Thursday, April 30, 2015

It Doesn't Depend on My Feelings About It

Sometimes I sit in my chair with my Bible and journal, and I grapple with all sorts of complex theological issues. If I'm not careful, I invite existential crisis by 8:00 AM. I worry and worry about correct doctrine. I labor over what I'm feeling about things. I wonder why I don't feel particularly close to God.

I question my good reasoning skills, my intelligence, and my mental health.

I berate myself for my terrible mood. I go down the black hole into the familiar abyss--but wait! Wait!

I don't have to do this. I remember a wise person saying to me:

"Your feelings about the Bible don't change the reality of it and whether or not it's true."

Then I read Hannah Whitall Smith's bold declaration that our earnest feelings about Jesus--or right theology, or a positive mood, or clear thinking--are false resting places. Nothing about Jesus depends upon how we feel in any particular moment. God doesn't change (Psalm 55:19). He's exactly the same every single day no matter how I'm feeling about Him.

I am a shifting shadow; the Lord is not (James 1:17).

I'm so thankful that nothing depends upon my emotions, my good reasoning, or my ability to think clearly. These things are not the most important things. Truth does not depend on me. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


I read the simple reality in Psalm 139:5 that God "hems" us in, and His hand rests upon us. The verb hem means to completely enclose. 

We are completely enclosed. Guarded, protected, surrounded. 

I'm hemmed in by God's great love. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

For As Many Days As We Have Suffered

I notice the strangest thing: the old, gnarled trunk of the Weeping Cherry--the same angry trunk that looks haunted and dead--has blossomed into the most beautiful blooms.

It's true: the worst of the tree displays a shawl of white and pink blossoms against the freshest, newest green growth.

This observation comes after I see the neglected and certainly dead raspberry canes that nevertheless change before my eyes. Life swallows death. The fresh, new thing invades.

You can't stop it.

My soul whispers out the truth: God resurrects every dead thing in us. He brings new, fresh life wherever we allow Him entrance. Inviting the invading presence of the Holy Spirit means all the old, gnarled things transform.

I also remember Psalm 90: 14-17

Relent, O Lord! How long will it be?
Have compassion on your servants.
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love
that we may be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
May your deeds be shown to your servants,
your splendor to their children.
May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us;
establish the work of our hands for us--
yes, establish the work of our hands.

Some translations say, "Make us glad for as many days as we have suffered." I think of that request, and I see suffering swallowed up in new, fresh things. I see life that comes in impossible places where no new thing should be.

Monday, April 27, 2015

All the Verbs We Never Use

I'm not sure why, but I rarely find students using verbs that start with the letter B. I check. I do. It's a strange phenomenon (both the lack of B verbs and my checking up on this).

We must banish this discrimination and beckon beautiful B verbs! A student delights me with a sentence in which bewitch wins out over enchant or entrance, deceive or seduce.

The B verbs! I'm now motivated to excavate the C and the D verbs, chained and denounced, that we've long forgotten. What about F? Furnish me. I'm tired of the same old verbs, said the same old ways. 

Some estimate the English language holds within its mines hundreds of thousands of sparking verbs. 

The thought alone enraptures. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

They Love the Weekly Dinner Menu

When my youngest was just a toddler, we visited a home where the mother displayed the weekly dinner menu on a big chalkboard in her kitchen. I wasn't even a member of this family, and I was excited about their dinner for the week. I gazed up in wonder as I thought about each evening's joy: broccoli cheddar soup, enchiladas, grilled chicken, pasta, beef casserole. . .

In my memory, it was glorious. To think of everyone coming home for dinner in anticipation made me so happy. It structured the week around seven points of light: Dinner! Dinner is coming! Every night, no matter what you've been through, we'll have dinner!

One day, I thought. One day, I would have my own table to set with children who could eat more than pureed carrots and mashed potatoes. One day, I would be this organized, this thoughtful, this prepared. I would display my dinner menu and feel this happy once again.

Eight years later, here I am with a ten year old and a thirteen year old who absolutely love it when I post the weekly dinner menu. It's nothing fancy; it's an old dry-erase board with a green marker. But they love it. It makes them happy to know. 

Something about the weekly dinner menu builds security and love and happiness into the week. It's such a simple thing. They run to look at what's coming. They declare that Tuesday will be the best day of the week for them. Saturday, in case you're wondering, is always a surprise. Even to me.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Two Ways to Think About It

As I listen to a Christian professor discussing what motivates his research, I'm so struck by his claim. He says, "God gives us significant insights. . . that we then share with people to make their lives better and their appreciation of God and His goodness greater."

We share our God-given insights to improve lives and to increase the appreciation of God and His goodness. 

When I think about personal mission statements in teaching, writing, and research--or simply just living in a neighborhood--I'm compelled by this two-fold question: "Does this activity improve lives and help people understand God's goodness better?"

I love thinking about work and life in these terms.

Friday, April 24, 2015

All the Childhood Projects

Our days of childhood school projects for the S.L.A.M fair (Science, Literature, Art, and Music) will end after just next year. As I get ready to deliver another project to school, I find myself reminiscing about days of glitter and hot glue.

What fun we've had! One year, we explored making butter from cream; another year, we astonished the chemistry teachers with how we distilled fragrance from flowers.

This year, in the bitter winter, my youngest daughter and her friend designed a Pioneer Log Cabin Interior, circa 1875, with all that salt dough I told you about. Each week, all winter long, they added new little elements and talked about what life might be like inside that little cabin.

I think about butter and flowers and salt dough and elementary school days gone by. Next year is the last elementary school year! I'm so glad to have blogged these days to slow them down, if possible, just the tiniest bit.

Meanwhile, I would love a little cabin with a fireplace, wouldn't you?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

An Overgrown Lesson About God's Timing

Do you remember how our daughters planted all their seeds in their mini greenhouses several weeks ago? Well, we realize that we began the process much too soon. In Pennsylvania, the planting season really begins later in May, and folks often don't touch their gardens until June 1st.

Our plants have nowhere to go. They have nowhere to put down roots.

I'm staring at those plants, and I realize that when God delays a dream, perhaps it's because if it came about, it couldn't take root and thrive. Timing matters so much when you consider what God needs to put in place in order to sustain and cultivate the dreams or vision we have for our lives. I'm learning more and more to trust God because He sees what I don't see.

He carefully guards our lives and our dreams.

In the meantime, we'll transfer these plants to larger pots and more soil as we await the perfect warm day in late May or June to plant them. We'll keep them inside as this April snow falls on the garden.

And every time I observe these plants, I'll remember God's perfect timing.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

5 Little Joys

1. The sound of a creek flowing over rocks that I heard this morning (I visited a retreat center where I parked my car next to a hillside that tumbled down into a litte creek!)

2. Thinking I forgot my umbrella in a downpour only to realize my daughter tucked one into my bag.

3. Laughing with college students.

4. Making pineapple stir-fry for dinner.

5. Lighting my lavender candle.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Blossoms Blossomed

They opened!

Despite last night's hailstorm, chilly temperatures, and a cloudy sky, the blossoms opened. They are all the more beautiful because of what they've endured.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Roasting Radishes: They Are Just OK

I did something new! After all these years, my venture into something new for the day was. . . radishes.

I was so excited! What a flair moment to learn that folks actually do this; apparently, the roasting removes the bitter bite of them and transforms them into something special.

Actually, the roasting diminished them into a lesser version of a radish, only softer and stranger. Everything good about the radish--the crisp refreshing little punch in your mouth--gets lost in the roasting.

They weren't terrible, but I didn't love them. I did love the cauliflower, of course.

Living with flair means when you roast radishes, they might just turn out just OK. I used olive oil, salt, pepper, and oregano, and it's a fine dish, just not a spectacular one. Living with flair means also accepting the beautiful bitter bite of the radish and not trying to change it into something it's just not.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Soon! (We wait all year for this)

The Weeping Cherry will bloom tomorrow or the next day. We wait all year for these beautiful blossoms to emerge.

I see rain in the forecast, but I won't focus on this. Right now, in this moment, we have the hope of blossoms coming soon. And the hope is just as beautiful!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

5 More Great Verbs in Scripture

I'm reading in 1 Peter 5, and I note with such comfort verse 7: "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." When I read the verb "cast" in Greek, I learn that it's an urgent throwing, a sort of flinging away of something you don't care about anymore.

I urgently fling every worry I have right to God.

Then, I continue to read something so beautiful. In verse 10, I learn that God, "who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you." I sit with each verb for a while, and I learn that restore means to completely repair what is broken in you. I learn how confirm means to stabilize what is unstable. I think about God strengthening what is weak within me and establishing a firm foundation beneath my life.

What must I cast away this morning? What do I offer for restoration, stabilization, strengthening, and establishing? What a healing and attentive God we serve and love!

Friday, April 17, 2015

See What Happens

You sit down with nothing but millions of words available to you in millions of combinations. 

Lace a few together. See what happens. Use words that crackle or fizz, that soothe or jolt.

See what happens. 

Something will happen. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

"Exploration is the essence of the human spirit." Frank Borman

I recently read a paper on the spirit of exploration. I'm told we're made for it; exploring is what it means to be human. Astronaut Frank Borman says that "exploration is the essence of the human spirit."

I find myself wondering if the desire to explore, so naturally present in infants, morphs into the modern desire to be entertained. My adult students note the cultural shift; when they were younger, they still went out exploring, but their younger siblings don't.

Exploring meant walking in the woods, peering into the creek bed, cracking open rocks, riding bikes to new places, finding creatures, climbing trees, and discovering things. People gathered in the neighborhood and just went off to find interesting things. I think of Bill Watterson's line from Calvin and Hobbes: "It's a magical world, Hobbes, ol' buddy. . . let's go exploring!"

Do children still explore?

My students argue that the internet is a form of exploration. What they do as they search youtube and go down the rabbit hole of ever-expanding options of cat videos and parodies is exploration. They explore virtual worlds, don't they? They play video games and find virtual gems and virtual animals made of cubes.

I know, too, that writing and story-telling is a form of exploration like so many other things we're doing all day long. But still, I wonder if these things are the same as finding a curious object that instills wonder by the creek.

I suddenly want to send my children outside and say, "Go explore! Go find something interesting!"

I'm reminded that living with flair means exploration. I want to allow for it more and more.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A New Lesson From Merlin the Cat

This morning I watch as the Robin builds her nest in the Weeping Cherry. It's the strangest thing; she moves closer and closer to the window where my cat, Merlin, watches her.

A nest by a cat! Imagine!

The Robin taunts this cat. Clearly, she knows that the enemy sits restrained by the window screen. Why else would she foolishly build so near what would destroy her and her family? Why?

As I watch her deliberate building, that beady bird eye staring right at Merlin, I realize how wise and strategic she is.

With the cat there beside her nest, other predators like snakes and squirrels flee. Merlin isn't the enemy after all. Because of that screen, Merlin turns from enemy to guardian, from danger to delight.

I think of how this thing in my life that seems against me is exactly what God intends for good and protection (Genesis 50:20). I think, too, of how the psalmist writes in Psalm 23 how God "prepares a table for me in the presence of my enemies." Blessing, protection, and good--all in (and not just in spite of, perhaps because of) the presence of my enemies in whatever form--physical, emotional, spiritual.

I have nothing to fear. I'm the Robin building next to a caged and restrained Enemy who God subverts and employs to aid the good.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Even though he did not know where he was going.

I read a young person's account of trusting God with her future. She quotes to herself Hebrews 11:8: "By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going."

She remarks that so much about building an adult life means we obey and go even though we do not know what's ahead. 

Much later, Abraham received, but in the meantime, he simply obeyed and went. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Great Gift Idea for Weddings or for New Parents: The Picnic Basket!

I cannot tell you how much we've loved this picnic basket for the past 15 years.

It's one of our favorite wedding gifts!

Yesterday, my youngest packs the basket with fruit, little sandwiches, chocolate, and drinks. We head to the park for a picnic.

These regular outings to enjoy a meal outside have brought so much joy and whimsy to our family. I just have to say, "Do you want to have a picnic today?" and the whole day changes.

I have memories of picnics with my husband, with the toddlers, with the elementary school children, and now with the teenager.

We love this little picnic basket.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

"They Aren't Watching You"

My youngest loves running, and she's so excited about Track and Field. She's nervous, however, about the track meets because, as she says, everyone will be looking at me.

We call the Wise Big Sister (an elite runner and state cross country champion who earned a college running scholarship) for advice. What do you do when you love what you do but don't want people watching you?

She tells my daughter the plain truth of the matter: Nobody is watching you.

She explains, "The parents there are watching their own children, and no one is focusing on you except people who love you. And even if others were, don't waste mental energy on wondering what other people are thinking and if they are watching you. Running takes enough mental energy that you don't have any to spare."

A good word for running and for life. They aren't watching you, and if they were, you don't have that kind of energy to care.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

My Place Holder

Lately I've been remembering all the things I love about this new season. I watch the Robin build the nest out back, and I'll check every day for eggs. Then I'll check every day for hatching. Then flying. I'll check the daffodils, the raspberry canes, and the evening sky for owls.

I'll check by the tree swing for frogs and baby squirrels.

I return to these activities with the hope of reward--that something new has happened, that I'll see some new glorious thing, that I'll catch something in my hand.

I realize that's why I return to writing every day. It's a place holder for a reward that may or may not happen in that particular session. But I return every day to check my own mind and heart and to listen to what God teaches me. Sometimes it's a grand moment, and sometimes it's an empty nest or a blank sky.

But either way, I'm ready for whatever will happen in the place I've set apart for wonder.

I'll come back and check tomorrow.

Friday, April 10, 2015

A Little Prayer You Will Love

My prayer group decided that we would pray this:

"Lord, help me be an answer to someone else's prayer today."

We leave for our day, and I greet everyone with different eyes. I'm anticipating how, just maybe, I might become an instrument of God in someone's day.

Something about this prayer changed me; I stopped thinking of my own needs and my own agenda. I began to cooperate with a grander story of what God was doing all around me.

I'm not sure how or if God used me in the life of another person, but I walked about with an alert and willing heart all day long.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Sometimes I Remember Diapers and Sippy Cups

Today my 13 year old had an orthodontist appointment that fell over the lunch hour. So we went to lunch afterwards. She chose the place--Chinese--and suggested items for me to try (custard dumplings, who knew?). She directed the conversation and attempted to persuade me to buy her a guitar.

I'm looking at her and trying to remember the high chair, the sippy cups, and even the diapers. When you're in that world, you cannot possibly imagine the day when you won't be in that world any more. It's the strangest feeling to have this passing thought that at one point in your life, you were feeding this child cheerios one by one, stacking blocks with her, and complaining that you couldn't even use the bathroom by yourself.

And now it's a totally different world you're in. And this, too, will end. I'll be talking on the phone as she tells me all about her lunch with her 13 year daughter and I'll remember, maybe, this day--this other world that was once my whole life.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Granted in What He Ordaineth

This morning I'm listening to the beautiful hymn, "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty," based on Joachim Neander's German choral written in 1680. In particular, I love this question that, in translation, reads:

Hast thou not seen
how thy desires ever have been
granted in what He ordaineth?  

I ponder the question all morning. Have I not seen how my desires have been granted, are granted, and will be granted in what God ordains for my life?

Have I not seen this? Might I truly believe it?

I remember that God knows the desires of my heart; He put them there and knows exactly how to fulfill them in my life. I offer the desire--without articulating how God will meet it--and rest assured that this thing will "ever have been granted in what He ordaineth."


Enjoy the hymn in its entirety below:

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise him, for he is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear,
Now to his temple draw near,
Join me in glad adoration.

Praise to the Lord, who o'er all things so wondrously reigneth,
Shelters thee under his wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen
How thy desires ever have been
Granted in what he ordaineth?

Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee!
Surely his goodness and mercy here daily attend thee;
Ponder anew
What the Almighty will do,
If with his love he befriend thee!

Praise thou the Lord, who with marvelous wisdom hath made thee,
Decked thee with health, and with loving hand guided and stayed thee.
How oft in grief
Hath not he brought thee relief,
Spreading his wings to o'ershade thee!

Praise to the Lord! O let all that is in me adore him!
All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before him.
Let the Amen
Sound from his people again;
Gladly for aye we adore him.

Trans: Catherine Winkworth

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Objects That Bring Comfort

On this rainy Tuesday, I light my little Owl Candle Holder on my desk.

I'm amazed at how much comfort it brings to light it and watch it flicker beside me. A small, simple thing--a little something to add to the day.

Monday, April 6, 2015

A Thought About Moments

Today on campus I fill my mug at a water fountain and splash the floor underneath as it overflows. I gaze at the puddle and consider how it would evaporate on its own. Must I clean it? Must I? Maybe I will clean it up.

I waste at least 20 seconds on this dilemma until I imagine someone slipping and injuring themselves because of this spill.

I decide to find a paper towel and mop it up with my shoe; this makes more of a mess than the original puddle. And this consumes another 40 seconds at least. It's starting to dry anyway.

I abandon my cleaning effort after, in total (if you count my thinking about it) a minute.

I continue about my day, and it's like a portal has opened into a new reality: I encounter former students; I find people in the hallway; I have new conversations because I deviated a minute off course of my day.

In this new behind-by-one-minute day, my path intersects people who, a minute before or a minute after, would not be there. 

Considering the impact of our little one-minute delays or advances into the day made me wonder about all the permutations available in any given morning. I think about the sovereignty of God and divine appointments. I think of time differently. I think about listening to God to be where I'm supposed to be, when I'm supposed to be there.

It's almost too much to think about.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

"You Don't Have to Be Good"

My youngest and I search the garden for signs of spring. We observe the daffodils, raspberry canes, and of course, the Weeping Cherry.

She says, "Mom, do you think I'll get an Easter Basket this year?"

I begin to say, "Have you been good?" But I stop before the words escape my mouth. 

She doesn't have to be good; nothing depends on her goodness.

The Easter Basket is the celebration that Jesus conquered death. He arose and gives us the gift of salvation, resurrecting everything dead within us and bringing it into glorious Life. When we receive Jesus as Lord, we are covered in His righteousness, and we no longer have to be good. Our behavior earns us no favor. We already have the favor of God. It's already declared; my goodness is now about enjoying God and keeping in step with His Spirit. 

"Yes," I say. "I do. And you don't have to worry about whether you've been good. You don't have to be good."

I'm so thankful that I don't have to be good anymore.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Teaching Written Voice

Voice in writing allows readers to feel like they connect to a real person within the words. Voice marks the difference between textbook and dictionary writing and the kind of writing you hug in your arms because you finally feel understood and bonded to the writer. It's the kind of writing that you can't resist. You have fallen in love. 

As I teach one of the most elusive concepts in writing--the written voice!--I remind students of two simple and effective tricks:

Voice emerges from sentence variations in two ways: the patterns of sentence construction and also length (as in the number of words in each sentence). It's just like in speech. In speaking, if every sentence began with a subject and verb and ended with the object, you would sound like a robot. Monotonous. Agonizingly boring. 

So you let the subject and verb appear in different places. Use some introductory clauses, some glorious prepositional phrases, or some enthralling adjectives. By doing so, you create rhythm. As you write, don't forget to add in the trick of the very short sentence. It's simple. And within your varied sentence lengths or openings you'll use cool punctuation marks; using advanced grammar like the semicolon creates a voice as well. Finally, the best creators of voice know the power of two things: the colon and the dashes. Try writing down sentences--amplifying with dashes what you really want the reader to know--and see what happens. Voice means we're hearing you in the paragraph. Use these variations, and voice seeps out onto the page (and remember that parentheses work like whisper, a little secret between you and the reader). 

We'll hear you, and we won't be able to resist you. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Notion for Notions

My daughters love our Thursday trip to Scrap and Skeins, a new business in our town. This little shop collects donated crafting items and sells them to benefit Strawberry Fields, Inc. which provides services to those in our community with developmental delays, mental illness, or intellectual disabilities. Residents of Strawberry Fields help run Scraps and Skeins, and we've enjoyed socializing and connecting with folks every week.

I love that each week, we find treasures from unwanted scraps. Yarn, thread, sewing patterns, fabric, ribbons--our basket overflows with items we then use for knitting and sewing projects throughout the week.

Everything costs very little.

Although I have no knitting or sewing skills, my children inherited them from my both my mother and mother-in-law. I'm in full support of their crafting skills; the comfort and peace these activities bring amazes me.

Settle a child in front of her sewing machine or with a crochet hook, and a special kind of healing begins. My daughter says it soothes everything.

This visit to Scraps and Skeins yields something so very precious. Someone has donated her vintage sewing box, untouched and still filled with all her notions.

I didn't know that "notions" meant items used in sewing. I'm imagining I'm opening a box of whimsical ideas: notions. 

I am. 

 And we're off to thread needles, turn on the sewing machine, and use these notions for our notions.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Moments with Strangers

When I'm out and about town, I realize how much I love interacting with complete strangers. It's becoming a problem because I find myself wanting to know everything about them. Maybe I should have been a journalist or a talk show host.

Maybe my April blog will have something to do with discovering strangers every day.

For example, an older man in the elevator asked me to press his floor button for him, which I did, and he was so thankful. But as we ascended, I found myself overcome with curiosity. I wanted so badly to turn to him and ask, "Where are you going? What's happening on the 5th floor? Who are you? WHO ARE YOU?!"

It happened again when I held the door for someone in a long and awkward way. She was in that uncertain space--too close to ignore but far enough away that I'd have to stand there, holding the door as she thanked me and rushed to grab the handle. I wanted to pause, look her right in the eyes, and ask my questions: "Where are you going? What's happening on the other side of the door? Who are you? WHO ARE YOU?!"

With every stranger, I'm fascinated. So many stories to gather, so little time.

I think I might need to begin interviewing strangers. What if I just asked, "Who are you?" and went from there?