Monday, June 30, 2014

The Strangest Fascination

If you're really going to know me, I suppose I must confess my strange fascination. I love being honest with you because what else do I have to offer?

I can prove the strange fascination's significance in my life: When I first went to therapy because of a kind of depression that left me lost inside--like a wandering in the dark everyday, a pointless despair where death seemed pleasurable--the psychologist, as a way of discovering me, asked me to share a single good memory. 

I think he wanted to get serotonin moving in my brain. You know, think good thoughts and your brain chemistry changes kind of therapy. What could I say? Asking a depressed woman to offer something good from the shadowy depths of her mind is like asking a paralyzed man to walk. What could my mind offer up? What would yours? 

It wasn't inaugural balls, a wedding day, having children, having tea at the White House, dances, vacations, letters of acceptance to prestigious schools. No. Nothing like this. 

It was turtles. I told the doctor stories of finding turtles. That's what my depths offered up like sunken treasure full of gold and pearls. 

Now, like any good therapy session, I could think about what that means

So for years, I've thought about this. I love turtles. I've written many times about the resonance my whole self somehow feels with a turtle's suspicious, pokey, ancient self, their home they keep with them no matter where they are (instant refuge and protection), but it doesn't ever offer a satisfying why. I noticed, over the years, that a caged turtle offers no joy. No, I have to find it. 

This morning, I think I discovered the why. I walked on the lake with my daughter in search of turtles, and our hearts sang together as we discovered a turtle. He was eating a minnow. Nothing special, really, if you think about it. I'll do it again tomorrow and the next day. 

Ah, but we discovered it. The wonder! We were so happy that we were silenced into joy. You can't think about yourself and your problems and the turtle at the same time. The turtle discovery takes up all the room and frees you from yourself. It's so freeing, that this morning I wondered if part of those years of depression were when I somehow stopped discovering. Something shut down in me--the wonder, the curiosity, the seeking. So when the doctor asked for a single memory, I went straight to the one where I walked in the mud only to have it shatter beneath my seven-year-old bare feet into a nest of a dozen tiny turtle hatchlings. This single memory sends a cascade of neurotransmitter joy all across the landscape of my brain.

The turtle brings me back to what I'm made for: discovery. The whole ripe earth is waiting for me to discover its secrets, and each person I meet is a hidden thing I might discover. Discovery! Finding the rare thing--the thing that's there, waiting for me to find! You know how everyone talks about gratitude as the key to happiness? Well, what about discovery? That's my joy.

I take the turtle joy and let it poke its way into my whole life:

My marriage is a daily kind of discovery because I met someone who says things like, "Tell me what you're thinking about today," or "Can I show you what I'm discovering?" Friendship? Lessons in discovery. Parenting? Discovery every day. Live with Flair? It's all daily discovery, my own serotonin boost. Even depression? A journey of discovering the darkest, most remote, dangerous, and unruly places of me. I'm an explorer here, not a victim. I'm a pirate stealing booty from my own stash of forbidden treasure.

Discovery! I tell my husband that there's nothing like discovery, and we talk about this discovery for a minute. We talk about being made in the image of God, but I say, "God really doesn't get to discover because He knows everything."

He says, "Yeah, but there's something one step up from discovery, something better, that God does."

"What? What is it?" I have to know. I have to discover it. And I'm seriously about to burst with the idea that there's something even better, even more satisfying than discovery.

"It's invention. He invents."



This, then, is why I discover and then write about it, inventing it all over again in words. Discovery blooms, if you let it, into a creative act.

This is how to live a life. This is how to love. This is how to heal. This is how to worship. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Thou Shalt Fry Okra (and Four Things that Happen to You in the South)

I'm writing here from North Carolina with my Southern In-Laws. I confess I am not a Southerner. I was born in Kansas into a military family and grew up mainly on the West Coast (Fort Ord, Fort Lewis) and then in Northern Virginia (which my UVA and Greystone friends remind me is not the South). And some of you, those from Mississippi, might actually claim that North Carolina is not the real South. But for the purposes of this particular post, let's believe the best about one another.

Now I live in Pennsylvania, so I suppose I am a Yankee.

But I married into a Southern Family and have been a Southerner-in-Training for the past 15 years.

This means several things:

1. I know how to make real sweet tea (you do it on the stove, in a pot, but don't ever let it boil. You let it steep forever and then add a gazillion cups of sugar. Done.).

2. I know how to fry okra. And I know that at the Farmer's Market, you want to buy Silver Queen corn (it has to be Silver Queen for those creamy white kernels!). I know to fry chicken and make strawberry pies. I also know how to make chicken-n-dumplin's, grits (the acronym is G.irls R.aised. I.n T.he S.outh: grits), pimento cheese sandwiches, and the right kind of vinegary barbecue. It's a Southern thing.

3. I know what the following expressions mean:

"On the short rows" means one is nearly finished with one's work (from the old days of tobacco farming when the short rows were at the end of the field where the tractor turned around).

"The devil's beatin' his wife" means it's raining while the sun is shining (what? huh?).

"She showed herself" means she was overly emotional in public (I'm doomed).

Add in these gems: You might be fit to be tied or in hog heaven, depending on the afternoon.

4. A Southern woman lives in the kitchen, and this isn't a bad thing. You will cook 2 pounds of bacon in the morning and fry your eggs in the bacon grease. You will grill sandwiches for lunch with all sorts of fillings like egg salad, chicken salad, ham salad, and pimento cheese. There's lots of mayo and butter involved. You will fry things at dinner. But the whole time, you'll be talkin' and lovin' each other.

So, my friends, I want you to know that although I am only a Southerner by marriage, I have learned my lessons well. Grandpa has asked both for my buttermilk fried chicken and the strawberry pie recipes. This is like winning the Nobel Prize. I'll go celebrate with some sweet tea.

Friday, June 27, 2014

If You Have a Child Who Talks Too Much

First of all, I was a child who talked too much.

My older sister and parents don't laugh about these memories; they agonize over them. If you ask them about how much I talked as a child, they'll close their eyes and step back as if they are trying to distance themselves from the terrible memory of my talking, like people shielding their eyes from the glare of the fiery sun. My mom will say, "You have no idea. You have no idea how much she talked."

It was all this as a child: Heather, stop talking. Heather, please, please be quiet. Heather, let someone else talk. Heather, will you please just stop talking? Please? If you don't stop talking, I'm going to go crazy. 

My talking single-handedly caused more migraine headaches in my house than any other trigger.

I had such serious articulation needs (isn't that a nicer and more medical way to say it, like it wasn't something I chose?) that talking wasn't actually enough. Not at all. I wrote in journals, voiced stories inside my head to myself, and maintained an ongoing glitzy parade of words all day long. I remember walking around my backyard, reciting the Gettysburg Address or a speech I wrote of my own, just to hear the rhythm of the words.

Everything I learned, I had to teach someone because I loved them that much. Besides, everything I thought, I had to export somehow or it corrupted inside of me, festering.

As an adult, this need never waned. I've written a thesis, a dissertation, six novels, thousands of blogs, and twenty journals full of words. And I talk. Oh, Lord, I talk. And then I talk some more. And more. I talk to God most of all. He's the best listener.

Words, words, words. I can't stop. The words are just so sweet and juicy and must be shared. The thoughts fill up my head and have to escape or else I go crazy inside, like steam screaming on the kettle.

So I both talk and write too much. I generally am too much.

My oldest daughter inherited my too-muchness. So at dinner a few nights ago, she asks the table guests, "Am I talking too much?"

We gently, gently suggest that she might want to let others talk, too. Just like her teacher gently, gently told her she might want to let other students answer in class. Just like her youth pastor gently, gently reminded her that other people have thoughts to share, too.

So we're doing all that gentle training. It's good. She needs to learn, like her wise father says, that there's a time and place for things--like fire in a fireplace is good, but fire outside the fireplace harms people. She has to control the fire a bit to right times and right places. Who doesn't?

But something overcame me this morning. I called out to my daughter to come to me immediately, in a voice like something was on fire or that I was on fire and needed rescue (it felt like I was).

"What, Mom? I'm here."

"Do you know when you asked if you were talking too much last night? Well, listen to me right now. Listen as hard as you can: You are absolutely perfect. You are absolutely amazing.You have things to say." I think of her thoughts bubbling over like the caramel you melt for candied apples in autumn. "You just keep being you, all the time."

I said this because I have found people who love me and who let me talk and write because I must. They don't silence me or shame me. They fold their hands under their chins, refill their coffee mugs, and let me talk and talk and talk. I suppose I could have stopped talking because it was so annoying (and it often is), but it's also part of who I am.

A man fell in love with this talker and thanks the good Lord that for every introverted, quiet man, there's a boisterous, extroverted woman bushwhacking her way into social settings and paving an easy path for him to follow. (One neighbor said it's more like I'm a Marine storming new territory, and my husband is like the Army coming in after, quietly maintaining peace and order.)

The point is that my husband has been listening to and reading my words for 15 years.

And, to give you hope, dear parent of a talker, I've learned to meet all of these articulation needs in more unselfish ways that don't require people to just sit and listen, but I've never stopped getting the words out.

It's because at just the right time--when I was exactly my daughter's age--a teacher told me to write speeches and compete in oratory contests because I just had so much to say and people needed to hear it. I didn't lose one word during those years. I wrote them all down and spoke them on stage. In high school, I went straight from oratory to Policy Debate where the goal was to speak as many words as possible in the shortest amount of time.

As many words as possible! There were prizes given for this sort of bliss. I was home. I found myself. While other girls were riding horses or shopping at the mall in the summers, I went to debate camp with all the other talkers who were so happy together we were like young wizards finally using their wands at Hogwarts. My sister and parents fully supported this competitive speaking, and they drove me all over the United States to debate things I can't even remember now.

It could have gone differently. I could have listened and stopped talking like all the precious, orderly, appropriate, silent daughters of the world who speak only when spoken to. These children, I fear, turn in on themselves, closing tightly shut like sea anemones who open for no one.

But I didn't.

I just don't want my daughter's words lost because she's been shamed one too many times or made to feel like she's too much, exhausting, selfish, or annoying.

I don't want to silence children; I want to fan the flame of all their glorious word seeds and let the whole thing rage on.

Someone wants to listen. There's a stage waiting for her like there was for me.

So when she asks again, "Am I talking too much?" with those wide, tearful, insecure eyes, I'm going to say, "No! In fact, tell me more. Tell me so much more."

I'll sit back and watch that blaze of glory.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

As You Are, Where You Are

I read about the concept of being "self-possessed" today. A self-possessed person is one who remains calm, confident, and in control of her emotions no matter where she is or what is happening to her. A self-possessed person maintains clear thinking under stress and knows exactly who she is and what her role is in every situation. She is a mature adult.

Bah! Bah ha ha!

I burst out laughing at this.

I'm the exact opposite of self-possessed. I'm the woman the self-possessed woman drapes her arm around (in perfectly controlled and well-timed empathy) to help her remember herself. I'm the woman whose whole life is about corralling her wild horses of emotions. I'm the woman who couldn't remain calm because calm isn't part of her brain structure. She doesn't think clearly because she's too busy making metaphors or strange allegorical blog posts.

Today, I actually asked myself, "Who are you again? What are you about?" And I'm nearly 40.

I also did something completely age-inappropriate today; I asked my mother-in-law to buy me a net at the dollar store in town so I could catch turtles at the lake. I do not know other adults who do things like this.

And I never quite know what my role is. Am I the teacher here? Am I the writer or the reader? Am I the mom or the one needing a mom? Am I the girl or the woman? Am I the urbanite or the berry farmer?

Who am I, people? What am I about anyway?

This. This.

This painful and wonderful collection of unruly and bizarre reactions, moods, roles, and thoughts is me.

I have not an ounce of self-possession. This, of course (ironically, beautifully) makes me a different, but not worse, kind of self-possessed.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Book I'm Loving: Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos

I grabbed it from a Little Free Library down the road because I liked the row of rain boots on the cover.  I fell in love with it on the second page when the author describes a character, Cornelia, who loves the city. She puts it like this:

Image Barnes&Noble
     "I loved the noise, opening my window to let a confetti of sound fly in. I loved how leaving my apartment, in pursuit of newspapers or bags of apricots or bagels so perfect they were not so much bagels as odes to gloss and chewiness, never just felt like going out, but like setting out, adrenaline singing in my veins, the unexpected glancing off storefronts, simmering in grates and ledges, pooling in stairwells, awaiting me around every corner, down every alleyway.
     Imagine an enormous strutting peacock with the whole jeweled city for a tail."

Belong to Me, by Marisa de los Santos, has so far shaped a world I love. This book, found by chance on the side of the road, makes it all the more wonderful. Or, in the words of my oldest daughter, "Awesical"--the combination of awesome and magical.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Am I Fond of Them?

In Titus 2:4, we learn that older women are supposed to encourage the younger women to love their children. Isn't that weird? Why wouldn't they love their children?

I learn this morning that the admonition in this verse to love your children is about being fond of them, delighting in being with them, and enjoying them.

What does it mean to be "fond" of your children? I learn that it means to have a great affection and liking for them. It means to have a passion for and an inclination towards them.

Yes, it means to actually enjoy them. The etymology of fond means to be foolishly infatuated. It does! It really does!

Do you ever feel like this enjoyment gets lost somewhere in dishes and laundry, bills and scrubbing? Do you ever feel like you don't enjoy your own children because you have forgotten how?

I prayed that God would fill my heart with fondness for my children and that they would feel my fondness toward them. Why would I need to pray this? Well, my heart veers towards selfishness on the summer days when I'd rather drink coffee, write, and read a novel alone. Sometimes, I'd rather escape because I've spent so much time in meal preparation, cleaning, and housekeeping.

So I ask God to do this fondness thing in my heart.

Guess what? I found myself playing again. I found myself putting goggles on and exploring the depths with them. I found myself hiding and seeking and imagining I'd come upon foundling children who urgently needed strawberry pie and tickling.

And when I was alone reading my novel later, I threw it down and called out down the hall, "Where are you two? I want to be with you! What are we doing next?"

Oh, dear. I'm foolishly infatuated.

Monday, June 23, 2014

After the Fact and Not Before or During

We just went to a little blueberry farm and ate blueberries right off the bush. It was a sweet moment of simplicity and deliciousness.

While standing there amid the enormous blueberry bushes, I briefly wondered about taking a picture, but then I was so thankful I forgot my phone.

I remember the mental discipline that we live life first and post about it later for friends to enjoy. We don't craft experiences, set up the perfect shots, or imagine what might look good online. More importantly, we don't need cameras or words to legitimize whether our experience was good or even happening at all. There's a great risk with posting on the internet (and living your life there) that your actual experience is always mediated through a lens of how it will appear online. The experience of interacting about your experience on social media becomes the experience instead of the real experience.

What?? Yes.

What can we do to keep our lives immediate and authentic? I like thinking about what was great about the day after the fact and not beforehand or during. You have to stay present and unlayered about it; you aren't viewing it through a lens or narrating it by a tweet or status update.

I remember the perfectly ripe, nearly bursting blueberry. The time to enjoy it was right then, standing in the dusty field, hidden among the bushes, gobbling up the gift. I could think about what it meant later, after I had my fill with my family.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Only Thing I'm Allowed to Fear

A wise friend of mine recently shared all the things she was learning about God as she endured an extremely difficult season in her life. She told me the most important thing.

"God's been teaching me that I'm only allowed to fear one thing. I'm only allowed to fear God. I'm not allowed to fear the future, what other people think about me, or anything else. Just fear God."

Since God is good and takes care of her at all times, deeply loving her, she only needs to worry about His opinion. She can focus exclusively on regarding God and not her circumstances.

I'm only allowed to fear God (and He loves me), and not this thing in front of me.

I remember Proverbs 9:10: The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

More Like a Cat

After all these years of having cats, I sometimes just sit back and watch the way they've become great companions to us all. This one, Louie, our oldest and most serious alpha cat, shadows my daughters. He sleeps with one of them every night, greets them after school, and finds them wherever they are in the house.

It's peaceful and comforting. It's protective and devoted. He requires nothing from us in these moments.

I should be more like a cat.

I wonder if my presence could feel that way in a room. You know that kind of happy and warm feeling you get when a cat chooses you, curls up, and begins purring? I could learn something from the behavior of cats who seem, when they sit by you, to comfort, protect, and simply enjoy being with you.

Friday, June 20, 2014

You Need Some Purple Today.

I just thought I'd share some purple.

And some more purple.

The end.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Decision-Making Fatigue: 3 Ways to Minimize Choices

Did you know that there's such a thing as decision-making fatigue? It's a real thing. Decision fatigue in psychology has to do with the way you begin to make poorer choices the longer you have to keep making decisions. The brain gets tired. You choose the path of least resistance and end up doing crazy things because you're so tired of making decisions. 

When every moment is about a decision, life becomes exhausting. You end up screaming at everyone, eating a whole chocolate cake, and impulse shopping. You end up watching too many episodes of something on TBS because you don't want to have to even decide whether to turn off the TV or not. So you just sit there and do nothing but eat cake. 

Has this happened to you? Does your brain hurt because every single moment is about making a decision? I've been learning how to minimize choices to gain energy, mental clarity, and sanity again. (I do this as a writing instructor, by the way. I give very easy templates that reduce decision-making for the students at first so they gain some energy and clarity.)

What am I learning about this? I'm so glad you asked. And please share your own wisdom in the comments! I would love more help!

1. First, for example, I stopped deciding whether to do certain things and relegated these activities to non-negotiable behaviors. Things like chores fall into this category. I spend no mental energy deciding on whether or not to empty the dishwasher, make the beds, clean the bathrooms, or sweep the floor. You just do it. No decisions needed.

2. I'm learning the value of advanced planning to create situations that require no decision making. Things like meal-planning and daily schedules for the kids fall into this category. Even laying out clothes the night before means I'm saving all the mental energy in the morning.

3. Lastly, when I know I'm going to have to make many choices about something (like packing the whole family for a trip), I've learned to start a week in advance and only spend an hour making choices about clothing and accessories. Otherwise, I find myself exhausted and crabby. It's decision fatigue.

I'm convinced that when we minimize choices--both for ourselves and our children--we find some new energy and wisdom. We can make better decisions because we're not so overloaded all the time.

I'm willing to bet that by noon today, you'll have made way too many decisions. I'm so curious to see what happens if you try to minimize all those decisions!

Living with flair has something to do with minimizing choices. I'm off to go make lunch (which I already decided on yesterday: fruit smoothies and sandwiches!)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Tip #1: Use Social Media to Help

Sometimes, I find myself wanting to post random things about myself that don't help other people. Blogging, in this case, becomes more narcissistic, self-promoting, and just a personal account that doesn't aid humanity in some way. If you're wondering what you're doing on social media or how to become a professional blogger, think about this:

Ask whether what you post helps anybody or if it's just adding to the cacophony of words spinning out here.

When I started blogging, it was to help myself manage my moods; finding that "flair" moment turned the whole day around. Life quickly became full of mystery, wonder, gratitude, and worship.

I invited others to read my blog because it helped them find some joy, too, or at least it gave them a model for how they might turn their bad days around.

Yes, I wanted Live with Flair to model a way of thinking and living, and it helped suffering people. The mission statement for the blog is clear and direct, and that's sustained this thing over 1,550 posts.

What if you focused your blogging and social media time towards a mission of helping? You might find you experience a breakthrough.

But what kind of help, you ask?

People need timely relationship advice, practical skills, honest biblical reflection on depression or loss, or paradigm shifts you've had about living.

Think about using social media to love others well in these ways: encourage them, direct them into God's love, offer training and insight based on whatever skills you have, and inspire them.

My most successful writing friends tell me that they write because they love the reader. Of course! I teach because I love the student, but in writing, I often forget the love part and focus too much on me.

I'm turning back to you.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Today's the Day! (But They Were Supposed to Be Peach)

 Finally! They bloom! Today's the day!

Roses! If you remember my little plants from last year:

Last Year's Roses 
Now, they've grown and are actually vining up and blooming!

Climbing Roses on Homemade Trellis

However, I ordered peach colored roses. I just know I did. And besides, I've been imagining peach roses all winter.

Upon closer inspection and reflection, the pink are so lovely! My dream of having my English Cottage with Climbing Roses is coming true today, and the pink version is better than the peach one.

I'm learning to hold my dreams and visions loosely. God knows exactly what I'd love best of all.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Summer Novel Writing: Begin with a Call to Adventure

Go ahead and start writing your novel this summer. If you're wondering how to do it or where to begin, I suggest reading up on the Hero's Journey as a fun template. What I love about the Hero's Journey is how the story always begins in an ordinary world with ordinary people. It's usually boring, ho-hum, and sometimes depressing.

Maybe you feel that way right now. You're tired of ordinary living, a boring life, ennui . . .

But then! A Call to Adventure happens, and that's when it all takes off:

A letter from Hogwarts.
A tornado in Kansas.
A white rabbit.
A giant peach.
A message from a princess in distress.

Your character, remember, might refuse the call, confuse the call, accept the call, or negotiate in some way. Your character might also not recognize the great Call to Adventure or go on the wrong adventure altogether.

Then what? Well, you tell us.

And what if this very blog is your Call to Adventure? Accept the call, cross the threshold, gather mentors and allies, overcome challenges, seize your rewards, and take the road back as a new person.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Great Prayer for a Dad

Tonight I remember Psalm 112 and what a great prayer it is for fathers!

If you haven't already, pray for dads that they would fear the Lord, take great delight in His commands, and have mighty and blessed children. This psalm also talks about the blessings of wealth and riches, light in darkness, unshakable lives, secure hearts, no fear of bad news, and triumph in all situations.

It's a great psalm of blessing to pray every day.

Psalm 112

Praise the Lord.
Blessed are those who fear the Lord,
    who find great delight in his commands.
Their children will be mighty in the land;
    the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in their houses,
    and their righteousness endures forever.
Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
    for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.
Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,
    who conduct their affairs with justice.
Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
    they will be remembered forever.
They will have no fear of bad news;
    their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear;
    in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor,
    their righteousness endures forever;
    their horn[c] will be lifted high in honor.
10 The wicked will see and be vexed,
    they will gnash their teeth and waste away;
    the longings of the wicked will come to nothing.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

When It's Taking Forever

Roses take forever to bloom.

I've been watching these buds for almost two weeks. It's almost time because the rose sepals (the leaves the protect the flower inside) finally start cracking open.

These will be the first climbing roses on the trellis.

I can hardly wait. It's interesting to note that you learn things in the waiting (like what sepals are). I like to remember to ask, "What am I supposed to learn in this waiting time?"

There's always something.

Friday, June 13, 2014

I'm in Charge of Family Hydration

Sometime in the last 12 years, my family put me in charge of hydration. This means that I'm the one checking in on whether or not we're remembering to drink water. Now that my daughters are older and can take care of themselves, I'm still reminding them.

I'm reminding myself. It's summer; it's hot and I'm exhausted by 9:00 AM. However, when I'm hydrated, I feel so much better.

A simple reminder from Live with Flair. Go drink some water!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Animals on the Rainbow Loom

It's raining and cold! Instead of feeling like this is a terrible way for summer vacation to begin, we do the things we love to save for rainy days. In this case, we invite friends to make grilled cheese sandwiches that seem so comforting as the chilly rain comes in through the screen door.

The children make little animals on the rainbow loom.

My daughter and her friend make turtles and peacocks and hibiscus! On the rainbow loom! My youngest is making a little mouse right now.

They find instructions on Youtube, and soon, I watch a parade of snakes, penguins, climbing lemurs, and octopi.

My oldest is beginning a collection of signature sushi pieces on the loom. I can't wait to see how they turn out. What fun!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Some Slow Pie and a Few Questions

In honor of living slow and more reflectively on this last day of school, my daughters and I harvest the berries and make a strawberry pie from scratch.

Well, actually, I made the pie. They relaxed.

I also let my parents in Virginia know that I was making the same strawberry pies we made after a weekend of picking berries at Parker's Pick Your Own Berry Farm in Clinton, Maryland back when I was young.

It is slow; you're picking, washing, making crust, boiling the filling, and waiting for a few hours for it to set. Here's the recipe we used. 

In the meantime, we thought of a few reflective questions about our year:

1. Did you work your hardest? Give some examples.
2. Did you make a new friend or two? Tell us about that.
3. Were you a blessing to someone? When?

It's a slow afternoon of talking, baking, and connecting to our land and our history. What a revolt against my normal frenzy of activity! What a change!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

It's Illegal to Pick These

My husband and I travel to find the lady slipper orchids in the forest. We look back to 2011 when our friend pointed them out in May. We aren't sure we'll find them again, but we do. And I go back to read about the beauty of these plants and what they symbolize to me. Enjoy!

Why You Belong Right Here

I'm walking with my neighbor in the woods.

Lady Slippers in the Woods

All of a sudden, she cries out, "The lady slippers have bloomed!"  She's pointing to the earth, and at first, I do not see anything.

Then, I see them.

Pink Lady Slipper Blooming

I don't even really know what I'm seeing or why it matters.   

Lady Slipper Reaches Out

My friend tells me something wondrous.  Lady slipper orchids are extraordinary.

Are You Looking at Me? 

It's illegal to uproot them.  It's actually against the law to harm these wild orchids.  I learn two amazing facts that explain why.

First, the US Forest Service reports that lady slippers depend upon a very special fungus in the forest that allows the seed to grow.  The fungus cares for the seed--passing on nutrients--until it grows older.  And when the plant matures, it then sends nutrients back to the fungus through its roots.  That symbiosis will be destroyed if we harvest the orchids. Even more, the trees rely on the fungus!

Second, I learn that the intricate system of orchid roots means that if you take even one plant away, you harm the entire network of orchid plants. 

Lady Slipper Family

Every single one matters.  And the location isn't an accident.

As I think about the impossibly complex design that allows these orchids to thrive, I consider my own community.  Every single person nourishes each other, and we're here for a reason.  There's nothing accidental about it. The conditions for our growth exist only here.

Doesn't God tell us that He "searches out the exact places where we live" (Acts 17) and that we are "all part of one body"? (Romans 12)

You are here for a marvelous reason.  We need you!  And even when these growing conditions seem like, well, fungus, this is what we require to thrive.  

Living with flair means really seeing ourselves as a community and knowing why it matters.  We are part of each other. 

Finally, it took another person to reveal this beauty to me.  I would have never noticed these lady slipper orchids without her.  Living with flair means that when our neighbors don't see it, we show them. 

Journal:  Do we really believe we are part of one another?

Monday, June 9, 2014

And I Ate It

I didn't save this berry for my children or husband or even a neighbor. Oh no, I ate it immediately. I feel no remorse whatsoever.

Sometimes, the gifts God brings into our hands are for us to enjoy, and that's right and good. I know too many people who feel guilty when they enjoy some simple pleasure because they're taught to deny themselves all the time. Remember that it is God "who richly provides all things for our enjoyment" (1 Timothy 6:17).

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Something to Gather Right Now

It's raining, but I know I have to harvest this day's strawberries. The whole time I'm out there in the mud and underneath the dark sky, foraging about for ripe berries hidden beneath the rich green foliage, I think about the blessing I might gather in any season, under any sky, in any circumstance.

Yes, it's terrible weather out here, but still there's something to gather.

Doesn't Isaiah 45 talk about how God can bring treasure from darkness? Doesn't Psalm 126 talk about how those who sow in tears reap a great harvest of joy? Doesn't Isaiah 43 talk about God making streams in the wasteland?

There's something to gather from this day and every day--some wisdom, some joy, some beauty, some blessing. Go and gather it! Go right into the rain and darkness and gather it up!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

A Season for Long Stories

I love this season of graduation parties, block parties, pool afternoons, and just sitting around being together.

Today, we were with folks all day long, just sitting around. We swapped long stories of vacations and childhood and gardens and children and pets. In a town like this--during a summer like this--it's a lot of simple living in community.

We enjoy food and being together with neighbors in a leisurely way. We have time for long stories. In fact, I better get back out there because a neighbor has stoked a huge fire for all the kids on the street to roast s'mores. We'll tell more long stories well into the night.

This is what I love.

Friday, June 6, 2014


"If God knows everything, then He never gets to be surprised." This is my daughter expressing sadness over what she feels is one of life's greatest pleasures: the feeling of surprise!

She loves surprises. She loves unexpected little gifts and friends arriving unannounced. She loves it most when I say, "I have a wonderful surprise for you." Maybe it's a treat I've baked or a new book I've found for her that's hiding under her pillow. Maybe it's a movie I've rented or a special event I've planned.

Her love language is surprises. She loves them so much that I try to create a few each week.

"Doesn't God ever get that feeling?" she wonders. "He doesn't, does He?"

I think about this today as I smile with joy at the red ripe strawberry in the patch. I knew it was coming all along (just like it has the past four years), but each time, it's a delight. Each time, it's astonishing and wonderful. Some things are just so beautiful that it doesn't matter if you know they're coming. It's deeper and better than surprise; it's wonder and worship.

But I'm still thinking about this.

I'm thinking about how much a child loves surprises. Then I'm thinking about how much I absolutely love creating the perfect surprise for this child. I've grown up into the person who loves surprising instead of receiving surprises, so maybe that's part of God's character. There's more joy in making the surprise than getting it.

This makes me wonder how God must be fashioning the perfect surprise for you right this moment. You have no idea it's coming, but it's coming. You have no idea what it will be, but it's going to be so amazing that you'll be simply astonished all day.

It's coming!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

What Only Slow Makes Happen

We're growing many unusual things in our garden, things like artichokes and radishes and eggplant. Every morning, barefoot and chilly, we all go to the garden to check the progress of things. The basil is growing well, and so are the tomatoes. We find little blossoms on the peppers and the cucumbers. The carrot seeds have finally sprouted across from the beans.

It's a funny concept, but we go out there to love our little garden and encourage it.

We've harvested enough strawberries to freeze two bags for winter pies. Blueberries ripen alongside the flowering blackberries and raspberries.

It's a slow kind of thing that's full of love and gentle care. Even the composted dirt is a slow kind of thing.

Slow, slow, slow.

I love the patience of it and the way I feel when I'm out in the garden. The Slow Food Movement agrees, and I'm having a good time learning all about it. I want slowness to seep into other areas of my life because if you know me, I'm the exact opposite of slow! There's no slow in me at all! Well, maybe there's some.

I've been a proponent of Slow Parenting (I didn't know that was a real thing) for all these years, and I learn today that in addition to Slow Food and Parenting, you can have Slow Church, Slow Art, and all sorts of other Slow Things. It's all about slowing down one's pace to savor. It's about relationships and community and not over-scheduling.  It's about natural processes and having the time and space to let God work. You can't rush God, and you don't want to. It's about loving well because you have the time and space to let things unfold.

Most of the beautiful things happening in my life come from slow things. The walk-to-school community, for example, has wasted thousands upon thousands of hours when we might have just dropped off children from our minivans. Instead, we've savored our friendships and our neighborhood because we took some time for a slow walk to gather up all the children. On that slow walk, we talk and talk. We laugh and observe.

We grow in ways that only slow can make happen.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

How Do I Stay Out of Trouble? (The Best Answer I've Found)

I'm still thinking about this one question that everyone asks online.

I think of you.

I haven't met you or know anything about you, but I'm guessing that you asked this question because your heart wants to be good. You want to do the right thing and become the person you're supposed to be. You want to stay in school, stay off drugs, stop drinking, stop breaking the law, and finally make some good choices. You want a great future! You want happiness and prosperity!

But you just keep getting into trouble. 

I was thinking about you last night and your question. It turns out that you aren't the only one who has asked this question. Great and mighty kings asked this question, as did the ancient prophets. In Psalm 119 in the Bible (written most likely as early at 530 BC), the question is posed by a great man:

"How can a young person stay on the right path in life?"

The writer provides the best answer ever.

Here are verses 9-16:

How can a young person stay on the path of purity? 
By living according to your Word.
I seek you with all my heart; 
do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
Praise be to you, Lord;
teach me your decrees.
With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
I meditate on your precepts 
and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees; 
I will not neglect your word. 
13 I

I read this Psalm and realize that the answer to your question is this:

1. Seek God with all your heart
2. Ask Him to help you keep his commands
3. Read and study God's word (the Bible) so you know what those commands are

And guess what? The writer finds great joy and delight in living according to God's rules. It's better than wealth! In fact, by "only walking in God's paths" (verse 3) and by carefully obeying God, you will  find true happiness (verse 35), your life purpose (verse 37), real freedom (verse 45), amazing comfort (verse 50), abundant blessings (verse 58), all the hope you need (verse 81), great wisdom (verse 100), refreshment for your soul (verse 156), and most importably, a deep love and connection to God (what you were made for).

I love how Psalm 119 ends in the New Living Translation:

I have wandered away like a lost sheep; come and find me. . . 

So that's your answer, and it's the best one I know. I pray that if you have wandered, you will let yourself be found by God today.

Here's the full text of Psalm 119 for you.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Picture of Strength

All I know is that where once there was concrete, now a plant grows up. I imagine the persistence and the gentle but unstoppable force of it all. I imagine the tiny seed that kept on doing what it was made to do, no matter what.

Monday, June 2, 2014

"You hum it, and I'll play it."

Last night, my daughters' favorite person in the world--their music teacher--gives them a little mug that talks about being the kind of musician where "you hum it, and I'll play it." It's a funny little line that sticks with me all morning.

You hum it, and I'll play it.

I imagine this dialogue:

You know that song I'm forgetting that goes something like this? I hum it.

"Yeah, I know that one. It goes like this," she plays it perfectly on the piano.

So many times in my life, I've forgotten the music to a song in my heart. So many times in my life, I've had bits and pieces of something beautiful, and I've needed someone to play the whole tune for me, to give me the whole story, to translate the language of my heart into the truth about God and who I am.

I think of hearing the music of the gospel and someone telling me what the song is--the one I've known but forgotten or know a bit of but can't put down in words. And mostly I think of God listening to whatever I'm going on and on about in life. I can ask Him to tell me what my own heart wants to sing.

When I hum it, God plays it. He knows just how it goes.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

He Will Follow You

This morning, the pastor explains that when the psalmist writes in Psalm 23 that "surely your goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life," we might translate this more accurately as "your goodness and mercy will pursue me, will harass me, will eagerly chase me."

The Hebrew words make me smile when I think about God appointing his mercy and goodness to chase me down. It's so eager, in fact, that it's like a kind of harassment: a harassment of goodness! I'd never thought of it like this before. The persistence of God to love me! The Hound of Heaven coming to bless!

I think of the whistling of God to find me to then harass me with goodness.