Friday, February 28, 2014

The Brain Likes it When You Write

Last night, a Ph.D. student in neuroscience alerts me to a  study that looks at what happens when people put their feelings into words. I'm not sure, but I think it's this one from UCLA Neuroimaging. The very act of articulating our feelings soothes the part of the brain (the amygdala) responsible for negative emotional reactions.

We're happier when we write. We're happier when we put our feelings into words. The brain responds.  

I love learning the science behind why my counselors always encouraged journaling, story-telling, and communicating to empathetic listeners. I love understanding the science behind why blogging isn't just about bored mothers who feel the need to share everything they think about for no reason at all. No! It's because daily writing is a beautiful and important mental health practice. It's about training our minds to articulate into words what we're feeling. The brain enacts different and less stressful patterns when we utilize precise language to talk about our lives.

I've been writing daily for over four years, and these have been the least reactive, least depressive, and least despairing years of my life. It's no coincidence. If you're thinking about writing today, do it! If you're thinking that it's self-indulgent, narcissistic, or pointless, revisit the science behind why it's important to write.

It's good for you.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

This Will Sting

The weather report uses bitterly cold to describe tomorrow's weather.

Bitterly! Bitterly!

The word use dates back to the 1800's when, instead of describing a sour taste, bitter became figurative for hard to accept or endure, intensely grievous, and cruel. When used to describe the feeling associated with a bitter thing, writers use bitterly when they mean stinging.

Yes, all of the above. The bitter cold coming our way (when I was hoping for daffodil shoots and warm breezes) means we stay inside. The wind howls, and at this very moment, I can hardly see through the swirling storm. If I have to leave the house, I'll wrap up in multiple layers so no cold can sting me.

I feel battle ready.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

How We Perceive It

Today I learn that, although it's technically 20 degrees outside, the RealFeel temperature is 5 degrees.

The RealFeel temperature represents all the factors that influence how the temperature feels to us (regardless of actual temperature). These factors, like wind, angle of the sun, and humidity change how we experience a weather reality. 

I like to remember that God's love is, in fact, a constant reality, but on certain days and under certain conditions, I'll perceive it differently. It won't feel the same under stress, sickness, loss, migraines, or disappointment. 

It's supposed to feel one way, but it often won't. Do not despair; fair winds come. The sun rises higher. It won't always feel this way.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Oh, Persistent Winter!

The snow falls again.
It's bitter cold, unrelenting.
The wind rises up and pushes you
where you had no intention of going.

The persistence of it astonishes me.
It almost, if I let it, makes me chuckle.
I begin to admire it even while I loathe it.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Four Things the Priest Asks God For in Psalm 119

In Psalm 119: 33-37, a priest begs God to do four things:

"Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees;
then I will keep them to the end.
Give me understanding, and I will keep your law
and obey it with all my heart.
Direct me in the path of your commands,
for there I find delight.
Turn my heart toward your statutes
and not towards selfish gain.
Turn my eyes away from worthless things. . . "

I consider how, with these four verbs, the writer declares absolute dependence on God to shape his mind and heart. Teach me, God. Give me understanding. Direct me. Turn me.

I begin this new work week asking, like the priest does, for these four things.

Teach me. Give me understanding. Direct me. Turn me.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Today I Reinvent Myself

I tried on a dress I'd never wear otherwise, and I bought it today.

I felt like I was reinventing myself.

All the way home, I've been thinking about reinventing myself because "the old has gone, and the new has come" (2 Cor. 5). I normally think this happens just once in the Christian life, but really, I find the old creeps in every few years or so. Right about now, it's time for the new.

I know this because God's been stripping away things I once valued and placing new dreams in my heart. What a glorious time to think of the new me, the new you.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Bad food = bad mood

A wise, older mother taught me the importance of being a "predictably cheerful" mom.

I thought that was crazy at the time. Predictably cheerful?

First of all, who can predict cheerful?
Secondly, who can predict cheerful?

I want to be predictably cheerful. I don't want to have the kind of home where everybody fears what kind of mood mom's going to have today. I want to have children and a husband who rush home to find a cheerful woman who loves life and overflows with a kind of irresistible vibrance and joy.

Over these past few decades, I've learned some tricks for mood management that create a predictably cheerful mom. Yes, it's a lot about sleep, exercise, spiritual disciplines, healthy relationships, and meaningful work. But after all these years, I'm learning the strong connection between food and mood.

I can do all those things I listed, but in one mouthful, I can sabotage all these efforts.

Have you learned this? Have you noticed any connection between a dip in mood and soft drinks, sugar,  or processed food? I have! I have! I wish it weren't so, but it simply is. 

What can we do? 

Today, I reaffirm to my husband my "Predictably Cheerful Mom Eating Plan" that reinvigorates some healthy eating--not for weight loss or image (although nothing's wrong with this)--but for MOOD!

Are ya with me?  Bad food = bad mood. I'm ready for some predictable cheerfulness.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Deepest Gloom

This morning I read Psalm 107, and I remember.

I remember what it was like to battle depression all those years. I remember the doctors, the therapists, the medication, and the despair. I remember the mornings of waking up and thinking, "I cannot do this anymore. I cannot do this another day."

I read Psalm 107 from my old green Bible and my handwriting from that time:

I cried out; God saved.
I cried out; God led.
I cried out; God sent forth his word and healed.

It's a beautiful, wonderful life. We are so satisfied. We are so filled with good things. We are healed.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

It Can Be Anything

Today I recall a thought from over four years ago that I'm so thankful I wrote down. It's about finding beauty in anything.  I think I remember this post because the Italian Mama recently fed me a wonderful grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup. Enjoy this old post from a time gone by:

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

So I Will

Today, I had the privilege of writing a guest blog post for The Seed Company, an organization founded by Wycliffe Bible Translators to accelerate Bible translation all over the world.  The Seed Company blogasked me the question, "How does reading the Bible help you live with flair?"   Here's my answer below, and check out The Seed Company to learn more about this great mission. 

When I read God’s word, I learn how to see the world differently.

Suddenly, what’s boring becomes beautiful; what’s mundane becomes marvelous.  When I read the world through the lens of my Bible, I’m filled with wonder.  I’m on a treasure hunt to find the mysteries of God in acorns, injured cats, pancakes, or snowflakes. 

For the past 10 months, I’ve been blogging at “Live with Flair.”  It began with a challenge to find beauty, wonder, and spiritual truth every day.  Even in the most common thing, I could find God’s truth and reflect upon it. 

God’s word says I can, so I will. 

I have to take seriously the argument in Psalm 19 that the heavens “declare the glory of God,” and that the skies “proclaim the work of his hands.”  The psalmist claims that creation “pours forth speech” and can “reveal knowledge.” 

What speech?  What knowledge? 

Just this morning, I read a quote from E. Stanley Jones that “all things have the stamp of Christ upon them,” and that His will is “wrought into their very structure.”  As I turn to consider the book of Romans, I learn that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made. . .” 

Might I consider this pencil and think about the divine nature of the Creator?  Might I make a cheese sandwich and understand the invisible qualities of an Almighty God? 

Colossians tells me that “Christ is before all things and in Him all things hold together.”  All things: pencils, cheese sandwiches, injured cats, snowflakes.  I challenge myself to let God’s word interpret my environment.  I’m on a mission to see into the structure of common objects and find the glory of God. 

This process comes about through mystery.  I find an object and ask a question about it.  Why is it this way?  How did it become this way?  Soon, I’m in the presence of mystery, one step away from worship.  As I uncover the wonder, I then turn and praise the Living God—Jesus—who created all things, even cheese sandwiches. 

And that’s how I live with flair. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

If It Can't Be Said in 2 Minutes

When asked about the available means of persuasion in society today, college students talk more about YouTube, twitter, and photo-sharing (Instagram and Snapchat) more than anything else. They share that they'll view short videos--less than three minutes long--and short news or blogs, perhaps only what fits on a screen. If it can't be said in two minutes, perhaps it shouldn't be said at all. 

Gone are the days of the long, well-articulated essay and the long, beautifully spoken 50-minute lectures from my professors that used no technology whatsoever (because it didn't exist). What's happening to us?

A student reminds me that all is not lost. There's still hope in one thing: the power of story! Students still read literature and love movies. They'll watch two movies a day sometimes. They'll read fiction. Stories still capture our attention and hold it. They change us. Stories protest our culture's shrinking attention span. 

All day, I think about what it's going to take to speak and persuade in such a culture as this. It's going to take story. It's going to take truth distilled down to the perfect verbs and adjectives. Everything's shrinking down to something essential. Perhaps this isn't a terrible thing. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Rich Club

Last night a dear neighbor and I were talking about our fascination with birds. I'm seriously thinking about joining a Pennsylvania birding club. In the woods behind my home, I can find snowy owls, barn owls, woodpeckers, and even eagles. By my kitchen window, the northern cardinals dance about all day.

I'd love a great camera with one of those zoom lenses. I want to take photographs like my friend over at Pollywog Creek (take a look at her flower photography today!) who takes photos of the most beautiful birds.

As my neighbor and I share a moment of wonder over birds, I remark that God didn't have to make birds.

"And he didn't have to make them sing, either," she says. They seem placed here for such delight I can hardly bear it.

Then, my wise neighbor reminds me of the riches of it all. "You never have to worry about being rich," she says. "You have the riches of nature always available to you."


I think about the birding club and the riches of friendship. I think about my wonderful neighbor and the riches of wisdom. I think about my backyard feeder and the riches of cardinals robed in deep red. I think of the riches of family, laughter, vivid verbs (don't laugh, it's for real for me), and blogging friends like Mark and Stephanie or Elaine. I think of Judy Gordon Morrow who mailed me her wonderful book of devotions last month.

Today I'm rich in snowflakes, dark coffee, and fuzzy slippers. I'm rich in icy ponds and crackling icicles that make the houses seem swallowed in great jaws. I'm rich in poetry books, old dusty journals, bibles, new novels buried inside me, and Penn State students who write so honestly I sometimes cry when I grade their papers.

I'm rich in professors who have lunch with me even though we only have 45 minutes once a week. I'm rich in neighborhood moms and dads who are raising children alongside my awesome husband and me.

I'm rich in Italian Mamas.

God has poured out all these riches all over me as if knowing Him weren't enough. He wasn't lying when He said "I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly"

(Now you try! Can you list the ten ways you are rich?)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Around the Glassy Sea

I love just thinking about Revelation 4. Last night, graduate students gather and sing the old hymn, "Holy, Holy, Holy!"accompanied by guitars, piano, and even a mandolin. 

We sing the following, and I'm caught up in imagining it: 

Holy, Holy, Holy! all the saints adore Thee,

Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and Seraphim falling down before Thee,
Which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

I find the passage in Revelation 4 that describes the glassy sea:

After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter. And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald. And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold. And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind. And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. And when those beasts give glory and honor and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.

(Some scholars believe the "seven Spirits of God" comes from Isaiah 11:2 where we learn this about the savior:  “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him — the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.”)

I just love imagining this kind of beauty, this kind of throne, this kind of God. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

"Epiphanies cannot be scheduled, but they can be invited."

I'm teaching from a chapter in Writing to Change the World that talks about "orchestrating moments" to experience awe and realize the hope and beauty of the world. At their root, I think of these moments as worship and connection to God where I'm growing as a person.

I begin to think of how I might invite epiphanies--those spiritual and emotional breakthroughs--that foster real change.

Last week, I watched the way my daughter sat outside alone in the snow as the sun set behind the trees. As I finished dinner preparations, I saw, out of the corner of my eye, how she fell back into the snow and just stared up into the sky. She stayed that way for a long time. She closed her eyes and the snowflakes fell on her cheeks. As the darkness settled onto the backyard, she remained there, just thinking.

Stillness in nature, solitude, and quiet allow for a special kind of reflection into the life of things. Most of my life-changing moments have come in natural settings, when I'm alone, and when I'm finally listening. Although I can't schedule epiphanies, I can invite them.

I'm not sure what my daughter thought about in the snow, but I know that when I was a little girl staring up into a snow-filled sky, I began my education in wonder.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Because You Need To

Last night I ask a local artist why he creates art. He's been making art for over forty years.

He's patient with my question. He simply says, "I make art because I need to."

He's happy if someone likes it. He's fine if no one likes it.

He does it because he needs to.

That's why (to anyone reading this who struggles with their own art) you press on even against rejection, a lack of recognition, or limited resources. You do it because you must. That's all.

Friday, February 14, 2014

New Light on the Same Old Thing

The snow sits like frosting on the fence and tree limbs. In the Winterberry Bush (which I'm not actually sure is a Winterberry anymore, but that's its name now), snow offerings of white cotton candy fill up the branches. The Northern Cardinal and the Sparrow hide out there.

It's the same view as always from the kitchen window and yet completely different with each new day. New light, new clouds, new snow, a new sky.

No matter how ordinary or regular, there's new light on this same old day. I cannot wait to see what it illuminates.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

"A state of perpetual recovery from falling…"

Trudging through the snow this morning, I recall the statement by American poet Oliver Wendell Holmes that "walking is a perpetual falling with a perpetual self-recovery."

Here are his thoughts in full:

"Walking, then, is a perpetual falling with a perpetual self-recovery. It is a most complex, violent, and perilous operation, which we divest of its extreme danger only by continual practice from a very early period in life. We find how complex it is when we attempt to analyze it, and we see that we never understood it thoroughly until the time of the instantaneous photograph. We learn how violent it is, when we walk against a post or a door in the dark. We discover how dangerous it is, when we slip or trip and come down, perhaps breaking or dislocating our limbs, or overlook the last flight of stairs, and discover with what headlong violence we have been hurling ourselves forward." ~~  Oliver Wendell Holmes, "The Physiology of Walking," from Pages From an Old Volume of Life: A Collection of Essays, 1857-1881. Seventh Edition. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1887

When I discovered this quote in college, I took great comfort in it; I thought that even in my moving about--even at the level of my joints and tendons--I'm in a state of perpetual recovery from falling. Fall, recover. Fall, recover.

There's no other way to get anywhere. I began to think of falling and failure differently that year.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Different Kind of Living: A Little Voice Under a Great Wing

This morning I read something astonishing: David writes in Psalm 63 that he "sings in the shadow of [the Lord's] wings." Not in the spotlight, not on the stage, not on the bestseller's list, not trending on twitter or shared a million times on Facebook, and not going viral on youtube. He sang from the shadow.

Nobody sees him because he's in the shadow. They see the Lord and hear a little voice coming out from under a great wing.

I immediately recall Colossians and what it means to live a life "hidden in Christ." I've been talking with a friend about the hidden, anonymous, seemingly unaccomplished life. What's so wrong with this?  Wouldn't it be lovely to stay hidden under those wings and sing out from there?

I remember the year a student shocked me when I asked the class, "What were you known for in high school?" Here's his answer and my post about it below:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Embrace Mediocrity

Sometimes I go around the room and ask students to introduce themselves by telling me what they were known for in high school.  I learn so much about how students perceive themselves through the lens of other people.

Valedictorian.  Lead role in the school plays.  Class President.  Eagle Scout.  These students have been groomed from birth to be the best.  

A few days ago, one incredibly bright student said:

"I was known for being good and not great.  I was known for being mediocre."

When I asked for more information, he said he played every sport but was never the star.  He did well in all his classes but was never the best.

He didn't mind.   He didn't have to be the best.

I couldn't help but smile.  He was exceptionally mediocre.  We laughed and affectionately call him "Mediocre Man."  Everybody likes this student.  He makes us all feel relaxed and lighthearted.  

I thought about the philosophy of life already governing this student's attitude.  He wants to excel, but he knows his limits.  He rests in what he can do well, even if it won't win a Nobel Prize or put him as quarterback on the team.  He's thinking of who he can serve in his career, what he can contribute, and what he can change--even if he's not the star of the show.  His identity has nothing to do with rising to the top.  He's already outside of that paradigm.

He could have quit back then.  Why bother--some would argue--if you can't be the best?

Not him.  He's working at top capacity despite the odds.  Despite the label.

I like that.  I love that.

As I look at my life and the lives of my children, I know we'll have days upon days of just being good and not great.  But we can be exceptional in that.  We can be the best at being who we are, within the boundaries of what God allows for our lives, and not despair when we aren't winning the prize.  We can be exceptionally humble, exceptionally loving, exceptionally willing to serve and change our world.  A mediocre life may seem ordinary, average, or even inferior.  But to whom?  Who decides?

Let me be exceptionally mediocre today.  Let me excel in leaving the spotlight and embracing a humble life that wins the sorts of prizes God doles out at another time, in another economy, that values who I am and not what I produce.  In that land, the mediocre folks might just be the ones with the most flair.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

2 Recipes You Need for the Valentine's Party: Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies and Olympic Truffle Valentine Brownie Bites

My daughters both sign me up to bring brownies for the class Valentine's Party. I decide to have a baking day and try some new spins on old brownies.

First, I find this gem: Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies.

Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies

Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies 

Then, I discover something fun: an "Inside Out Brownie." You wrap brownie batter around a Hershey Kiss, bake it, and then dip it in white chocolate. The brownie batter is more like a tough dough, so you can mold it. I thought these looked rather Olympic--like a snowy mountain. Since you bite into a kiss (like a truffle filling), I called them Olympic Truffle Valentine Brownie Bites. (Click on the links for much better photograph and great instructions.)

Olympic Truffle Valentine Brownie Bites 
I doubled each recipe, and I found I had leftover brownie-wrapping dough. So I cut out little hearts and dipped them in the leftover chocolate.

I can't wait for the party!

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Cure for Self-Consciousness

If you're going to go public--through writing, speaking, or teaching--you're going to battle self-consciousness. It's a terrible state of being; self-consciousness is an acute (and often painful) preoccupation with self. You evaluate yourself based on how you think others perceive you.  You're constantly worried about how you're coming off to people. You feel judged and inferior.

You live in an imagined state of shame all day long.

You torment yourself with how everybody's feeling about you.

So you most likely go back into hiding. Well, not anymore.

What if you could be free from self-consciousness and on this very day write the blog or book you've wanted to, give the speech you have boiling over inside of you, or teach that thing you want to pass on? What if you did this in front of other people--lots and lots of people--and you felt free from yourself?

I speak as one healed of shame.

The answer comes through one word: love.


When you love your audience and you love your subject matter, you don't have room to think about yourself. You're too busy loving. You're too busy thinking of them to think about you.

If they reject you, it doesn't matter. You didn't do it for you.
If they mock you, it doesn't matter. You didn't do it to impress.
If they exclude you, it doesn't matter. You didn't do it to earn their love.

You did this public thing because you love them and you love the thing you want to write, speak, or teach about. Love of subject, love of student. That's what a mentor from Yale told me the secret of great teaching was. He's right.

I've been making a fool of myself in front of audiences for over twenty years. Just go out there and love them. Let love cover you, and you'll stop thinking of yourself so much.

Let me know how it goes.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Cat Says Relax

It's very hard not to relax when a lazy cat lives with you. She stares you down until you curl up beside her on the bed. She makes you feel guilty for moving.

And when you tell her you have things to do, she looks away, exhausted by the mere mention of your activities.

So I'll relax with the little purring cat who sleeps by the heater as the slow falls.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Downcast and Disturbed? A New Question to Ask

I've realized something new about idolatry. As I read the scriptures, I see that David connects being downcast and disturbed with somehow not hoping fully in God. He writes in Psalm 43:5, "Why so downcast, o my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God."

For most of my Christian life, I've come to understand idolatry as something you love more than God, something that captures your heart more than God, or something you give your time and attention to most of all. Yet this week, I've been thinking about idolatry differently.

Idolatry is when I turn aside to false gods that promise to do what God says He will do. This person or thing circumvents, counterfeits, or even counteracts what God has said about His character.

For example, we know several clear and distinct names of God: God is our banner of victory (Jehovah Nissi), our shepherd to care for us (Jehovah-Raah), our healer (Jehovah Rapha), our provider (Jehovah Jirah), our sanctifier (Jehovah Mekoddishkem), and our peace (Jehovah Shalom).

I realized this week that idolatry takes root in the heart when I prevent God from being God in my life because I choose another avenue of victory, care, provision, healing, and peace. If I'm trusting in something or someone as the ultimate source of provision, I'm preempting God's provision. If I'm taking responsibility for my own care--through various well-intentioned means--I might be thwarting God's plan for my care.

It reminds me of the time my husband was traveling, and I asked for prayer for protection. I felt like my protector was gone. My friend reminded me that God was my Protector. It reminds me, too, of how I respond when I receive rejections from publishers. I imagine that book contract would be such a source of financial provision! Publishing isn't my provision. God is my provision. Or when I raise the banner of achievement or fruitfulness as my victory, I must remember that God's banner over me declares His love (anything I may write on that banner isn't the truth about me) as my victory. Finally, what about trusting in my own obedience or ability to change? God is the sanctifier, not me.

When I am downcast and disturbed, I ask this question: Where have I turned aside to a false god that masquerades as promising something declared within the character of God? That's a new question for me, and I'm so glad I asked it.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Writing: "Small details intimately observed."

As I prepare a writing lesson, I think about Mary Pipher's statement that "all animals, carefully observed, have things to teach us. So does every person we encounter." On her chapter on diving into the writing process, she quotes Ernest Hemingway when he says, "If a writer stops observing he is finished. Experience is communicated by small details intimately observed."

I've been observing the fat, fluffy cardinals that have discovered the four different feeders we placed in the backyard for them. They stay so close to this food source all day long. They lounge in the trees and enjoy the bounty. The don't leave. They just feed and rest, feed and rest.

That's the work of a winter in the heart. There's a season for staying so close to God--feed and rest, feed and rest--because the spring will come soon.

Besides observing the birds, I watch my kitten. Inside the warm house, I have a new kitten who can't stand to be alone. In the morning, he'll sit in the middle of the house and meow pitifully until my old cat comes to find him to play. Hearing him cry out like that, from the depths of his kitty self, and seeing the quick response of the older cat, teaches me something about crying out to God.

Feed and rest. Cry out. It's winter.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

I Do Love Shadow

I consider the beautiful shadows that mark the backyard this afternoon. A shadow means the light has shown down upon that thing. It intercepts it and it enjoys it.

As a result, shadow.

There's been some light here. This dark thing is how we know it. 

Instead of despairing when a dark time comes, I ask instead what it shows me about the light.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Back to Just Looking

Ice covers the neighborhood today.

I walk my daughter down the road to visit a friend. We notice how the ice on the street freezes in beautiful patterns as it surrounds the gravel and dirt. The freezing rain soaks us through as we plow on down the hill. It could be miserable, but it's not. It doesn't matter; we're busy investigating the ice.

I remember to keep looking for the design--the beauty and the complexity--in all I see today. Yes, the roads are treacherous. But they're also beautiful.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Much Later in Life

As I keep to the writing task, both fiction and nonfiction, my daughter reminds me that our favorite Little House book series was not published until Laura Ingalls Wilder was well into her sixties.

On my bedside table, I have the lovely book, Watership Down that Richard Adams wrote in his fifties. Frank McCourt wrote Angela's Ashes in his mid-sixties. Wallace Stevens, one of my favorite poets, wrote most of his poems in his late thirties.

I'm so glad they didn't quit writing because they felt old or irrelevant to the culture. I'm so glad they didn't give up in discouragement. Each writer had something vital to say--at just the right time.

With each passing year, I remember that some of the best things in life happen much later. My older and wiser friends testify that wonderful things happen past middle age. Some of the best writing and thinking happen much later. Some of the best, richest, and rewarding friendships even happen later. Why are we in such a rush, thinking life has passed us by?

Some great stories bloom late. This is just the right time for them.

Monday, February 3, 2014

In Case You Were Wondering If You Should Write it Down

As students work on personal essays over the next few weeks, we consider what we might pass on. We offer our life experience to others--the pain, the beauty, the joy, the despair--to provide insight.

Mary Pipher explains that "with personal essays, we turn our own lives into teachable moments for others."

Why shouldn't we do this work? Why shouldn't this become part of our spiritual practice, as important as prayer or reading the Bible or worship?

I consider how in Psalm 78:3-5, the poet writes:

Things we have heard and known,
    things our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their descendants;
    we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
    his power, and the wonders he has done.

Or in Psalm 102:18, we know the reason for writing it down:

 Let this be written for a future generation,    that a people not yet created may praise the Lord.

What if we decided we will not hide our stories? What if we wrote down the deeds, the power, and the wonders God has accomplished and displayed in our own lives (because they were never just for us alone anyway)?

We will go and write, so it can be an everlasting witness.


Sunday, February 2, 2014

An 8 Year Old's Dream Superbowl Food

She wants to bring her own appetizer to the party. Something she made, that she will think is delicious, and that everyone will gobble up.

She won't even try my crab dip. The crab dip has her concerned that this party won't have any food she'll want to eat.

"OK," I say. "What will you make?"

"Pizza Puffs."

Using Bisquick on the bottom of the mini muffin pans, a little quiche-making tool, a jar of marinara sauce, and some chopped up pepperoni and salami, she's off cooking. She immensely dislikes cheese. No cheese.

She's the voice of young people everywhere who don't want fancy appetizers with seafood. In a 350 degree oven (about 8 minutes later), they emerge from the oven. She's beaming about her Superbowl Pizza Puffs for Children.

Now, I'm off to make the crab dip for me--but only after I stuffed three of these in my mouth. So delicious!

Enjoy your evening, friends.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

"In the morning, O Lord, I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation."

I read in Psalm 5 when David reports: "In the morning, O Lord, I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation."

It's morning time. I position my pen above my journal and imagine God asking, "Is there anything you need? Anything at all? Is there any concern you might have? Any at all? Might I be of assistance?"

It seems so bizarre that the sovereign, all-powerful Lord of the Universe would attend to us like this. I remember in Psalm 33:15 that "God forms the hearts of all and considers everything they do." Everything. 

What if I lived like David did, spreading out my hands in prayer in the morning with all the concerns of the day and then waiting in expectation?

I write all the requests down that clutter my mind. I pour it all out right down to the silliest and most seemingly inconsequential (that Merlin would let us hold him or that my daughter will absolutely love her new glasses or that I'll think of something yummy to make for the Superbowl party). Inviting God into it all feels so nice this morning.

I think that's what it's supposed to feel like each morning.

I pray over the Big Things--sick friends, hurting neighbors, anxious thoughts, major national and world concerns--but I also remember that God asks me to cast all my cares upon Him because He cares for me.

Merlin's gaining security. Kate loves her new glasses and wanted to wear them around town today. I'm making crab dip for the party.