Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Special Thank You to Teachers Who Do This in December

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

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

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

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

Was it worth it, this mess?

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

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

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Not My Finest Moment

Today I was temperamental. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 28, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 27, 2014

When You Need Help

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

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

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

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

The Helper is here, working already. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Remember the Cutest Veggie Tray for Thanksgiving

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

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

Turkey Vegetable Platter

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

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Fortress Inside

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

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

Then, what's happening externally hardly unsettles us. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Smallest Gesture Brought Some Peace

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

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

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

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

"For after breakfast," she says, smiling.

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

"The mother needs one, too."

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

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

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

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Blessing Others During the Holidays

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

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

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

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Majesty No Matter Where

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

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

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

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Succulent Little Update

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Blooming Now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I Know It Cold

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

My winter routine begins: 

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

When a Child Says This to You

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 17, 2014

It Happens While You're Doing Something Else

Well, I wrote a book and published it.

It happened. It really happened.

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

It happened when I was doing something else.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was 5 years in the making, this book.

I didn't know I was writing it.

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

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

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

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

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

Createspace Estore 

Paperback from Amazon

Kindle edition 

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

Sunday, November 16, 2014

In the Cool Cellar of Your Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

They sprout rapidly when replanted in the warmer weather.

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 15, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Live with Flair Autumn Soup

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

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

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

Blend in thirds with 6 cups chicken broth divided.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Deciding Beforehand

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Roots That Feed on Nothing

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

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

It's an image of emptiness and futility.

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

You Don't Always Get to Pick

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

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

How, oh how can this be?

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

And yet. 

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My Symbol of Motherhood

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

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

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

They humble me. They conquer me.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 10, 2014

You Need One of These in Your Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Your Wound Is as Deep as the Sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 8, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 7, 2014

Because They Might Say, "Yes!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They just might say, "Yes!"

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

Thursday, November 6, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She typed. I answered. 

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Slow Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Consider This

In my writing class today, we talked about our campaigns for campus change. Students observe a problem, identify root causes of that problem, and then write a plan to motivate people to change. We talk about topics like technology addiction, binge drinking, conformity, unhealthy eating, sleep deprivation, and caffeine dependency.

Every semester, I add in my own observations of something I wish were more true of myself and college students.

I tell them that I'm considering launching my own campaign that encourages us to consider more. In other words, I want more time to think carefully about ideas. Etymologically speaking, the word "consider" comes from the Latin and means, "to examine the stars." I think about this verb in the context of that definition; I want to tilt my head upwards, gaze into the heavens, and consider.

Consider means to think carefully, to look attentively upon, and to contemplate with great care.

I remember my own days at the University of Virginia. I remember the long office conversations about class topics, the dinners with professors in their homes where we discussed ideas, and the hours upon hours that I sat and thought about things. I journaled and sat still in the gardens or on the steps of the Rotunda, and I grappled with ideas about poetry, my faith in God, and what kind of person I wanted to become. I had so much time to think, and there was much to consider.

Now, times have changed. If I have a moment to stop and consider an idea, I'm more likely to check my phone for news and updates. Students agree; free time means technology. Time alone on the bus? That's for Instagram. Time alone in my dorm? That's for texting. Like me, they aren't ever alone with their own thoughts for long periods of time. It's awkward and painful to sit with your own thoughts like this, so we avoid considering altogether.

One of the reasons I love writing is that it offers space to consider an idea. I still journal. I still sit in my rocking chair and think my thoughts--but not as much as I once did. I wonder what would happen if we sat down for a moment and considered something deeply for a long period of time. I'm considering this today and what it would take for me to go back to that girl inside of me who once sat still on the steps, just to think.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Clearer Vision of What's Been There All Along

On the walk to school, I point out in amazement all the blue jays and finches. They fly in and out of the bare tree branches. It's freezing; I have my mittens on and my hood pulled tightly around my face.  Yes, a new season has come.

"Look! Isn't it amazing?" I pause and ask the other adults why the blue jays come out like this every autumn. "It's so strange! It's so wonderful!"

One of them replies, "They are always here. You just can't see them like this when the trees have all their leaves."

I look up into the bleak and empty sky, into the diminished trees, and I realize that some things we can only perceive in just these conditions.

Once again, I know that seasons that come at us harsh and empty and frozen around the edges offer us a clearer vision of what's been there all along.

It was a cold and beautiful walk.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Right Around This Time, It Happens

I feel one special joy that comes with growing older (that I've thought about three or four times just this weekend).

Growing older means you get the joy of helping younger people grow into themselves. It's happening more and more: I'll be somewhere--a party, in my office, in my neighborhood, at church, anywhere--and younger people will ask for advice.

This month, I embrace this role like never before.

I'm at a party, for example, and a group of young women ask me all about how they can love a neighborhood one day. They talked about how comfortable they feel in their church groups and Bible studies, but they experience the nagging feeling that something isn't exactly right.

"It's so comfortable, but. . . "

"Yes," I said. "It's very comfortable, but it's not exciting. I'd rather have exciting than comfortable, so go and love people that aren't in your Bible study." I spoke as a woman who has lived almost twice as long as they have and who still walks children to school every morning. I spoke as a woman who for years turned double-dutch jump ropes for Monday Night Neighborhood Fitness and who danced in my basement with children when it was too cold to meet outside. Why shrink back from my lived experience of loving a neighborhood? Why not tell people with a certain authority?

Then, I go home to emails from students needing advice and recommendations for graduate school. Right around this time (when applications are due), it happens: students become desperate for career direction. I find myself full of new energy as I pass on all I know. As I grow older, I feel decisive and confident. I feel like I can state things I've learned with a new clarity and love.

When scripture talks about the older women teaching the younger, I suddenly know like never before which category I'm in. I still need those older ladies around me, but this year, I find a whole group of younger folks who need someone to love them and help them become who they're becoming.

I do like growing older. And I like considering (and asking you) how we might continue to pass on what we know and help younger people grow. In what form? Where? When? It's exciting to pray towards this end.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Oh, Loved!

Today is my 39th birthday! I feel so loved by sweet messages, gifts from friends, all sorts of goodies from my family, time to write, and dinner I'm not making.

It's a great life! 

This morning, as I journaled about another year gone and a new one coming, I just loved the excitement and comfort I felt when I read Philippians 2:13:

"For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose."

As I read it in Greek, it's like this: "God's energy is working in you to accomplish all that His loving kindness has in store for you."