Monday, February 28, 2011

A Disaster Waiting to Happen

This morning, fog cloaks the neighborhood. I pull out of my driveway and cannot even see the house next door.

Every instinct I have makes the situation worse:  High beams?  No! Their light reflects off the fog and blinds me.  Brake and swerve?  No!  Sudden movements mean cars pile up behind me or I hit the thing beside me.  Drive up close to the car in front?  No!  No, no, no!

I read later about a "visibility expert" at Virginia Tech (Ron Gibbons) who devotes his life to the study of how to ensure visibility in fog, snow, or rain.  Most every instinct we have when we experience low visibility endangers us.  Instead, we must use low beams, tap our breaks as we ease off the accelerator, make no sudden movements, and pull over if we need to. 

And, perhaps most importantly, choose not to drive at all.

All day, I think about things in my future I cannot yet discern.  With that horrible visibility, I'm tempted to trust my instincts and react on impulse.  I'm tempted to engineer my circumstances (swerving, braking) and stay in charge of my life.  Really, I'm just a disaster waiting to happen.

What if I slowed down, pulled over, left the car and trusted a Visibility Expert?  When God obscures my path, I need not worry.  I just trust something deeper than instinct, deeper than my own control.

I pull over.  I rest.  I resist my frantic instincts.    

(photo by National Weather Service: Jackson, KY)

Journal:  What can't I see that I need to trust God for?

PS:  A woman in the English Department commented today that this bad weather wasn't gloomy, rainy, or foggy.  "I like to say that it's just juicy outside," she says and smiles.  I love that!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Very Public Failure for My Daughter

Yesterday, Barnes and Noble slates my daughter to perform a piano piece as part of a fundraiser for the Music Academy.  Neighbors come, cameras focus, and parents beam.

But when it is her turn to perform, my daughter bursts into tears and freezes.  She cannot even approach the piano.

Instead of forcing her onto the piano bench, we gather up her blue puffy coat and the sheet music in her red tote bag and travel home as fast as we can.  

She slumps into the house and says over and over again, "I couldn't do it!"  She cries and falls onto the couch.  She writes apology notes to the neighbors and her piano teacher. 

And then something beautiful happens.  The neighbors send messages that they went to the event to support her, and it didn't matter whether she performed or not.  She could turn away from a thousand stages, and they'd still come every time.  My daughter, not her performance, mattered. 

Her piano teacher calls to tell her that learning the piano isn't about performance.  She tells my daughter that she can choose when, if, and why she wants to perform at all.  Learning the piano has intrinsic value as an end in itself.  The goal was never public applause, flashing camera bulbs, and bragging parents.

Nobody is disappointed. 

My daughter nods with understanding.  She wipes her face and remembers that she loves to make music.   And I remember the gospel truth with every comforting phone call:  it was never about performance.  God's love and favor are never dependent on my good performances.  The sooner children learn this, the more they might relax into the freedom that comes with being unconditionally loved, accepted, and valued.

I ask my daughter for permission to tell her story.  She says, "Sure, Mom!"  It doesn't bother her anymore.  She knows now that it's never about performance.  And it isn't a public failure after all. 

Journal:  Am I tempted to believe my worth is in my performance?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Keeping Hope Alive

Yesterday, this little girl (the one who lost her first tooth) brings home a homemade bird feeder.  She announces that the bagel was "a rotten one, leftover from her teacher's kitchen," and the birdseed and spread cannot be eaten by humans. 


We hang the bird feeder on the winterberry bush.  And we wait.

And we wait. 

We wait, wait, and wait some more. 

I read somewhere that it takes backyard birds a few days to find a new feeder. 

All day today, we stop every few minutes and glance out the kitchen window just in case a bird has arrived.  We talk about who might be the first to catch sight of that first little bird. 

No birds yet.  But the desiring of them, the wait, delights us. 

We remember another wait, last April, for a hibernating turtle to emerge from underneath our deck.  It feels just like that, this waiting, and we love it.

It feels like the wait for a first loose tooth. 

I want to construct more apparatuses designed to teach me the beauty of hope.  A backyard bird feeder reminds me to hope today.  I wait patiently with my daughters, peer into the landscape ahead, and keep our longing alive.  Tomorrow might be the day! 

Journal:  What am I hoping for, and how do I keep my hope alive? 

Friday, February 25, 2011

My Whole House Smells Like This

Frying Donuts
Last night, at the weekly game night we host for graduate students, a friend of ours makes homemade donuts.  Give this man some flour, and he can make anything.  Last month, he invented the most amazing pizza crusts, and before that, he offered everyone crêpes that we dusted with powdered sugar and lemon.

While everyone else plays, he works diligently in my kitchen, telling jokes and commenting on the day's news.  I observe, discussing everything from photography to physics.  When the donuts finish frying in oil, he plates them and walks around like a waiter to deliver the treats to folks in the basement, in the living room, or anywhere they happen to be hanging out.

Stack of Crepes
My husband and I wake up to the lingering smell of fried food.  That deep frying permeates even the bedspread, even the pillows.  When the coffee's made, I feel like I'm in a southern grandma's warm kitchen.

The donuts are long-gone, but the kitchen still remembers.  

The donuts were simple pleasure, a blessing from a friend.  All morning, I think about what it means to be a blessing to someone.  I think about what I can offer to nourish another person--physically, emotionally, spiritually.  What simple pleasures might I bring?  May that blessing permeate deeply, leaving a pleasing aroma.   

(photo of crepes by David.Monniaux / Frying donuts: Wikimedia Commons)

Journal:  What can I offer today?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Every Problem We Have Is Related to Our View of God

Today, I remember this quote that I read almost 15 years ago in a little book called, Disciples are Made not Born, by Walter Henrichsen and Howard Hendricks.  The authors claim that "every problem we have is related to our view of God."  It was the kind of sentence a person underlines and then rewrites in her favorite journal by her bed.

It's the kind of quote to repeat to yourself when you're thinking about everything that's going wrong in your life.

I remember it because I have received multiple emails from the English Department entitled:  EMERGENCY MEETING! to "update us on the financial situation."  The budge crisis affects all of our jobs, and I have no doubt that the purpose of this meeting will confirm our fears.  

I look at these emails and ponder the meaning of the words "emergency" and "crisis."  Then, I restate the truth:  Every problem I have is related to my view of God. 

Can this really be true? The quote argues that if we have a big God, we have small problems.  If we have a small God, we have big problems.

What kind of God do I have?

Do I view God in such a way that what the world sees as an "emergency" or a "crisis," I now see dissolving into a peaceful opportunity to see the work of God displayed?  What do I need to believe about God to live with the kind of flair that smiles in the face of bad news?   The Psalmist in Psalm 112 (a wonderful acrostic poem) proclaims that those who know God will "never be shaken."  He writes, "They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord. Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear."

Living with flair means our hearts stay steadfast, trusting, unshaken, and fearless.  We have a very big God. 

Journal:  If I have a problem today, how does my view of God change this problem into a possibility?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Story Worth Sharing

I'm following the story of a friend of mine who has donated half her liver to a friend. Today, I read a post by her husband in which he describes the "throw away moment" when they met the neighbor, Suzanne, who--18 years later--would send out a plea for a liver to save her mother's life. 

There was no way to know, back in the summer of 1993, that my friend would meet the family who'd receive half her liver nearly 2 decades later.  The husband writes:

"There is a lot to this story, and I’m the first to admit I’ve missed much of it. And I’m sure I’ll miss much of the story to come. It’s hard to see from my vantage point.

But that doesn’t mean that I’m not overcome by the little bit of the story I manage to grasp: that somehow, on that humid August night in 1993, something was going on that was bigger than me.

I don’t have to grasp it in order to marvel. I don’t have to subdue it in order to worship.

There are no throw away moments in history because there is a Playwright.  And even if you miss virtually all of the connections in your story, you can still stop to thank God for those few moments you see, and, most of all, to thank him that there is a Playwright.

In fact, telling this story makes me pretty stoked for tomorrow. Wonder what “insignificant moments” might come my way in the morn . . ."

All morning, I marvel at what I cannot grasp:  today I will have hundreds of insignificant moments that God orchestrates into some grand story--bigger than me, bigger than us all.  I might not get to read the story now or even in a decade. 

But there's a Playwright.  So that means I have no insignificant--no throw away--moments. 

Journal:  What insignificant moments have I seen turn into marvelous displays of some greater story? 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Who Thinks of Habakkuk?

This morning, I recall the prayer of the prophet Habakkuk.   I normally don't think about Habakkuk on the walk to school (who would?), so I wonder if God's trying to tell me something.  

When it's dreary outside with fresh snow piled up (again) on the already barren landscape, I become fascinated by the gnarled vines, the black branches that make offerings of emptiness, and the frozen expressions of leaves trapped in ice.  Nothing moves.  Nothing dances here.

The vines encircle desperately like a snake coiling upon prey.  It's nearly impossible not to give in to that icy invitation to admit defeat and surrender to winter melancholy. 

But then I remember how Habakkuk proclaims: 

"Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights." 

As I look up into the distance, I see that we are literally standing on the heights--on one of the highest hills in our neighborhood.  Up ahead, another hill (our mountain) delights us with that bit of snow.  
I realize I wanted to stay and snap pictures of the gnarled vines, the stark forest.  But I couldn't.  Not today.  Not with the sun shining on us and Habakkuk's prayer in my heart.  I look up from my circumstances--no matter how barren--and rejoice in a far greater view.  

Journal:  In empty seasons, how can I rejoice in God?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Licking the Blender Whisk

It's a snow day in our county, and the children and I make cookies to frost.  The girls crowd around me and eagerly reach for the blender whisks after I've made the vanilla frosting. 

I hand the whisks down, and I purposefully arrange some extra frosting on each one. 

A child licking the blender whisks reminds me of Henry David Thoreau's famous quote about sucking the marrow out of life. Back in July, I wrote about how the "Live with Flair" blog was my way to "live deep and suck all the marrow out of life." 

When my daughter licks the blender whisk, I see her searching out every last drop.  When she hands it back, it's as if it's been cleaned in the dishwasher. 

I want to search out the beauty in this day, relishing every part.  God hands me the whisk, and I sit back and enjoy it. 

Journal:  What good thing has come my way today? 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

What Good Is This?

I'm trying new recipes from my 5 Ingredient cookbook, and today I attempt "Ginger Beets." 

Ginger Beets
I've never roasted beets before. I scrub off the dirt, chop off the stems, and roast them for an hour.  When cooled, the beets slip right out of their skin.  I slice them in quarters, toss them with fresh ginger and olive oil, and finally sprinkle a dash of salt. 

Beautiful!  Delicious! 

I'm amazed that roots, buried deep in the darkness, can produce such vibrant color.  That deep red paints everything:  my fingers, the counter tops, and the kitchen sink.  This winter kitchen has bright red flair!  One would never know, just by looking at those old roots, what a beet can do.

No other vegetable has such color.  I learn that, at first, the leaves were the only parts of a beet considered edible. The roots, tossed aside and wasted, weren't enjoyed as they are today. 

But now we know differently.  The beet root, beautiful and vibrant, nourishes.  

The parts of us we toss aside--viewed as waste--or bury deep await God's use:   beautiful, vibrant, nourishing to others.  

Journal:  What skills do I toss aside, thinking they have no use? 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Real Men Vacuum

On Saturday mornings in my household, we all pitch in to clean and reset the house for the next week.  Children dust and organize rooms.  I scrub floors and toilets, fold the laundry, and change all the bedding.

Real Men Vacuum
And my husband vacuums.

Then he takes his smart phone with the Grocery IQ application and does all the coupons and grocery shopping.  He's so detail-oriented that he can make the house sparkle, and he's so good with fast math that he saves us a fortune each week by memorizing sales and matching coupons to what's on sale.

He's mastered the art of weekly grocery shopping. 

He calls it hunting for our food.  

I'm thankful that my daughters have a father who cleans house and goes to the grocery store.  There's something profoundly manly about this, and it makes our marriage have flair.  

Journal:  Is there something I'm not doing because I think it doesn't fit a traditional gender role?  

Friday, February 18, 2011

Secret Agent Life

This morning, I read about how a businessman responds to a doctor's order to go to a train station and "look for someone who needs help." The doctor believed that if the businessman practiced doing something for another person every day, that man would begin to feel better about his life.

He did.  It worked.  

I wonder about the direction to "look for someone who needs help." What if that mission shaped my day?    I wonder what it means to live a life that anticipates, on a daily basis, how I might serve another person.

Someone we'll encounter today will need something (a hug, a word, a ride, a lunch), and what if God wanted to use us to meet that particular need?  What if each day we were on a special assignment to care for somebody in our path?   

But we will not know who, where, or when this person might appear.  We just know that it will, most certainly, happen.  So we keep our eyes open, waiting for our special assignment.

I tell God I'm available.  But I'm nervous--a little--about what shape the day will take.

The day transforms into an action-adventure film.  I'm the one scanning the train station platform, looking for the helpless.  But it's not the train station; it's my own street, my own neighborhood, my own office.   

I feel like a secret agent on a mission from God. I feel like this covert operation changes the focus, the purpose, and the meaning of what it means to be alive today. 

Living with flair means I'm available for secret missions to care for everyone and anyone, stranger or friend, who enters my life today. 

Journal:  Who was my special assignment today? 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

When Your Scars Leak (Warning: Graphic Image of a Cat's Infected, Although Missing, Eye)

Yesterday, my daughter cries out that Jack's scar is leaking

Remember Jack?  Our one-eyed cat, over this past year, seemed fully recovered from the day we rescued him:  he learned to purr again; he discovered his lost meow; he started caring for other cats; then he learned to stand up for himself against the other cats; and finally, he learned how to knead the bed like normal kitties do.

He was fully alive, fully cat

We hardly notice the scar anymore.  It's only when other folks come over and comment that we remember.

Infected Eye Wound
But the wound where his eye once was becomes infected.  The vet says the infection is so great, so deep, that it has to burst out of the scar. 

We hold Jack all evening.  We care for the infection, treat it with medicine, and give special attention to him. 

I remember that sometimes wounds leak.  Even after a year of healing, the old scar can ooze.  Just because we don't notice the wound, one day, it bursts back into our lives and threatens us with that discouraging reminder.

But we aren't discouraged.  We go back to the basics.  We hold him, love him, and treat him.  We aren't shocked or repulsed.  It's part of his journey, and we're right here with him. 

Living with flair means I'm in this with you.  Even when the old wounds leak out, we go back to the basics, take care of one another, and let the healing begin again. 

Journey:  When old wounds leak, how can I keep from being discouraged?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Walking on Water

This morning, the lawns become ice skating rinks.  The children are so light they can skate across the surface of the snow without falling through. 

When I walk, I sink.  I'm just too heavy.

All day, I think of those weightless little children and the joy they exude as they twirl and slide to school. 

I pray that I learn to travel light, as they do, to cast my heavy burdens on the Lord, and to shed the worry and stress from my heart.

Without fear, weightless, I walk on water. 

Journal:  What weight might I cast off and onto the Lord? 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Next Time, Try This

I'm sitting next to a stack of essays, coffee in one hand, pen in the other.  As I read, I celebrate great writing with enthusiastic comments in the margin.  Bravo!  Genius!  Fantastic!

I circle mistakes; usually I find semicolons used improperly, weak verbs, or sentence patterns with no variation.  Immediately, I find myself writing, "Next time, try this," as I scribble out a plan for their writing improvement.

I realize how discouraging a bad grade feels.  The only thing that soothes sometimes is that plan for "next time."  These strategies for development keep our focus on growth, not setbacks.

I remember a parenting book that taught me to correct a child's behavior and say "next time" right away.  "Next time, don't jump on the furniture," or "next time, don't spread the peas all over the kitchen wall."

It really works.   It's like a little mantra that reminds us we are all on a journey of growing, of getting it right eventually.  "Next time" invites me to rise up to a challenge, and it keeps me from the despair of failure.

I think of that with my overeating, my fits of dark emotions, my bad choices with my time, my harsh words.  Next time, I'll change something.  Next time, I'll grow a little bit more into the woman I want to be.  And the beauty of the "next time" expression is that it starts immediately.  I don't have to wait till tomorrow or next year. 

When I get it wrong, I think of an immediate plan for development.  We're moving forward, don't look back.  Start fresh!  It's next time right now. 

There's always another chance to grow.  I want to be as gentle with myself as I am with my children or my students.  If I fail today, I remember that next time, I can try this. 

Journal:  If I've already messed up today, how can "next time" help me?

Monday, February 14, 2011

You Don't Bug Me

This morning, a little boy who walks with me to school every day hands me a Valentine.  He's not a big talker, and he delivers it to me while looking at his shoes.

I open it up, and I see a picture of a giant bug.  It says, "You don't bug me."

I'm glad I don't bug him.  And, as a writing instructor, I have to admit I love the wordplay. 

I walk beside him, not saying even one word.  He doesn't like to talk, and I realize I don't have to be talking to know we're friends. 

Living with flair means I accept the slightest gestures of love, receive them fully, and walk beside my friends on their terms.  If that means silence, then I'll do it.

Journal:  What does it mean to love a person "on their terms" today?

PS--Here are two photos from my photo shoot which only happened because my friend stood knee-deep in snow with that reflector shade.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

When You Can't Settle For Less

I do not believe my friend when she says that New Jersey bagels--from her neighborhood-- are the best in the world.  She calls me from New Jersey and tells me all about her coffee and New Jersey bagel and continues trash-talking all the other bagels in the world. 

I hear she's traveling back to my neighborhood this morning, so I throw out a challenge.  I kindly ask her to bring me home some of these mythic bagels so I can see what all the hoopla is about. 

Two minutes ago, I walk into my kitchen and find a bag of New Jersey bagels (she sneaks them inside!).  She delivers them the same day they were made. 

I have to admit they do look rather yummy.  
New Jersey Bagel

Doubtful, I tear into the first one.

I stop everything.  I call my husband and children into the kitchen to taste these bagels.  I even have to take a picture.   

I'll never be able to settle for less now that I know the real thing exists out there in New Jersey.   And I'll expect more now that I know how good they could be. 

It's a good lesson for me to remember:  I won't settle for less when I encounter the best there is.  And true friends remind you of the difference between the good and the great.  True friends help you experience the more that life can be. 

Journal:  Where am I settling for less than great? 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Going to the Bottom of the Well

Just this week, a dear friend of mine describes herself as  "holding on to the edge for dear life so she doesn't fall to the bottom of the well."

You grip the well's ledge, keep your chin up, and refuse to fall. 

It's a haunting image of a life lived in fear of surrender.  My tight grip on the ledge represents a picture of what I cannot face on the road to personal transformation, freedom, and joy.   I'm afraid of what's down there if I journey deeper into places of brokenness.  Can't I just stay up here, white knuckled, with my jaw clenched, fighting? 

All day, I consider how I need to let go of my tight grip on my life, trying to hold everything together in that desperate and clenched way that drains out the life and hope. 

A friend looks her straight between the eyes and says, "You need to let go and fall to the bottom of the well."  That's the way to begin to heal. 

But what happens when she lets go?  What fearful thing awaits?  She cannot do this alone. 

Another friend says, "I'll fall to the bottom with you."

And another, days later, adds:  "God is at the bottom of the well." 

We release our grip, surrender to the work of healing God wants in our lives, and look around.  We aren't alone:  Friends journey down into the darkness with us, and God himself embraces us at the moment we let go. 

(Photograph of a well in Argentina, Creative Commons)


Today, I remember a quote from the poet Rainer Maria Rilke:  "Works of art always spring from those who have faced the danger, gone to the very end of an experience, to the point beyond which no human being can go. The further one dares to go, the more decent, the more personal, the more unique a life becomes."  

What danger do I need to face? 

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Picture of the Friend I Want to Be

A local photographer arrives for a photo shoot in my home.  I need a professional head shot for my writing, and I have the worst time looking natural and being myself.  I never look nice in pictures!  But I have a secret weapon today:  I invite a friend over who I know tells the truth and helps me be myself.

We're knee deep in snow, and the photographer asks my friend to assist her by holding the "reflector."  It's freezing outside, and I'm standing by my favorite winterberry bush.  My friend positions herself beside me and holds up the circular shade.  She accomplishes two tasks:  she reflects the light toward me (so light bounces off her shade towards me), and she diffuses the harsh sunlight that's overpowering the shot.

It looks something like this (only imagine the snow, the wind, the freezing cold, us shivering, and plain me since I look nothing like this model):

I'm smiling at my friend, suddenly feeling just like myself.

I want to be a friend like this.  I want to reflect the light towards her, and I want to diffuse whatever attempts to overpower her. 

I can't wait to show you the pictures!

Living with flair means I'm a reflector and a diffuser. 

(photo by Mila Zinkova, Wikimedia Commons)

Journal:  How can I reflect the light and diffuse what's harsh in my friend's life today?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Amazing Valentine Cookies

I approach the table of snacks, and I see that a mother (Laurie) has made the most beautiful Valentine's cookies.  I do not want to eat them; I want to photograph them!

Amazing Valentine Cookies

Boring square cookies transform into romantic letters sealed with wax:

A Letter From an Admirer?  

Heart-shaped confections display icing dotted and adorned with tiny roses; a whimsical chocolate heart tempts me with that frosting made to resemble a Valentine's puzzle.

Puzzle Heart Made from Leftover Icing

I love that God makes people who can do things like this.  Not everyone creates the same kind of flair; I know I could never design such cookies.  But someone else did, and I'm so glad.  The children felt special as they ate such treats.  The took their time about it.

I realize that when we observe (and make) beautiful things, we begin to take our time.  We slow down and savor.  

Living with flair means we embellish things--turning the ordinary into art--for others to enjoy.  It slows us down.

Journal:  What ordinary object or activity can I turn into "art" today? 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

And There Was Light!

We're slumped upon the kitchen table.  One daughter labors over math homework while the other colors slowly on paper.  I'm answering an email, sighing.  The day feels sluggish and old, dark and spent. 

Then, light invades through the kitchen window.

An hallelujah chorus of dappled light dances all around us.  For days--months--we've been in the dark shadow of winter.  The sky looks more like a sidewalk.

But not now.  Not for this one glorious moment when light breaks through.  The forest sparkles with it.  The sky has never seemed so blue, so wide, so clear. 

We bask in it. 

To bask means to derive great pleasure from something.  As I open wide the door and feel the sun on my face, I realize what makes this moment so pleasurable.

It's because it's been so very dark, so very gray.  

I'm thankful for contrast in my life.  I realize that's the only way I learn to bask.  The hot showers I love because I've known the freezing ones; the deep breath of air I relish because I battled congestion for a month; the authentic community I cherish in my neighborhood because I've walked the road of loneliness; the joy rising up in my heart, so precious, because I once knew the despairing days of depression.

The beauty of contrast:  what we bask in because we've seen its absence.  A blessing, a mystery.

Journal:  Can we only know joy by contrast?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

My Top Ten Name Game Questions

If I were to write a book called, "How to Teach with Flair," I'd have an entire chapter on the power of name games.  Before I teach any class, I have to know these folks, and they have to know me.  The foundation of teaching--that base of solid rock supporting the whole framework--is community.  We have to know each other, and then, we transfer information in that beautiful and mysterious moment called teaching.

And yes, we all have to know first and last names.  Knowing names changes something. 

When you know each other, barriers drop, the mind opens, and we recognize the dignity and contribution of every person in the room.  I can't imagine teaching without this foundation in place.  

It's the same for Sunday school classes, neighborhood groups, business seminars, book clubs, family dinners, or any other gathering.  When we connect with one another, something marvelous stirs and rises within us.

Here are my Top 10 Name Game questions with some of the best or most common answers I've received in ten years of teaching.  So, say your name and:  

1.  What were you known for in school?  (embracing mediocrity)
2.  What accomplishment to date are you most proud of? (beating cancer)
3.  What was the last thing you googled? (the snowy owl)
4.  What's something you consider yourself addicted to? (the Food Network)
5.  What's a movie you think everyone should see?  What's a movie you think nobody should see? (Life is Beautiful / Hancock)
6.  In a group of 3 people, find the most bizarre thing you have in common. (All obsessed with the cartoon, "Thundercats" and knowing lots of Thundercats trivia)
7.  What's a song or youtube video you like to listen to or watch over and over again? (Hit Me Baby One More Time / Crazy Cats)
8.  What was your favorite childhood toy? (a tree)
9.  What is your favorite home-cooked meal? (homemade mac-n-cheese)
10.  What is your favorite way to procrastinate?  (Facebook)

I love name games because they connect us.  Tomorrow, I'm asking students to tell me their favorite quotation.  I'll learn more about them in that moment than you can imagine.

Living with flair means I play name games when I'm in a group.  It might be silly, but it creates serious connection. 

Journal:  What's another great get-to-know-you type of question I can ask a group?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Do I Really Need This?

All afternoon, I consider the difference between perceived need and actual need.  If I live my life based on what I perceive I need, I sometimes end up harming myself.  I either indulge or deprive myself based on unreliable data.

For example, I realize today just how little water I actually drink.  The reason?  I never feel thirsty.  In fact, if I went by perceived need, I wouldn't drink anything at all, ever.  I just don't get thirsty.

On the other hand, I believe I'm hungry all the time.  I love to eat, and if I went by perceived need, I would eat my weight in chocolate.  I just don't ever feel full. 

So I implement guidelines to help--external, expert sources--to govern the day.  I eat within my calorie limit, and I drink several glasses of water.  I take medicine I know I need.  I enact spiritual disciplines I know transform me.  But I often don't feel as if I need these things. 

I wonder what else I actually need that I don't perceive as a need.  Conversely, I wonder what I insist I need that isn't actually a need. 

I don't want to live by unreliable perceptions anymore. Some days, my feelings just aren't the truth. 

Living with flair means applying reality checks to my perceived needs (or lack thereof).  Sometimes what we need most of all resides deeper in the heart beyond the reach of our emotional states.  So I press on, hydrating my soul with the things I know it needs, even when my emotions direct me towards toxic, dehydrating things.

Journal:  What do I need that I feel I don't?  What don't I need that I feel I do? 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Visualize This

Just now, we return from attending our first college gymnastics meet.  At the uneven parallel bars, the gymnasts perform extraordinary movements that, when seen live and up close, actually terrify me.  I squeeze the arm of the neighbor sitting next to me with every rotation and every dismount.  I'm certain these gymnasts will crash-land into the floor. 

As I watch, I notice the coach (suit and tie, arms crossed firmly) at the sidelines.  As soon as one of his gymnasts begins a difficult and dangerous sequence, the coach plants himself directly under his gymnast, holds both hands out as if to catch her, and waits for her to complete her performance.  And how that coach cheers!

Within one routine, he darts in and out from underneath the bars many times, ready to assist and catch in the exact moment of possible danger or difficulty.

What I would risk if I knew I wouldn't fall!  What things might I attempt if I knew someone stood beneath me, arms ready to catch or cheer?

This uneven life, running parallel to spiritual realities, offers chances I cannot possibly attempt (out of fear, out of danger).  But with One beneath me?  I swing out into new directions, and I visualize the firm stance and wide arms of a God who will not let me fall. 

Journal:  What would I try if I knew I'd not fall?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Does This Help or Harm?

This week, several interesting opportunities flooded my inbox and my voicemail.  I wanted to do them all.  But after 10 years of marriage and two children, I've learned (finally) to ask the question, "Will this decision help or harm my marriage and family?" 

A simple decision-making tool expanded today to include a far-reaching scope.  I made this list today:

1.  Does this behavior or decision help or harm my relationship with God?  (helps me identify sin)
2.  Does this behavior or decision help or harm my husband and children? (helps with my career choices)
3.  Does this behavior or decision help or harm my mind and body?   (helps with my food choices)
4.  Does this behavior or decision help or harm another person?  (helps with my speech)

So far, I turned down the Oreo cookie binge and an invitation to take on a new teaching project that would take too much time away from my husband and children.

I like this little list.  It helps me live with flair. 

Journal:  Help or harm?  

Friday, February 4, 2011

Why We Still Need Road Trips

Interstate 99 South.  You're only driving to another town to see a new doctor.  It's just 45 minutes from home, but you're all alone, and in mother time, 45 minutes is an eternity of quiet space. 

You leave one town and enter another--county after county--and when you crest that hill, the tree line looks like day-old stubble on a smooth white face of a mountain.  At the throat, a little town of houses warmed by wood-burning stoves exhales. 

You can take in the whole county in one glance. You imagine all the lives lived there.

You remember other road trips: stretches of highway promised, in the distance, hopes and dreams and greater versions of you.  You were young and fresh, and you believed that happiness was just over the mountain.

But not today.  Today, the older and wiser you holds the wheel.   You know that happiness was never outside of you.  It was never down the road in some other town, in some other life.  It was always inside of you quietly waiting its turn to reveal itself--if you welcomed it.

By the time you reach the doctor's office, you're already healed.

Journal:  Is happiness something we find outside of ourselves--in our circumstances? 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Keep Contact!

We skated to school today.  It was the only way to make it down the hill.  "Keep contact!" I cry out to the children.  We discover that if you try to walk on ice, that's when the falls happen.  But if you keep contact--never lifting your shoes--you can glide smoothly along.

Keep contact!  I say it over and over again, reminding myself I will not fall if I keep my feet down.

Later, as I begin the morning rush of dishes, laundry, doctor's appointments, responding to student emails, lesson plans, and all the rest, I stifle my spiritual self, my true self, designed to rest in and receive from God. That little mantra repeats:  Keep contact and you will not fall. 

On days like this, when I'm already late for everything, I remember that keeping contact matters most of all.

And all of a sudden, the day opens before me, smooth and clear as winter ice.  I launch out, skating smoothly with the wind at my back and the sun on my face.  

Journal:  How can I keep contact with God today?  Is it possible to stay connected on busy days? 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

This is Some Ice Storm!

Our yard and driveway transform overnight into a skating rink.

The trees bow or else raise their limbs to silvery worship.

The ice cannot discriminate; it covers all things equally, thoroughly.

That ice, although dangerous, makes this winter morning glorious.  I look out the window and see how the ice upon the winter berry bush acts like a giant magnifying glass directing my gaze towards those buds. 

The children pull their snow pants on over their pajamas and hardly finish breakfast.  They skate on the driveway and worry over the tree limb that carries their tree swing.

It has no choice but to bend in a storm like this.  Lord, let me be covered like this--thoroughly--with whatever reflects your glory.  Let me bend and bow.  In this way, I will not break. 

Journal:  Where do I need to bend and bow (instead of remain stubborn) today?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Digging Deep

Today I learn from the neighborhood children all of their digging stories.  Children seem to have lots of these:  digging in sand; digging in dirt; digging in snow.  They report the treasures they've unearthed in the form of bones and shells and marbles and old pennies.

"If you dig deep enough, you will find something," a little girl tells me.  She explains that once, last summer, she struck water just by digging and digging.

I recall my own tendency to dig as a child.  Finding worms, I admit, was a particular delight.  But I also believed that I would find buried treasure if only I kept digging.  And usually, I actually did.  I'd get to a layer of earth and find what I thought was magnificent:  a piece of turtle shell, a strangely shaped stone (an arrowhead?), or an old piece of twine. 

This instinct to dig stays with me, even today, as I work to turn up beauty.  It does feel like excavation.  There's a layer down deep that holds the day's treasures.  I think of analogies--of symbols--that things I encounter might represent.  It's as if a spiritual current runs beneath this dust and dirt of life.  Dig deep enough, and you strike water. 

We just keep digging, and it's surely there.  

Journal:  The Great Awakening preacher, Jonathan Edwards, practiced the art of analogy--or making connections between the natural world and a spiritual truth.  What else do I see today that helps me, by analogy, understand something about God?