Saturday, January 31, 2015

You Don't Need it Now

I wish I could be more like my friends who know how to really shop well. They buy clothes for next year at the end of each season; they glean name-brand ski jackets and gear for ridiculously low prices because it's the end of the season. My friend advises me to go to the sporting goods store to check out the end-of-season sales because spring clothing already fills the racks.

I do. I can't believe it. Beautiful things for low, low, low prices. I buy the cutest little winter coat for one daughter, and it's something like 80% off!

I'm not very good at thinking about what I'll need later. I'm not very good at gleaning end-of-season.

But there's a principle I'm learning here: sometimes you gather up easily--and what costs you little--those lessons and truths from God that you don't need right now, but you'll need later. Everything that's happening right now might not be about right now.

It might be about the future. It might be about something you'll need later.

I keep that in mind when I'm not sure what's happening or what I'm supposed to do with the things I'm learning or thinking about. Maybe it's just something to glean easily for later.

Friday, January 30, 2015

To Want This More

Today I remember that King Solomon, when told by God in a dream that he could ask for whatever he wanted, asked not for wealth or longevity, but for wisdom.


(And it wasn't even wisdom for his own enjoyment. It was to govern others well.)

I imagine that God approaches and says, as recorded in 2 Chronicles 1:7: "Ask for whatever you want me to give you."

I will give you anything. Just say the word, and it's yours. 

What would we say? What would the truest part of ourselves say?

I want the answer to be as wise as Solomon's, but I know my own heart.

But I also know I can pray to want the right things.

Help me want the right things! Turn my eyes from worthless things! 

God shapes and directs a willing heart. I'm so thankful.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Words that Changed You

I ask students to write about the book, poem, movie, or song that changed them. Then, they choose one word that defines what major theme in the humanities that this work of art addresses.

As we make a list on the board, I realize that the enduring themes of feeling interconnected to people, friendship, forgiveness, hope, perseverance, empathy, suffering, and love cry out from our hearts all day long. We carry around stories that shaped us because they made us understand something, changed our perspective, or connected us to something we knew was true and right and good.

We're actually thinking about these things, and when given the chance, students love discussing these very words that make life meaningful to them. They unload the poems and books and song lyrics that formed them. They recount movie scenes that set them on a new path. We talk about such a range of art: Shawshank Redemption, Hotel Rwanda, T.S. Eliot, Tolkien, Life is Beautiful, The Book of Eli, the Bible, The Alchemist, the music of Billy Joel, or even Pet Cemetery. We talk about lessons from the Godfather and The Giver.

Words are working on us, all the time. They cry out, and we cry back. And now, we enter into the conversation ourselves. We write a story for others, from our own lives, that shapes how we understand what it means to be human. They'll cry out, and we'll cry back.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Set a Goal and Track Progress

I love goals and deadlines. People who know me well know that if you give me a deadline, I get really excited about it. I don't know why, but I do.

I found a fun website to help me with writing deadlines. It's called WordKeeper, and when you sign up, you input your manuscript deadline and your word count goal. The website tells you how many words you must write in a day to meet that deadline. The website is here:

It's so manageable! It's so fun to chart progress!

I love coming to the end of the day and knowing that I met my daily writing goal. It's motivating and fun to see how far I've come and how manageable my goal is when broken down into daily segments. 

What begins this whole process is asking these kinds of questions about your goal: "What will it take to get there? (time and amount of daily work) How will I get there? (training and technique) What else do I need in order to get there?"(external motivators)

I think about the resources I need, including time, training, and equipment. I think about what kind of encouragement will sustain me on the journey. I think about trusting God with my emotions, fatigue, or other stressors that take me away from my goal.

It's how weight loss works. It's how training for a race works (I wouldn't know, but my runner friends tell me this).

Essentially, I'm learning that rather than looking at the huge thing in front of me (the end goal), tracking progress is way to have small, daily victories. I look at what each day requires in terms of time, technique, and equipment, and I set myself up for success. So far, so good!

I wish you the best with your own writing (or other) goals today. I'm thankful for what I'm learning about how daily, small victories will get us there.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Snow and Sun

It's so bright--because of all this snow--that I'm drawn outside to bask in it.

With snow up to the knees, and school canceled for the second day in a row, one would think this situation might prevent an appreciation of beauty. One would think.

The snow reflects the sun in ways that shame the hottest and brightest summer day. And I remember the old quote from E. Stanley Jones that "weather. . .  is always favorable if you know how to use it."

It's favorable weather: It brings its own advantages and its own special beauty, like everything does--if I let it.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Stories You Tell Again and Again

Today I teach the Advanced Writing students about writing their "Signature Stories" for their professional development. It's such a fun and meaningful assignment. We look at the key stories that have shaped our ideas about work and adulthood.

They choose one life story, and they craft the tale in five pages of vivid verbs, varied sentence patterns, sensory detail, dialogue, and tension. We talk about how to present an unanswered question that promises a delayed revelation. We talk about creating mood and mystery. We talk about important characters in our stories.

We talk about why this story must be told.

I tell them a few of my own Signature Stories like the Neighborhood Fitness Group, my decision to write a daily blog, the day I became a teacher, or the day I knew I was meant for graduate school.

I have sets of stories about overcoming, about finding love, about parenting, and about learning. At my age, I've collected cautionary tales, adventure stories, and even my own ghost stories.

Life is story. We tell the story, and we pass on wisdom, warning, insight, or just a good, hearty laugh. We tell stories because we testify in front of these witnesses who acknowledge the meaning and beauty of this one little life that has seen what nobody else has seen, in the way that it saw it, with the people it knows, in the exact location it lived.

Oh, life is wonderful, mysterious, and so rich. I can't wait to read all of the stories these brilliant students will write.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

"We know how to spend time together."

Today a younger couple came to our home after church and brought lunch for everybody. After trying unsuccessfully to set up a date night or mid-week lunches, the couple joked that they knew an irresistible way to spend time together.

"We'll show up, and you don't have to do anything," they had said. "And you have to eat lunch, right?"

That statement was balm to my tired mother's soul. I wanted to spend time with them, but they were right that arranging a night out or a work week lunch felt overwhelming. Shopping and cooking a nice meal for friends felt overwhelming. Everything felt overwhelming. 

But when this couple showed up at the door with a whole spread--including an appetizer and dessert--nothing felt overwhelming. I felt so loved and peaceful. 

We had the best time. No babysitters, no cooking or cleaning, no juggling schedules--it was perfect.

I wish I had thought to bless older couples with children in this way when I was younger. This couple said, "We will fit into your schedule however we can!" 

This attitude felt so selfless and loving.
They took care of us as a couple and as parents who just had a lot going on, and they didn't make me feel bad about all the ways I was too tired to give or reach out. 

This has been a truly blessed and delicious Sabbath.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

For the Past Three Days

For the past three afternoons, I've walked in this setting, across this landscape.

I've seen the tracks of rabbits. I've seen three hawks circling in the sky, their cries piercing the silence until they perch quietly on the snow-burdened tops of the trees.

As my children sled on the great hill, I part the curtain of evergreen trees and enter into the deep, icy woods.

Later, I think about that hawk's beautiful cry and the tracks of animals. I think about their secret winter lives.

I'll go back throughout the winter, listening and watching.

Friday, January 23, 2015

2 Great Truths that Discouragement Teaches

This morning my husband and I discuss diacouragement in our work lives. It comes! It happens! What I've learned in the last ten years is to see diacouragement as a signpost on the journey. 

It shows me two truths:

Diacouragement reminds me of what I really want and need. If I'm not discouraged about an obstacle or setback, then maybe the dream wasn't all that important to me.

The extent of my discouragement reveals the meaning of this goal or dream. I listen to these feelings, and I learn about myself  and become even more honest. 

Discouragement also, praise God, breeds creativity. Discouragement in my writing life sent me on a journey of blogging, self-publishing, speaking, and teaching. It was a Refiner's Fire to purge anything extraneous or inauthentic. 

If an obstacle comes, I don't cringe; I create. 

Every dream needs the school of discouragement. It reminds and refines. It's the signpost we should note carefully for what it's teaching us. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Big Truth in a Little Something

Notice anything about my succulent (crassula ovata "Jade") plant? This is the plant I've neglected and damaged with all my moving it about. But look!

It has propagated! 

As I observe the sweet little new plant, I grow curiouser and curiouser. I learn, according to Tabitha Sukhai that "these plants thrive on neglect." And I learn further that the new little plant grows from the wounded and dropped leaves of the big plant. 

Neglect and wounding foster what becomes a nearly indestructible plant that grows more and more no matter what obstacles come. 

Not enough attention? No problem; I grow. To many wounds? No problem; that's how I grow. Feeling neglected? No problem; that's what helps me grow. 

I love what my Jade plant symbolizes: Whatever we feel like we lack, and whatever kinds of wounds we bear, we know God can turn that environment into indestructible growth. We keep before us the truth that God "causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them" (Romans 8:28 NLT). 

Besides, what I perceived as damaging was actually good for this kind of plant. It all works together to bring about the plant's health. What a curious and wonderful truth!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Recollected in Tranquility

I remember William Wordsworth's famous line in the 1800 Preface to the Lyrical Ballads that "poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility."

Recollected in tranquility. Yes.

I think about "recollecting" or gathering back to yourself powerful feelings in order to write. You sit in tranquility and you collect about you emotions from which, as Wordsworth then reminds us, you voluntarily write. He claims that this brings the writer a special kind of pleasure. It's a different kind of writing to recollect and control the emotion, as opposed to writing in a frenzy of overpowering, involuntary emotions.

How interesting, how freeing to write in this way.

I think about having critical distance from a subject; you need enough time and space to become tranquil. You are calm and free from disturbance as you begin to feel what you want to feel again. In this way, your writing isn't as self-indulgent (for you, about you, uncontrollable), but it takes on a new maturity and a kind awareness of audience.

You find pleasure in writing, not because you're overcome with emotion, but because you aren't anymore.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Your Own Little Sag Wagon

Today I learn from my cycling friend about the Sag Wagon. She claims that on her next 100 mile bike ride, I can drive the Sag Wagon. 

I've never heard of this expression in my life! I love it!

The Sag Wagon is the supply vehicle that travels alongside the cyclists with food, medical supplies, camping equipment, or anything else a cyclist might need on her ride. The Sag Wagon also drives ahead and sets up rest areas or camp sites so everything is ready when the cyclists come.

(I learn that "Sag" can stand for Support and Gear, Support Aid Group, or for the cyclist that is "sagging" behind and needs support.)

I love the whole idea of a Sag Wagon. It's so protective and preparative. I think of that sweet verse in Deuteronomy 1:33 where we're told God "went ahead of you on your journey, in fire by night and in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and show you the way you should go." I think of the chapters ahead in 31:6 where we're told to "be strong and of good courage, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will not fail or forsake you."

My Sag Wagon! I also think of that characteristic of God as one who journeys alongside us, protecting and providing at all times. Am I that kind of support to those around me? I think of the way a Sag Wagon driver watches carefully for any signs of distress amongst the cyclists. I think of how, at any given time, the driver is ready with supplies and places of rest for those who need restoration and replenishment.

Not everyone can be the cyclist; some of us must drive the Sag Wagon.

I want to be a replenishing aid to my community. I'm driving beside you, your own little Sag Wagon.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Exporting Imagination

My daughter tells me that she's having trouble "exporting imagination." It's a strange verb to use. I imagine the country of her incredible brain needing to ship all that imagination out of some port. Otherwise, it's all clogged up in there, swirling about.

Something's in there, and it's gotta get out.

She tells me that being a teenager is hard because imaginative play with dolls and toys does, unfortunately, begins to lose its appeal. "I need a new way to export all that imagination that's still in there but can't express itself the same way."

All the imagination still in there? We need to built a port of export! 

We think about this for a good long time. We talk about designing something; we talk about visual arts; we talk about novel writing; we talk about handcrafts; we talk about photography; we talk about baking.

It's so exciting to think about all the ways one might export imagination. We ended up exploring the art of thread crocheting to make very delicate and beautiful things. I imagine so many snowflakes and little creatures born from that tiny crochet hook.

The crochet hook: a port of export.

Afterwards, I remember that I, too, have an imaginative self inside that needs a port of export. I think about baking and writing. I think about home design and fashion. I think about new lesson plans, new family albums, and new poems to write.

Maybe I'll pick up the guitar again.

Maybe I'll take a dance class.

So many ports of exports, so little time. And finally, I remember to listen to the heart cry of teenagers around me who sense it all so much more deeply, so much more intensely. If she says something needs to get out, then she's absolutely right.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Reverent, Cheerful, Courteous

Today I attended my first Eagle Scout Court of Honor for the son of some dear friends of ours. I cried at several points as I watched three young men receive their Eagle Scout award. Being in that room with members of the community and special honored guests brought such a sense of pride in my heart for these young people who have worked so very hard.

It was a reverent occasion. It was an opportunity to show deep and solemn respect.

My husband is also an Eagle Scout, and many times, I've heard him quote the Scout Law. You may know it already: "A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent." All those years as a scout impressed deep within him these traits that do, in fact, shape the way he lives.

I listened to the scouts and their mentors repeat the Scout Law, and I loved, in particular, the character qualities of being reverent, cheerful, and courteous. I suppose it's because I feel like these character traits have become part of an ancient past. I teach some college students who unfortunately lack these traits in their interactions with me as a college instructor.

Without droning on about it, I will simply reveal to you that I also encounter many discourteous, demanding young adults in my profession. Sadly, I have taught students who tell lies. Over the years, I have had students who have no problem cheating, plagiarizing, or making up excuses about illnesses when in fact, they are recovering from partying. I have students who need help with personal grooming and bad attitudes. I have students who are simply unfriendly and unhelpful.

I do love all my students. I do want to believe the best about them. But today, I remember that there's a way to live that is the better self, the braver self, the self that abides by different standards of behavior. I want this kind of living for my students.

I wish we all followed the Scout Law. Being in that room elevated my heart and mind once again to inspire myself, my children, and my community to live with this kind of integrity and character that blesses the world.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

When You Feel Blocked

So many students ask me about writer's block and how I write so much every day. When I tell them that I rarely struggle with writer's block, they just can't believe it. Most students tell me how every sentence feels like wading through molasses. They don't have ideas. They don't know what to write. They can't even begin. And even if they had a thought, they don't want anyone to see it on paper.

It's all blocked. Everything is blocked up inside.

I can help. I firmly believe that most of what we call writer's block is about shame. It's about the fear of audience rejection. When an artist internalizes a hostile or mocking audience, she freezes up inside. Everything she thinks or writes seems unintelligent, banal, and unoriginal. She uses backspace and delete because it's just so bad. It's just so terrible. 

But what if she internalized an accepting, loving, eager audience who couldn't wait to see what she produces? What if she changed the shame response into one of intimacy and acceptance and vulnerability that an audience rewards with love and connection?

That's why I spend so much time on community building and name games designed to build authenticity and vulnerability. That's why I ask students questions that might embarrass them (like confessing the worst song they ever loved or the movie they're embarrassed they love so much) so they can practice disarming the shame affect.

Just make of fool of yourself--in writing and otherwise--so you'll realize that you're not fooling anyone anyway. The real you probably isn't some genius, original, always inspiring artist, and that's OK. Send what you think out into the world, and practice your art over and over again without fear.

Keep your loving and accepting audience right in front of you at all times, and see if the writing doesn't flow more easily.

(PS: Here are two photos from my fun photo shoot on campus)

Friday, January 16, 2015

An Unusual and Beautiful Request

A student I just met--we were strangers on Monday--asks if she can photograph me for her class "Stranger Project."

"Sure," I say. Why Not? 

She must find someone she knows nothing about, discover this person's important stories, and document this conversation in settings that matter. 

So while I'm traipsing around my most treasured places on campus (the library, the coffee shop, by the birch trees, in my classroom), the student takes photos and listens to my stories. 

I tell stories of books, of nature and of God, of students, of coffee shop conversations, of writing and love and romance and food and daughters. All my stories. 

She listens. She documents. She makes art out of my life. It wasn't that I was extraordinary or beautiful or famous; it was that I was simply an unknown person on a college campus. 

And to solidify my point that this was about common people and their common stories--with no special power or privilege-- when I asked her if she would process the photos today and send them to me, she said, "Wow, so pushy."

To which I said, "I am rather pushy." 

I'm glad she noticed. 

I gather my things, zip up my coat, and venture back out into a world of strangers. I'm noticing them, now. I'm thinking about their places and their stories. I'm going to find some strangers and listen and notice. 

If the photographer shares the photos, I will share them with you! 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Little Bit of Advice for Your Future Self

Last night, I read Gretchen Rubin's "Habits Manifesto," and one of her statements made me so excited. She says, "We should make sure the things we do to feel better don't make us feel worse."

I read this statement on the tail end of eating an enormous amount of barbecue potato chips because I really thought they would make me feel better after work. Crunchy. Salty. Yummy.

No. No, I felt worse.

All morning, I think about what I'm doing to feel better. Is this going to make me feel better or worse, ultimately? Will I feel better now but worse later? As I keep this statement in my mind, I realize how it not only helps with food choices, it helps with overconsumption of television and social media. Yes, this makes me feel better right now, but I'm going to feel worse later. 

I want to do things that make me feel better and that don't make me feel worse later.


On that note, I choose to walk to school in bitter cold weather to invest in my future self. Then, my exercise partner informs me about a recent article she's read on procrastination. She tells me that folks who procrastinate have a very hard time investing in their future selves. They sabotage the future self in favor of what they want to do right now. Folks who do not procrastinate keep their future selves in mind all the time. They think about completing tasks in order to free the future self from that work.

My future self! I want my future self to feel better and not worse!

Not feeling worse and investing in my future self: Good ideas, I think.

When I think about feeling better in ways that don't make me feel worse and the idea of investing in my future self, I feel like I can make better choices today.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Your Pondering Song

I've been examining the psalms in scripture, and I find myself intrigued that King David, in his last recorded words in 2 Samuel 23, was described beautifully as the "sweet psalmist of Israel" instead of as a mighty warrior king. His sweet psalms to God were remembered in this moment in a way that overshadow his victories in battle. King David, was, perhaps more than anything else, a singer of songs that pondered God's greatness, not his own.

I love the idea of a psalm. In Psalm 47, we are told, "God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a skillful psalm." The word psalm, I learn, is a poem of contemplation, but the word comes from the Hebrew verb that means to wisely ponder. 

To think carefully and deliberately, to contemplate deeply, and then to record skillfully our praises to God constitutes a part of our calling as followers of Christ. I believe our pondering songs might take many artful forms, but I find myself challenged in this call to record skillfully, in some way, what I've contemplated deeply about Jesus.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Teaching the "Growth Mindset"

Today in a professional development seminar, I learned about the importance of fostering within students a "growth mindset." Carol Dweck, who bases her findings on decades of research as a Stanford University psychologist, writes in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Successhow a growth mindset creates resilience and a true love of learning.

Essentially, I want to instill in students, myself, and my children that we can grow and change. Failure is about growth. Success is also about growth. Everything we do is about growth, not just achievement.

Instead of feeding into their hypersensitivity about grades and achievement, a teacher who models a growth mindset invites students to consider, obviously, their growth. Learning, curiosity, and enjoyment of the subject matter motivate differently and more sustainably in these kinds of environments.

I find myself excited about teaching and parenting all over again. Everything is about how we're growing, what we're learning, and how we're getting better at loving well. Instead of just documenting achievements and measuring ourselves by certain fixed standards, we remember that we're growing.

The growth mindset ushers in grace, motivation, and ultimately, hope.

We're growing here.

Monday, January 12, 2015

On Teaching as a Sacred Vocation

Today I meet another class of students for an advanced writing course.

I write that sentence like it's an ordinary thing, a casual blip in my day.

What's actually happening involves a sacred intersection of souls that changes everything. They change me; I change them.

We can't help it. Sitting together like this, we engage in a profoundly spiritual act of exchanging ideas, personalities, plans, and dreams. Even when I'm teaching professional materials like the bland cover letter for a job application, I consider the span of these adult lives. I consider the entire network of people they will know and love and communities they might change.

I consider the millions of verbs they'll use and the kinds of sentences they might write. What love letters, resignation letters, or birth announcements? What essays that could shape culture forever? What film scripts we'll cry over and hold our loved ones nearer because of? What court documents, political speeches, documentaries, or journalism pieces? What rants and complaints, what testimonies, what manifestos? What poems and stories? What eulogies, because death comes to us all? Oh, the sentences they hold within them!

It's extraordinary when you think about how very precious each person is and how a teacher has this privileged position of knowing these students and activating them in some way.

It's serious work. It's beautiful work.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Wise and Sacred Use

This morning I read in Colossians 4:5 about "making the most of every opportunity." I delve into the translation of this phrase, and I just love it. It means "to make wise and sacred use of every situation."

Wise and sacred use! Of every situation! 

I'm reminded again of the mundane tasks of the day that seem to fall outside of God's great purposes. I think of laundry, cleaning, baking, and the ordinary tasks before me. I think of the interactions I'll have with people all day long that seem common and unimportant. 

No! Each boring moment holds within it a wise and sacred use as I let God infuse it.

Let the cleaning of dishes be wise and sacred; let my exchanges with people be wise and sacred; let the making of this bed and the rising of this bread be wise and sacred.

Is any moment outside of God? I leave my home, greet others, and remember each situation's wise and sacred use. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Just Because You Love It

Many young writers stop writing because they fear their work isn't great.

It doesn't have to be great. It doesn't have to be the best. Write because you love to do so. Write because you have a story to tell. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

"Yes, If" instead of "No, Because"

My husband once taught me the leadership principle he learned from something Newt Gingrich explains as a way to achieve transformation. He says that, when approaching a problem with a suggestion for change, we often respond instinctively with, "No, because . . ." What if, instead of, "No, because. . . ", we phrased it, "Yes, if. . ."?

My oldest daughter returns home from school to tell me that her class is having a celebration tomorrow. "Can we please make the hamburger cupcakes?" she requests. (You remember the Hamburger Cupcakes, right?)

Immediately, I see everything wrong with this request including, but not limited to, my lack of time, a shortage of ingredients, my waning energy, and the whole idea of giving away my afternoon to baking. As I form the phrase, "No, because. . ." I see her sweet face crumple. But then I try something different.

"Yes! Yes, if. . . Yes, if you can gather all the ingredients, employ your sister's help, make the frosting, and measure everything out for me. Yes, if you can do these things. Yes, if it means we don't have to go to the grocery store."

For the next two hours, it was all "Yes, if. . . " We made those hamburger cupcakes and even improvised with a brownie hamburger patty since we ran out of cupcake ingredients.

It was a great afternoon. Yes, it took up our afternoon, but it was fun. We were together in the Yes, if. 

Next time, I want to keep trying "Yes, if" instead of "No, because."

Thursday, January 8, 2015

If You Have to Make a Wise Choice

Much of life consists of making wise decisions.

I'm simply amazed at how many decisions I must make as I grow older. I continue to seek the "ancient paths" of God's wisdom. God's word tells us that "He will instruct [us] in the way [we] should choose" (Psalm 25:12), and again in Psalm 32:8, we read, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you."

I remember how God does this, which is primarily through the wisdom of scripture and the counsel of wise people in my life. I have also learned to think through these kinds of questions as I read the Bible and spend time in prayer:

1. Which choice most blesses my husband and family (as opposed to damaging them?)
2. Which choice draws me closer to Jesus and what He is doing in the world?
3. Which choice gives my heart the most peace?
4. Which choice seems aligned with how God has been developing me all along?
5. Which choice most maximizes the gifts, talents, and resources God has given me?
6. Which choice brings the most spirit-filled joy to my heart?
7. Which choice fills me with hope and freedom?
8. Which choice do I fill uniquely capable of doing?
9. Which choice connects me more deeply with community?
10. Which choice leads me into godliness as (opposed to temptation?)

I meditate on Isaiah 48: 17-18 where we read this: "This is what the Lord says--your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: 'I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you and directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea'."

Making wise choices is hard work, and I pray daily for wisdom and insight that come from our most loving and attentive God.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Caught Up

I'm looking at a fun verb in scripture that appears as "snatched" or "caught." It's the same verb you read about when someone is "caught up" in a vision or snatched away from ordinary thoughts in 2 Corinthians. But it's also the way Jesus describes the thief who tries to snatch God's words away from our hearts, or even us away from God. 

But do not dismay! Jesus says that nothing can snatch us from His hands (John 10). We have been seized and claimed already. We have been snatched and caught up. 

I want to stay in the reality that I'm caught up into a new reality. I'm in new hands, snatched up into glory. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Believing the Best about People

Today I remember to choose to believe the best about people. In marriage, parenting, friendship, teaching, and in daily encounters with strangers, I'm tempted to judge, assume the worst, doubt motives, and blame. But what if I believe the best today?

What if I gave everyone I met this simple and life-changing benefit?

I believe the best about you first and foremost!

Monday, January 5, 2015

It's All Simmering

Over the years, I've loved drawing spiritual parallels to cooking practices (like leaching out tannins, braising meat, no-peek popovers, or gourmet cupcakes), and today, I think about the verb simmer. I've learned from my Southern mother-in-law all about simmering the green beans (stewed to death, I think).

Simmering is all about gentle and slow. It's all about not letting the liquid boil. It's a deliberate calming down, a kind of tempering.

You keep everything just above the poaching temperature and just below the boiling point. The liquid moves a bit but rarely erupts into that boil. It's a delicate, patient kind of cooking over a long period of time.

Nothing seems to be happening, really. It's not very exciting. I think this as my roast simmers. I think this as my green beans simmer. Slow. Patient. Delicate.

Every southern woman knows that simmering matters. It seems like something's being stewed to death, but in that slow, patient, delicate process, something so good is happening.

In a calm and tempered way, things are happening. 

In the end, you won't be able to get enough of it.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Habit: The Concerns for the Day

In my journal in the morning, I write down my list of "Concerns for the Day" as a way of getting them out of my mind and into God's keeping. I've been doing this for years, and it's a practice that offers so many rewards. It's a way of anticipating the wonderful way God will work.

Over the years, I've drawn little arrows across the page that point to the space where I'll write down how God worked in the midst of this concern. I don't wonder if He will work, just how. 

I turn back the page each day and see the faithfulness of God at the day's end.

If you're still searching for a New Year's habit, I recommend a "Concerns for the Day" list every morning. God says to "cast all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7) and that He "delights in the well-being of His servant" (Psalm 35:27).

This daily list empties out my anxious mind and allows me to move into the day with an assurance that God knows, hears, and responds. And my faith builds with every arrow that points to how He worked.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Remembering the False Rests

I wrote in my journal this morning that I want to remember the "false rests" I learned about this time last year. Back then, I wrote about my discovery (read below). A year later, I find that I can add so many more things to my list of false resting places, including health, emotional balance, this or that circumstance, a clean home, fitness etc.

I want to remember that my soul finds rest in God alone, and that kind of freedom nothing can destroy.

Here was my original discovery:
Today I find an obscure and rare little document written in 1650 by R. Wilkinson, a member of the British army. He composed an 81 page paper entitled, The Saint's Travel to the Land of Canaan: Wherein are Discovered Seventeen False Rests.

The university library happens to have the images of this old text, and although it's hard to read, I find myself fascinated by Wilkinson's list of where the soul is tempted to "rest" apart from Christ alone. His language is much more beautiful and complicated than my notes, but essentially, Wilkinson warns the Christian of the "false rests" we base our hope, peace, and joy upon.

These false rests include feeling superior to others, our obedience, our spiritual gifting, our right theology, our mystical experiences, our feeling of special deliverance, our skills, our large and thriving ministry, our shame or regret over sin, or even our application of certain biblical promises for Israel that were never meant for individuals. In these things, we often find a false security and a counterfeit peace.

(Wilkinson, by the way, influenced Hannah Whitall Smith who adds to this list such false rests as reputation, knowledge, and wealth.)

In the end, I'm challenged to think about from where my rest actually comes.

I need not work for it or manufacture it. Instead I remember Psalm 62:5 and how "my soul finds rest in God alone; my hope comes from him." Or I note how, in Isaiah 63:14, the people "were given rest by the Spirit of the Lord." Even more specifically, I apply Matthew 11:28 where Jesus says, "Come to me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." Finally, in Hebrews, we're told to enter "his rest" repeatedly.

So there you have it: I enter in and receive it.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Let Them Overhear

Writing is a way of letting others overhear your life.

But, strangely, the verb overhear means to hear without the speaker's knowledge or intention. So you're writing (or speaking) as if the audience doesn't actually exist. If you think about it more, overhearing connotes a kind of accidental stumbling upon a conversation you weren't supposed to even know about.

This means that when you write, it's so authentic and so raw that it's not crafted to please a certain audience. It has no intention other than as a pure expression of what you're thinking about or experiencing. As a teacher of rhetoric--where every lesson is about audience and strategy and how you're coming off to an audience--this idea reverses or contradicts most of what I teach.

So I'm still thinking about it. I sit here in the irony that writing without the audience in mind pleases the audience, so write to please the audience.

Arriving at this place of authentic and disinterested expression, the kind devoid of manipulation or even strategy, seems more loving and more rewarding for readers somehow because it's honest. Really honest.

In whatever we do--writing or other art forms--I pray we do it honestly and authentically in 2015 as folks overhear our lives. If our audiences influence too much of what we write, perhaps they are too near. Let them step away and accidentally overhear.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

His Comfort

In Isaiah 66:13, we read the Lord's word spoken to those "who tremble at his word." The Lord says, "As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you."

I think about how, as we drove home from a conference today, my daughter suddenly fell ill. In full stomach distress, fever, and chills, she was absolutely miserable.

I wanted nothing more than to comfort her in any way I could. I tried to imagine new and interesting ways to provide her comfort. I could think of nothing else. What do you need? I'll do anything, child! Anything! You say the word, and I'll do anything!

Once home, I washed her hair, found the softest pajamas, and arranged crackers and drinks around her. I found her cat; I adjusted the room temperature and pillows; I bought medicine. Anything to comfort her.

It became my all-consuming desire to comfort her.

Nothing else mattered but her comfort.

A mother sitting next to a feverish child stops everything to tend, to comfort. When I read the Lord's words about the way He comforts us--in the manner of a mother with a child--I find myself overwhelmed with the sweetness of it. I imagine God's all-consuming care for those who need comfort.

He comforts us like a mother.