Saturday, August 31, 2013

Something Frisky (and Yummy)

I've been thinking about goat cheese all day. I love goat cheese.

This is the kind of day where one has time and space to actually think about random and inconsequential things. I need this day.

If you haven't discovered the joys of goat cheese yet, I recommend trying some. I've been feasting on goat cheese omelets, goat cheese and red pepper sandwiches (like this one from the Food Network), and goat cheese spread on crackers for after school snacks.

I briefly consider moving to a farm and raising goats. I wonder if Carl Sandburg's wife made cheese from all of her goats' milk. The dictionary, by the way, describes goats as hardy, lively, and most of all, frisky.

On this lazy Saturday in which we try to recover from that exhausting first week of school, we find ourselves short on frisky behavior. We lounge about, exhibiting no bounce, no bubble, and no perk.

Some of us are still in our pajamas. And we are eating goat cheese.

We'll save the lively and the frisky for the goats. I'm off to do nothing at all. Just like Jack.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Close, But Different

I love stories. I think about characters when I drive around town. I devise strange plots when I'm grocery shopping. Sometimes, I look at a student and plan a whole novel based on some event she shares. It's like my mind works best in narrative. I ask so many questions when I meet new people because they, too, become characters in the story I'm writing about them in my head.

All day long, I'm weaving a tale.

So all this time, I've thought fiction is my calling. But really, it's the devotional literature and non-fiction pieces that bear fruit and bless folks in one way or another. I'm walking on one beautiful path, but all the signs point in another direction.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever found a calling close to your gift set and talents but different from what you imagined?

Today I talk with my agent about a new direction for my writing. I'm thinking of a non-fiction book. I will share more later!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

In the Afternoon, Too?

My blackberry bush offered up her very last harvest this morning. The branches showcase crinkled fingers of leaves, and the remaining unripened berries surrender and shrink back into themselves.

With hardly any time to worry over the loss (and with 7 or 8 bags of frozen blackberries for winter cobbler), I rush to the raspberries. You can't keep up with them; they fill a whole bowl every morning as my daughter and I, dew-covered and hungry, pierce our hands to retrieve them.

By 3:00 PM, they produce a brand new harvest. By the end of the month, I'll resent this abundance for the work of it. But now, I learn this: A thankful, busy heart--with more work than one can handle--keeps me focused on current blessing and not what I don't have or what's now over.

I love raspberries.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Of Courage and Second Chances

I had a huge revelation while shampooing my hair this morning:

I keep praying for God to save my daughter from mean girls, teasing, and any and every bit of suffering. I've spent eleven years protecting her, caring for her, and using all my energy to keep her happy. And now, it's middle school. It's a whole new ball game.

So I begin the same old prayer, and then I stop mid-rinse.

No. This isn't quite right.

The better prayer is that God would be with her--that she'd experience His power and presence right in the middle of all the drama. There's no end to drama; my supposedly mature and wiser self experiences the exact same kind of exclusion, cliques, and general mean-spirited behavior from adults.

The secret isn't about creating a life that shields us from any drama. The secret is abiding with God in the midst of it.

In that presence is fullness of joy. In that presence is peace. In that presence we overcome.

Suddenly, peace fills my own heart. My daughter just might have a great day today, or she just might experience teasing (towards her or others), but either way, God is with her.

Besides, she is learning to stand up to mean people. And when she doesn't--because of fear or feeling "weird" that she champions kindness--she prays for second chances to be that one girl who has the courage to say, "Hey, let's stop gossiping and invite the one sitting alone to come eat lunch with us."

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tested By the Praise You Receive

I read this morning in Proverbs 27:21 that a "man is tested by the praise he receives." 

One might think more readily of other tests of character that undo us: hardship, loss, failure, or peer pressure. But praise?

Praise must test us in the deepest places. Praise tempts us to believe we're the real hero. It robs us of the joy of proclaiming, "That wasn't me. All along it wasn't me."

It was God. It was also us as we live interdependently. It was an entire network of sovereignly appointed circumstances that we actually had no say in. All we have, we've been graciously given.

It wasn't me.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Maybe You Just Need to Bake a Cake

It all starts tomorrow. Backpacks are stuffed and waiting by the door.

I smell pencil shavings from the sharpener and the sweet rubber of erasers.

I start tomorrow, too. I've copied my syllabus and readied my attendance sheets.

Everything's ready, but we don't quite feel ready.

My youngest decides that in addition to a back-to-school dinner (taco soup in the crockpot), we need a cake. 

A cake will get us ready! 

Why not?

Once frosted, we put it in the center of the table. We'll have a special dessert for this last evening of summer. We'll sigh, hold hands, and pray.

It all starts tomorrow, so we made cake.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Her Greatest Strength

This morning I read that our greatest strength is our weakness.

As we confess our utter dependence on God and our great need, we demonstrate our greatest strength.

With God, we become bold as lions and strong as oxen. We conquer and proclaim. We overcome and bring peace. We subdue whatever comes against us.

On our own, we are broken sails flapping against a wind we can never harness.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Fill Your Hands

School starts on Tuesday. My daughters will begin 6th and 3rd grade, and I'll start teaching two new classes of freshman. It's a weekend of transition. I print out schedules, organize spaces, and prepare myself for a whole new season.

Midday, I wander out to the garden for some sun-warmed berries. I fill my hands with them, and this even after an early morning harvest for the freezer.

Blackberries are surely one of the greatest delights of the earth.

The raspberries are just now ripening. I'll begin the great harvest of them all next month. We'll have our fill of all the good things September brings.

But for now, I bite down into the last few days of summer.

Friday, August 23, 2013

This + That, No Matter What

A friend tells me the secret to staying strong through illness and pain. This friend stays sick six months of the year.

"I used to pray for hope and focus on the future. I just didn't want to feel hopeless."

Praying for hope sounds good to me. I think of all the ways I put my hope in a future reality that something might change. 

But she reveals that hope alone isn't the answer for her.

"I pray for hope and the ability to be thankful in the midst if it." She smiles. She shines.

Hope plus a thankful heart sounds like a better equation to me. And it's a gift from God--something we cannot muster from self-will. 

We ask for hope and thankfulness, no matter what.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

One Precious Sentence

You know how over the years I've prayed for great friendships for my daughters. Well, last night, we arrive at our middle school for orientation, and I find myself so nervous about whether my daughter will find friends. Her homeroom class has no girls from her 5th grade class, and 6th grade suddenly seems overwhelming. Will she find a friend?

Suddenly, out of nowhere, my daughter stands face-to-face with a girl. They claim they know each other but have no idea from where. They never figured it out. Instead, they share information about one another--likes, dislikes, fears, joys--and soon, they stay side-by-side through the whole evening.

This sweet new girl links her arm around my daughter's arm and whispers in that Anne of Green Gables bosom friend kind of way: "I can just tell we are going to be great friends."

Excuse me while I get a tissue and cry my eyes out.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

More Wise Words from the Baker Family

The Baker family came last night for their annual visit.

If you recall, this is the family of seven with the mother who claims the sign of a happy childhood is dirty children. This family--with no television or video games--has instead developed musical abilities, a deep love of reading, excellent conversational skills, and even entrepreneurial adventures.  From afar, the Bakers have cheered the Neighborhood Fitness Group by supplying our beloved double-dutch jump ropes. 

Every time they visit, they delight us with musical performances (even the dad plays riotous piano!), rewarding conversation, literary insights, and wisdom--from the high schooler right down to the second-grader! Just like always, the older daughters want to spend time with me and their mother. They give me all sorts of advice about managing middle school.

Last year, I listened to how the mother talked to her teenage children and said, "I just love to be with you." During that visit, I learned the importance of telling my daughters over and over that I love to be with them. 

This time, I ask the oldest daughter what communicates the most love to her from her parents. She says, "I love it when my dad asks how he can help me."

How can I help you today? What a beautiful question for parents to ask! What a great question to ask spouses, too.

I tuck the question away for later with the other bit of advice I learn from the mom:

Earlier in the evening, the mother reminds me that people like to feel like they're experts. She says,"I love to ask others to tell me everything they know about something. I also don't assume I know more than they do about anything."

Tell me what you know about. . . 

I file this into my list of great conversation starters for both children and adults. So often we want to display our own knowledge instead of genuinely wanting to learn from others.

I love it when the Bakers visit!

Here's a photo of our after dinner walk in the woods. (Some children aren't pictured because they've run ahead!)


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Roll. Don't fold.

After 11 years, I've finally figured out how to deal with everyone's clothing. Folding clothes in stacks doesn't work for us. The drawers become a disaster in one frantic search for the right t-shirt.

So we roll every shirt and pants into little tight cylinders, from the bottom up, so you can see the shirt's design. These rolls--like spinach lasagna rolls!--sit snug against each other. We save so much room! We save time searching!

And, like when you pack for wrinkle-free clothes in a suitcase, each piece of clothing stays nicely pressed.

Roll. Don't fold.

Monday, August 19, 2013

4 Questions: A Current Events Challenge

This semester, I'm asking students to refresh their brains with some current events challenges. I clearly remember when I asked my college freshman some simple questions about our political leaders and basic geography. One student couldn't name the Vice President of the United States. Once, a student thought Mexico was in Europe.

I'm not kidding.

Most students realize they could educate themselves on what's happening in the world around them, especially when I remind them that entertainment news is not really news. Knowing what the Kardashians are doing or whether or not Selena Gomez is back with Justin Bieber isn't news.

I want to be an educated citizen with some national and international literacy. Test yourself with these four questions:

1. Can I point out Syria, North Korea, and Pakistan on a map?

2. Can I name at least a few current US Cabinet members? Do I know what the Cabinet refers to?

3. Can I articulate what's happening in Egypt right now?

4. Do I know where to go to vote?

Did you pass?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

He Cuts Things Out

As my climbing roses grow, I find myself carefully tending them more than any other plant in the garden. I prune anything dried or diseased and gently guide the branches towards their trellis.

This morning as I read my Bible, I'm reminded of John 15 where Jesus claims, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." Jesus says that he is the vine and we are the branches.

I think about the pruning work of God in my own life. I often forget to see any confusing or painful circumstances as God's pruning work intended to make my life even more fruitful. 

When God cuts something out (a relationship or activity) or redirects my plans, I remember that it's pruning.

It's pruning. That is what's happening to you, and it's a glorious thing.

God knows what must be cut and where we must climb.

Climbing Roses Beginning to Grow 

Climbing Roses, 3 months and Pruned 
Do you find that God prunes in order to make us more fruitful? I see that in so many relationships and even in my writing!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

"If you lose your mind, you lose it into the hand of God." Elizabeth Goudge

A new friend recommends one of her favorite books to me. It's The Scent of Water, by Elizabeth Goudge. It's a wonderful book! One character who fears for her mental state as she battles depression receives wise counsel from a spiritual friend. When she expresses how terrifying it is to lose your mind, the man replies, "If you lose your mind, you lose it into the hand of God."

As someone so afraid of returning to depression, I find such comfort here.

Even my mind can rest in the loving hand of God. I don't need to worry; my soul--different and distinct from my brain--doesn't deteriorate or fail. It doesn't waver or betray. My mind, however, might--and most likely will--betray me in the end. I will not fear.

If I lose my mind, I lose it into the hand of God.

Isn't this a great comfort and a great curiosity to consider the mind as different from the soul?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Down This Forgotten Path

I return today to a little park that I once frequented with strollers and juice boxes--back when my oldest started kindergarten instead of middle school.

So much time has passed! We walk down a familiar path that we'd forgotten about: the butterfly garden trail that six years later has grown indeed.

Well-planned and perfectly tended by a whole community of experts, this garden attracts the most beautiful butterflies.

As I walk down this path, I note how much beauty can grow up in just a few years.  The seeds planted all those years ago have grown into this:

We grow up, too, in this community. Walking down the path with young ladies instead of toddlers, I'm thankful for a garden path that reminds me how the seeds parents--and the whole community-- plant into the lives of children do one day bloom.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Spinach Lasagna Rolls (Cheap and the Kids Make Them!)

Today my youngest requests one of her favorite meals for dinner: Spinach Lasagna Rolls.

For under $10.00, you can make enough for two dinners, and children love to make them!

Here's how:

1. Boil lasagna noodles according to package directions.
2. Meanwhile, cook and thoroughly drain one package of chopped frozen spinach.
3. Then, mix a large carton of ricotta cheese with one egg, drained spinach, a dash of salt, pepper, oregano (and if you're feeling fancy, a dash of nutmeg).

4. Spread ricotta filling on your noodle and roll it up.

5. Place seam side down in pan, cover with your favorite jar sauce (it can even be a white sauce), and cook at 350 degrees until bubbly.

Yum. Yum. Yum. Your children will fill two pans, so go ahead and freeze one for your crazy back-to-school week dinner!

(Yes, you just made two dinners for under $10.00, so you can spend your savings on school supplies. I'm so happy, I'm about to go brag to the Italian Mamas who trained me well.)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Add This Verb to Your List

This morning, my friend asks me to pray for forbearance.

Nobody has ever asked me to pray that they might forbear.

I've actually never used this verb in writing before, so I decide to look it up. I assume it means something like persevere or strengthen, but it actually means to restrain even when provoked.

To restrain even when provoked! To stay quiet, calm, and in control!

Did you know that this word appears three times in the Bible to describe the great patience of God who restrains from treating us as we deserve? It's also a more accurate word to describe the fruit of the spirit in Galatians; instead of patience, other translations use forbearance.

I think about all the ways I might show restraint when provoked. I think of slow, gentle, quiet responses that persuade better than anger and loud speech.

Might I forbear.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

"Missing this, we miss everything."

I find myself reading the old classic, We Would See Jesus. In the introduction, the authors make the claim that if you miss the concept of grace in coming to Jesus, you've missed everything. 

In fact, they argue that, "the moment we have to do something to make ourselves more acceptable to God, or the moment we have to have a certain feeling or attribute of character in order to be blessed by God, then grace is no longer grace."

We have nothing to offer. Everything is bestowed freely because of Jesus. If we miss this, we miss everything.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Big or Little

We pass a sign on the road for automotive repair. It says, "No problem is too big or too little for us to handle." 

It's a funny sign that appeals to our insecurity in either direction: either our problems seem too big or too little for anyone's attention.

In God's economy, remember that the sparrow and the nation of Israel both receive tender care. The tiny and the large matter deeply. The problem of too little wine gains our God's attention as does a dying girl. 

If I think my problem is too big or too little, it's not. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013


I love photographing the dragonflies that land on the clothesline by the lake. One in particular flies in and lands.

Only later do I notice his torn wing.  His flight, despite that injury, seems all the more beautiful. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

For Them, Not You

A friend reminds me not to express love to people in the way I like to receive it. 

Go against your natural tendencies here.

It must be how they want to be loved and not how I want to loved. 

We discuss how extroverted people (like me) often approach others with overwhelming enthusiasm, curiosity-driven questions, and wide-open doors for deep bonding. 

This is all happening in the first five minutes of an encounter.

You can't do this with shy or introverted people. They don't experience this barrage as a loving act.

I'm advised to wait, speak less (or not at all), and just be generally nearby in case a person happens to want to connect. 

"That's more loving," she insists.

Now, I think about how the other person would like to be loved and cared for and not just project how I would want love expressed.

Simple advice. Profound advice.

Friday, August 9, 2013

My Favorite Back-to-School Bible Promise

When I was younger, I memorized a powerful Bible verse in Deuteronomy. Right before Moses sends Joshua into new territory beyond the Jordan, he summons the new leader and encourages him with this promise:

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you"(Deuteronomy 31:6).

Whenever it was time to move into new territory (middle school, high school, college, grad school, new careers, new neighborhoods), I always whispered this verse and remembered the great command to be strong and courageous because I have a God who is with me.

As my oldest begins middle school, she's excited but also fearful. With this verse in her mind--and so many others that point to God's faithful care--I pray she remembers this:

When fears abound, I know God is with me. I am strong and courageous because God will never leave me or forsake me. 

With so many imagined fears, I love to remember this promise to Joshua.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Beside Still Waters, He Restores My Soul

When I read Psalm 23, I love how God makes us lie down in green pastures.

I think of myself as a small child who just needs a nap. So tired, and yet I won't rest. So the parent makes it happen, amid the kicking tantrum of one who simply won't be still.

Oh, it's this way in me.

If I were to just relax into His care, I wonder what other wonderful and restorative places He'll make happen because I've simply followed His lead into a spacious and still place.

So I walk beside the still waters today and note how long it took to get me here. I also remember that when I leave, there are other still waters ahead--if I follow. I think of how God does whatever it takes--no matter how strange and seemingly painful--to get us to real rest.

White Lake, NC

Ducks on the Lake

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Day is Done, In Advance

This morning, I remember that the sun will set this evening.

It did last night, and these photos prove it.

This day will end, and I have no idea what will happen in the meantime. I cannot know, and there's something thrilling and wonderful and so hopeful about this fact.

The whole day stretches out before us. I cannot wait.

5 Great Promises from the First 5 Psalms

I love beginning a study of the Psalms every few months. In the margins of my green worn Bible, I have notes of what I thought about as I read the Psalms from all the way back in 1995.

That's 18 years of recording the faithful ways of God! I note the ways in which these promises are true and have always come about no matter what I was going through at the time.

I remember afresh the great truths of the first five Psalms:

1. Taking refuge in the Lord, we are like trees "planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever [we do] prospers." (Psalm 1: 3)

2. We are "blessed" as we "take refuge in him." (Psalm 2:12)

3. We have "a shield around [us]" and are both "answered" and "sustained." (Psalm 3:3-5)

4. We are "filled with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound." (Psalm 4:7)

5. And finally, in a concluding prayer of the psalmist, I pray this like I have since 1995: "Let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. For surely, O Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield."

I watch the wingspan of the dragonfly beside me and thank God that He indeed spreads wide His protection over us today. That wide love hasn't changed. It will not change.


Have you experienced the truth of these 5 promises?

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Shore Tells the Truth

I'm kayaking with my daughter, and we're way behind the others. We just can't catch up no matter how hard we paddle.

She looks into the waves and remarks that we're not getting anywhere. From that vantage point--and with the others ahead of us, gaining even more lake--it seems like a true statement.

Lifting our eyes from the waves, we look at the shore parallel to us. All of a sudden, we perceive we're flying at great speed past lazy Spanish moss-covered trees, boats tied to docks, little cottages, and lawn chairs.

"Keep watching the shore to tell you the truth. We're traveling so fast!"  We do, and we stay encouraged until the end of our exceedingly long journey. Every time my arms want to give out in discouragement, I look to the shore. 

Once again, I learn what difference where I fix my eyes makes. Yes, I fix my eyes on Jesus, and I know I'm gaining ground. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

"It doesn't have to be me." (Another reason to love Tenth Avenue North)

A few weeks ago, I attend a Tenth Avenue North concert with my daughters. Just a few days before, I had been researching the dangers of narcissism in leaders. Christian leadership, in many ways, can breed a kind of excessive self-focus and self-promotion.

When the lead singer of the band, Mike Donehey, speaks, he seems so humble and unconcerned with how he's coming off.

In fact, he tells the crowd he's changed. Donehey claims that in the early days of the band's success, he'd pray before concerts, "God, please use us. Please use us!"

"I don't pray that anymore," he says. "Now, I ask God to just move, and it doesn't have to be through us. It doesn't have to be me."

It doesn't have to be me. 

This feels like a deeper kind of freedom from self. (And it's another reason to love Tenth Avenue North.)

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Only One, Again

I gaze at the window at a single tree in a crowd whose leaves alone shimmy and turn with a gust of wind. Her jazz hands make me smile, especially when I notice she's the only one dancing. She's caught a wind current the other trees somehow miss.

I saw this as a child. I remember standing there, wondering why only one tree shook in the wind.

I learned that unseen processes govern the day. Something strange and wonderful seemed to animate the world, and like Wordsworth, I had to chase it down.

Secondly, I recall that two years ago, I wrote about the very same observation. I wrote that certain trees seem to position themselves to dance.

After all this time, I go back to the same beautiful lessons in nature. They cycle through, year after year. I'm not finding new things; I'm rediscovering the same old truths. There's a warm comfort in this.


Friday, August 2, 2013

Celebrating Hard Things: Starting Your Own Encouragement Group

When I was a Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan, the dissertation process overwhelmed me. It's one of the most difficult things I've accomplished in my life. In order to survive it, three friends of mine began what we called The Encouragement Group.

The Encouragement Group met once a week in our favorite coffee shop for two hours. Each member shared where they were in their own research and writing process.

Then the rest of us simply encouraged her.

We said nice things. We said kind things. We said inspiring things. We drank incredibly delicious teas and coffees and laughed. We asked questions and offered hope. We held hands and hugged. We read our work aloud and applauded.

The Encouragement Group didn't allow for gossip, criticism, or complaint. We had enough of that from our professional environment. This little group shone so brightly across the landscape of our weary souls that all discouragement faded to the background.

We entered into the hard things, and we encouraged. We didn't actually otherwise see one another during the week since we were either buried in books in the library's stacks, in front of our computers, or enduring the stinging critique of our committees.

The solitary dissertation process means you often suffer alone.

All these years later, I wish I might have formed The Encouragement Group for all the other hard and often solitary things: raising babies, moving to new cities, enduring clinical depression for years, experiencing publishing rejection, struggling to be a better wife, managing conflict, seeing dreams die, losing loved ones. . .

Can you imagine a group of friends exclusively devoted to encouraging one another through a difficult task?

I remember The Encouragement Group and wonder about starting another one.

Have you had your own Encouragement Group?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Jack is Not Amused

It's a gloomy day. Rain keeps us inside. It's muggy and slow around here. A little sun breaks through, but it's not enough to inspire Jack.

Profoundly Bored

He stays on the chair and watches me clean the house. Even with one eye, he's so expressive. And he's not amused.

Not Amused

I know. I know. It's a slow and gloomy day. We shall survive it together. 

I will make tea. I will pet my one-eyed cat. We shall survive.