Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Garden Hose Living

Today I told the story I teach that both haunts and refreshes me. In Andre Dubus' short story, The Doctor, we read the tale of a doctor who comes upon a boy who has fallen off a stone bridge into a shallow creek. 

As he falls, a stone slab from the bridge's guardrail falls on top of the boy and pins him down under just a few inches of water.

The doctor runs to him to try and lift the stone, but he cannot. He races up to the house beside the bridge and seeks the help of a woman who calls the fire department. It eventually takes four firemen, the doctor, and the woman to lift the stone.

But it's too late. The boys drowns in only a few inches of water. 

The doctor can't believe what has happened. Only later does he remember that by the house sat a garden hose. He cuts a few inches off the hose and holds it to his mouth. He can breathe through it. Had he offered it to the drowning boy, he would have lived.

I teach the story because it's about asking the wrong question and misinterpreting our circumstances. The boy's problem wasn't the stone slab; his problem was that he couldn't breathe. The best question wasn't, "How can I get the weight off of this boy?" The right question was, "How can this boy breathe?"

We look at our lives, and we ask the wrong question. Instead of working so hard to get out from under our circumstances, our first question should be, "How can I connect with Jesus here? How can I breathe in what I need of His power and presence, even if this weight of suffering remains?"

Our circumstances aren't the ultimate problem. It's that we need Jesus here. 

Here's the full text of the original story published in 1969:

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Training the Heart for 2015

This morning I reread something I need to remember every day. It's from a September 2012 post that has helped shape the last three years of my life. 


I read this morning a quote from Hannah Whitall Smith. She argues that "the soul who gives thanks can find comfort in everything; the soul who complains can find comfort in nothing."

I realize the truth of it, especially when she later writes this bold statement:

"There can be nothing in our lives that lacks in it somewhere a cause for thanksgiving, and no matter who or what may be the channel to convey it, everything contains for us a hidden blessing from God." 

How different my days could be if I only believed that every moment has within it a cause for thanksgiving and a hidden blessing from God! 

Training the heart towards such truth--remembering it each and every day--changes everything.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Oh, Do Tell

This morning I notice all the verbs in Psalm 145 that encourage talking. Hallelujah! You know me: I have "high articulation needs." I love to talk and write all day long.

In just 5 verses in the middle of the Psalm, we read about commending God to others. We're encouraged to tell, speak, proclaim, celebrate, and joyfully sing about God. 

In case we don't get the point, the psalmist performs a seriously redundant refrain. He ends by saying again, "My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord."

It's almost comical. It's like David says, "Y'all! Talk about God! With your mouth! I mean it! Open your mouth and say something!"

Open your mouth and declare. But what? David reiterates this too: recount God's awesome works, mighty acts, abundant goodness, and righteousness. 

So if you're wondering what to tell us about, you know.

Do tell! Open your mouth and say it. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Willing to Do Little Things

D. L. Moody said this: "There are many of us that are willing to do great things for the Lord, but few of us are willing to do little things."

I want to be willing to do small, unseen things. God is just as powerful and present in the little, ordinary act of obedience. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Still the Same God

Today I remember the great words spoken by Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego when Nebuchadnezzar was about to throw them into the fiery furnace for refusing to bow down to the image of the golden god.

In Daniel 3:16-18, we read the famous lines: "Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, 'King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up'.”

But even if he does not. . .  

I've been thinking so much about proclaiming the goodness of God and His immutable character traits that cannot be defined or explained in light of our circumstances. Immutable, if you remember, means unchanging and unable to be changed. When I evaluate God's character by whether or not He behaves in the ways I'm hoping or expect, I fall into dangerous ways of thinking. God is good and right at all times, so far above my understanding of what's happening around me. 

Sometimes life offers great opportunities to practice this truth. God is still the God we worship and serve at all times, whether He does what we want or not. 

Finally, I love how the three friends say, "We do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter." I like that we don't have to make a defense of our circumstances to anyone. We don't need to interpret them or explain them. God is able to do this or that, but even if He does not, He's still the same God. I will trust Him and bow down to Him alone.

Friday, December 26, 2014

With Your Face to the Enemy

Today I recall the letter that Isaac E. Avery wrote to his father when Avery lost his life in the Battle of Gettysburg. As Avery lay dying, he wrote--in his own blood--a letter to his father that said, "Major, tell my father I died with my face to the enemy."

Tell my father I died with my face to the enemy.

In fact, I learn that Avery was the closest man to enemy lines that afternoon in Gettysburg. People often quote this letter to illustrate courage and strength and a willingness to sacrifice. Avery didn't turn away from the enemy, and he didn't run. He died with his face to the enemy, and that's what he needed his father to know. That was the most important thing.

As I think about the close of the Christmas season and the beginning of a New Year, I think about courage. I think about facing every battle, both internal and external, with a new resolve. God strengthens and empowers, so we do not fear. God has overcome, so we do not fear. God has ordained our circumstances, so we do no fear.

We can advance with our face to the enemy and no longer retreat into a lesser kind of living. We move forward without fear.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas (and a Prayer)

I love receiving my daily email from "Prayers Over Our Children."  You can add yourself to the mailing list and enrich your own prayer life. I love how the site encourages us to prayer these biblical prayers for children all over the world, I often prayer these prayers for myself.

Today's prayer for children involves their creativity, empowerment, and connections to the right people. Click here to enjoy today's prayer.

My personal prayer for our family today is from Psalm 51:10-13

Create in me a clean heart, O God
and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 
Do not cast me from your presence 
or take your Holy Spirit from me. 
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will turn back to you. 

I pray that family members enjoy a clean heart, a steadfast spirit, the joy of salvation, a willing spirit, and a teacher's heart that leads others to truth.

Have a very merry Christmas day!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

"The hopes and fears of all the years / Are met in Thee tonight."

For the past few days, I've thought about the Christmas carol, "O Little Town of Bethlehem," written by Phillips Brooks and set to music by Lewis Redner. I love the line, "The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight."

All of our hopes--everything we've ever longed for or will long for--appears in Christ, the Everlasting Light. I think of C.S. Lewis' often quoted line that in Christ, the "door we've been knocking on all our lives will open at last."

It's not just what we have hoped for; our fears come together and find resolution and peace in the Incarnation. We have nothing more to hope for; we have nothing more to fear.

It all comes about on Christmas Eve.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

All the Christmas Joys

I go back and reread my blogs from this very day for the last few years. In 2010, I wrote about giving yourself the gift of novelty. In 2011, it was about the wonder of pop-up books. In 2012? All about sledding. The next year, I thought about my favorite traditions on Christmas. 

Today, I think about how thankful I am just to relax with family without needing to impress anyone. When you know you are deeply loved and deeply secure, you stop trying to impress. You get in your pajamas, take a bubble bath, and plan out the Christmas movies for the evening. The family never wanted picture-perfect; they wanted you, in your pajamas, relaxing.

Sure, everything happened that was supposed to happen, but it happened without the motivation of impressing. I can't explain the change other than to say I finally learned that nobody really cares if your peppermint bark layers detach en route to the teachers, if your Christmas Tree Rice Krispie Treats ooze butter and marshmallows because you added the wrong amounts, or if you forget to vacuum before the neighbors pop in.

Nobody cares if your present-wrapping absolutely stinks. People want what's inside anyway.

People want you, relaxing, without needing to impress.

Then, you find you really can experience all the Christmas joys.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Rude, Rude Drivers

With all this holiday shopping traffic, I find myself annoyed and impatient. I'm in a parking lot, trying to exit, and all lanes contain lines of crammed cars with their brake lights flashing and their horns blaring.

I feel like I'm in the clogged arteries of the city rather than in this small town.

Picture this: It's my turn to turn onto the main road (after waiting 15 minutes at a stand-still), but another line of traffic from another parking lot keeps merging in front of me. I feel helpless and angry. It's my turn! I've been waiting!

Then, out of the blue, a fancy little black car jets up around me, steals my place in line, and forces itself out into traffic ahead of me, taking my spot! The nerve! The audacity! The sheer presumption!

Inside the car, a smartly dressed couple smugly stares ahead, so satisfied with their line-cutting. I'm sure they have a fabulous party to attend. I'm sure they must think they are so special. I shake my head and frown. How dare they?

As I fume, I find that something so strange happens. The other cars, equally shocked at the audacity of the little car, stop. It's like the Red Sea has parted. Nobody moves. People remember their manners and let our line of cars through.

Taking advantage of this momentary stall, I smoothly drive into the rude drivers'  spacious wake. In fact, I follow them out of traffic into the quiet of my neighborhood. When they turn, I turn. When they push ahead, I follow.

Their ill-mannered and impolite treatment of me actually paves the way for me. Besides, maybe I was too cautious. Maybe someone had to teach me how to assert myself a bit.

I smile and find myself admiring this brave little couple.

I remember that in every inconvenient thing, and even in every rude treatment, a special blessing hides. There's something to learn and some path to follow, even when we lose our turn.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Half Made Whole

I love cutting snowflakes from paper, making doll chains, or any kind of paper cutting crafts. Ever since I was a little girl, I loved the concept of these half-shapes that turned into something glorious once unfolded. I'd cut half-stars, half-hearts, half-diamonds, and even half-swans. I'd cut jagged icicles, triangles, and squares, but only in part. The laws of symmetry took over after that.

No matter how much I tried to build the finished product in my mind, nothing could prepare me for that unfolding. It was always true: what I cut featured exact correspondences on the other side of the fold. Reflectional symmetry captivated me ever since.

I often remember a grade-school art project when we painted half the page, right up to a crisp fold. The teacher folded the other half on top of our paint, and we had a mirror image of our work when she unfolded it.

Something about this activity tapped into something important--some law--that made me so happy. I couldn't explain it, but I knew that God designed the world with symmetry in all things. Most everything I saw could be folded in half with one side matching the other.

Even then, I knew that every half could be made whole.

As I cut my snowflakes, I think of how one half-action here echoes fully into eternity. I think of how confusing cuts into my life will open up into something full and beautiful at the unfolding of time. I live in halves.

I know it part, but one day I will know in full. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13 that we know in part; we prophesy in part; we see only a reflection. But one day, we shall really see. One day, we shall fully know. It will all unfold in a glorious display.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Nothing But Yes

My nearly teenager announces that she wants to redesign her room. (She merely wants all the furniture in a different location, so this costs me nothing.) As she's broadcasting her plans to destroy my carefully balanced layout of her beautiful room (there's even an accent wall of dark green), I remember a wise comment by a great mother that the secret of parenting teens is to "say yes as much as possible." She advised me that "saying yes as much as possible" builds a great rapport between mothers and daughters.

I think that the "no" really matters and means something when it's not overused.

I say, "Yes! Of course!" I hide all my interior warnings of accent walls, poor lighting, and symmetry.

So I stand there in the bedroom as the tornado of furniture, clothing, and bedding flies about. I'm there to help; I offer no commentary except supportive statements. I give her full artistic control.

This nearly does me in.

To contain my controlling tendencies, I vacuum three years worth of dust under her bedside tables that I never thought to move. Maybe I don't have everything in order, after all. The dust stares me down, mocking.

Meanwhile, she's taking over. She's dominating her space as she should. She's got full artistic control, as she should. As she should.

It's a breakthrough. This is her space; this is her life. When it's all over, she calls the whole family in to see her work. She feels so good in her new space, and I feel so good that I didn't disempower her.

Maybe she'll remember the day her otherwise controlling mother (who's changing by God's power) stood in the center of her teenage tornado and said nothing but Yes!

Friday, December 19, 2014

What She Wants to Be When She Grows Up: More Wisdom From Children

A new young 4th grader comes to visit us yesterday, and as I'm getting to know her, I ask all the usual questions. We talk about hobbies she enjoys and music she loves, but then we start talking about talents and dreams. I ask, "So what do you want to be when you grow up?"

I'm remembering all the standard answers that have everything to do with importance, money, or fame. I think about the other categories of dreams I hear about that always launch the child into a life of excitement and adventure.

But this little one tilts her head up, closes her eyes in thought, and finally says, "A great friend." She slips off the counter stool and goes on her merry way.

When she grows up, she knows she'll really be something if she's a great friend. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Bizarre Spiritual Analogy

I'm cutting a red onion for a Greek salad, and my eyes burn like never before. I'm experiencing the sulfuric gas that creates a mild acid in my eyes. Chopping onions offers this unfortunate side effect that cooks do unusual things to avoid.

I've heard everything from chopping onions underwater to whistling so you direct the airflow away from your face. Some people freeze the onions first. Others chop onions near a steaming pot of hot water. Still others wear goggles.

If you want those onion slices, you need to deal with what comes with their use.

I know it's probably the strangest comparison I've made in years, but I stood by my sink and thought of the unfortunate side effects that come when I'm used in some way.

When publishers call (Which they have!) or book sales keep on the rise (Which they are! Thank you!), I immediately feel the old temptations of self-importance and the allure of influence. I'm chopping that onion, and what rises up from its use burns. It doesn't bless.

It's not pleasing. It's not good.

I think of the pleasing aroma that rises up to God with every sacrifice in scripture. I want my life and work to rise up like a pleasing aroma to God. As the onion's gasses rise, I think about what it takes to transform them and manage them. Most experts use water to subdue those gases. They drench the onion in it. They submerge the onion it. They intercept every rising gas with it with.

Oh, the Living Water that takes whatever I offer and subdues the negative side effects that come, aided by the world, the flesh, and the devil. We are onions to be drenched in God's word, submerged deeply into a life of confession and repentance, and intercepted with every use by God's glory and not our own.

Otherwise, what we offer the world--what rises up from our life's work--burns more than it blesses.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Strange Way to Refresh Yourself

We've been talking about generosity around here lately. The word generous means to give more than what is expected or required.

I repeat: More than what is expected or required. 

I tend to give what's necessary or expected--not what's lavish or excessive. But so many times in scripture, we're counseled to give generously.

This kind of teaching exhausts me on days when I already feel like I have nothing left to give anyone.

Yet, I'm reminded of this gem of a Bible verse that reorients me (and brings joy!) during this last week before Christmas. It's in Proverbs 12:25:

A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will himself be refreshed. 

I think about refreshing others through whatever God has given me to give--whether time, money, talents, or material goods. Then, I find I'm even more refreshed.

Can it be true? How amazing! This upside-down, counter-intuitive principle tells me to give more when I need refreshment.

But I want to rest! I want to hide away! I want to keep my time for me! I want a spa day!

I know the truth today; whoever refreshes others will himself be refreshed.

I'm putting it to the test, and I find it's true. Praise God that it's true.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sadness in the World

As I read about the school children killed in Pakistan, I don't know how to handle it. It's a reality too horrific to understand.

I go about my ordinary day and feel the cold rain on my face as I walk children to school. I return to clean the bathroom and think of the people in the world who wish for just one ordinary day when nothing terrible happens, when nobody dies and nobody is hurt. I shop at the grocery store and choose crisp apples for my cart. I greet excited children after school who gather about me and organize play dates. I wipe down a counter. I brush my hair. I listen to a daughter play piano.

This is an ordinary day.

Everything suddenly seems so precious, too precious to really understand: this peaceful neighborhood, these school children, this warm home with lazy cats beside me.

The apple I eat seems too good to be true--too privileged--in light of the horrors all over the world.

So many people are suffering today. Oh, Lord, help us. Help us now. We need you. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Expressing Love Through Food Isn't Always the Best

This week, I've been reminding myself that I don't need to express my love to people through food all the time.

But I do! I always do! What do you need? Buttery cookies, rich peppermint bark, buttermilk fried chicken, elaborate mugs of hot cocoa, yeast rolls carefully risen, or a thick oniony roast? What might bless you? Dumplings, lemon bars, Irish cheese, a flaky pot pie?

I wake up thinking of ways to love my family and neighbors through food.

My great friend and walking partner tells me recently that she's noticed that I prefer to express love through food. I hadn't thought of it like this. And I know that's not always the best expression of love, especially as we try to gain health in my family. Moms can do so many other things to express love that have nothing to do with food.

As I gain fitness and shed extra weight, I'm thinking about food and love differently.

Did my children feel less loved when the after school treat was a game or a snowflake cutting craft? Did they feel less loved by a long conversation on the couch? Did they notice that the once decadent after-school snack platter was oranges and red pepper? I can find some healthier alternatives to sugar and butter. Will they care?

No. Nobody complained. I want to break the symbolic connection that food means love.

Love doesn't always have to be food.

But when there's a need, and someone's hungry, I'll bring it. In the meantime, I can love you in a million other ways.

(Once I asked my daughters what communicated the most love to them from me. Was it chocolate cake? Presents? Clothing? No. My youngest said she loved it when I talked to her while she was in the bubble bath.)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Fan It

Today I encounter the great verse from 2 Timothy 1:6 where Paul advises Timothy to "fan into flame" his spiritual gifts. Some translations say "kindle afresh" or "stir up" those gifts.

As I think about this idea of fanning your special gifts into flame, I recall what it takes to get a fire really going and why one must "fan" a fire.

The system needs oxygen--lots of it--from the air until the fire is strong enough to take the oxygen from the air itself. When you fan a flame, you're helping this process. It's an intentional action designed to help a flame survive. Then, nothing can stop it. At some point, it's been fed enough; it takes off in a great, sustained blaze.

I wonder how Timothy might have intentionally fanned into flame his gifting. I think about ways we might enlarge and sustain our own gifting, whether by practice, study, prayer, more exposure, or more intentional use. It's convicting and challenging to ask whether we're intentionally fanning into flame the gifts God has given us.

I don't want to waste my gifting. I don't want to flicker and fade, snuffed out by discouragement, apathy, or fear.

But then I think about myself as someone who might help fan into flame the gifts of other people who have a flickering flame. I think about naming spiritual gifts in others, encouraging their use, providing public opportunities for them, and praying for their full development. Let me kindle something afresh in someone else.

You keep feeding the tiny flame. You fan and fan until, one day, the whole thing blazes up in an unstoppable display of God's glory.

I'm walking about this life, fanning into flame what I see of God in you and me.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Decompression Times

I'm reading a student essay on deep sea diving, and I'm fascinated by the dangers of this activity. In particular, I read about the dangers of a fast ascent from certain depths. I've heard about decompression sickness, or "the bends," before, but I didn't realize how carefully managed a diver's ascent must be to prevent gas bubbles forming in the body.

One simply can't rise that quickly; the body can't handle it.

Instead, skilled and safe divers learn how to make decompression stops. They literally stay in place at certain depths until the body fully acclimates there. Then, they move upward at a very slow pace. There's a science to it all, an algorithm, that tells a diver when to stop and for how long.

It protects and saves. It's absolutely vital.

I imagine that diver on his way up. I imagine how annoying it must be to stop and wait when the destination looms just ahead.

When I think about my lofty dreams that seem to come about at a very slow pace, I feel the gentle reminder that certain seasons of holding patterns, of strange pauses, of paralysis, and of stagnation, might just be those essential decompression stops. God knows that quick rises to any kind of fruitful destination aren't always good for the soul. Instead, I'm in a carefully managed decompression plan.

A slow and steady life, full of pauses and gentle rises, offers the kind of decompression we need.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Holiday Assignment: Go Nurture the Nurturer!

I have a new favorite verb: nurture. It derives from the Latin words meaning to cherish and feed. 

Last night, I see my great friend at a concert, and she looks absolutely radiant. She's a completely different woman from the one I experienced earlier in the week. Just two days ago, she was stressed out, exhausted, and so overwhelmed that her whole being showed it.

But not this night.

She tells me that something happened that changed everything. It was a small thing, really.

Just this: Her husband packed her lunch, brought her coffee, and delivered Christmas donuts to her office.

This few minutes of nurturing her--cherishing her and feeding her--soothed everything. She found renewed energy and encouragement.

All night, I think about how, during the holidays, caregivers spend all day long nurturing everyone else around them. They experience stress, fatigue, and discouragement. But when someone nurtures them, even in small ways, the load lightens.

Someone needs to nurture the nurturer. I'm thinking about this as I walk around town. Is there a way I can nurture a nurturer I know, especially during this special season?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Never Like This Again

I say good-bye to another class of freshmen today. I'm always overwhelmed with the thought that never again will we all be together like this, in this way. But for this year, in this time of their lives, we were.

Oh, we were!

I ask each one what they'll take from the class, and it's two things most of all: friendship and vivid verbs. Some have rediscovered a love of writing and analysis. Others have learned the power of the gentle semicolon.

I have learned how much I love people. Writing just connects me to them.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Second Guessing

I've been thinking about confidence lately. A student hands me a paper and says, "You are going to love this. This is an A paper." 

He's beaming. He's standing tall. He's not coming off as arrogant or presumptuous either; he speaks like he's stating a simple fact. 

And I get the strangest feeling that he's so proud of himself that the grade I give the work wouldn't diminish his joy. 

Oh, that we all had that confidence! In my nearly 15 years of teaching, I rarely see this kind of confidence. Instead, I see much second-guessing. Students ask what I think, but they often can't tell me what they think about their own work. 

I want to help students (and my children) grow in confidence and joy in their work--on their own terms. Part of growing up means we don't always need to ask someone else if this thing we've created is good, beautiful, or worthy. We know it is, and that's part of the process. 

I suppose this means providing students with an accurate way to evaluate their work. I suppose this means educators somehow help students internalize the means to self-evaluate. 

I'm hoping that more and more I might ask students, "Do you think it's good?", and they'll have an answer. And this answer will hold tight with joy no matter what another person says. 

And yes, I still dislike grading (as you might have guessed). 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Would He Give Him a Stone?

I read in Matthew 7:7-11 something so beautiful to remember:

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!" 

I think of the "good gifts" of the Father, and I'm struck by the realization that I often interpret His good gifts as stones or snakes.

God brings something to me, but I only feel the heavy weight of a stone.

But what comes into my life, because of the sovereign love of God--His ultimate goodness--represents a good gift. I think of the times I've prayed when God seems to send something so far from a good gift. He often sends what I feel like are the snakes and stones of difficulty or disappointment.

But God gives good gifts, not snakes and stones.

So I ask Him to give me that eye of faith to see what's in my hand as a gift, not a heavy stone.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Rare and Beautiful Treasure

In Proverbs 24: 3-4, we read that "through wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures."

We host a big Christmas party for all the graduate students last night. So many of them come to find me in the kitchen. They say, "Thank you for opening your home to us!" I remember how, years ago, I worried about my old carpets, my outdated and damaged furniture, and my mismatched plates. I wanted a beautiful home, filled with all kinds of beautiful things. I wanted treasures.

But last night, with all the people filling my living room and caroling, I remember that the "rare and beautiful treasures" are people. People filled every room, and they were more precious than all the gold in the world.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Never Once Moved

I go out for a walk alone, and I notice the bright winter sun. It's so strange how I strain for that sunshine on my face as if the sun is the one who moved away. It never moved; it stays there, fixed, and I obit around it. My perception of its warmth changes each season, but it has never once moved.

In these changing seasons, I remember that God's love is a fixed reality. It never moves, even if it feels like it's moving far away from me. God never moves away; His love never dims. In some seasons, I must strain more, turn my face more sharply to it, and chase it down because I'm the one who has moved.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

They Remember It Differently

Today, we start making Christmas cookies. I've written in years past all about the explosion of sprinkles and various motherhood lessons along the way. I've written about how I can measure my daughter's growth and maturity based on how well the baking and decorating goes.

So it all begins again today: the butter, the sugar, the icing, and the flour. This time, I have eager helpers who last exactly three minutes before they get into some other activity. At the kitchen table, one draws while the other crochets. They play dolls for a bit and then watch a Christmas show.

We're all singing along to music.

Behind the counter, I'm covered in sprinkles. Frosting drips from my hair.

"I love making Christmas cookies," they say. But they aren't making the cookies; I am. For the first time, they aren't with me in the same way. They are with me, but not with me.

Oh, they grow. They grow up and away, and this is right and good.

Christmas Cookie Day, I realize, is no longer about cookies. It's a symbol, a nostalgic representation for them.

"I love making Christmas cookies," they say again. I'm looking at these no-longer-little girls and understanding my new parenting roll. I will roll out a thousand more cookies each year, and they will be with me but not with me.

They'll remember this day and all the fun we had together making cookies. They loved this day, and I did, too. I'll just remember it a little differently.

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Little Crack of Light

With all those student stories thick in my mind, I leave my house for a doctor's appointment. I want to interact with nobody. It's that kind of morning, and as an extrovert, you know it means something if I don't want to talk. I give off all the signals: glasses on, sweatpants, hair in a ponytail, no makeup. I'm serious; I'm in no mood to converse. Besides, I find there's a People Magazine in the waiting room, and I can't resist celebrity gossip.

An office assistant asks me how my Thanksgiving was. I say, "Fine." I cross my legs and bury my face into pictures of Taylor Swift and Katie Holmes. To be polite, I say, "How was your holiday?" But I'm not looking at her. I'm not paying any attention.

"Well. . ." she begins. But I know she can read the signals. She doesn't continue. She turns back to her desk work, and I read an entire article about how Katie Holmes has rebuilt her life. I'm really into her story, but the whole time, I'm nagged by the thought of that office assistant wanting to tell me something. I ignore the prompt and read about more celebrities. Finally, I obey.

"I finished reading all my celebrity gossip," I laugh as she looks up. "Now I can talk! Tell me all about your holiday."

And so she begins, slowly at first. Something terrible has happened to her family, and it wasn't a holiday at all. She tells her story, and I acknowledge every single searing sentence.

I'm called back for my appointment. The whole time, I'm thinking about what words I might say and how I might comfort her. When I finally return to the waiting area, I tell her again how sorry I am about what's happening in her life. And then I remember what my friend said helped her when she was in the pit of grieving and anger. A wise mentor said to look for "holy moments" throughout the day--little signs of God's grace and presence. That's all you can do. You sit there in your pain and all you can do is look up and see a tiny little crack into something holy. 

Before I can utter the words, the assistant says, "I'm haunted by pain every single day."

So I say, "I don't know anything to say except that a friend of mine said something about holy moments." I mumble and stumble and feel awkward. I talk about God's love and say all the wrong things. It's ridiculous. I should have just. . . I don't know. Why do people like me feel like they need to give advice? Hurting people don't want advice.

But she smiles and nods an eager Yes! "Yes!" she says. "Yes! That's exactly right." Her eyes are shining. Some darkness has lightened inside of her.

And me.

We stand there, looking at each other, and I realize I'm in a holy moment right now. There's a little crack of light.

And in that space, I remember again to listen to the stories of people--even strangers--around me. It's a holy place.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Once You Know Their Story

They arrive with their stories--at least the beginnings of them. They can write anything at all for this memoir assignment, any single event from their lives. We talk about all the technicalities: vivid verbs and adjectives to set a mood, precise characterization, sensory detail, and dialogue. We talk about pace. We talk about offering that delayed revelation that provides insight to the reader. And, as always, we talk about creating mystery and tension to keep the reader engaged.

I write on the board how mystery forms from life's unanswered questions, objects that hold symbolic meaning yet revealed, confusion, or a problem that needs resolution.

I write those words like they are simple and easy, like they are as pure as the white chalk that forms them. In reality, words relating to our stories hold entire murky systems of pain and loss and joy and beauty and sorrow.

As I teach students to juggle all of these strategies to tell a good story, I feel like a detached surgeon instructing students to cut into their own hearts. I stand there with the chalk, but when I pull back, I see their own precious stories. I look at their faces and their hesitant fingers that begin to write. I look at the smiles or the trembling chins.

The story they hold inside is no small, easy thing.

Each soul is so infinitely precious. Each one. It doesn't matter where they've been, who never loved them, what kind of money their parents make, the color of their skin, the grades they made in high school, or what kind of covering they wear on their heads. If you sit someone down across from you--that "other person"--and hear that story, you'll love that person so much your heart will hurt.

And then you'll want to tell, and listen to, all the stories you can.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Giving Folks Honest Feedback

It's that time of the semester when students come to me in tears about their grades. They realize it's too late; no amount of begging or remorse changes the reality of the grade. 

I loathe grading. It's my least favorite part of my job. Yes, it's time consuming, tedious, and repetitive, but that's not the reason why I dislike it so much. I dislike it because I love the students so much that I'm rooting for them to succeed. I want them all to shine. I want God's mercy and grace to flow through me, but those terrible grades seem like some kind of punishment. I know this isn't true, but still, it feels this way. I cry out to them, "Don't worry about this grade! You are great! You are loved! You can do it!" Handing back papers exhausts me.

One time, I handed a student her C paper with tears forming in my eyes. She tried so hard, but she missed the mark. She slowly said, "I think you are more upset about this grade than I am." It was true.

Over the years, however, I've realized the importance of giving honest, clear feedback--even if it's painful and uncomfortable. It's not harmful to students to know the truth; sometimes I'm just too worried about protecting students' emotions. This is ridiculous. Saving people from honest feedback, even if it's difficult for them, doesn't help them at all. I'm learning this.

Saving people from their mistakes, even if it means they lose scholarships, doesn't serve them. It's not always loving to save people from their mistakes.

I'm learning to let people cry and experience all sorts of distress because of my feedback. It's the only way to grow. It's the only way to learn that their inherent beauty and value have nothing to do with performance anyway. If I didn't tell them the truth, I'd rob them of experiencing what only a bad grade can teach them.

I'm glad I gave myself this little grading pep talk before I hand back the next set of papers.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Go Forth!

This morning I remember Isaiah 55:12:

"You will go out in joy 
and be led forth in peace; 
the mountains and the hills 
will burst into song before you
and all the trees of the fields 
will clap their hands." 

Some days I feel like this; the whole world bursts into song. I see signs and symbols--in the mountains and the trees, the icy winter sky and the snowflakes-- that a great God has touched this creation, leaving traces of His nature. I go out with joy in my heart and feel led forth in peace on these kinds of days.

On these days, I remember my status as a child of God, seated securely. I remember that God pronounces peace and joy over me. I begin with the truth of it and let it burst over me, clapping till I'm giving it my full attention.

I go forth into it.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Special Delivery

My daughter badly fractured her big toe! A plate fell on it. It's so painful! It will heal in time, but no walking to school or any kind of fun winter activity. 

When my Wise Big Sister hears the news, she places an order with Insomnia Cookies for an immediate delivery of fresh-baked cookies (delivered right to the door in a box--warm and gooey).

My sister lives so far away, but whenever she hears that one of her nieces needs anything, she sets up some kind of special delivery.

When your holiday feels ruined by a fractured toe, a delivery of homemade cookies soothes the soul. You feel special and chosen and loved and seen. 

I'm thankful for doctors, sisters, cookies, and daughters who feel loved by them all. My daughter says through her tears, "God really does care about my toe."

And if the evidence of that care comes in the form of warm white chocolate cranberry cookies, we'll take it. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Special Thank You to Teachers Who Do This in December

In 2006, my daughter went to the world's greatest preschool in Ann Arbor, MI. It was FUMCN (First United Methodist Church Preschool Cooperative). The teacher, Ms. Juli, sent home surprise Christmas presents that year made from handprints and footprints of the children.

This one of a reindeer, made from my 4 year old's footprint as the body and her two handprints as the antlers, hangs on the kitchen wall every single December. And every single December, I get all misty eyed as I look at this smudged little reindeer.

And do you know what goes through my mind? I think about how Ms. Juli got all those children barefoot, placed a wriggling and uncooperative foot in brown paint, positioned it carefully on white felt, and then figured out how to get that foot all cleaned up in time for pick-up. Then I think of the containers of green and red paint, the glue, and the chaos of it all. I think of the pom-pom noses flying across the classroom and googly eyes that won't stay put.

I think of the parent volunteer who stitched the fabric and the other one who tied the green string for hanging. I think of the wrinkled and bunched up wrapping paper, encircled by an entire roll of tape, that I unwrapped that year.

Was it worth it, this mess?

Yes! Yes! Oh, teachers and volunteers, yes!

I wanted to thank that teacher from all those years ago. One day, a parent will hang up the old preschool Christmas gifts when her daughter is a teenager, and she'll cry her eyes out as she remembers. She'll place her own hand over those little handprints and whisper a prayer, not just for her own growing daughter, but also for teachers who leave these kind of marks.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Not My Finest Moment

Today I was temperamental. 

If you look this word up in your trusted dictionary, you'll find that it means moody, mercurial, erratic, unpredictable, and even peculiar. I like to think that I've mastered my own moods after all this time and effort, but really, I'm just terrible. I've been known to pout if my schedule changes, if I'm too cold, or if I don't get my way. You should see me in airports. You should see me when I'm tired. You should see me when I'm hungry. Goodness.

My husband gets the worst of it. He turns to me after one particularly mercurial situation in which I fumed over not getting my way, and he calmly says:

"Well, this hasn't been your finest moment."

I tell him that I'm honestly trying to be spirit-filled and full of joy like everyone else around me. I tell him that I'm just too sensitive and not like other people who can withstand all manner of discomforts. I wish I were stronger, but today was not my finest moment.

He doesn't seem so bothered by it all. He's moved on to blessing me by doing the dishes and folding some laundry. This is really happening right now on the very eve of my terrible pouting.

Sometimes, all you have to offer the world is your own broken down self, full of pouting and demands. It's the honest you, and you find you are still loved.

So if today was not your finest moment, you weren't alone. And we still love you.

Friday, November 28, 2014


We return from visiting grandparents at the seashore. We've been told that this particular shore holds the most extraordinary collection of seashells. People come from all over the world to comb this beach for shells. Shelling at Sanibel Island is something we've looked forward to; however, this particular season, we're so disappointed.

Something's not right. The shells simply aren't there.

We discover from a local resident the reason for this season's emptiness:  

If you want extraordinary shells, you need a turbulent, stormy season. It hasn't been violent enough to churn up the shells and deliver them to the shore. Shells like the ones on Sanibel Island require some deep disturbances. It's just been too calm below the surface. 

I love the symbolism of it all and how, if you want a life to showcase the most beauty, it needs the most turbulent inner storms--those deep disturbances that churn up the rare and hidden treasures in our depths. 

The beautiful treasures hide inside, and it takes a storm to reveal them. So I ponder those moments in life that feel storm-tossed and unsettled. This kind of shaking gets to something authentic.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

When You Need Help

Don't worry if you find yourself in a situation where you need help--emotionally or physically. 

God is the Helper. How wonderful to know it!  What an amazing cause for Thanksgiving! Today I read in Psalm 34:17:

When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.

I remember to cry for help and await a sure deliverance. It might not come when or how I wish, but I know that the Helper is here, working already.

The Helper is here, working already. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Remember the Cutest Veggie Tray for Thanksgiving

This afternoon, I remember my favorite Thanksgiving Vegetable Platter.  I found the idea at Living Locurto under the post, "10 Creative Vegetable Trays." I thought I'd repost my version here. Enjoy!

We arrange bok choy and spinach, then carrots, and then sliced peppers of alternating colors for beautiful feathers.  We use cucumbers and then half a green pepper as the face.  We improvise with olives and a pepper slice to finish the turkey's expression.  Finally, we use celery for feet. 

Turkey Vegetable Platter

I actually have to force my children to stop eating the vegetables so I can take a photo.   Welcome, Turkey Veggie Platter, to our Thanksgiving traditions. 

Isn't it funny how children will eat vegetables made to look like something else? 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Fortress Inside

I love rereading Hannah Whtiall Smith's comments on our inner life and how we have within us a refuge and fortress in God. Over and over again, I go back to this inner, invisible dwelling place. 

Here, all is well. Here, all is just as it should be.

Then, what's happening externally hardly unsettles us. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Smallest Gesture Brought Some Peace

As you know, I struggle with so much travel anxiety. I pray and use all sorts of strategies, but sometimes I just feel all out of sorts. I imagine nothing will ever be right again and that everything is falling apart inside of me.

This morning in a little hotel coffee shop, I ordered some coffee. The counter displayed a huge variety of expensive specialty chocolates. My daughter bought a yogurt, but she said, "Let's get chocolates!" 

I shook my head and said that we don't eat chocolate for breakfast. 

As we turn to leave with our yogurt and coffee, the salesperson rushes up to us, opens her clenched palm, and offers my daughter a golden-wrapped truffle. 

"For after breakfast," she says, smiling.

She walks away as we thank her, but she returns to find us one more time. 

"The mother needs one, too."

She gifts me this lovely chocolate and tells me to have a wonderful day. 

The day feels different and blessed. What I order up for it is always less than what God has in store. He runs after me to bless me with what I think isn't allowed or is out of reach.

That little gesture reminded me to wait for and observe tiny blessings today. My anxiety lessens and changes to anticipation as I wait for what golden wrapped, lovely treat this day will offer.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Blessing Others During the Holidays

As I grow older, I become more and more excited about what it means to bless others (instead of focusing on myself). 

In the past, I've been supremely self-focused. Popular blogs about the holidays sometimes feed into our narcissism; we're told to take care of our needs and focus on our own happiness.

I've tried all this. I'm finding my joy increases when I focus on the needs of others. Instead of wondering what I'm missing or who can meet my needs, I'm going back to the ancient truth: it is more blessed to give than to receive. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Majesty No Matter Where

Today I think about how much we enjoy majesty. We feel so alive and full of joy in the presence of a truly majestic thing. Majestic things are exceedingly beautiful, exceedingly powerful, and exceedingly great. 

I love thinking about majestic creatures, majestics landscapes, and majestic ideas. But what if I'm somewhere devoid of majesty? I remember that no matter where I am, I have the opportunity to think about the majesty of God. No matter where I am, I can find what is exceedingly beautiful in either people, patterns in nature (no matter how small), or in ideas. 

Every moment can hold something majestic within it--no matter where we are. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Succulent Little Update

I'm washing dishes and noticing how beautiful and full my terrariums have become. Do you remember in May how I made little terrariums with my friend?

They were precious and so fun to make. Perhaps you have family coming into town for Thanksgiving. They might enjoy making terrariums one afternoon. The two photos below are the original terrariums, and the third is the present day one!

They've grown so big in 7 months, and I've hardly watered them. They make the winter kitchen seem a little brighter, and they still remind me of what I wrote back then:

I love what those succulents symbolize; like them, I want to store up all the beauty and truth I can, fattening myself up with joy, so I'm able to flourish in the driest season.

I love studying all the growing things in my life, no matter what the season. Acorns, raspberries, peonies, artichokes, paperwhites, tomatoes--each has something to teach us.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Blooming Now?

My youngest daughter bought me a package of Paperwhite Narcissus bulbs for planting indoors. We planted them on November 1st, and today, they bloomed! This only took 20 days from planting to enjoyment. Fragrant! Lovely!

Do you remember when I wrote about the "Chilling Requirement" of certain fruit trees in Pennsylvania? The peach trees, for example, need 1000 hours of rest in below 40 degree weather for dormancy. They won't flower and produce fruit unless they meet this chilling requirement. The chilling requirement for some plants enables them to then come alive in a new season. Only then will they begin to grow.

Back then, I wondered what my own chilling requirement might be.

Paperwhites, however, have no chilling requirement. As soon as you plant them, the bulbs immediately begin to grow. Unlike other bulbs like daffodils and tulips (that require adequate chilling), paperwhites just bloom no matter what. You just add water! And you can stagger your plantings so you have continuous blooms throughout the holiday season.

I love looking at and smelling my paperwhites. They remind me of a certain readiness for action, a certain ability to spring to life when it's time. I tell God I'm ready--anytime and anywhere--to grow and bloom. Instead of considering traditional patterns of rest and dormancy, God might invite me to be more paperwhite than tulip this season.

It's all inside of us. Just add water, and we're ready. We don't pay attention to traditional patterns; when God says to bloom, we do it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I Know It Cold

It's cold! My cats curl up by the heaters and steal all the warmth they can. 

My winter routine begins: 

We humidify the air. We wear layers. We apply lotion and lip balm. We drink warm beverages and slurp soups that simmer on the stove. We retire to bed earlier and close the drapes against the frosty night.

In the mornings, we drink hot coffee as the house heats up. Still in fluffy slippers, we debate with the neighbors via hilarious texts exactly how cold it must be for us to drive to school instead of walk. 

The winter comes like it has before, but this year, I realize I've truly adapted. 

It's cold, but I know what to do. I know this season by heart. 

Living with flair means learning winter's lessons and knowing how to adapt to a new season. I don't resist; I snuggle into it and can hardly wait to see what gifts it will bring. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

When a Child Says This to You

The 4th graders are studying astronomy in school. Back at home, I decide to show some children the amazing video from the Hayden Planetarium. In their Digital Universe Video, viewers can observe a film that "incorporates data from dozens of organizations worldwide to create the most complete and accurate 3-D atlas of the universe from the local solar neighborhood out to the edge of the observable universe."

The edge of the observable universe! We're sitting there in front of the computer, mouths agape and eyes so wide. The children have so many questions! Black holes, worm holes, other galaxies. . . we just can't believe it all. I tell them about sublime experiences and how what we're feeling is that coupling of wonder and fear because the thing we're observing goes beyond human imagination.

"It's just so incredible," I say. "When I get to heaven, I'm going to have so many question about this. I will ask God about everything. Won't you?"

A child turns to face me like I am a crazy person, like I'm absolutely insane and completely unintelligent.

She says slowly, "Why would any of this matter? I won't be concerned about all this because I'll be with Jesus."

In that one statement, I realized that even my most sublime experience on earth--and even out to the edge of the observable universe--will not compare to being with Jesus.

Monday, November 17, 2014

It Happens While You're Doing Something Else

Well, I wrote a book and published it.

It happened. It really happened.

Do you know what is more exciting than the fact that this happened? It's how it happened.

It happened when I was doing something else.

You see, my whole life--from the time I wrote about a tree for Arbor Day as a 6 year old--I wanted to write books. So I did. I wrote novels and all sorts of stories and poems and non-fiction pieces. Every day, I wrote. I found agents and publishers and editors, but nobody wanted to publish my stories.


But I still wrote novels. 5 years ago, I decided to start blogging (because of my friend Laurie!) about little moments of grace and joy each day. Every day, I wrote. Last year, I met with the Italian Mama after another series of rejections from publishers, and I'll never forget what she said.

I said, "I just don't know what I'm supposed to do. What am I doing? What about my books? Aren't I supposed to be publishing all this? What should I write?"

She said, "I think it's your blog. That's your writing. That is enough."

It didn't feel like enough. It didn't feel like a dream at all. My blog was my journal that some people read, but it wasn't the same as a book.

Then, the summer came, and we neared the 5th year of my daily blogging. My husband and I were driving home from a trip, and he turned to me and said, "I wish we had all your favorite blogs together in a book." Meanwhile, my friend Margaret Baker noticed the seasonal patterns of all my blogs and wondered if I could compile those blogs by seasons and make a devotional book.

People began emailing about which blogs I should include. Excitement grew. A friend and blog reader in Texas--we've never met!-- offered to consult with me as an editor for free. She wanted to preorder so many books! Her excitement made this project happen. This woman I have never seen spurred me on.

My great friend, Rachel, who designed the cover for How to Write with Flair, took a concept I had for a cover (I told her I wrote often about acorns and just love those little acorns!), and she made this.

Yesterday, I approved my proof copy, and my independent publishing platform (Createspace) began printing copies for everyone who began placing their orders.

It was 5 years in the making, this book.

I didn't know I was writing it.

It wasn't traditional or glamorous. It was more hidden and thoughtful, with a group of friends cheering me on. Isn't that what living with flair has always been about?

The greatest thing was happening, and I didn't know it. I'm glad God kept it a secret. I just blogged, but He knew the whole story. He knew that one day, the book I dreamed of all my life would arrive in a different package, in an unexpected way.

That's just like Him. And I'm so thankful that, although this book is exciting, He--and His methods--are the Most Exciting Thing. I just love thinking about it.

And I love you and wanted to thank you for the past 5 years. In another 5 years, we'll have Volume 2.

Meanwhile, here's the link to various ways to enjoy the book:

Createspace Estore 

Paperback from Amazon

Kindle edition 

I suppose I really have learned to go about God-ordained little tasks and let Him handle the outcome for me. It's always better this way.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

In the Cool Cellar of Your Heart

This morning on the way to church, we're talking about how we can't wait for next summer because the artichokes take two years to produce. My daughter planted these plants from a seed and carefully tended them through the spring and summer.

But my husband cleaned out the beds, uprooted all the old plants, and smoothed over the garden since the snow is on the way.

"What? You didn't! No! Those were her artichoke plants that come back each year! They produce in the second season! No!"

We're so disappointed. We're so sad about all that work and waiting.

He feels terrible, but what can be done? We return home from church and dig through the leaf and weeds pile to find the tangled mess of roots and frosted over leaves. Can't we just replant the thing? It seems too late.

Just as my daughter loses hope, my husband reads that, actually, uprooting your artichoke plants protects them, strengthens them, and accelerates their growth in the spring. We read how, in colder climates, gardeners should dig up their artichoke plants and dry the roots in a cool, dry place.

They sprout rapidly when replanted in the warmer weather.

My daughter is so excited. "I've always wanted a real root cellar," she says. We're now a prairie family. We've converted a corner of our basement to artichoke roots.

I'm laughing about how quickly our disappointment turns to hope. I tell everyone that this is a true Live with Flair moment because what looked like disaster was protection. What looked like loss was a strengthening for future abundance. What looked like a mistake was actually part of a critical design.

Besides, yesterday we didn't have a root cellar. Now we do.

And I remember that if I feel uprooted in any way, it's accelerating my growth for another season. I will wait patiently in the cool cellar of my heart.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Best Butternut Squash, Turnip, and Sweet Potato Soup (in 30 minutes!)

While my husband was busy doing this before the coming snow. . .

I emptied packages of fresh cut butternut squash, turnip, and sweet potato into my largest pan with two tablespoons olive oil.

While this began to cook, I chopped up three celery stalks, three large carrots, five garlic cloves, and one large onion. This went straight into the pan.

Add 1 tablespoon of cumin, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1 teaspoon salt. Let this cook with the lid on (stirring occasionally) for 25 minutes until everything is mushy.

Put 1/3 of your cooked veggies into the blender with 2 cups chicken broth. Blend and repeat until all the veggies are nicely blended. You'll use six cups of chicken broth. Serve yourself up a delicious bowl of autumn soup. . .

. . . and save the rest for lunches during your work week.


Live with Flair Autumn Soup

Add to a large pan the following (with 2 tablespoons olive oil)

1 package fresh cut butternut squash
1 package fresh cut sweet potato
1 package fresh cut turnip
3 celery stalks
3 large carrots
1 large onion
5 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt

Cook on medium heat for 25 minutes with the lid on (stirring occasionally)

Blend in thirds with 6 cups chicken broth divided.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Deciding Beforehand

I realizing the power of deciding beforehand in order to eliminate decision-making and stress in the moment. This works for more than just morning routines! Read on!

With children, you try to eliminate as much decision-making as possible in time-sensitive situations. You know the drill: pack lunches and backpacks the night before, pick out outfits, and place coats, mittens, boots, and hats by the door. It's all decided beforehand, so you sail through the morning.

This works in so many areas of my life like teaching (lesson plans in advance, grading rubrics, etc.), dinner preparation (advanced shopping and menus), exercising (it happens three days a week, written into the schedule beforehand), and cleaning days (it works like clockwork because it's a routine that nobody has to decide to do anymore).

I've been applying the same principle of deciding beforehand to eating. I know that sounds supremely boring and rigid, but for someone who has trouble managing her environment, deciding beforehand removes all the stress of it. If you decide in the morning what you'll eat for the day, you can start to stick with it because every moment isn't a decision about the whole thing.

(I suppose that one must stick with these decisions to see success, but it's worth a shot!)

I do feel more peace of mind and less stress when I decide beforehand on all sort of issues, and lately, it's healthy eating. I enjoy talking to other healthy folks (like my friend Rob who eats the same healthy things, at the same time, each day of his life and actually enjoys the routine of it) and learning their secrets. Deciding beforehand is one of those secrets.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Roots That Feed on Nothing

In between my two classrooms on campus, a tangled mess of a tree sits. Those low sprawling branches look more like the root structure than the branches.

I walk past those roots that feed on nothing but air.

It's an image of emptiness and futility.

I recall Proverbs 15 and the mouth that feeds on folly. I think of the deluded heart in Isaiah 44 that feeds on ashes. I think of Ephraim in Hosea 12 who feeds on the wind. In each case, we read a warning about those who believe they have found soul-sustanance but are, in fact, starving.

Oh, that my roots would go down deep and feed my soul! I read how Jesus invites others into this nourishment. He says, astonishingly, that "the one who feeds on me will live" (John 6), and that "all who come to me will never thirst" (John 4).

I do not want to feed on air. I think about what I'm drawing in and upon what I let my soul feed.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

You Don't Always Get to Pick

My daughter arrives indoors with the ripest, most juiciest blackberry I've ever seen. She pops it in her mouth and says, "See, I told you. They're still growing."

It's mid-November. It's supposed to snow tomorrow. We've had frost and freezing temperatures for weeks.

How, oh how can this be?

I finally brave the cold and venture out to the old blackberry patch this afternoon. I see the truth for myself. For whatever reason, this branch produces fruit when everyone says it should not. It's not the right time! These aren't the right circumstances!

And yet. 

I'm reminded that sometimes, we don't get to pick the when and how of our own fruitfulness. Sometimes, the fruitful season comes just as we're ready to hibernate. Sometimes, it comes just when we think we're too withered and too empty to produce a thing.

God's Spirit does whatever He pleases, whenever He pleases, and however He pleases.

I don't get to pick. But I do get the joy of seeing something marvelous happen that was never supposed to happen in this way, at this time.

Those glorious ripening blackberries represent a truth I needed to remember today.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My Symbol of Motherhood

It's a small object, usually lost, often overlooked, but of prime importance in our family.

I present to you that the Goody Ouchless Elastics (hair bands) represent motherhood to me. First of all, I buy the 30 pack almost every few months. You would think we could keep them all in one place, but no. In fact, within days, each rubber band has found its way into obscurity. They hide in couches, underneath furniture, in doll hair, in the minivan, in bathroom drawers, and in the bedsheets. They hide in the tall grass by the tree swing, when, in a moment of pure abandon, a daughter releases that hair from the confines of the ponytail and flings the band away as she swings.

The Goody Ouchless Elastics can't stay put. They're somewhere in lockers, school desks, a gym shoe,  or a backpack's cavern. They're under the dinner table, in the doll house, with the cat toys. They're there, but I can't find one when I need them. 

They humble me. They conquer me.

The Goody Ouchless Elastics have been with me from the time I once brushed so lovingly and so patiently that hair into perfect braids or ponytails of equal height and thickness. Now, my daughters gather up their own hair into buns or loose side braids.

I could mark the years by my relationship with these rubber bands. Today, I purchase another 30 pack at the grocery store. I keep them handy. I sneak one into a gym bag or a few by their hairbrushes. I keep a stockpile in my own bathroom. In a month, I'll have to purchase more.

I don't understand what's happening; they're here, but then they're gone.

They symbolize the inevitable. They mark how one day I'll vacuum this old house and not once have to stop to slip a found rubber band around my wrist. Not once will I scramble about in the morning, looking for that hair tie for a girl late for school.

On that day, I'll send a package in the mail to my daughters with the Goody Ouchless Elastics 30 Pack.

Monday, November 10, 2014

You Need One of These in Your Life

Today I realize how much I need a cheerleader (or two or three--maybe the whole squad). I do! Even with my over-the-top energy, enthusiasm, and "I can do it!" attitude, I need cheerleaders.

How do I know? Because so far this month, the cheerleaders have made all the difference.

My cheerleader walking friend keeps me going with texts and words of hope and encouragement in fitness. 

My cheerleader writing friend keeps me going with words of affirmation, phone calls, and insight on the most discouraging days. 

My cheerleader teacher friend keeps me going with laughter and compliments when I feel like I'm a terrible teacher. 

My cheerleader husband keeps me going with love and support through long days of housekeeping and parenting.

I have a cheerleader sister, cheerleader Italian Mamas, cheerleader parents, and cheerleader neighbors.

We must have cheerleaders, and I'm so thankful for these encouragers! 

But more importantly, these cheerleaders remind me that I can be this woman for someone else today. 

I can cheer for someone in whatever she's discouraged about. I can tell her to keep going, that she's great, and that she can do this!

Maybe it will turn it all around for her like it did for me. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Your Wound Is as Deep as the Sea

This morning I read the prophet Jeremiah's poem in Lamentations 2. Here, he writes God's words of sadness over sin.

He says, "Your wound is as deep as the sea. Who can heal you?"

I imagine the question posed so lovingly, almost as if God allows us to try and imagine every possible avenue of healing before we come to the one true Healer. He also acknowledges exactly how we feel about it and the raw truth of it.

Our wound is deep. It's as deep as the sea. Is there anyone here who can heal? Anyone? 

I was most curious about this question because I remember feeling this way many times in my life. My wounds felt too deep. Who could heal me? How? Haven't we all felt that at some point in our lives? I wonder if I'm the only one.

Back then--as a girl and then a young woman-- I took so much comfort in God's description of himself as Healer. My Bible is falling apart in those places. Highlighted and worn, the pages note God's name for himself. Wrapped up in one of His names is that very promise. He is the God Who Heals You. 

I also took great comfort in Jeremiah 33:6 when God promises, "I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and prosperity." Or the simple explanation in Exodus 15:26 when God just says: "I am your healer."

Jesus comes as a healer. He's healing wherever He goes! If He's a healer, then I offer Him every part that needs healing, knowing that what I need most of all is a healed soul--a healed relationship with God. Everything trickles down from this healed relationship, this healed intimacy.

So I offer these wounded parts every day, even every moment if I must.

What still needs healing? When the wound feels as deep as the sea, God knows exactly how to heal you.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

In Case You Hadn't Thought of This Already: Managing Winter Things with Hanging Shoe Racks

Today's the day we try on winter coats and boots to see what we need for the new season. Children grow so fast! We grow out of mittens and snowsuits in just one year.

I'm sitting in a big pile of scarves, hats, and mittens, and I'm wondering what to do with them all. Normally, we just unload everything into a big basket by the door, but each morning becomes a frantic search for matching gloves.

I remember the Wise Big Sister who organizes winter things in hanging shoe racks. I just happen to have one, so I sort everything into the neat little slots. Why have I waited 13 years to do this?

Anyway, in case you hadn't thought of this already, hanging shoe racks make the best organizers for winter hats, mittens, and scarves.

And I love learning to improvise and make uncommon uses for ordinary objects.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Because They Might Say, "Yes!"

I find myself noticing all the friendship and dating relationships emerging within the one class where that one brave student called on the first day, "Does anyone want to have lunch together?"

That one question built something special; this group of once-strangers now eat together twice a week--at least--and enjoy true community.

I ask the student why he asked that question. He said, "Well, I figured I would see these people on the same days for class each week, so why not?" He tells me he's really concerned about his dorm floor, though. He says, "We see each other every day, and some people don't even talk to each other. I'm going to start a campaign to get people who naturally see each other every day to actually hang out."

I love that he doesn't discriminate. He assumes that anyone can become friends. He assumes that all people can connect in community if given the opportunity. His two criteria for gathering folks include availability and proximity. In other words, if you're here and available, let's do this.  

I tell him that he's got a great future in community organizing. And I realize that it all begins with one question.

I think about the "one questions" that started it all for me:

Do you want to have coffee with me? 
Do you want to study together? 
Do y'all want to walk to school together? 
What if we all had pancakes together on Saturday?
What if. . . ?

They just might say, "Yes!"

After all, if we're here and available, let's do this!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

How Would You Have Answered These 4 Questions College Students Ask?

Yesterday, my student asked if she could interview me for her Biobehavioral Health class assignment. I thought these interview questions might have something to do with stress, work-life balance, or my unnatural love of semicolons and vivid verbs. I'm used to student interviews; many courses send students out to gain career insight from professors, and they report their findings back to the class. 

So I'm in the hallway before class, and my student begins with what I think will be an interview about how I handle stress. Instead, she launches into these four questions: 

1. What was your biggest regret from college?
2. If I only read one book in college, which one book would you recommend I read?
3. What is your definition of a great student?
4. How do you define success? 

Well, I wasn't exactly prepared, but there she sat, ready to record every word I said. She told me her professor was encouraging this class of students to find wisdom and guidance from professors to help them be the best kind of students they could be. 

Did she want the truth? Yes. Did she want the real me? Yes. 

I told her that my biggest regret from college was not focusing on or enjoying my relationship with God my freshman year. I told her that I regret the partying and dating that harmed my faith. I told her that if she could read only one book, she should read the Bible because it shows you how to know God and has an answer to every problem you'll ever have. 

She typed. I answered. 

I told her that a great student is curious and knows how to extract information from every class to help advance her personal and career goals. A great student works hard. 

Finally, I answered the success question. Since it was on-the-spot, it seemed like the answer bubbled up from inside me from a honest place. I said that success is knowing that I accomplished all that God had in store for my life, and that really, it was about relationships more than anything else. 

She typed. I scrunched up my face in thought at my own answers. I didn't say fame! I didn't say wealth! I didn't say prestige! 

I think these are great questions, and I wish I had asked my professors these same ones. What would you have said? 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Slow Change

It's discouraging to lose weight when you  age because it's a slow change. It's a pound a week--maybe

It's discouraging to enter the teenage years with children when you say the same things over and over again. It's a slow change for them to grow into independence and to gain more and more responsibility. 

It's discouraging to manage your mental health every day and choose to find the beautiful and joyful thing. It's a slow change.

But! But! It is a change! One day, you wake up and find that you're at your health goal. You come home and find children growing into great young women. And, five years into your Live with Flair project, you realize you have no idea what to blog about anymore because what was once one moment in a day has changed into a thousand deeply joyful moments. The whole day is flair. There's no fight; the joy has won. 

It was a slow change, but this is the enduring kind.

We stay the course. We run this next mile. Soon, we'll see the finish line.