Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Your Best Technique: A Triumph of Teaching

Today I address the crisis of needing to prepare a new syllabus for freshman composition. After so many years of teaching, I confess my excitement can wane. But I have a proven technique to restore my pluck; Parker Palmer's famous quote, "We teach what we most need to learn," always ricochets in my mind as I craft new lessons.

I teach what I most need to learn. Great teachers are students themselves, so I probe the subject matter to find new mysteries.

This very day, I'm intrigued by Jon Morrow's jaw-dropping list of "317 Power Words That'll Instantly Make You a Better Writer." I print out his list and apply his techniques.

It's all new and fresh again.

I've avoided a tailspin. I'm applying new vocabulary--feeling blissfully rich in words--and cannot wait to endorse such a list to my students.

I do love to teach writing. Sometimes I forget that I do, so I'm grateful that it's as simple as becoming a student again.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I Brought Back the Rainbow Hunt for Myself

When my daughters were toddlers and learning their colors, I took them on "Rainbow Hunts" in nature. We'd look for every color--red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet--and pause to acknowledge our finds.

Today, they're off with friends or involved in their own pursuits, and I find myself wanting to go on a Rainbow Hunt for myself. 

It's silly, I know. One day, I'll probably do this with my grandchildren.  I'll remind them that it's hard to find orange, but they should keep looking.

Yellow's not as hard.

The shades of blues and purples bring a particular joy.

This one hid in the blueberry patch.

I finish and then remember the photo I took years ago in the Rocky Mountains with my very old camera. Enjoy!

Rocky Mountain Rainbow, Live with Flair

Enjoy these last days of July!

Monday, July 29, 2013

We See it As We Choose

Today my oldest reminds me of a huge problem with scientific inquiry. She explains that if you go looking for what you think will happen, you can skew your results.  She further explains that we often experience what we imagine will come about. Our own bias destroys authentic research and discovery. Our hopes bias what we choose to see, and we interpret experience through a lens. 

"It's true," she reports, nodding with her eyebrows raised in serious revelation. 

"Well, if that's true," I suggest, "and if my bias is that powerful, then I can actually influence how I interpret this very day--good or bad, hopeful or hopeless, meaningful or pointless." 

"Yes. That's true. We see what we want."



I love learning from my children. 


Sunday, July 28, 2013

An Extraordinary Find: The Secret Resonance Chamber

This morning, my youngest finds the shed exoskeleton of a cicada. She can hardly believe it. She's heard the news about the seventeen year wait for such insects to emerge. She's heard their songs--haunting, loud, and strange--across the landscape. But she's never seen one.

We examine the abandoned shell and marvel at the tiny hole by which the cicada exited. Such an interesting insect!

We talk about that distinct cicada sound (listen in this video), and I learn that it's actually one of the loudest of insect-producing sounds. But how? We discover that the hollow inside of the cicada's abdomen acts like a resonance chamber to amplify that song.

"What's a resonance chamber?" she asks.

The very term delights me. It's an enclosed space where sound waves combine, reinforce, and intensify one another. And it's all happening inside that little insect. I begin to think about the space inside of me. 

Just the other evening, a dear friend talked about her "mind space" and whether or not she makes room for lovely, noble, and pure thoughts. We talked about godly thinking that we allow to occupy our spacious minds.

It's like my own resonance chamber up in here. In the enclosed space of this life, I want to allow the Good, the Noble, the Lovely, and the Pure to combine, reinforce, and intensify. And I want the resulting music to be as loud and invasive as the cicada's song. Against a complacent and compromising culture, I let another song resonate, haunt, and confront.

You cannot escape that kind of song.
Have you found a cicada's shed exoskeleton yet?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Till Gleaming

This morning I find myself covered in cat hair. We haven't brushed our kitties in a while, and I remember the importance of weekly brushing.

Cats shed hair. If you don't brush them, they get hairballs in their stomachs when they groom themselves. When I bring out the cat brush, the cats run to my lap. They love it when I brush them; they stretch their bodies out and raise their heads in the air with pleasure. They purr and twist in delight. Afterwards, they seem lighter. They gleam.

I think about what's happening: I'm collecting all the hair they don't need and what will sicken them if left on them. This grooming process reminds me of a spiritual process I desperately need to invoke. I want to groom well and shed the excess off my life. Even by 8:00 AM, the day feels overburdened, stressed out, and too much.

I stretch out against God's great lap and let him take the excess. Afterwards, I'm lighter.

I gleam.

What excess do I need to shed today?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Let Things Be

I return to my blackberries after a summer away. What I love about blackberries is that they thrive when you let them be. 

Nobody looks after them in the summer. They just do what they do until they ripen and nearly burst off the vine.

Some assignments from God are like this. You set something in place and let it be. You send off a prayer and let it go. You sow something deep and go about your life. One day, you look out the window and find the fruit of your labor that you neither tended nor worried over.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

I Didn't Write That Day

I forgot to blog on Monday. I seriously just forgot! I can't believe it. I haven't forgotten to blog in over three years of daily blogging.

My sweet neighbor asks me why I didn't blog on Monday.

"I did!" I claim.

"No, you didn't!" She claims. I check. She's right.

Well, I was driving across Kansas that day. I was thinking about the wind turbine farms and the glories of wind power. I had researched the differences between wind turbines and windmills and stayed fascinated for hours.

The Smoky Hills Wind Farm as seen from Interstate 70 in Kansas, by Drenaline, Creative Commons 

But I didn't write.

I'm sorry.

As I think about it, I remember that I like getting away from writing at times. Maybe I needed to forget to write.

Sometimes, you store things up in your heart until you're ready to talk about them. Things have to get hot inside and then sputter and boil over on the page. If you haven't written in a while, maybe you're just storing up what will eventually spill over at just the right time.

I did love those wind turbines.

Are you storing up some great writing?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

I Hope This Takes Us to the River

My husband veers off onto some unpaved back road in a blind attempt to reach the banks of the Mississippi River.

My youngest wants to dip her toes into it.

"What are you doing?" I cry out.

"I hope this takes us to the river," he says as we wind deeper into marshy lands filled with white cranes and turtles.

I'm imagining Mark Twain and steamboats. I'm also aware that this is exactly the sort of wild behavior we would have embarked upon in our younger, more romantic days. Alright then. Take me to the river! 

The landscape opens, and we're there.

All these years later, we still have some spontaneity and adventure in us.

Twain would have applauded.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Artful Coffee

We visit a little coffee shop in St. Charles called Picasso's. You wait a while longer for artful coffee.

It's delicious. And like all truly artful things, it's worth waiting for.

If one might create artful coffee, might one make other things artful? 

I think about artful cleaning, artful marriage, artful speaking, artful dressing. 

I think about artful living.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

I Love This Photo

It's so bright as the thunder ceases that I just hold my phone over my head and snap whatever it can see.

The storm ends, and the sun shines through. All that churning and terrible, grumbling darkness ends in a terrific display of light.

That's how it is inside me. This is how it's always been, and I'm grateful.

I hold my hands up in worship and praise God for the light and the dark.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

What You Do Not Have to Give

I meet a new friend who explains what happened when God asked her to give what she didn't have to give in a particular situation.

She tells me how only then did God become her real source; she needed power and provision because God asked her to do something she wasn't capable of in her own strength.

I begin thinking about my life differently. I always assume God asks me to contribute from what I already obviously have to offer. But what if He asks me to give beyond what I am capable of--physically, financially, emotionally, socially?

Maybe it's to invite me to learn from where my true strength comes.

So I ask myself in my journal: What is God asking of me that I feel like I do not have to give--emotionally, physically, financially, or even socially?

As You Want It to Be

Lately I've been thinking about the ways we bring life and joy to people and our circumstances. I am learning how to speak about people and circumstances and envision the very best. I want to envision the glory of what could be--even if it's not quite there yet.

It's the same with teaching and parenting. I speak into what could be, as I want it to be, as I know it can be. I learned this technique back in my camp counselor days when the wise director trained us to shape a particular reality for our campers. You simply tell nervous or homesick children what's coming and how they will feel. Children, I learned, sometimes don't know how to feel unless we tell them.

It's a strange thing to observe an influential voice tell a child how awful or inconvenient something is, and then see another voice proclaim the beauty and blessing in the very same circumstance. Two children in the same situation will feel differently based on whose voice they allow to shape their reality.

I'm learning that I shape a reality by my words and demeanor for my children, their friends, my students, and my peers. I look out from here and see the glory of God, indescribable hope and joy, freedom, and strength to overcome. I see healing, wonder, rich community, laughter, and blessing.

This is how I'll speak of it. This is how I want it to be. This is actually how it is and will be.

Have you had a voice reshape a reality for you?

Friday, July 19, 2013


I love this word today. I love how it sounds.


I'm listening to a speaker read from Mark 4:39 when Jesus tells the raging sea to "hush." The passage reads, "And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, 'Hush, be still.' And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm."

The Lord's command over the elements gives me great peace today. He has command over me as well. I'm hushed by God and made perfectly calm--no matter what rages about me or inside of me.

And because the power of God dwells within us, we can speak with authority to our own circumstances. We can hush what's raging.

I say the word again and let it be so.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Your Face

I've been taking time to appreciate the beauty of faces today. Your face amazes me. It's so beautiful that I can't believe it. Each one unique, each one so precious. 

This morning my youngest comes very close to my face as she recounts a story. She holds my face in her hands. I examine her little face as she examines mine. So incredible: her eyes, eyebrows, mouth, and nose. So much to admire and consider.

It's strange to have to remember to appreciate the complexity and wonder of faces that express kindness, love, joy, compassion, understanding. . .

Why did God give me this particular face? Would I chose it again if given the opportunity? Why would an advertisement ever have the power to suggest I change or improve it? 

I consider deeply what I'm using my face for. I want to show God's love on it--with every wrinkle, dark circle, and large pore. It's a glorious face.

Yours is a glorious, radiant face. Don't change a thing.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

"A Life Spacious Enough"

Today my friend shares a quote about the life of C.S. Lewis by Oxford graduate student Matthew Lee Anderson (who lived in Lewis's home). Anderson writes, "the genius of Lewis emerged in part because he had a life spacious enough for profound thoughts to fill it."

A life spacious enough. . .

I love thinking about spacious living. I want the kind of living that makes room for contemplation, beautiful ideas, and joyous rest. 
I no longer want to live fast, crammed, and shallow. 

Let's seek some space! 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

She Made Me Do It. I Loved It.

I spent many days of parenting doing what I absolutely did not want to do. My children wanted me to play with them, and I couldn't remember how. Polly Pockets became the bane of my existence. Pushing children on swings became my personal definition of boredom. Hide-n-seek felt like cruel punishment.

However, when I really gave myself over to the experience, I found myself--on rare and precious days--finding a blessing in joining my children in what I absolutely did not want to do. I joined them because I loved them. I joined them because I didn't have to think about my needs; I could focus on their activities and find the joy there.

Last night, my daughter asks me to take her to a late-night concert. I have a headache. I'm so tired my eyes feel like sandpaper under the lids. My legs hurt, and she wants to walk there. At night. When I want to be in bed with a novel. Did I mention my tired eyeballs?

"Really? You really want to go?" She's jumping up and down with hands clasped in pre-teen energy.

We walk downtown hand-in-hand as she yammers on about everything. We arrive at a too-loud, too-crowded, too-crazy concert, and I leave her to her group of friends. I find the older ladies in the stands, and I sit back with them.

But then, then!, suddenly, I'm on my feet, singing and clapping like a pre-teen. I'm in it, just like a girl crushing on the lead singer of a band.

I turn to my friend and scream over the drums, "She made me do this, and I love it."

I'm so glad I did what I absolutely did not want to do. Maybe this new stage of parenting means I go where she goes and allow myself to remember my own younger self.

Yes, I'm exhausted this morning. It was worth it.

Monday, July 15, 2013

"Abandoned to His Care"

This morning, I hear a speaker talk about the ways he's learned to completely abandon himself to the care of the Lord.

The phrase he repeats to us is this: That we might live abandoned to His care.

I write in my journal that I want to abandon myself to His care. The verb means to surrender completely without restraint. The phrase brings so much peace into my heart. I think about it all morning, and I feel myself falling into the truth of it.

Could I do this in full confidence of the good, right, and loving care of God? Could I relax that fully? Could I just lean back in full abandon and see where He takes me?



Sunday, July 14, 2013

If You're in the Alpine Tundra, Notice the Flowers

We're on top of a mountain. Literally.

We run across the landscape and spin like Maria in The Sound of Music.

It's the harsh tundra. It's 11,700 feet. It's cold, and the wind whips about us.

We came for the grandeur, and it overwhelms me every time. It's sublime in the real sense of the word.

I remember, though, that the sublime comes in the small things, too.

You see what grows in such harsh conditions. You think about the bitter cold and snow that's here most of the year. You look down and can't imagine how such stark, frozen living produces this:

They're tiny, but they're there.

Even in the harshest conditions--even in the Alpine Tundra--something blooms in time.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

A Ministry of Breakfast

In our family, Grandma's up before dawn to fry bacon, toast bread, scramble eggs, and put the coffee on. It's been this way always--at least it seems that way to us.

Her mama before her made sure everybody had the best breakfast. When she grew up, she carried on the breakfast making.

It's supremely important that the day begins with a glorious breakfast. My children love waking up to the smell of coffee and bacon and warm buttered bread.

This morning, Grandma treats us to an amaretto honey spread on our toast. I stand beside her like I have on these visits for the past thirteen years, learning. She has a certain magic about her. My children insist that her bacon tastes better than anyone else's and that her eggs have a fluffiness mine simply don't.

So I stand here, watching and learning. I tell her she has a ministry of breakfast. 

"Well, it's important," she says.

It is.

(Fortunately, my husband inherited her flair for all things breakfast. He's the one up before dawn. I love it! It truly ministers to us all.)

Happy Saturday! I hope you had a glorious breakfast!

Friday, July 12, 2013

3 Ways a "We" Mindset Changes Me

Lately, I've remembered to focus on the "we" and not the "me." I've been too individualistic most of my life. My culture feeds this. My own self-centered reading of scripture pollutes a truth I'm coming to understand.

When I read the scriptures and the profound mystery of a life in Christ, I read more about the "we"--the body, the holy dwelling place, the church, and the togetherness. It's always "we" and seldom "me."

It's a mystery because we are part of one another. We belong to one another. We are a holy dwelling together.

When I have a "we" mindset, I take care of you.

When I have a "we" mindset, I'm not interested in advancing my own name or agenda.

When I have a "we" mindset, I'm desperately concerned with my community and not just my own household. 

When you prosper, we prosper. When you suffer, we suffer. 

I'm asking God to deepen my understanding of this mystery. We together are a holy dwelling place. We together are one body. 

I consider my role in loving you. I consider how my actions build the we instead of the me.

I consider my role as we, not me. 

What does a "we" mindset mean for you? Teach me! 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

See What Happens

Some days, there's nothing to report. I sit  before a blank page and just start. I like to see what happens; I really have no idea what's going to come out. 

If I waited until I knew, nothing would happen. So I start.

Actually, now that I'm here, I remember looking up into a tree early this morning to trace the sound of a songbird. I wanted to see that beautiful bird but never did. All I had to hold on to was a song--evidence of what was there but couldn't be seen.

Some days don't let you nail down that beautiful thing. You just hold on to a song and let yourself be satisfied with the unseen.

And you realize the song is the beautiful thing.

Sometimes we search too hard.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Small and Peaceful Thing

Nearly every day now, I light a candle.

That small flickering flame and the aroma of scented wax fills the house with at least a little bit of calm. It functions as a call to a moment of peace.

Amid all the clamor, I set up a candle and observe the flame. It's a small thing, but I realize that I string pearls of very small moments together to make this beautiful day:

Stirring creamer into a fresh cup of coffee; opening wide the windows to feel the morning breeze; making beds; nodding in agreement with a smiling friend; sipping green tea; hearing the click of keys on a keyboard; and lighting a candle.

The candle is her own peaceful pearl on this strand.

What peaceful moment did you have today?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Thing You Need Strength For

So do not fear, for I am with you; 
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10

I pause when I read these verses today. I think about two words: dismayed and strengthen. When we experience a sense of dismay, we're distressed and troubled by some unexpected thing. We have fear in our hearts, and we live in anxiety.

Do not be dismayed. God strengthens.

I think about what we need strength for today. I think about how some of us are sick. Some are in pain. Some have deep sorrow over loss. Some need strength to get through a morning with fussy children. Some need strength to face a challenge, a conflict, or a difficult person.

Some need the strength to live a hidden life of dishes, laundry, and meal preparation while their friends are off living glamorous lives. Some need strength to be the ones in the spotlight when they wish they were home living quietly and anonymously.

Some need strength to press through unfulfilled longings. Some of us are in real danger today. Some of us are actually and literally hungry and thirsty.

Some need the strength to battle loneliness.

Whatever it is, I pray for our strength today. We have One who upholds us and is with us.

What do you need strength for? Let's pray for one another. Personally, I need the strength to forgo a comfortable life in order to live a holy one.

Monday, July 8, 2013

For Your Inferior Moments

One of the images I can't get out of my mind these days is this:

King Arthur and the knights seated at the round table.

I've been watching Merlin on Netflix, and whenever I see the knights seated at the round table--with old Gaius, Merlin, and Guinevere--I think of Ephesians 2 and how we all have a seat at the table. We're seated in the heavenly realms in Christ.

What does this mean? How shall I think of it? Well, I've been imagining a round table because no one (other than the king) matters more than anyone else.

No one is superior.

No one is inferior.

The image resonates deeply with me during moments of inferiority. God reminds me that I'm seated.

I'm seated. I belong right here. I don't have to prove anything to anyone. I'm no longer fighting for a place at whatever metaphorical table.

It feels so good to have a seat.

Doesn't it help to feel seated?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Different Kind of Quiet

It's not exactly peaceful here.

It's loud and ferocious, really. One wrong step, and we'll be swept away and crushed against rocks. It's bone-chilling cold, a little stark, and dizzying in a white-capped frenzy.

Yet it's exactly the sort of peace we need.

I suppose that's what God is teaching me today. You walk alongside that loud danger with all its uncertainly and unsettled turns. You pick your way over slippery rocks the whole way. You have no idea where you're going, but soon, you find the quiet, still waters He's been trying to get you to.

It's a different kind of quiet, a different kind of peace. It's the one God chooses, so you receive it right alongside the rapids. They don't stop, but in Sabbath rest, we do.

Happy Sunday.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Give, Gain

I love the ancient wisdom in Proverbs. Today, I read in chapter 11 that "a generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed."

Yes. Deeply true. Yet I often believe that if only my needs could be met, then I'd be refreshed. I convince myself that I'm too tired to spend myself on others. 

But when I become generous and intentionally refreshing to others--in all kinds of ways--I prosper. 

I'm refreshed. That's exactly the kind of inverted, unlikely, and counter-intuitive wisdom I need to remember.

I'm on a refreshment mission today. Refresh means to give new strength and energy to. It means to reinvigorate. I'm off to give that to others.

Who needs some refreshment?

Friday, July 5, 2013

Maybe You Just Need a Nap

I want to live in a land with required siestas.  

I want to go back to Rest Hour from my camp counselor days. For entire summers, I would take a nap, like clockwork, from 1:30-2:30 PM. In fact, most everyone was napping.

I notice how young adults keep an insane pace. I notice the guilt women feel if they confess they had a nap. Children and the elderly have special times and places to nap, but from the time you're 5 years old till retirement, we're expected to go, go, go.

It's hot today, and I stayed up so late last night for fireworks. Then, it's up at 5:00 AM. Today, I'm slugging around like I just need a little nap.

"Take a nap!" my husband says.

"Really? A little nap? I just might!"

Good-bye. I'm off to close my eyes for 30 minutes.

Are you a napper?

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Another Great Question to Ask Your Children (or Anyone!)

Last night my friend shares with me a great question to ask friends and family. Here it is:

What three words would you use to describe your life right now? 

When I ask my own children and husband at bedtime, I'm amazed with how quickly they answer. I'm amazed at the diversity of responses. I'm amazed with how deeply I'm able to enter into their reality with just that simple question.

Even the youngest knows how she feels about her life and why. It's like she was waiting for someone to ask her. I won't share everything she said, but one of her words was interesting.

Even my husband--who normally takes his sweet time processing--produces three clear and telling words. One of his words was shalom. 

My other daughter, shockingly, said shadowed. She, even after all this time, holds the Penn State scandal in her heart. She doesn't like to tell new friends when we travel that we're from Penn State because of comments or jokes. I had no idea.

My three words? Hopeful, joyful, and curious. 

And of course, you follow up these words with a series of questions that will lead you to great family conversations. "Why did you pick that word? What do you mean by that word? Tell us more!"

This is a great question to ask while enjoying your July 4th celebrations.

Happy 4th!

You know I'm going to ask it: What three words would you use to describe your life right now?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

How Little It Takes

I'm standing in the shade of a tree. The branches make long shadows on the lawns around me. A man in a riding mower stirs up the warm scent of freshly mown grass. It's a sweet, comforting smell. It's cool and dark by this trunk. The summer breeze blows my hair across my cheek.

I'm waiting for a friend to pick me up for a lunch date, so I have a few moments to stand, breathe, and rejoice in the simplicity of mown grass, cool shade, and a light breeze.

It's a very small moment with very small details, yet that's all it takes. I enjoy those details so much, that I realize how much I've changed over the years.

It takes so little, now, to send me off rejoicing.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

There's a Stop Sign There

Today, I nearly drive right through an intersection because I forget the stop sign. It just doesn't seem right for there to be a stop sign there anyway. It's a long stretch of road with just a teeny-tiny parking lot to the left with a stop sign for oncoming traffic to let those cars out.

So I keep missing it and braking after the fact when I'm right in the middle of the intersection (or even after the intersection when I'm obviously too late).

I know, I know. There is a stop sign there, and it's telling me to stop. Not slow down, not roll through, but actually stop. Even if there's no car in sight. Even if it doesn't make sense. A higher authority tells me to stop, and stop I must. (I actually have this conversation with myself as I drive.)

In large ways and small ways, I was to listen and obey. Even if it makes no sense. Even if I see no point. Even if I can't comprehend any danger. Even if I have somewhere exciting to get to, fast.

When it's time to stop, we stop.

Is God telling us to stop, and we're not?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Ripe with Anticipation

Today I hear the phrase that something felt "ripe with anticipation," and I realize that's a wonderful feeling to cultivate.

You wake up, eagerly expecting the marvelous blessings of God--often disguised--awaiting you.

You wake up nearly bursting because of the day's possibilities.

This very moment might be seen as ripe with anticipation. So I cultivate that sense and I know--like the Israelites in Joshua 3:5--that something's coming. Joshua says, "Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you."