Thursday, July 31, 2014

You're Catastrophizing

Yes, it's a verb: catastrophize. It means to make things worse than they actually are. Just to be clear, a catastrophe is an event that causes great damage and suffering. Think plane crashes, war, extreme weather, wildfires, epidemics, etc. These are catastrophes.

My life isn't a catastrophe. Nothing in it is catastrophic. 

Something in me, however, likes to dramatize my own inconveniences and little disappointments, my own minor aches and obstacles, to the level of catastrophe

Catastrophe! Give me attention! It's a catastrophe! 

My bad circumstances (today it's knee pain and grumpy children) become everything in my mind; they cloud my mood and bring in hopelessness and fear, and they aren't anywhere near the level of catastrophic. 

In my family, we talk about not catastrophizing. It's irrational, unfair, and pretty selfish to elevate whatever inconveniences we experience to the level of anything other than what they are: inconveniences, setbacks, and disappointments. 

This means we put our complaints in their proper place. We move on with our day, pushing forward against this thing that isn't a catastrophe at all. Somewhere in the world, very real catastrophes assault very real people in very real neighborhoods. 

We stop catastrophizing by taking a deep breath and putting any pain into the right context. We'll get through this. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

All This and the Romantic Dinner Too

The plan to celebrate our 14th anniversary was to end up at dinner and a movie after browsing bookstores (our favorite things). We're best friends and partners in everything, so we knew we'd have a great night just talking and enjoying whatever came our way.

And this is what came our way: All night, we kept running into people we love--like walk-to-school neighbors, friends from church, and even a former student of mine. At one point, we found ourselves visiting a grad student and praying with his family who was in town to help him move out.

Everywhere we went, significant parts of our marriage found representation through people sent our way: walking together every day with the Neighborhood Walk-to-School group, ministering together to graduate students, teaching college students, and volunteering with youth ministry and church. It was fun that these encounters kept happening all night.

And yes, we had all this and our bookstore, romantic dinner, and movie too!

It was a beautiful night out because every half hour or so, we received little reminders of what makes marriage so great. For years, we've been together in life and ministry; it's been so purposeful and connected to others that our night out included a wonderful sampling of what the years have meant to us.

It was never just about us.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"Without Writing, I'd Be Lost."

We write because it brings us closer to home. It unties what's knotted up in us. We write because it cares for our souls to do so.

My friend tells me that in the past he's agonized over why he's writing and for whom and whether this sort of thing--especially the publishing part--diminishes his character. It seems inherently narcissistic, inherently self-glorifying, and inherently dissonant with the hidden and quiet life.

He tells me he struggled but finally realized this: "Without writing, I'd be lost."

The writing life helps us find our way.

Why care so deeply about why and for whom?  The business of it doesn't care for the soul. But writing? I think of the necessity and pleasure of it. I think of how it nourishes the soul.

Another friend recently told me she loved talking to a particular person because of the way this person "cared for her soul." The words resonate for days.

Writing helps me care for my own soul and, by God's grace, the beautiful souls of others.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Lush Indeed

When you approach Pennsylvania from the west, the word you'll think of is lush. It's all rolling hills, forests, and farmland. 

My daughter asks me to define the word for her. 

Lush means growing luxuriantly. It means rich and juicy and exuberant. It means dense with ripe things. Lush means prolific, abundant, and vigorous. 

We're in a lush place, and I'm so thankful. I pray that we always find ourselves in this kind of place, ripe with every good thing God offers. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

They Will Keep

I remember an exchange in the recent movie Jane Eyre (also in the book) between St. John Rivers and Jane. It's so simple, but it showcases a great character who isn't consumed with ambition or personal gain. 

St. John Rivers worries that Jane's simple work and life is somehow beneath her or wasteful. 

He asks: "What will you do with all your fine accomplishments? 

Jane Eyre replies: "will save them until they're wanted. They will keep."

While I'm remembering this quote, two different friends point out the incredible story of the American Agava plant that has waited 80 years to bloom. This very week, the plant has bloomed at Michigan's Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

I learn something about this plant whose fine accomplishment has been kept for 80 years. 

Nobody knows why it waited so long. Nobody can explain the particular timing of it. It's a mystery. 

All I can think about is the truth that our gifts and offerings to the world will keep until the right time--when they're needed. 

Until then, we live in the mystery of it and the comfort that we can save all our offerings until they're wanted. 

They will keep.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Running Wisdom: If it Hurts, Something's Getting Stronger

Every few years or so, I try to start running.

I'm so sore I could just curl up in a ball and never move again. Muscles that I never used have been thoroughly used.

It hurts.

I remember this morning that when you're building muscles and getting fit, the sore feeling means one is getting stronger. It's really the only way to grow.

Oh, glorious pain! This is how to move into strength and then, eventually, into the freedom to run.

Friday, July 25, 2014

What the Heart Needs Most

As I walk around the church parking lot today, I reflect on all the things I've been telling my husband I need and want in my life. These conversations are ridiculous. I'm such a brat! It gets so bad that sometimes I lament the fact that there's no good fine dining in this town or great live music. I get in these "if only" kinds of conversations: If only we lived in a big city. If only we owned this house. If only this happened, if only that happened. . .

I'm so focused on what I need all the time. As you know, I'm always asking my heart what it's missing because I'm a walking existential crisis. I've already confessed this problem to you, so bear with me.

I decide to ask God to show me what the heart needs most of all. I was inspired to ask such a question because I was reading Hannah Whitall Smith again this morning, and I love how she asks God to reveal to her the "secret" of a happy life. She wanted happiness! She was tired of miserable Christians who walked around in perpetual angst (oh, she would have been so annoyed with me). She wrote a whole book on God's answer to her question about happiness called The Christian Secret of a Happy Life.

But back to my question to God. I'm tired of perpetual angst (even if it is part of the poetic sensibility, the divine madness of the artist, and the dreary lot of the writer). I'm tired of struggling so much for peace in my heart. I'm tired of not even knowing the answer to a question two different friends asked me this week. They looked at me with such love in their eyes and said, "Heather, what do you really want?"

What do I really want, God?

As I'm rounding the corner, I imagine God answering me. I think of this truth:

I think of how David begs God in Psalm 51:12, "Restore to me the joy of your salvation." He doesn't ask for more friends, more wealth, more wisdom, a different city, live music, fine dining, or more fruitfulness. He asks God to restore the joy of salvation to him. What the heart needs most is the joy of our salvation!

I think about this as I walk, and the fog clears inside of me. Everything I most desperately want, I already have: the righteousness of Christ, the immediate and unmediated access to God, and the knowing and being known by a Savior. Yes, forgiveness of sin that separates me from God--this is what I most desperately need. And because I have it already, I ask God to restore the truth of it to me, the pure and raw joy of it.

When I lose my focus and wonder what I'm missing, I'm going to think about this summer morning walk and how I remembered the joy of my salvation. It was a great little walk with God.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

When You Say No to Yourself

I'm struck by the prolific green bean bushes. The more I pick, the more they produce. I venture out with my colander, and I return every two days with it half-filled with crisp, long, bulging green beans. How do so many grow so quickly?

I love the principle of it all: the more it offers, the more it can offer. It's a generous plant, a biblical plant.

Then, while I sit crossed legged in the chairs designed for small children in the lobby of the Music Academy as my children practice piano, I read about the concept of saying "no" to oneself. It goes against the grain of everything I've read lately; instead of self-actualization, self-fulfillment, authentic selfhood, and saying "yes" to our true selves and true desires, the Christian notion of self-denial rubs at all my rough edges. It's so unnatural! It's so. . . wrong.

But maybe not. Maybe this is the most natural and obvious thing in the world.

It's like the bean plant that gives everything away--everything!--and finds it has more and more to offer as a result. It doesn't shrivel and suffer. Instead, it thrives at the very spot it lost a part of itself.

It's right and good to say no to oneself. At that very spot, a harvest comes.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"Deeply moving currents don't always show."

Today I read this advice from the director of Camp Greystone. He's reminding parents not to interpret a child's thoughts by whether or not they manifest in an outward, surface display. 

Deeply moving currents--of a child's heart and also the wider work of God with us--don't always show. I know this concept from my years growing up on the Potomac River. I learned about the undertow

I learned to heed with great caution those places where the water seemed most calm. In fact, a raging and mighty current ran hidden below the surface with more force than I could imagine. 

In spots where one stream fed into another, like where Little Hunting Creek met the mouth of the Potomac, this swirling tornado of underwater power deceived and captured even the best and strongest swimmers, boaters, and fishermen. Local residents knew better; we stayed near the shore and respected the hidden undertow in those places. 

I remember the vocabulary of river currents today and the lesson they still teach: A Mighty Power is at work that we often cannot perceive, especially in times and places of transition. It's too deep for surface words or visible emotions. We must stand back for a time and let the current do its work.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

An Essential Project That's Well Worth Your Time

I'm doing something that's tedious and time-consuming this week: I'm compiling photos from 2012-2013 to make our family story book. Keep reading. I will justify this time spent.

Every two years, I make a photo album on Essentially, I tell our family story for those years. I choose a theme or a word to frame this story, too.

It takes a lot of time, but I remember this: My wise counselor told me that part of mental health is the ability to tell an integrated life story about yourself.

He talked about the importance of telling the story of one's family history. He challenged me to find treasured family memories from my own childhood and now, as a mother, to pass on the gift to my children of the story of their lives.

This is essential. This is critical. I had no idea.

(Photo album design seemed to me the work of crafty mothers who gathered for scrapbooking parties. I've never been to one of these parties, and I wasn't about to start going! Thank you, Lord, for websites that do the creative work for you!)

Yes, my counselor told me that family photo albums are part of mental health and the well-being of my children. People research this kind of stuff. Family story telling matters deeply. Deeply. 

Photo albums for mental health! Imagine!

I sit down and sift through all the photos. It takes me an hour to get through April. I make pages and pages of photos, and guess which story I tell?

I tell the story of God's faithfulness. I tell the story of perseverance, of God's sovereignty, of God's provision, and of love.

I tell the story of love.

Page after page, I record the truth for them for years to come.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Huge Little Prayer

This morning I read a comment by Hannah Whitall Smith from The Veil Uplifted

She writes, "We are made for union with Him, and union must mean oneness of purpose and thought, so the only pathway to this union must be a perfect harmony between our will and His."

I prayer for a "perfect harmony" between my will and God's. Bring everything in my life into complete harmony with you, Jesus.

I breathe the 11 word prayer and realize mountains have moved within me. Gears have locked, mechanisms have aligned. Whatever isn't harmonizing will tune itself to a holy note. 

This is a huge little prayer. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

How to Teach Children to Be Great Hosts (and Why)

My daughter invites a friend for a sleepover, and I take a moment to remind her what it means to be a great host. I remember that certain things aren't intuitive; you have to teach young children how to welcome someone into their home.

First, I remind my daughter to immediately make a guest feel comfortable by helping them settle in. This means letting them know where to place shoes and coats and where the restroom is. Then you can offer a beverage or a snack. You can also ask a guest if they feel too hot or too cold in your home. The goal is his or her comfort.

Second, I teach my daughter that great hosts have a plan. Instead of friends staring at one another not knowing what to do, I encourage my daughter to make a plan of possible activities for them to enjoy together that the guest will particularly love. With a plan of lots of options, a guest can chose something she really enjoys to do.

Third, I tell my daughter that the needs of the guest come first, so it's a great opportunity to defer to someone else, to take your turn last, and to put your needs aside for a time.

Fourth, I talk about the power of the Special Treat that the guest isn't expecting. Whether it's a chocolate cake, a rented movie, a recipe to create together, an outing, or a craft, you can offer little surprises to delight another person.

Finally, I send my daughter upstairs to tidy up. Cleaning the bathroom, organizing the playroom, and picking up clutter means that the guest can enjoy a lovely space that's clean and fresh smelling.

Why do this? Well, teaching children to host well gives them a lifelong skill of how to bless people with the resources God gives us (our home, our possessions). It also builds empathy as you ask your children to imagine how another person might be feeling.

Hosting other people is something I do every week, if not every day. It's part of having a home and blessing a community. It's a great ministry. It's something I had to learn from others, so today, I'm passing it on to my own children.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Hiding the Effect for Your Own Good

Today I visit a neighbor’s house. She planted an enormous garden, and while she's in and out with all her travels, she invited me to harvest her wonderful beans, tomatoes, squash, rhubarb, and my favorite: her raspberries.

I’m slinking my way into the berry patch with my silver bowl to get the hardest to reach raspberries.  It feels wrong to harvest what I did not plant and to gain such juicy joy out of all her labor.

She’ll never get to enjoy all this, I say to myself as I stuff a few berries into my mouth. She’ll never even know everything her worked produced.

I realize that she’s free from something I still have desperately to learn. She’s free to plant and enjoy gardening (what she loves most of all) and leave the harvest to others. She’s free of the need to see the impact of her labor, the gift of it, and the blessing to others. She’s not even thinking of it. She too busy fulfilling her calling elsewhere. 

There’s something right and good about the hidden harvest that you never see. There’s something beautiful about creating something or working hard and releasing its impact as a secret that only the Lord knows. It saves us from pride, from greed, and from basing our worth on our impact. It saves us from exalting ourselves, building our own kingdoms, and glorying in fame and influence.

As I’m now almost hidden in the berry patch (if you drove by those were my legs and rear end sticking out), I thank God for hiding certain things from me (both good results and bad) for my own good.

It’s better to live free and ripe for the world without any concern for who happened to be blessed by you. Because when our impact becomes our concern, we rot like berries left too long in the sun.

I’m ashamed to admit this, but after a particularly large speaking event last year, I found myself relishing all the attention. I felt like a celebrity; I was recognized in public, sought out for advice, and photographed. After leaving the stage after my last talk, my assistant for the day swept me off the stage, pushed me into hiding along the dark corridor, and practically kidnapped me. She had me in the passenger seat of her car and was speeding away from that event before the applause even died out.

“Wait!” I screamed. “What about all the people who might want to talk to me?” I said this as I actually checked my lipstick in the mirror. 

“They don’t need you. They need Jesus,” my friend said and sped on, far away from the crowd. She didn’t even compliment me. She didn’t even tell me I did a great job.

It was one of the best moments of my year. 

We drove off to enjoy our day, and I had no idea what kind of impact my speaking had on anyone. It didn’t matter. They didn’t need me, anyway. They needed Jesus, and I was getting in the way.

That moment, I felt saved from myself. This is the moment I thought of when I was hidden inside the raspberry patch, picking fruit I had nothing to do with.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Day that Changed Me Forever

I've been sitting in my rocking chair by the Weeping Cherry and reading The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. It's a cool morning, and I have my old green sweater around my arms, a fat cat at my feet, and coffee by my side. I feel older than I've ever felt in my life. I'm weighted down by more than age; I feel the heavy sadness and confusion of land wars, shot down planes, storms, suicides, and so much news of suffering that my heart cannot contain it. For a moment, I let God take it all from me, and I rest in my chair.

If you haven't read The Hiding Place, it's the account of how a Dutch Christian family helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust. We follow Corrie ten Boom's imprisonment in horrific conditions and how she found strength, hope, and forgiveness in Jesus. You can also watch the movie made in 1975 based on Corrie's book.

This book is especially meaningful to me because I remember how one summer at Camp Greystone, I met the traveling companion to Corrie ten Boom, Ellen Stamps. Mrs. Stamps was a visiting speaker at camp who shared many stories of her time with Corrie ten Boom as they traveled the world together to share the message of Jesus Christ before Corrie died.

I scurry down to my basement and pile up all the old journals from that summer at Camp Greystone. I find the one that takes me back to this moment:

One day, Mrs. Stamps invited me to her little guest cabin, brewed me hot coffee (even in the middle of summer), and prayed with me about my own life and struggles. It was July 26, 1995, and I wrote in my journal everything I learned from this humble woman who had more wisdom stored in her than any person I had ever met. She talked to me privately--as the rain fell and the coffee brewed--to impart a few special lessons just for me.

I felt so loved by God that He would allow me to spend time with such a godly woman. I wrote in my journal, "I think my life began to change on July 26, 1995." I was young in my faith. I was confused and full of shame and worry.

I learned this:

Mrs. Stamps began by telling me that the Holy Spirit is a Spirit of Hope. Anything else is wrong. Don't listen to any other voice but Hope. 

She also told me that the ups and downs of my heart are like the waves of the sea, but that the Holy Spirit is a calm place within me.

We sat in two chairs by a small wooden table with just a lamp and a Bible on it. It rained, and I could smell the mulch and the pine trees. Mrs. Stamps' wrinkled hands held onto mine. This woman who had spent so many years traveling with and learning from Corrie ten Boom held my hands in hers, and I wrote in my journal about all the hands those hands had comforted over the years. What would my hands do in my life? Why was God letting me touch what I felt like were sacred hands?

She spoke of forgiveness--of forgiving oneself and receiving the Lord's forgiveness.

She also spoke about a beautiful broken harp that no one in the village could repair. In this illustration, the only person who could repair the harp to make beautiful music was the one who built it himself. Mrs. Stamps reminded me that God made me and knows how to repair whatever is broken in me. 

Those were powerful and important moments in my journey with the Lord as a twenty year old.

So I'm sitting in my rocking chair, now two decades later, and I go back to the lessons of Corrie ten Boom that she passed on to Ellen Stamps. I had forgotten my favorite lesson from Corrie's father after her first broken heart. He tells her this:

"Corrie. . . do you know what hurts so very much? It's love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked, that means pain. There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill the love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies, too. Or, Corrie, we can ask God to open up another route for this love to travel." 

All morning, I think about when our love (our desires, our dreams, our hopes) is blocked and we experience pain. I'm filled with such overwhelming hope when I see the wisdom of asking God to open up another route for our love to travel.

If not this path, then that one. If not this, then something else. I pray for God to keep my love strong and to open up all the routes on which this love might travel best.

I look back on the wisdom of Corrie ten Boom, her father, and Ellen Stamps. On a single rainy afternoon twenty years ago, their stories intersected mine in a way that changed me forever.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

I Do Love Pennsylvania

I take to the walking trails through the woods behind my home. 

When I walk far enough, I'm surrounded by the woods again. It's cooler and darker here, and a deer darts by me.

How blessed it feels to hear the whisper of a creature in her hidden life and see that trace of something wild. How blessed it feels to see so much green and to walk in so much space alongside the animals. 

I do love Pennsylvania. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Before and After Wildflower Garden

Do you remember how in March, we spent $3.00 on our greenhouse and seeds for a wildflower garden?

Well, here's the truth: you plants some seeds, and one day, one glorious day. . .

PS: We planted all the seedlings in Kate's old Turtle Sandbox. We filled the sandbox from childhood with potting soil to repurpose it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Last Resort Turned First Choice

My friend in high school played cards nearly every day. His family played cards after dinner or at odd times when the chores were finished. His friends played cards on weekends, gathering in dusty, mysterious basements. I turned down every invitation to play cards with him except one, and that was because we were trapped together on a plane on our way to debate camp in Michigan.

I had no choice.

I hardly ever played cards, and when I did, it was War or Go Fish with my sister as a last resort on rainy days on the military base in Ft. Lewis.

Apparently, in an alternate universe, a whole world of Rummy, Spades, Gin, Anaconda, Blackjack, Poker, Egyptian War, Euchre, Hearts, Sequence, and Slapjack existed around joyous dinner tables everywhere. No matter how hard I tried to join in with the trend, I could only picture the low swinging light fixtures, dangling cigarettes, and hushed conversations. Card playing seemed creepy and underground, the behavior of misfits or else grandmothers in Bridge Clubs. It seemed profoundly boring, and like I said, a last resort for folks who had nothing better to do.

My friend actually kept a deck of cards on his personal being at all times. This is how important it was. This is how much card playing was part of his life.

This summer, card playing became part of my life--not as a last resort--but as a first choice with my daughters, their cousins, uncles, and grandparents. True, we were stuck together in a lake house, so it could have felt like a last resort on rainy days.  I woke up and made a plan for our card playing after dinner. I had to schedule it because I loved it so much. We'd play for over an hour before we all went to sleep.

During the day, my nieces and nephews would coax me over to the table to play whatever card game they chose for the afternoon.

So I bought a deck of cards. I have it right here. I've played a version of Rummy (Shanghai Rummy, the best game ever. Rules here) twice with my children already today. I've invited others to play, too. I'm actually thinking of keeping a deck of cards in my purse.

I've become my friend, and I'm so glad.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Every Day Was Your Best Day

My husband asks me if I remembered to back up my blog on my hard drive because I have 5 years worth of daily reflections on He tells me it would be so terrible to lose all that writing.

I do it as soon as I can get to my computer.

(If you haven't saved your blog to your computer, do it now! Just go to Settings-Other-Export, and you can save it to your drive.)

As I talked with my husband about saving my blog, I thought, "Yes, I do want to save my blog. I want to do more than save my blog!" That got me thinking: I want to compile a "Best of Live with Flair: Volume One" of the last 5 years of writing. Sometimes folks ask me for a copy of my blog in book form, and I realize I could do this easily on 

My plan is to sift through 1800 entries and choose 300 hundred (or maybe 200) for a little devotion book. What do you think? Do you just love it? 

I do! Then I'd have copies for my daughters and extended family, too. 

So I sit down this afternoon to begin the work of compiling. I say, "Only the best, Heather. Only the best! Only choose the best days, the ones that meant the most, the ones that really mattered."

I have to chop 1500 of these little days to make my compilation. 

You know where this is going.

I couldn't do it! I reread March and April of 2010 and remembered each glorious day. I pictured just where I was and what I was thinking, and each day came back to me with such joy. 

Every one was the best day. Every one meant the most. Every one mattered too much to cut. 

I think my little blog project has worked after all: No matter what happens on any day--no matter how terrible, boring, disappointing, or wrong--it's a beautiful, meaningful day. I wouldn't take any day back. I wouldn't cut one.

That's living with flair. 

(However, I'm still going to try to make my devotional book of "best" blogs. I want to keep them in book form for my children. I'll keep you posted.) 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Worn Out But Carried

Have you had the experience of being so exhausted that you just can't do what you're supposed to do and you cry out to God and He hears and carries you through it? (Whew, that was a long sentence!)

It's an incredible thing to experience the power of God when you come to the end of your own strength.

I felt this many times in my life: as a camp counselor, as a new mother, on the mission field, in sickness both mentally and physically, in graduate school, and sometimes just on ordinary days when I throw my hands in the air and say, "I am too tired! I just can't do it! 

Then, God provides a special strength. I'm thankful that sometimes I'm in situations like this so I can know this kind of strength. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Run the Mile You're in

My sister always provides Runnerly Wisdom for me. Today she reminds me not to dwell on the past or focus too much on the future. "Run the mile you're in," she says.

It's a long race with many miles behind and many miles ahead. I run the mile I'm in right now. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Two Hard-to-Believe Bible Verses That Make All the Difference

As you know, I'm always in some sort of existential crisis. I am! I really am. My sister's favorite statement to me as a child (besides "Please stop talking so much!") was "You need to stop thinking so much."

In my twenties, one of my wise mentors from Camp Greystone told me, "You are making life too hard, Heather."

In other words, I needed to relax and ride life's waves a little.

The Italian Mama and I just recently joked about how much we have to understand what stuff means. We have to sit around and philosophize about life's deepest questions all the time. There isn't enough cannoli in all the world to fuel our thinking about life's major questions: What am I doing? Why am I here? What does this mean? What does it mean?!

It's how God made me. I must do this kind of thinking. The downside of this way of being is that I always feel a little off-kilter, like a tipping sailboat. I always feel an undercurrent of homesickness, a not-rightness, a longing, a nostalgia for something I never had but know is there or about to happen. I feel tossed about in the breakers.

It's unsettling how unsettled I am inside.

It's good and bad; the beauty and joy of deep thinking brings along with it the dark things, like waves on the sea that bring gorgeous shells but also bone and shards of glass.

The only thing that comforts me is a Bible verse buried in Psalm 138. It's just this: "God will fulfill his purpose for me." And another? Ephesians 1:11 that God "works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will."

When I choose to believe these two verses, I feel the sailboat inside anchoring. I feel the tide delivering the peace and wonder of something like golden seahorses and starfish, purple sea glass, and rainbow abalone. God will make me who I am supposed to be, and everything is happening just as it should happen.

I can sit back and worship God for whatever He delivers into my hands, whether broken or whole, crashing or calm. What does it all mean? It means there's a great tide of His love that will always, always carry me home.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Time Gone By: Bulletin Boards

My oldest daughter cries out, "Oh, I wish we could go back to a time before iPods!"

We were watching a documentary about the little lake community where her grandparents have a home. In the 1940's, this exact same spot teemed with teenagers who gathered at the Marina to check out the bulletin board to find out what was going on. My daughter was seeing photos of a social spot where she stood herself just a few hours before.

In 1940, teens her age would hang out together, talking and listening to Big Band music. We watched the old folks who were teens at that time report on the fun, the joy, and the memories of a magical childhood on the lake.

"There's no bulletin board because it's all on the phone! There's no listening to music because it's all on earphones!"

She's seriously upset as she watches the documentary. "What will we remember? Our phones? Our internet?"

It's something to think about. I miss the bulletin board gatherings myself. I miss the communal musical experiences. I miss the real hangouts (and not the google ones). 

Maybe there's a way to bring some 1940's back to 2014.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Only Time I've Loved "Very" In a Sentence

I teach writers to scratch words like very, really, seriously, and totally from their writing. 

You don't need these words. This kind of sentiment should be obvious to the reader because you've showed us or used the precise verb to communicate the feeling of "very much so."

So don't tell me your character was really mad (enraged?), very scared (terrified?) seriously upset (devastated?) or totally mean (hateful?).

I'm thinking about this lesson when I happen upon Psalm 46:1 where the writer says, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in our time of need." 

The Hebrew word for "very" means exceedingly and abundantly. "Present" in the Hebrew is a verb meaning to find or detect: The help we need from God we will exceedingly and abundantly find. 

He is very present. Really, seriously, totally so. 

I retract my lesson; sometimes we very much need to see the very muchness of God. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Don't Turn Around Yet

When you cook and then wash dishes for a huge extended family, you find that as soon as you're certain you're finished, you find a dirty pot there and a stray glass here. Worse, you clean one side of the kitchen only to turn around and remember all the dirty pans on the stove behind you.

It's an old joke around here that the one washing dishes always asked, "Can I turn around yet?" If the others called out, "No!" it meant that the stove side wasn't clean and they had more dishes to bring to the sink.

We often preempt the question, "Can I turn around yet?" by just saying, "Don't turn around yet!" It's our funny way of protecting the dishwasher from the discouragement of a whole collection of dirty dishes we haven't brought to the sink yet. 

Today I thought about all the unfinished, unrealized parts of my life, and I let myself think about even sadder things. I imagined God's voice saying, "Don't turn around yet." I laughed just like the grandmas in the kitchen do. I know that there's so much God protects me from seeing and knowing. I stay focused on the task and hand and wait for the all-clear to turn around and see the clean, finished thing behind my back. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Slow No Wake

Did you know that the "Slow No Wake" signs on a lake mean that within those boundaries your motorized water vehicle must move at the slowest speed possible while still maintaining steering control and forward motion

This slow-but-still-steering-and-moving-forward speed protects swimmers, prevents boating collisions, reduces shoreline corrosion, and allows marshes and wetlands near the shore to thrive. 

Slow No Wake. I've been observing the huge and unpleasant (for this unathletic girl) wake left by a boat. The path a boat leaves behind it in the water rises up, jostles everything around it, and continues to reverberate to the shore, either delighting or terrifying those in the water. 

There I am floating on my raft, and a fast boat creates the kind of wake that topples me. 

Slow No Wake! Slow No Wake!

I like thinking of summertime as an invitation to slow ourselves down to the minimum activity. Our relaxation and true rest, like a watercraft obeying this ordinance, contributes to the whole ecosystem. We leave no wake so others might enjoy their own flourishing and restful moments. 

I'm thinking about the wake I leave. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Good Distractions are Still Distractions

The pastor in a small church on a lake I visited this morning preached about letting our light shine so that our lives glorify God. 

He was a loud and energetic Southern Preacher, in a bright t-shirt, who popped up at times to ask questions or proclaim a verse of scripture. I held onto my seat because I didn't know if he might come at our row of folding chairs in a burst of energy. He was wild and mesmerizing and full of conviction. He spoke so loudly and so quickly (even for me) that I couldn't hear him. But when he slowed down once or twice, lowered his voice and hands, and stood perfectly still, I could hear. 

He asked us, "What's blockin' yo' light?" in that southern drawl of long vowel sounds and missing end consonants. 

I wrote the question in my journal and tried not to jump each time he spoke a new sentence. To survive, I let go of my rule book that governs what I expect of preachers, and I let myself come under the sway of it all.

I thought about my life as a clear, bright light, and while the preacher was talking about the blocking power of sin like rebellion, I was thinking more about good things that drain or fade the light, wearing it down to barely a pinpoint. 

Good things like losing weight, writing novels, planning great summer activities, enjoying friendship and family, dreaming for the fall, decorating my home, or even maintaining preconceived notions of how church should go felt like things blocking light. They aren't bad or wrong things at all, but they felt distracting because they'd become the goal, the whole shebang. 

Our desires--even our gifting--become loud and manic, popping up and waving at us to follow them instead of God. 

I want to find and reposition the good distractions that tempt me precisely because they seem so good. I'd hardly recognize them; they appear as growth, as progress, religiosity or as a career and ministry vision, but they distract us and block the light. 

I want to beam out the strongest and clearest light for God's glory, so I ask for wisdom to remove or reposition things--even good things--that block it. I stay near Him, recharging with the only light that's real, and then shine as I'm made to, so that nothing blocks that glow. 

It was a great sermon once I repositioned myself to hear it. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

As All Great Tales Should

Here's what happened: a turtle surfaced on the lake. She started as a turtle the size of a quarter, green and black, with the sun glinting off her back.

Later, as we remember her honestly,  she was actually the size of a dinner plate, with a head like a log shooting up from the water. We have eye-witnesses. 

Within a few days, the turtle grows to mythic proportions: she's more like a small boat, a Loch Ness Monster, who reveals herself to only the precious few, the chosen ones. I saw her as I stood alone with my thoughts, the sun placing a golden shawl on my shoulders. She was enormous. 

Each time we discuss the turtle, she grows in size, expanding as far as we need her to. 

And we keep searching the horizon for her canoe-sized head. We know she's there, swimming in the depths. Even if she never surfaces, we know the truth.

She'll keep growing, as she should. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Hope for the Uprooted

I love hearing all about local history, especially in this big Southern family I find myself a part of by marriage. When you meet people who've been in the same place since the Revolutionary War, you just have to ask for stories, and they'll offer them up like sweet garden pickles from the jar.

You'll hear about times before running water and flush toilets, about tobacco fields and what used to be right there in that field that's now something else. A golden thread the color of sweet tea connects everyone to everyone else in little towns where people remember when the bank started (great, great granddaddy) or when the railroad tracks were placed (right up near the house) or when a certain road came into being that's the last name of your family on your grandmother's side.

It's so rooted, so tightly stitched together like the quilts on the bed grandma made herself, that I wonder what that must feel like for my daughters. I wonder what it must feel like to slide right into your place in a big family that's been here always. I think about the belonging of it, the inclusion, the golden thread that tethers you in.

It just wasn't like this for me for many reasons--some being about military base hopping and then East Coast living when most extended family was West Coast, and some being about simply not knowing our own family history, or choosing not to. People say that children who grow up this way gain a certain adaptability and enjoy the blessing of escape from the burden of family, but I don't think these things are true.

I think you long for belonging in a big old family your whole life. Maybe it's just me; I find myself jealous when my Penn State students, mostly Italian, describe in detail the enormous family gatherings at Thanksgiving and Christmas or when I read memoirs of students traveling to Ireland or Spain to meet distant cousins for grand family reunions. They always, always talk about belonging to these people, and I see their eyes glimmering and looking off in the distance with reverence for this holy thing of family.

I think we are indeed made to be rooted, and that's why all my wandering insides leapt when I read in Ephesians this morning that I'm rooted and established in a profound familial love that this earthy family merely, at its very best like say, on the 4th of July or Christmas (did I mention fried chicken and all those salads?), symbolizes or prefigures.

Like a shadow of things to come, a mystery.

If you read Ephesians, you're going to find all sort of verbs: included, rooted, established, adopted into the family of God. The whole thing is about a family! Keep reading the New Testament, and you're going to think about the family of God differently.

It's deeply rooted and tightly stitched. It's the thing you're longing for that you simply taste a bit of on such holidays as this one. After all, today we extend our family to include being American. We know what it's like to expand our family borders in a moment of patriotism, and today, I remember that my own family borders go even further, right up to the golden tables of heaven.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

All the Forms it Takes

My husband arrives home with a little bag from a bookstore that he dangles in front of me like fishing bait as I drop cookie dough onto the baking sheet.  I'm making chocolate chip cookies for all the children running around here. It's a rainy day, and there's nothing better than the smell of baking cookies that you deliver, warm and gooey from the oven, into their tiny grasping hands.

(I've already had three of these cookies with a tall glass of milk. I tell myself I'll eat healthy meals next week after July 4th. I've decided this because I know for a fact that tomorrow the whole family will feast on fried chicken, lemon meringue pies, blackberry cobbler, deviled eggs, more fried things, and more buttery things. They'll be homemade ice-cream and all sorts of grilled sandwiches with all those Southern Fillings. Folks do it right 'round here. It would be wrong to deny myself this kind of lovin'.)

Inside the bag, I find the book I've been waiting to read. (It's the book that comes before Belong to Me called Loved Walked In.)

I know he drove to another town to get this book because the bookstore in town had sold their copies.

"I had time to spare, and I thought this would help you rest and relax." Oh, my love language! Oh, my dear, sweet husband!  I don't need diamonds; I need books. Books and fried things.

Before I curl up to read, I walk around like a waiter holding my chocolate chip cookie platter. I find anyone around and offer up the treats. I believe the cookies will bring a little joy. Cookies do that, they really do.

I check my email messages a little later and find that my friend, Elaine, has sent me a link to an adorable turtle video in which the turtle chases a ball around with a dog. I smile and feel so loved that she would think of me.

So here I am, in a little cocoon of love where grandmas cook, husbands drop books into my hands, moms bake cookies, and friends share turtle videos. There's love to pass around today in whatever form it takes. I give it and I receive it. We build the whole rainy day on it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What You Feel But Cannot Name

I remember today the great joy of naming for others what they experience and cannot quite put into words. Certain stories resonate deeply because they reveal us to ourselves.

Writing sheds new light so we can see; writing has everything to do with snatching words like fireflies and holding them still to illuminate the dark night.

I talk back to the writer: Yes! I feel this way! Yes, I know just what you mean! Yes, that's what it's like for me, too. 

I recall the clarity I felt when I read Frederick Buechner's Longing for Home in college and how he gives expression to the homesickness we carry with us always, like a splinter in our foot we feel every step we take. I remember reading C.S. Lewis and taking a deep breath of clearer air because he named for me the longing, the mystery, and the joy rattling around in me trying to get out.

It's like when you read the Bible and suddenly meet yourself. Hello me. This is me. Jesus comes to articulate (a great verb: the art of speaking well and also to form a joint between two things) the essence of the unseen God. When Jesus speaks, we recognize what we've been longing for all our lives but could never name.

Charged with the task of illuminating and naming, we keep pressing the pen to the page.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Jewish Blessing for a Brand New Month

It's a new month! I love the first of every month because of all the grand and glorious intentions I set in my journal. I want to set beautiful intentions for a new month that have to do with praying and soaking in God's words.

(I want to rise above the lesser intentions of eating less carbs.)

I love rituals (my husband and I have a morning coffee ritual, for example), so for the first of each month, I ritualize it by praying for my family and asking a special blessing on this new month. I discover this morning that there's a Jewish ritual for the first of each month found in The Book of Blessings: New Jewish Prayers for Daily Life, the Sabbath, and the New Moon Festival, by Marcia Lee Falk. In translation from the Hebrew (Tefillat haChodesh), it goes like this:

May the month of ___________
be a month of blessings:
blessings of goodness,
blessings of joy,
peace and kindness
friendship and love
creativity, strength,
fulfilling work,
and dignity,
satisfaction, success,
and sustenance,
physical health
and radiance.
May truth and justice
guide our acts
and compassion
temper our lives
that we may blossom
as we age
and become our sweetest selves.
May it be so.

I would like for July to be a month like this. I will look back on it in August and say that it was a month of fulfilling work, health, radiance, and a particularly defined blossoming into our sweetest selves.

May it be so.