Saturday, May 31, 2014

Try This at Home: Regularly Compliment Him and Them

As I age (yes, I am aging!), I find that younger wives and moms ask my advice for a happy marriage and home. I did the same thing when I was their age, and now I'm the age of the moms I so helplessly looked to for wisdom. Oh, how time flies!

Here's my best advice today:

Compliment your family members, especially your husband. Compliment them several times a day. The verb compliment means to verbally praise and admire.

When you're mad and want to nag, praise and admire instead.
When you want to criticize and point out a fault, praise and admire instead.
When you want to insult, praise and admire instead.
When more than 24 hours have passed without a compliment, find something to praise and admire.

I'm serious! Go find your husband this very moment and praise and admire him for something. If he's not home, text him. If you've been bossing your children around all day, go find them and praise them. Get in the habit of regularly complimenting your family members.

The whole tone of your home and marriage will change, I promise.  The home will feel like a true sanctuary of rest and encouragement where people go to refresh and enjoy being themselves. In homes filled with criticism, complaint, fear of failure, and negativity, nobody wants to come home. Nobody's thriving there.

A wife and mom can be a source of refreshment, acceptance, praise, and admiration for the weary souls in her care.

Friday, May 30, 2014

So You'd Get What You Really Needed: Another Message About Suffering

I've been researching how to best preserve my lilac bouquets in the house. It turns out that you can add some sugar, some lemon juice, and some bleach to your glass vase, and you'll have many days of fragrant blooms in your home. Here's the recipe (a very scientific one). 

While I'm researching, I discover that the lilac stem is so tough and so thick that it's nearly impossible for those stems to draw up their life-sustaining nutrients in a vase. They wilt and expire within one day.

I learn that you must crush and split the stems to soften them and provide many points of entry for the lilacs to suck up all the water.

I'm standing in my kitchen, damaging those stems--literally breaking them open with a knife--(in order to save them!), and I realize the tender hand of God in my own heart that crushes in order to provide a special and rapid access to what I really need: Him, the Living Water.

The tough, thick me softens so I can get what I've wanted and needed all along. This was the crushing and cutting that saved me.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Speaking Only What is Helpful

Today, I'm thinking about Ephesians 4:29 and really sinking deeply into it. Take a look:

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."

What a challenge! What a privilege! Oh, that I could speak words that were helpful for building others up and that benefited them greatly.

I look up the word for "building others up," and it means to promote growth in someone and to increase their happiness. I also examine the phrase "that it may benefit." This phrase in the Greek means to bring joy, loveliness, strength, and loving kindness.

I also note with great conviction the phrase "according to their needs." Not my needs, but their needs. This means I must discover what these needs are. This means listening patiently with love and taking myself out of the center of the universe.

Do my words promote growth or foster shame and criticism?
Do my words increase happiness or do they spread negativity and despair?
Do my words bring about joy, loveliness, strength and loving kindness?

To speak only what is helpful provides a timely check on what comes out of my mouth in friendship, parenting, marriage, and on social media.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

When Maya Angelou Cried with Oprah

When Oprah asked Maya Angelou where she went for solace and comfort, she shared through tears about her Christian faith.  She tells Oprah in this video (text below) about God's love. She says:

And finally, I said, "God loves me." It still humbles me that this force that made leaves and flees and stars and rivers and you--loves me. Me Maya Angelou. It's amazing. I can do anything and do it well. Any good thing, I can do it. That's why I am who I am, yes, because God loves me, and I'm amazed at it and grateful for it.

I'm thankful today for Maya Angelou's gift of poetry, storytelling, and vocal expression that have blessed the world all these years. When my husband told me this morning that she had died, I heard her voice in my head--that wonderful, wonderful voice that we will miss.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Netting Your Fruit

Today we net our ripening blueberries. We must! We'll lose the whole harvest in just moments as soon as the birds spy the deep purple berries. It's happened before, but not this year if we can help it.

We solve this predator problem by guarding the fruit with a mesh kind of netting with a drawstring on top (made expertly by my neighbor--the one who provides us all with raspberry canes).

When we want to harvest our berries, we'll just reach down through the top.

We have guarded this fruit well. I realize that much of gardening involves guarding your plants from predators. It's no accident that as I garden I'm also reading the book of Jude and the repetition of that keyword "kept." I look up the word, and this verb means to "carefully guard." So we are "carefully guarded" for Christ (Jude 1:1) and are to "carefully guard" our relationship with God (Jude 1:21).

I think of netting my life against anything that harms my faith. I think of God netting my life against anything that would harm me.

Meanwhile, we let these berries ripen, fully protected.

Monday, May 26, 2014

How Free I Am

Oh, the simple pleasures of this American life!

Four years ago, I loved the simplicity of our milk and blueberry pancakes.  Then next year, I was struck by ordinary pleasures of strawberries.  And, just like in all the years past, this morning we visit the Boalsburg Memorial Day Fair and gather with neighbors at the Pie Contest. The same woman who has been judging for 50 years selects the Plum Peach Pie as the winner. (Last year it was the Coconut Key Lime) Then, in 2012, I remembered again this truth (that some families feel more deeply than others today):

The Smallest Things Pay Tribute

On Memorial Day, I pause with the kind of awareness that brings tears to my eyes.  I'm aware of my particular freedoms--the smallest ones that I always take for granted--that were secured for me by the sacrifice of others.

It's amazing. It's humbling.  It makes these little blueberries in the bowl, this warm cup of coffee, these sausages in the pan, these bathing suits ready for an afternoon at the pool, and this little sentence signify freedom and opportunity.  They signify safety.

I hardly think about this on most days.

Perhaps the fact that I don't often think about how free I am proves the extent of my freedom.  

It comes at a great cost, and I'm so thankful today. I know that some families think about this every day.  They've lost loved ones, and for them, this isn't a day they suddenly remember or pay tribute.  Every day is a sacrifice for them.  I'm thankful for them today, too.  

I'm still thankful for them in 2014. We'll go to the community pool as usual, barbecue out back, and enjoy our very American life. Thank you.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Isolation, Desolation

We were meant to participate in each other's lives. The Bible talks so much about our togetherness and our interactions with one another. We're together a holy dwelling. We're together a temple. We're together a body and a church.

The togetherness of scripture indicates a way we're designed to work best: together. To see ourselves as individuals unto ourselves is a misunderstanding of identity. We're most ourselves when we see our interdependence and communal (rather than isolated) selves.

The lonely soul, the isolated soul, quickly experiences desolation. It takes some work and initiative, but we must press on to join community and help others do the same. We thrive and flourish together, just as God intended. When one of us suffers or sins, we are all damaged.

Teaching children to build community and connect with one another in life-giving ways is one of the tasks of parenting.  But American culture offers a full assault on togetherness as we have increasing temptations for isolation (I can do everything online without having to speak to a soul!), self-promotion at the expense of community, pseudo connection through social media, competition instead of connection, gossip and comparison, jealousy, and division.  

Part of our spiritual growth conversations might be about where and how we're fostering connection instead of isolation and division. We reflect the glory and beauty of God in our togetherness, so why not fight for it?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Stay Faithful. Leave the Results to God.

Right now, we're cultivating.

We're preparing the soil for all our seeds and young plants. This involves pulling weeds, turning over the soil, adding in our compost, securing the garden plots from predators, strengthening stakes and trellises, planting, and watering.

It's a lot of work, but my husband loves to do this along with my daughter.

If you want a great harvest, you cultivate. You prepare. You stay faithful to the task, and you leave the results to an unseen, mysterious process that has nothing to do with you. Yes, we water and fertilize, but really, we can't force anything. We can't make anything happen.

I love remembering that in my own life, I do my part in staying faithful to what I think God wants me to do, and I don't worry one bit about the results. They have nothing to do with me and everything to do with that Unseen, Mysterious One who brings about the harvest.

Friday, May 23, 2014

In About Ten Days

The Northern Cardinals did return after all. The nest is far away from the house, right up next to the fence. By watching the birds, I knew they were paying a lot of attention to one tree in the yard. Instead of choosing the Winterberry Bush, the birds choose the Lilac.

I can see why.

This nest is right next to the berry patch and furthest away from the skunk family. It's a smarter nest, for sure, since skunks do eat birds and their eggs, and because they Northern Cardinals love berries.

In about 10 days, these eggs will hatch.

I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

This Free App Will Change Your Life

I learn from my Bible Study leader about an amazing little app for your phone called the Blue Letter Bible App.

(If you don't have a smartphone, you can just access the website

This free app allows you to look up the Hebrew and Greek words as you read your Bible. So awesome!!! It then invites you to look up the etymology to gain such a rich understanding of keywords in scripture.

This wonderful resource then directs you to all the other places that word appears in scripture. I love this app because it means I'm not lugging around all my dictionaries and concordances whenever I want to study scripture. It's so fast and efficient! It's so easy and clear!

I've been using this app for only four days, and it's really changed how I encounter God in the Bible. For example, I thought I knew the richness and complexity of Ephesians 2:6 and that beautiful verb "seated." Well, if you take apart the original Greek roots of the word, you learn that God raised us up and "made us dwell together and conferred a kingdom upon us" (that's all in the one word: seated).

I looked up "vain idols" from Jonah, and learned that this phrase really means, "worthless speaking." I looked up all the references to "endure" in 2 Timothy (there are many), and learned that this literally means in the Greek to "stay under the weight of." I learned that the verse in Psalms that everyone quotes--"Be still and know that I am God," is actually a kind of military command. "Be still" means to hold your position, sink down, cease advancing, and rest.

I love verbs so much, and now I love them even more. I tell my students that a great verb can change your life. I feel that way today as I know I'm seated with you in Christ at a royal table, with a kingdom conferred on us all. I cease advancing, holding my position, and stay under the weight of whatever God brings into my life. And I want to write and speak worthy, not worthless words today.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Aware of Her Surroundings

This morning, I tell my daughter that her big "growth area" this year is to learn to be aware of her surroundings. For example, we stand in her bedroom, and I ask her, "What do you see here? Take a minute to really look."

She quickly scurries to pick up tissues, old water bottles, scattered school notes, and random pieces of yarn. This is a child who stays in her creative mind all day long. Who has time to look around at external surroundings when internal existential thoughts compete for attention?

I think about surroundings all morning and my hope that she and I both would see and respond.

My mind goes to Psalm 32:7 where the once despairing King David writes to God, "You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance."

Am I surrounded with songs of deliverance? If so, I'm desperately unaware.

I read Charles Spurgeon's commentary on this one verse, and I begin to see my surroundings anew. Spurgeon says this about that one phrase, "surround me with songs of deliverance":

"What a golden sentence! The man is encircled in song, surrounded by dancing mercies, all of them proclaiming the triumphs of grace. There is no breach in the circle, it completely rings him round; on all sides he hears music. Before him hope sounds the cymbals, and behind him gratitude beats the timbrel. Right and left, above and beneath, the air resounds with joy, and all this for the very man who, a few weeks ago, was roaring all the day long. How great a change! What wonders grace has done and still can do! Selah. There was a need of a pause, for love so amazing needs to be pondered, and joy so great demands quiet contemplation, since language fails to express it."

I am surrounded by dancing mercies! I pray that I open my eyes to see and hear them. What do I see here? I take a minute to really look.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

My Scary Baking Attempt: Low-Sugar Lemon Rhubarb Cake

My neighbor tells me the advice she gives to her daughter to "try one thing each day that scares you."

We're standing over her rhubarb patch where she's harvesting rhubarb for me to use.

"Using rhubarb scares me," I say. "That will be my scary thing today."

I take the rhubarb home and search for sugar-free or low sugar recipes (because my family is trying to cut down on sugar). I find this delicious low-sugar Strawberry Rhubarb Crunch recipe, but I don't have any oats.

Instead, I do something scary: I improvise.

I toss into my bowl the following: 2 cups chopped rhubarb, 2 cups frozen mixed berries, the juice from a lemon, a tablespoon honey, a teaspoon vanilla, a cup flour, 1/2 cup stevia, a cup of greek yogurt, a teaspoon cinnamon, 2 eggs, and 1/4 cup milk.

I bake the glorious batter at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. It comes out deliciously thick, moist, tart, and yummy. If you want it sweeter, add in some sugar or more stevia. One could also sweeten it up with some ice cream or whipped cream, but again, I love tart things.

Enjoy! And now I'm on to try some other scary feat!

A Low-Sugar Rhubarb Cake 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Standing Behind, Over the Shoulder

A wise mentor recently taught me a leadership principle called "over-the-shoulder" leadership.

Imagine you're leading by facing in the same direction and encouraging others in what they alone can do. In over-the-shoulder leadership, nobody's facing you and looking to you for all the answers. You stand behind others and point them onward and upward toward their goals. You equip and inspire, but ultimately, you're in the background.

You're not front and center. You're not the point.

This afternoon, my daughter asks for help with her math homework. I'm literally standing and gazing over her shoulder at the task she must do (it's her task, not mine). I have no idea how to help her because I'm terrible at math. Instead, I put my hand on her shoulder and ask her what she knows and then what she needs to know. Then I don't say anything at all for a while. Sometimes, I point out a strategy or a key piece of information, but other than that, it's really me over her shoulder, encouraging her to do what she herself must do. 

I want to be the kind of person that encourages and enables by standing behind, over the shoulder.

This is an important image to remember if you're a leader or mentor who struggles with balance and boundaries in leadership, parenting, and friendship. Over-the-shoulder leadership empowers others and keeps you in your proper place.

Sunday, May 18, 2014


Today I make my first ever terrarium. Some friends gather to create these darling little gardens encased in various glass containers. My friend Bec teaches me all about succulents. I assume she means some fancy dessert, but no. Succulents are a special kind of plant that retains water in order to survive unfavorable seasons of dryness. Think cactus. Think aloe.

For my first terrarium, I choose hens-and-chicks and a panda plant as my succulents. I learn how to layer pebbles, activated charcoal (a natural filter and freshener), moss, potting mix, and whatever decorations I want (shells, pebbles, sand, etc.).

This is my kind of garden. You only need to lightly water a terrarium about once a month.

I keep my terrarium by my writing desk. 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 also took all the supplies home to let my daughters build their own terrariums in little jars. I love this as a fun spring activity. Thank you to my friend, Bec, for teaching me!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Cowbird and the Finch: Cruel, Cruel Nature!

My neighbor has a beautiful nest of finch eggs in the hanging plant on her porch. I'm so excited! Just knowing they sit there makes me happy.

We take photos today, but we learn something awful; the brown-headed cowbird (a type of blackbird) has snuck an egg into the finch's nest. This parasitic bird searches around for hardworking nest builders, and instead of building her own, she lays an egg into this mother's nest--often pushing one of the finch eggs out to make room. In other words, this bird is a brood parasite who does whatever it takes to ensure her egg's success. 

It gets worse. The intruder egg will hatch before the others and will grow fast and large, consuming all the food meant for the finch babies. Why does she do this? Well, God made this bird species too, so I have to wonder about her behavior. I learn this:

The brown-headed cowbirds grow their population so quickly in the spring because they focus exclusively on laying eggs. All of their energy, all of their resources, and all of their time is spent on this activity. The brown-headed cowbird maximizes output, but this all comes at the expense of others.

The finch will just raise the intruder bird as her own, not knowing what she's doing, not knowing that she's jeopardizing her own offspring. Oh, cruel nature!

I'm so mad at that cowbird. I'm so mad about those that exploit and damage others for their own success. I'm so mad about the finch that doesn't have the intelligence to know she's being manipulated and violated. Or, maybe that finch does know but has some kind of bird compassion that makes her care for the cowbird chick. But then, what about those other chicks who suffer because of her compassion?

Nature is too complex for me today. I wish the cowbird would build her own nest, even if it means her species isn't the most numerous or the best. I wish the finch would learn how to feed everyone equally.

I don't want to be a cowbird or a finch in this reflection. I suppose I can learn from both birds, though.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Terrible Things. Don't Be Afraid.

We have a skunk family living under our back deck. The big mama skunk came out from hiding when I was hosing down the back deck after planting some wildflowers two days ago.

My daughter and I screamed our heads off and ran into the house. I called the Pennsylvania Wildlife people, and they reacted like this was no big deal and not to do anything. This skunk family has probably been living peacefully alongside of us for years and years.

It comes with the territory; we live near the woods.

I think about what comes with the territory--what we must live alongside--just by being human. I've been reading Frederick Buechner, and I love how he says simply, "Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things happen. Don't be afraid." And I'm reading about consolation and desolation and how they'll always be seasons of light and dark, joy and sorrow. Neither stays for long. Things go into hibernation and stay buried deep, but sometimes the terrible things lives right beside you for a season.

Terrible things then beautiful things. Repeat. This builds a life.

I'm not afraid. I swung the back door wide open last night in hopes of seeing the mama skunk parade her babies around the yard in search of food.

Desolate emotional and spiritual times are like living with a skunk. I learn that you just live peacefully with it, with a bit of wonder and curiosity, observing your own heart. Skunks won't spray unless attacked, and even then, it's rare. In the meantime, you can watch and learn about whatever comes with the territory of this beautiful, terrible human life.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Tied in Place

When you're growing climbing roses on your trellis, you tie the vines in place so they don't go where they're not supposed to go.

You also invite a particular type of growth:

My husband ties the main runner vines to encourage them into horizontal growth. With horizontal growth, the main vine sends out many stems to move upward and creates beautiful flowers all over the trellis.

With just vertical growth, the runner won't stem off, and you'll only have blooms at the very top of your trellis. It's a growth that happens too quickly and without any branching.

I glance at my trellis today and feel thankful for those years I felt tied in place somewhere. I wanted all this growth and excitement and movement, but instead, I stayed put and moved deeper into my community. I sent out stems that bloomed.

If I feel stuck somewhere spiritually, emotionally, or physically, perhaps I'm being tied in place for some horizontal growth. This kind of pruning makes for something exquisite, but it takes time and what must feel like an imprisoned kind of binding. It's not this at all, but rather the necessary training for the roses to bloom abundantly.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Spin with Joy

This morning, I study all the different Hebrew words for "rejoice." It's because I keep seeing that verb over and over again in Deuteronomy and in the Psalms.


It means what you think it means: to be very happy, glad, full of joy, and even, in some cases, to flap about happily. To flap about! Imagine!

One translation means to spin with joy.

That's what children do. That's what people do when they hear great news. They sometimes spin and even flap. Watch a child do this, and you'll know what I mean.

When was the last time you were actually spinning with joy?

I would like that kind of joy to settle into my heart and home. I would like to rejoice--like the Israelites did--over the provisions of the Lord. Instead of a gloomy heart, I want to spin about in gladness over food and clothing, shelter and health. What about spinning for family?

In Deuteronomy, folks were happy before the Lord. They might have even expressed this by twirling about. It makes me smile to imagine it.

I end my study of the verb rejoice by looking at Psalm 40: 15-17.

But may all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who long for your saving help always say,
    “The Lord is great!”

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Seeing the Unseen Thing

If you look out in my backyard, there's really nothing to see. It's a bunch of weeds. 

I decide to peer in a bit, and I find the most lovely little flowers. Miniscule. One cannot see them from the house; you have to get down next to the ground and really look. 

Nobody's going to see them, so why must they bother to be so beautiful? 

Why does a whole unseen world of beauty exist beneath our feet, right there in the middle of our own backyards? It's a lesson for me to remember: there's beauty here, whether or not I perceive it. There's magnificent design, astonishing sights, and wonderful growth whether or not I perceive it. 

Oh, Lord, help me see it. Help me know it when I only see weeds. 

Isaiah 43:19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Well, We Can Pray, Can't We, Mom?

Yesterday, my husband and I separate on the trail so he can retrieve our car. I take my daughters and follow the sign that says "Park Office." Easy. He'll walk the two miles to get our car and meet his tired ladies at the air conditioned Park Office.

However, the Park Office isn't at the end of our path. It's far, far away. The end of the path is a strange parking lot. No Park Office. We're lost.

I'm starting to get nervous. There's no way my husband will figure out what random parking lot we've reached in this huge state park.

I'm sitting there, worried. I'm trying not to panic. We have no cell phone service and no way to find each other.

What to do? Well, I decide we could just start walking and hope for the best. This is a terrible idea when you're lost. Suddenly, my youngest throws her hands in the air and says, "Well, we can pray, can't we, Mom?"

So we do.

Jesus, help us. Send help because we are lost.

Right then--right then!--a dear, sweet park ranger drives right up to us--he looks like a skinny Santa Claus--and asks us if we need help.

Right then! Right then! We pile into his car, and he drives around until he finds my husband for us. Apparently, the Park Office was miles away. The parking lot was where folks got their cars to drive back to the Park Office. Who knew?

All I know is we were lost, and God answered. I see the way that our getting lost helped build my daughter's faith. The purpose of that fear was to build faith, to get us to pray, and to allow us to experience God's provision.

Well, we can pray, can't we?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

From the Bottom Looking Up

For Mother's Day, my dear family takes me to Ricketts Glen State Park so we can hike and view amazing waterfalls.

I explain to my daughters that a "glen" is a narrow valley. The whole drive to the park, I think about how we're going down into a deep, dark, narrow valley. I think of the "valley of the shadow of death" from Psalm 23.

How different from last summer when I was hiking in the highest possible Alpine Tundra in the Rocky Mountains. I've been very high up in this world, but today, I'm going to a valley instead. I think about the spiritual metaphor of "mountaintop experiences (all joy and peace and beauty) as opposed to the "dark valley" experiences of hard times (despair and hopelessness and confusion).

As we hike to see the magnificent waterfalls (click for a virtual tour provided by Pennsylvania State Parks), I think about how the valley experiences allow for a particularly important phenomenon:

You experience power there.

I stand at the base of those waterfalls, and I know that it's a much different experience from when you're at the top looking down. At the base, you know the power. You feel the rumble, the wind, and the spray of water. You see the way the water cuts right into the heart of rock.

It cuts even the rock. 

You're put in your place; you're humbled and a little scared.

I would describe the early years of motherhood as the lowest valley of my life. Yet here, I knew God's power. I was right where I needed to be for God to cut and smooth me into something beautiful.

There are some things you can only learn deep in the dark, narrow valley.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

"How Are You Never Bored?"

My youngest asks me why I'm never bored. I tell her it's because I love working, and things are just too interesting.

There's always something to do, and there's always something to learn. 

When I was little, nobody entertained me. People my age entertained themselves back then. Our childhoods weren't orchestrated by external things like computers or even cable television. 

We learned to make our own fun. 

This is a great life skill. 

Again, I remember the wise man's words that one of the greatest gifts you can give a child is the gift of boredom. 

Wait and see the creativity that blooms.


Friday, May 9, 2014

My Favorite Writer on Leadership

One of my favorite books on leadership and emotional health is Peter Scazerro's Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.  I highly recommend adding this book to your summer reading list.

I also love inventory lists, and this morning, I found Scazerro's list for evaluating the health of your leadership. It's a great list, and if you click here, you can check out his blog and the list.

In particular, I'm interested in how I respond with greater clarity in the midst of tension. This is an area I'm excited to continue to grow in. When I'm in a very tense relational situation, a mark of differentiated leadership is the ability to think clearly, stay calm, and rise above everyone's emotions.

I also love his question about "managing triggers" that create stress in your life.


Thursday, May 8, 2014

In Some Direction

I love checking on the progress and growth of things. It's just something I love to do. In Spring, I must find a bird nest or two to monitor, and I walk the garden most days just to monitor the fruit.

I note the dark caverns in the strawberry patch that house brand new buds.

All living things grow. They progress towards maturity. The phenomenon of growth amazes me--that it happens, how it happens, why it happens. Growth means that something is happening as we move through time. We must inevitably and naturally move in some direction. There's nothing stagnant about it.

I am growing. It's happening. I want to ensure I'm growing in the right direction (not just any direction, or in the direction of a lesser kind of living), but toward maturity, fruitfulness, and ever increasing inner beauty.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A Choking Hazard

The Stained-Glass Cookies were one big choking hazard! They were too big! I tried them out on a few 3rd graders, and they were impossible to eat safely. The candy fractured in shards; the cookie fell apart; it was too sticky; it wasn't fun.

(I gave all of them to graduate students and my own freshman and seniors who could handle the complexity of this cookie. I love students.)

But what to do now? I had promised these cookies to the children, and I promised two dozen for the choir and band concert reception tomorrow night. Oh, blessed is the man who upholds his oath, even when it hurts!

Back to the drawing board. We did more product testing and decided on a simple solution: a smaller cookie and less candy. I realize this is a crazy act of perseverance on my part. I think my heart knows that my days of making class and concert treats are numbered.

I'm in the savoring years. 

It's a perfect solution. We reduced the cookie significantly and added the thinnest layer of crushed Jolly Rancher. Easy. One bite-full. Children love them, and nobody chokes to death.

Meanwhile, I'm learning the spiritual principle that bigger is not better. Fancy, glamorous, over-the-top things seem fun. That seems like life, but really, it's one big choking hazard.

I'll take the little. I'll take the small. I'll take what fits perfectly in my hand. This way, I savor.

And yes, I'm laughing at myself for the number of hours I've spent baking this week.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Stable and Certain

This morning, I realized how many time the word "foundation" is used in scripture to refer to stability, strength, and certainty.

In Isaiah 33:6, I read that God is the "sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure." Another translation says, "He will be the security and stability for your times."

I just want to walk around all day and say this verse to myself.

I don't enjoy feeling unstable or uncertain about anything. It's not fun. When I feel this way, I'm realizing that perhaps it's because I'm depending upon another type of foundation. It's because I'm fearing something else other than a Holy God. I'm building up something in my mind that's supposed to provide stability or certainty--whether money, productivity, a good reputation, fruitfulness, ministry--of course it's back to the three A's of false foundations: appearance, affluence, and achievement.

How silly and foolish in light of a most awesome and powerful Lord who will not tolerate idols or shaky resting places. No matter what's happening in my life or in the world, I know that God is a sure foundation.

That's really all I need to know today if something feels unstable or uncertain.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Most Delightful Thing on Earth

Do you remember the scene in the 2003 movie, Lost in Translation, when Bob tells Charlotte what it's like to have children? I think of that exchange this morning.

Bob: It gets a whole lot more complicated when you have kids.
Charlotte: It's scary.
Bob: The most terrifying day of your life is the day the first one is born.
Charlotte: Nobody ever tells you that.
Bob: Your life, as you know it... is gone. Never to return. But they learn how to walk, and they learn how to talk... and you want to be with them. And they turn out to be the most delightful people you will ever meet in your life.
Charlotte: That's nice.

They do grow up. They do sleep one day. They do become so delightful--people you would choose to spend time with because they are just that wonderful.

I recall the movie because my youngest daughter turned nine today. She is one of the most delightful people I have ever met in my whole life. This girl--the one with colic who never slept. This girl--the one who did everything in her own time, in her own way, and you couldn't do anything about it. This girl--the one who had me crying over her stubborn baby ways. 

This girl is now nine years old and amazing. There's something about age nine: The creativity! The zeal! The bounce! The empathy (finally)! The hunger to learn and explore! The wonder! The laughter! The lack of stress and worry! 

We celebrated her birthday at 6:00 AM because that's how she rolls. Why waste the daylight? 

I cannot wait to see that little face again after school. Meanwhile, I stop by her bedroom and notice all her wildflowers growing wildly, almost ready to plant. You can't contain this. 

It's going by too quickly, and here I am just watching her stretch herself toward the sun, growing, just as she should. Every day is precious around here. A nine-year old might just be one of the most delightful things on earth. What do you think? 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Authoring with Authority

I wonder why I tell my students they're writers instead of authors. Author is a much more powerful word. I think of authority. I think of taking control of something, in this case language, and making it behave.

Both author and authority derive from the same word--meaning to originate, promote, and increase. 

I love the connection between author and authority. When you author something, you bring some new thing about; you increase what you want to grow and promote what you must promote. You claim the authority to do this--you and nobody else--as you put the words on the page.

The act of authoring with authority reflects something of God's character. When we write, we become image bearers in a special way. Writing is an incarnation, really, a mystery as strange and beautiful as thought itself. (Where do thoughts originate? No scientist can tell you.) 

God authors. God originates. He can do this through us. 

With over a million words in the English language, the possible permutations for any sentence shut many writers down. But keep choosing and ordering. Keep increasing, promoting, and originating. 

It's a divine sort of act. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

An Extraordinary Day

Today, I venture in search of nests in the yard for my daughters and me to start monitoring. Instead, I see a lone sparrow egg where no sparrow egg should be. We all gather in the yard, leaving our ordinary Saturday chores aside.

We search high and low (even borrowing a huge ladder from our neighbor to inspect the gutters for nests), and we find no nest from where it might have fallen.

Where did it come from? What should we do with it?

We examine the fragility and beauty of it. We keep searching to solve the mystery of its origins. We debunk through research the myth that a mother sparrow won't accept the egg if we happened to replace it back into the nest. But we simply cannot find the nest.

The children cannot stop touching it, this thing that shouldn't be in their hands. Nothing is more important than this moment right here.

We observe and wonder. We also theorize that a greedy squirrel stole this and brought it here to eat but was promptly scared away by our fearsome kitten. We also learn about the difficulty of trying to hatch this egg on our own. We decide to leave it in the yard.

It's an otherwise ordinary day here, but in the midst of laundry and baking (like all days at Live with Flair) we pause for wonder and mystery. From a child's perspective, this is an extraordinary day. I like that perspective best of all.

Friday, May 2, 2014

A Precise Life Purpose

I read a clear and precise statement in Exodus that reminds me of a life's purpose.

God says to Moses in Exodus 9:16, "I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth."

I mention to my husband how clarifying this statement is as applied to my own life. What if the unchanging God desires this for us--that we might be shown His power and work as instruments of proclamation? 

Power and proclamation.

This helps me makes sense of suffering and disappointment on the one hand, and blessing and prosperity on the other. If everything that happens to me is about God showing me His power, then I interpret every circumstance--good or bad--through this lens: God can show His power through this.

And if God is in the business of proclaiming His wonderful name through the earth, then I become a conduit of that proclamation, no matter where I am or what I'm doing.

Power and proclamation.


Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Best Nest Indeed

One of my favorite childhood books is The Best Nest, by P.D. Eastman. I happen to love bird nests; I spent hours as a child looking for them in springtime. Something about nests just absolutely enthralls me. 

If you remember last year, we observed both the Northern Cardinals and the Robins lay beautiful eggs in nests in the Weeping Cherry and the Winterberry Bush.

Alas! Not one egg survived! Either black snakes, chipmunks, or cats climbed right into those low nests and devoured all the eggs. 

This morning, my neighbor points up to her beautiful hanging potted plants by her front door. She remarks that a sparrow has built a nest right in the pot. 

I think about that hanging potted plant all day.

It's a perfect nest. 

It's safe from predators (how in the world would they get up there?). No snake could access it; no chipmunk could scale the siding on the house to get to the chain hanging the plant; and no cat would get that close to her front door. 

All enemy access points secured. This is a perfect nesting spot. 

I think about enemy access points and the wisdom of birds who nest well. I want to settle down in places that deny access from threatening things whether spiritually or emotionally. I want to nest well and thrive there. One of the definitions of "nest" as a verb is to place a smaller object inside a larger one. That's how I like to think of my safe relationship with God. I'm nested inside of Him, safe and secure.