, and I'm struck again by the simple truth that God wants to give generously, far beyond our meager requests of Him. Often in Scripture, someone asks for one thing, and God gives another.

It's because God wants to give more. He goes beyond.

The authors point us to the paralytic in Mark 2, for example, who came asking for a particular kind of healing, and God offered another. He forgave his sins--a deeper, more profound healing--first.

I learn that when God doesn't answer prayer, or when He answers in a way I don't want or expect, it's because He's giving more.

Can I really believe this glorious truth?

I search the scriptures and remember that God longs to "give immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine" (Ephesians 3). I remember that God came "so that we might have life and have it abundantly" (John 10).  I even recall Jesus at one of the great feasts when He offers the promise of Living Water that would quench spiritual thirst forever (John 7).

Well then.

I think God's denying me some great thing--giving me less--when really, there's a more hidden inside the delay, the change, or the no.

This truth truly helps me live with flair.

Have you experienced this?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Chop It Off and Start Fresh

After several years of sassy side ponytails, braids, buns, curls, headbands, fun chalk color, feathers, and clip-on extensions, my fashionista daughter's hair needed some serious repair.

We go to the salon today, and the stylist diagnoses the hair using the words breakage, damage, brittle, dry, and worn out.

"Let's start fresh and let it all heal."

"Yes, let's!"

We opt for a very short inverted bob. "With side bangs," the little one insists. We trade in very long hair for a brand new short look.

(By the way, I ask her if I can post pictures, and she asks me not to. Children have rights, too, fellow bloggers. I did find a picture to show you what this cut looks like here.)

As the stylist talks about starting fresh, I think about all the broken or damaged parts of myself I carry around in my own head. Why do I keep accommodating certain memories or emotions? Why gather them up in some slick ribbon and arrange them at all?

Why not just start fresh and let go with a whole new me?

I think of the new creation we are in God. I think of how the old has gone and the new has come. It's gone, as gone as cut hair falling all around us and disappearing as it's swept far away.

We have a new self, so let's wear it.

I love new haircuts. Have you ever gone from very long to very short?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"What a delicious thing writing is. . ."

I ease a dusty Madame Bovary off of the bookshelf. I love this novel and decide to read it again. In the Foreword, I read how Gustave Flaubert felt about the act of writing. He writes in a letter, "What a delicious thing writing is--not to be you any more but to move through the whole universe you're talking about."

Flaubert describes inhabiting the characters and "riding in a forest on a fall afternoon beneath the yellow leaves." He allows himself to become the "horses, the leaves, the wind" and the "red sun beating on [the characters'] half-closed eyelids."

Sometimes, in the business of writing, we forget the deliciousness of writing.

My students don't often enjoy writing. One of my goals is to help them love it. Do you enjoy writing?

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Checklist for Writing

I love checklists. I even love them for my writing. Here's a nice one I'm giving my students tomorrow. I want every sentence to shimmer.

*    1. Did I eliminate “to be” (am, is, are, was, were, has, have, seems, appears, exists, etc.) verbs and spice my writing with vivid verbs that create a mood?

*    2. Did I transform verbs to their strongest form (chop off “ed” or “ing”) to keep in present tense and avoid passive voice?

*    3. Did I juggle secret ingredients (semicolons, dashes, commas, parentheses, colons) to generate rhythm, build ethos, and create a written voice?

*    4. Can I find long, convoluted sentences and break them apart? Did I add in sentences of varying length? Have I mixed long, short, and medium length sentences within the paragraph, and did I begin each sentence with a different pattern?

*    5. Did I match the word choice and tone to my audience by selecting words they might use or hear often?

*    6. Did I build rapport by asking a question, sharing my feelings, imagining the reader’s feelings, using analogies, referencing shared experiences, and attaching the writing to the reader’s concerns or interests?

*    7. Can I locate every conjunction (and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet) and determine if punctuation is correct  (commas, semi-colons, or nothing needed)?

*    8. Will I cut out any fat from sentences (meaningless phrases or redundant expressions) by placing the noun right next to the verb to help keep sentences concise?

*    9. Did I utilize the rhetorical appeals? Did I generate emotion (pathos), engage reasoning (logos) and build my trustworthiness (ethos).

*    10. Did I keep sentences on topic? If a new topic emerges, did I begin a new paragraph with a clear transition sentence for my reader?

What's your current writing project?  

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Well, You Have to Ask

Twice today, someone advises me to "ask God for wisdom."

By quoting James 1:5 ("If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you), these folks implore me to simply ask and receive.

God gives wisdom generously.

God gives wisdom regardless of any fault in us, and He doesn't rebuke us for asking.

God will answer when we ask.

I'm reminded of Jesus' words throughout the gospels and how God gives good gifts to His children when we ask.  The door opens when we ask. Our joy is complete when we ask.

Instead of fretting, over-processing, or surmising, just ask.  Instead of entertaining paralyzing emotions, ask for wisdom. Ask for the answer.

I'm excited about God's generous wisdom that comes to us when we ask. How will it come? Through wise words from wise souls, through scripture, through Holy Spirit revelation?

Yes! It will come--generously, impartially, and absolutely--when we ask.

Have you asked God for wisdom and received it?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Lounge About

I enjoy watching Jack lounge. It's a hard life for a cat with one eye. He needs to lounge indeed.

He finds the coziest spot and settles. He stretches out. He knows he'll be fed in an hour. He'll have fresh water and plenty of attention.

Without a care, he can lounge.

Perhaps we all should lounge a bit. We have a Good Shepherd who gives us all the attention and provision we need.
Are you lounging?

Friday, March 22, 2013

My Friend's Awesome Family Night Strategy: Inhabiting Another Person's Joy

My friend recently suggested a new way to enact "Friday Family Night." (Thanks, Stephanie!) In her family, a different family member is totally in charge of family night each week. This person plans dinner, an outing, or whatever she wants for the night within whatever budget the family decides.

Even the youngest member plans within budget and leads the rest of the family for the evening.

The best rule for this strategy is this: No one can complain or resist. When it's your turn, everyone follows what you decide. When it's another family member's turn, nobody can complain.

It's a wonderful system, and mom gets a break from planning. We've been doing this for a few months, and we love what's happening.

When it's my husband's turn, if he wants us all watching UNC basketball, nobody complains. If the youngest wants fancy hot dogs at Dairy Queen and crafting, nobody complains. On my night, if I want frozen yogurt and bookstore browsing, nobody complains. If my oldest plans homemade sushi and Wii games, nobody complains.

As a result, we all get to know each other a little better.

We work on inhabiting the particular joys of each family member.

I love having a night off from planning meals or activities. I love that my children get to practice planning and budgeting. I love that they look forward to our Friday Family Night; they wouldn't miss it for the world.

What would you chose for a family night if you knew everybody would go along with you and nobody could complain?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

15 Questions to Avoid Burnout

This week, I lead a seminar on "burnout" for instructors. Ironically, I'd been feeling disengaged, exhausted, bored, and unmotivated myself. Sometimes, I have weeks when teaching and writing seem to have lost all meaning. 

I'm burned out. 

I decided to work through the same questions I ask graduate students and instructors this week, and by the end, I find renewed zeal for teaching and writing. The questions help us pinpoint sources of burnout and make prompt changes. Maybe these will help you or someone you care about. 

Reflection Questions for Burnout 

 1. Some psychologists claim burnout is about a lack of balance between the social, creative, physical, emotional, and vocational parts of your life. Can you identify what’s out of balance in your own life this month? What do you need more of, and what do you need less of?

 2. Have you recently felt like your work has no meaning? Take a moment and reflect on what is meaningful to you about your work.

 3. Sometimes burnout comes because we’ve lost our confidence in our work. Has something happened recently that made you feel inadequate, unintelligent, or unprepared? Counter this experience by reflecting on three areas of expertise you have. What makes you great in your work? 

 4. Do you feel emotionally absent from your work? What is causing the biggest distraction from your work? How can you be emotionally present?

5. Do you feel like you have enough autonomy? Why or why not? 

6. How long has it been since you’ve encountered the mystery and wonder in your field? Have you lost your curiosity? What can you do to rediscover it? Are you studying something new?  

7. Do you tend to have “fallow seasons” and “fruitful seasons” of your work life? Is the spring generally less energized than the fall?  How do you manage the year in terms of productivity versus “hibernation?”

8. What do you love most about your work? What brings you the most happiness in your career?

9.  What do you love least about your work? Why? Is there a way to reform this activity into something enjoyable?

10. Some psychologists suggest that burnout often flows from toxic or oppressive work environments. Do you find that you’re mostly around cynical, negative, complaining folks or hopeful, positive, celebrating folks? Are most of your work conversations embittered and resentful?

 11. How do you set appropriate boundaries with your workload? Are you “always available”? What can you do today to make yourself less available even while increasing your emotional presence?

 12. One doctor told me that the average person cannot list five ways to relax after a stressful day.  Can you? List five ways you know help you relax.

13. In a department where you might not be recognized or receive awards, where will your value come from?

14. In what ways are you exercising creativity during the day?

 15. Do you feel isolated? What can you do to reconnect with people and become part of a flourishing community?

These questions might direct us to sources of burnout. I hope you feel renewed in your work today.

Is there anything you would add to this list?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

I Hear Things Melting

All morning at my desk, I hear the drip, drip, dripping of melting snow and ice. We're thawing, folks. Water trickles down the gutters and flows into great puddles.

It's a beautiful sound.

I love to hear the work of thawing. Those icicles and snow banks stand no chance against this bright March sun. 

I turn my face to that sun and bask a bit. I find myself asking God to thaw me, too. Just this morning, my friend, Nature Girl, tells me to "take my cues from nature today." She the same friend who tells me to remember that things "just take time." She reminds me that what nature does, perhaps I should do today. 

I think about this all morning. Well, nature's defrosting today. Maybe that's what I need. 

In Psalm 147:17, I read that "He sends his word and melts them; he stirs up his breezes, and the waters flow." Today, I want God to thaw any icy, hardened thing in me. I want to stay soft and flowing and sensitive to the Spirit. 

So I keep my whole face to the sun and bask some more. 

 It's fun to take a cue from creation, isn't it? What's nature doing in your part of the world?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Goodnight Toes: A Tuck In Blessing

My daughters are too old for the "tuck in blessing" I performed when they were toddlers. Back then, they loved how I put each and every body part to sleep and then blessed it. I'd ask God to take those little feet to extraordinary places. I invoked a blessing over the knees so God might strengthen them for the new day.

Thighs, hips, tummies, hearts, shoulders, elbows, wrists, and delicate fingers. Chins, mouths, noses, and eyes. Minds. Hair growing on heads.

Each part was tucked in for the evening and blessed.

Last night, I don't know what comes over me, but I ask my older daughters if they want the tuck in blessing. "You mean Night-Night Toes?" They remember.

I bless their eyes so God will illuminate the beauty and wonder of the world in what they see. I bless their mouths--the ones filling up with adult teeth--so they would speak joy and kindness out to the world.

Goodnight toes. Goodnight hair. I'm glad I brought back the full body tuck in blessing.

Wouldn't you like to be tucked in tonight with a full body blessing?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Just Bring Flowers

With school canceled due to an impending snow storm, we stay warm inside and have a quiet day.

It's dreary.

But then I observe my favorite flower--the Stargazer Lily-- and my new favorite, Orange Ranunculus, in the bouquet a dear friend purchased for me last night.

A bouquet of fresh cut flowers represents undeserved luxury today; fresh cut flowers taunt that heavy, persistent snow outside.

My daughter points out how many unopened blooms wait in that bouquet. Several ranunculus and one or two more lilies will bloom in days to come.

Bringing someone beautiful flowers is one way to live with flair. These flowers cost only a few dollars, and they bring so much joy.

Besides flowers, what else brings some joy in a long winter? 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

"Even if it's the end, it's just the beginning."

Today my husband reminds me that when something ends, it's really just the beginning.

He's talking about the hope of the gospel in the face of death. He's even talking about the metaphorical deaths of dreams or careers or relationships.

Endings are beginnings with Jesus.

Is something coming to an end for you?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Stay Quiet, Look for Clues

A writer's life has seasons, too. After output, you gather yourself back in, plant new seeds, and let things percolate deep inside until they're ready to emerge. You stay quiet. You think. You watch the snow fall and listen to music. You reread old poetry books.

You discover dusty old college papers about language--when poetry was a matter of life and death--and realize you can't recall what it felt like to experience things so deeply.

Back then, I used to walk around and quote Walt Whitman, and I wonder why twenty years later I don't.

Maybe I should.

I find these words of old Walt in college notes. He proclaims, "I fully believe in a clue and purpose in Nature, entire and several; and that invisible spiritual results, just as real and definite as the visible, eventuate all concrete life and all materialism." His writing gave me my Live with Flair mission; I'm looking for clues, and I simply cannot stop.

I find myself loving poetry again, especially when Whitman explains, "The greatest poet hardly knows pettiness or triviality. If he breathes into any thing that was before thought small, it dilates with the grandeur and life of the universe." Yes, let this very common day dilate with grandeur. Let us not know pettiness or triviality.

It's a quiet, snowy Saturday. God's grandeur is here.

Did you read Walt Whitman when you were young?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Ready If You Need It

Two days ago, I bake six chicken breasts (with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper) at 400 degrees for 40 minutes. I have the genius idea of chopping the baked chicken and freezing it in servings for future chicken pot pies, casseroles, or salads.

This has never occurred to me before. I'm good at reflecting, not thinking ahead.

When I find myself ready to cook dinner (but not quite back to full health), I'm so thankful for a frozen pie crust, frozen veggies, and frozen chopped chicken. After defrosting, the total prep time for that particular dinner is a whopping two minutes. It bakes for an hour, and then everyone rejoices over chicken pot pie. 

I still have four more frozen servings of chicken, and this morning I think of how they're ready for my friend who just had a baby or any neighbor in need of a meal. Sure enough, my neighbor has to stay overnight in the hospital with stomach pain, so I tell the family I'll take care of dinner.

Oh, how will I ever find the time?

Two minutes later, I'm relaxing on the couch.

I just love thinking ahead. I want to think ahead better!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Don't Forget to Convalesce

Years ago, a nurse told me that the day you feel better after an illness is the day you should get back in bed.

"But I feel better," I explained.

"You need one more day."

I learn that folks make the mistake of diving back into life too quickly after an illness. They forget to convalesce. Convalesce--a great verb--means to recover one's health and strength after an illness. In fact, there's a whole protocol for convalescence after stomach bugs. For several days, you eat only certain foods to allow the body to slowly recover. For several days, even when you feel good again, you must rest.

You're convalescing. That's the work you're doing.

Living with flair means you don't forget to convalesce after illness of all varieties. When you take spiritual, emotional, or physical hits, you must convalesce. Take another week if you have to. You're recovering.

My recipe for convalescence includes jello and crackers! 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

It's Going To Take Some Time

Last night, my friend Jo comforts me by saying, "It just takes time. It's going to take some time." As you know, I'm not very good at being sick. I'm not brave, stoic, or positive while vomiting or fighting the chills.

I'm dramatic, negative, and hopeless. I see no end to it. My friend just keeps soothing me with her quiet voice on the phone: It just takes time.

I remember from Ecclesiastes the wise words that "He has made everything beautiful in its time." In Ecclesiastes 3, I recall the wonder that there's a time for everything, and it's not all going to be happy or fun.

"There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh, 
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace."

I'm so thankful that "in its time", God makes all things beautiful. But it's going to take some time.

Sure enough, I'm starting to feel like myself again. 

Don't you love this passage of scripture? 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

At Just the Right Time: 2 Bright Spots on a Miserable Day

Day two of this virus has me curled in bed (this will be short!). Nothing's changed! I'm still so sick! Just as I consider that God has forgotten me, I read the words of my new favorite blogger over at Hopefully Devoted. Today, she writes about Jericho. She says this:

"I wonder how the Israelites must have felt, walking around the city day after day and seeing no change in the wall. I think about the things I have been (metaphorically) marching around. I realize that no change doesn't mean God isn't present, it doesn't mean God isn't at work. No change means I've been given an opportunity to put my faith, my trust in God. God brings us to Jericho to mature our faith, to take us out of our comfort zone, to get us to make a leap of faith, to show us his faithfulness." Read more.

She often sees "no change" with her health, and yet she knows God is still working.

And then, just as I began to worry about who would cook dinner tonight, my amazing neighbor arrives with a gift certificate to a restaurant so my husband can just take the girls to dinner after work. (Thank you, Jenny Kelly!)

Nothing's changed with this sickness, but God is working and even blessing.
I hope you are having some bright spots today.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Cat for a Day

All night and all today, I battle some flu or stomach virus (or both). I can't move. I just curl up and wait. My cat, Snowflake, naps beside me.

She sleeps all day, moving only to drink or eat or perhaps find the litter box. She sometimes bathes.

She watches birds in the Weeping Cherry.

That's about it.

I watch her this whole morning and laugh about our shared day. She finally moves to prowl about, occasionally meowing so we know she's there.

And I finally move to compose my own little meow.

Have you had the flu or stomach virus this season?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

"That will be enough for us."

This morning before church, I read a paragraph in that little book, We Would See Jesus (Roy and Revel Hession) about all the ways we use Jesus as a means to an end. We might hope for great ministry, happiness and peace, freedom, ease, blessing, revival, or any other wonderful thing but just Jesus himself.

The writers remark that Philip in the book of John begs Jesus to "show [them] the Father, and that will be enough for [them]." Then, Jesus claims that "He who has seen Me has seen the Father."

And, that, according to Philip is enough.

An encounter with God was enough.

Then in church, the pastor remarks that "nothing is better than an encounter with God." He jokes about how excited we get about retweets, likes on Facebook, or blog followers (hey, why not add on book contracts?). These things that we seek, when placed against encountering God, seem downright silly. Or what about other things like marriage partners or children or houses or careers or health? Great things, yes, but not the Greatest Thing.

Show us the Father, and that will be enough.

I've used Jesus for far too long. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

I Don't Have a River, But I Do Have a Puddle

With the warmer weather and sunshine today, I have so much nostalgia for Saturdays spent on the banks of the Potomac river. When I was my daughter's age, I would run out to the river at the crack of dawn and not return until dusk. Caked in mud and covered with poison ivy, I spent more time by the river than in my house.

My friend Marie and I--even though we were just about teenagers and certainly insecure about everything--transformed into Tom and Huck and built forts and rafts. We climbed trees and swung on vines. We balanced our way over fallen logs as we searched for turtles and frogs. We fished all afternoon. We'd come back to my mother soaked, exhausted, and so happy.

I find myself so sad that my daughters aren't growing up on the banks of a river. How will they experience nature--I mean really experience it--and have that kind of wonder and joy?

My daughter and her friend romp about the yard today and eventually find their way to the giant puddle that they've named their skating pond. It's melting, so they spend the afternoon examining the cracking ice. They poke and prod with sticks and devise some grand game. I only hear about it because I'm inside the house. They return to me soaked, exhausted, and so happy.

Just like I did.

It occurs to me that I don't have a river, but I do have a puddle. Living with flair means the puddle is enough.

Don't you miss the creek?

Friday, March 8, 2013

While You Wait

I read today that patience means "the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset."

I want to grow in patience, and today I realize just how impatient I actually am. I find some humor in my exaggerated response to how long things are taking. Little things like a web browser stalling, a laundry machine losing its rapid drying ability, a person delaying an email, or even a stream of water from the sink not getting warm as I wash my hands can make me so frustrated.

Yes, I was frustrated waiting for cold water to turn to warm so I could wash my hands. At least I can laugh about how much I value speed and efficiency. Yes, I watch the pot of water on the stove with my foot stomping and my arms crossed. Come on, pot. Boil!

I tell my friend that I'm simply not used to waiting. I go about my whole day valuing speed, efficiency, and immediacy.

Pray for me. I want to be the kind of woman who accepts delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset. I want to accept whatever comes as God-ordained. I want joy and peace in place of frustration when I have to wait.

Besides, my wise friend down the road said that God is teaching her to "linger to listen" instead of moving through her day so quickly. Maybe when I'm standing around waiting, it's my cue to linger to listen.

It's my cue to let God develop me.

Patience is so hard for me! One day, I'm going to write a blog about how patient I've become! 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

It's Like Style Died for Me

I'm shopping for golden-sparkly shoes to match my daughter's concert dress. I have no problem shopping for other people. I have no problem assembling adorable, super-cute clothes for my children. I have no problem shopping for friends.

But shopping for me? I forgot how to do that.

Somewhere in the last ten years, I truly lost my sense of style. People joke about it around here; friends actually offer to take me shopping to find new clothes. My trendy and stylish friends take me around stores to point out what I'm supposed to wear. Don't you just love this?

But I don't love it. I don't really love anything. It's like style died for me.

So I'm shopping for the golden-sparkly shoes, and I find the most glorious pair of shoes that just make me so happy to look at. They shimmer. They've got flair. The sales people tell me how very trendy they are.

My daughter doesn't like them at all.

"But these are so sparkly! These are wonderful, wonderful shoes!"

"Mom, if you love them so much, why don't you buy them for you?"

For me? For me? The thought never occurred to me.

I march to find my husband and declare: "I'm going to buy some amazing golden-sparkly shoes for the spring. For me."

He's so happy for me. The girl he met and married all those years ago once loved golden-sparkly things with flair. Today, I find that girl again and put on new shoes. I'm back in style--well, almost.

Is it hard for you to buy things for yourself?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

It Might Be That You Feel Helpless

For several days, I've just felt so bad about writing. I'm so discouraged! I actually googled, "advice for discouraged writers." I found a great little list called, "25 Inspiration Sources for the Discouraged Writer." On this list, Cheryl Reif asks me to "identify where I feel helpless" because feeling helpless as a writer is a "sure path to stress."

Helpless? Yes! That's how I feel! I feel helpless because once you send proposals out, you just wait and wait and do nothing and in the meantime you forget how much you love writing. You let agents, editors, and publishers--the business side of writing--suck the life out of you.

Writing never felt this way before, so today I'm going back to the basics. I'm going back to the pure joy of using verbs like grapple and fritter. Cheryl says to take a small step so I don't feel so helpless. My one small step out of helplessness today is to enjoy writing because it's so fun.

Besides, I just thought of a fabulous character for a brand new novel.

Do you feel helpless about writing today? This advice about identifying where one feels helpless applies to weight loss, work, relationships, and parenting. Taking one small step out of helplessness is terrific advice!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"Just Pretend You Meant to Do It and Keep Going"

I love my daughters' piano teacher. This is the same amazing woman who called my daughter after her public failure at Barnes and Noble to tell her that playing piano is not about performance. Right after that embarrassment, my oldest went on to perform in talent shows and play piano with absolute joy. The goal isn't performance, and that's made all the difference. In fact, music exploded in her life after that day; she's incorporated singing, bongo drums, the flute, and she's saving money for a piccolo and a guitar.

Now my youngest--who loves perfection and fears failure--began her lessons like her big sister. Today, she wants to play a duet for me with her teacher. She misses a note and freezes. The teacher quickly says, "If that happens, just pretend you meant to do it and keep going."

So she does. With joy. With absolute joy.

The teacher's method reminds me of Lewis Thomas' essay, "The Wonderful Mistake," in which he reconsiders the word failure. When a student fears failure, she freezes and creativity stops. When she sees failure as that beautiful journey towards progress--towards music making in the fullest sense of the phrase--she'll move forward with absolute joy.

Pretend you meant it and just keep going.

I love hearing music in my home since I didn't grow up taking music lessons. Did you grow up in a musical home?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Lifted and Not Pulled: When Language Really Matters

Today my oldest gets 4 teeth pulled--um, I mean lifted.

The orthodontist doesn't tell her they are being "pulled"; those teeth are simply being "lifted." He's adamant about using certain words to shape a different reality. He explains that in war-torn countries where he performs dental services, he'd  never use the word "shot" with a child. "That means guns and bullets. You say that the child will receive a poke."

He corrects me several times before I'm able to remember that the teeth will be lifted (so gentle, like someone pushing up from below) and not pulled (so violent, like someone taking from above). He tells my husband and me that we teach children how to feel about procedures by the words we use. He's been in this practice for so long that he knows the wording works. (I'm still a little doubtful. Those teeth are still coming out regardless of what we call it!)

If language can shape a new reality, then I need to think carefully about the words I use to define my own day. I'm artistically rendering, not cleaning. It's like when my mom says there are no mistakes, just opportunities for embellishment.

Like good dental rhetoric, I'm going to use different words.

I might let language do a little work on me today.

Do you have a nicer expression for something unpleasant?

Sunday, March 3, 2013

"It's a Great Way to Be"

Today, we visit the dairy cows down the road. We can't stop asking questions about life with the cows. We learn all about waking up at 5:00 AM, working all day, and milking cows. When I ask my friend what she loves so much about all this hard work and early morning waking, she simply explains that "it's a great way to be."

I love learning how other folks live.

We meet a calf--just 4 days old.

 We have so much fun milking cows and playing with calves.

Later, we eat ice cream at the creamery. The milk from this farm goes straight to the creamery, so we enjoy our ice cream knowing exactly where it came from and how it got there.

Have you visited a dairy farm?

Saturday, March 2, 2013

"He has reached the place where he is not thinking about himself anymore."

The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness:The Path to True Christian Joy, by Tim Keller, is a small little book that reorients the soul. I've been personally struggling with the writing life--the public writing life--because it feeds into a dark side of me. All the self-promotion! All the self-focus! How can I escape it? When I'm admired, it feels wrong. But I also find myself sad and jealous when I hear about the publishing successes of others. It feels like a terrible sickness in my soul either way.

This book provided a great answer. Keller talks about coming to the point where you stop thinking about yourself (successes or failures). You do things out of love because you're so secure and accepted in Christ. You aren't trying to prove you're special.

Keller writes, "Wouldn't you like to be the skater who wins the silver, and yet is thrilled about those three triple jumps that the gold medal winner did? To love it the way you love a sunrise? Just to love the fact that it was done? For it not to matter whether it was their success or your success. Not to care if they did it or you did it. You are as happy that they did it as if you had done it yourself--because you are just so happy to see it."

He further explains that when folks live in the freedom of the gospel, they no longer attach accomplishment or failure to their identity. How wonderful! 

Finally, I love what Keller says (in summary of C.S. Lewis), that when you meet truly humble people, you don't come away from them thinking about how humble they are. You leave their presence thinking "how much they seemed to be totally interested in [you]."

My prayer is that I don't think great things of myself. Also that I don't think less of myself. I just don't want to think of myself much at all.

Doesn't that sound so nice?

Friday, March 1, 2013

Why Are We So Afraid of Boredom?

After school today, my youngest begs for a play date. I tell her that's not in the plan. She wants to watch TV. I tell her that's not in the plan.

"What am I supposed to do?" Once again, I remember those words of a great counselor who told me one of the greatest gifts to give a child is the gift of boredom.

(Boredom appears in this blog as a genuine way to begin living with flair.)

But I almost can't do it. It's too hard watching her wandering about, moping. I almost call her friends, turn on a video, or orchestrate some elaborate craft. I almost begin the grand distraction of busy, busy, busy and the frenzy of every-moment-occupied.

"What are we supposed to be doing?" she asks helplessly.

"Well, I'm reading this book. I'm not sure what you're doing."

She wanders. She begs.

Finally--it takes a full 7 minutes--she settles into her own imagination. I'm not sure what's going on in there, but it involves paints and graphing.

It was hard. I did it. I waited and gave the gift of boredom.

Did someone give you the gift of boredom when you were growing up?