Saturday, April 30, 2011

The You They Want

The last little girl just left my house after a small birthday party for my youngest daughter.

With a tight budget, we hosted a "garden party" theme.  This garden party included making greenhouses, taking swings at a butterfly pinata, and letting my extremely cool teenage neighbor come and do face-painting of butterflies, ladybugs, and anything the girls wanted.  Still, all the old insecurities rise up:  Is this fun enough?  Is it OK that it's not expensive? 

Just then, my daughter asks me to make the fruit platter.  Can I make it in the shape of a butterfly for the garden party?  If you remember the legendary Boo Platter (and my most memorable act), you know that I'm not crafty or skilled in these areas.  But we come up with this: 

It just so happens that this little platter steals the show.  And the greenhouses and the face-painting were exactly what these little girls wanted. 

When I'm tempted to compare myself to other mothers, I remember that God gave me these children.  He gives me ideas that are perfect for them.  And when the old insecurities rise up, I remember the fruit platter. 

Journal:  Do you realize you're the perfect person for the task God assigns?  It's you

Friday, April 29, 2011

Why Searching Should Be Part of This Day

Baby Squirrels
Do you know how hard it is to take a photograph of a baby squirrel?

Hard.  Very hard.  Baby squirrels are fast.

This week, we discover a nest of baby squirrels high up in the front yard tree.  I find myself looking out the window constantly just to catch a single glimpse of them.  They venture from the nest and explore the limbs, but when I approach the tree with a camera, they scurry back into their nest.

Can you just stay still for a second, Little Squirrel?

Baby Squirrel
I decide to bring a telescope to the side yard to spy on them from afar.  Yes, a telescope.  I realize the neighbors think I am crazy.  I wave my arms and point up to the tree.  "Baby squirrels!" I shout.     

Searching with the greatest intent and the greatest care, I finally see them.

All morning, I think about the search to see an unusual and wonderful sight in nature.   To search means to look thoroughly with the intent of finding.  That's how I study this nest in a tree, and that's how I want to approach this day.  That's the way I want to investigate my lingering questions, read scripture, and converse with someone else.  I'm searching--looking thoroughly--for that wonderful and unusual thing in store today. 

If I turn my eyes away, I might miss it.  

Living with flair means I'm a thorough searcher. 

Journal:  What activities today deserve my looking thoroughly

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Why (and How) I Wrote a Writing Book

I remember the exact moment when a student called out from the back of the room and said, "Dr. H., I just want to learn how to write!  I'm tired of all these grammar rules and fancy rhetorical terms!"

He wanted to write.  And the expensive grammar books weren't helping him.  I stood at the chalkboard, and I told him that every writer needs just five lessons.  I talked about the power of strong verbs and the need for sentence variation through punctuation marks like the semicolon and parentheses.  I talked about how to create rhythm by changing up the length of our sentences.  Then I talked about how to be clever using wordplay like repetition and puns.  Finally, I talked about how to build rapport with your readers.

That was it.  Class over.  I walked to my car and thought, "Somebody should really write a book about how to write in 5 easy lessons."

Remember my problem with saying, "Somebody should really. . . "? (I was that somebody.) 

So I did it.  Over my winter break, I wrote out the lessons.  I took my little writing handbook to a print shop, and I assigned it the next semester.  Students emailed me to tell me that their fraternity brothers or their parents or their cousins wanted copies.  Others would report that my book "changed everything" and now they had confidence in writing.  I found notes in my mailbox from students claiming that my verb lessons have made them amazing writers in all their other classes.

Maybe my life calling has something to do with verbs.  I'm OK with how nerdy that sounds.

With so many positive evaluations, I decided to publish How to Write with Flair and sell it as a real book.  I didn't know how, but I knew I was supposed to.

Within a few weeks, some strange things started happening.  A neighbor told me about, and I learned how to put a manuscript together.  Then, I discovered that the neighbor to my right was an editor the same week I learned my neighbor to my left was a professional typesetter.  They wanted to help me publish my book!  But I needed a cover design and an author photo.  No problem.  I found a photographer mom at gymnastics class (of all places!), and I remembered a dear friend who had a knack for graphic design. My whole community was helping me and encouraging me!

Yesterday, I started to sell my first book.  Who knows what will happen?  All I know is that living with flair means you move forward with crazy ideas because you think they might help someone.

PS:  You can find How to Write with Flair here:  

Journal:  Do you have an idea that you need to move on?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Gone in One Day

The weeping cherry has bloomed! The children hide underneath and make a fort.  We'll only have these blooms for ONE DAY.   The thunder storm will come, and by morning, the tree will be bare. 

My Weeping Cherry

But not yet.  The roar of a hundred buzzing bees greets you at my front door.  We stand there, risking the stings, just to hear it and gaze upon the blooms.

A neighbor comes to the door, says nothing, and merely points to the blossoms and puts his hand over his heart and closes his eyes.

You don't need words.

Later, the storm does indeed strip the leaves.  We will have to wait one whole year to see them again. 

Stripped in the Storm

It was glorious for that one day, and now, I turn my attention to other blooms.  There's a wild violet at my feet.  I see it differently--treasure it, cherish it--because my weeping cherry taught me it might be gone tomorrow. 

Wild Violets
Journal:  What would I treasure more if I knew it'd be gone tomorrow?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Best Day of Your Life

I wrote that title before the day even happened.  Did you choose to read this post because of the title?   More folks might read this if it said, "The Worst Day of Your Life," because studies report that we're attracted to pain and negativity. 

I'm teaching the power of a great title in my writing classes this week.  The title makes all the difference.  It determines whether I engage with the writing, how I engage with the writing, and why I'll keep reading.   The title gives a shape and a focus for a text, and that got me thinking about writing and living with flair. 

What if I titled my day?  What if I chose a title this morning that made me engage differently?  What if I shaped and focused this day by a title?  Here are some possible titles for a day:

The Day Everything Changed
The Day I Finally Did It
The Day I Became the Person I'm Supposed to Be
The Day I Surrendered Everything
The Day I Found Beauty in Pain
The Day I Rose Above My Circumstances
The Day I Laughed So Hard I Cried
The Day I Did the Thing I Feared the Most
The Day I Chose Happiness
The Day I Discovered How to Really Love Someone Else

Living with flair means I choose a title for my day.  And then I move forward and live it. 

Journal:  How did you title today?

Monday, April 25, 2011

How to Blog Every Day

When you blog for almost 400 days straight, sometimes you get emails asking how to blog every day.

The average blog lasts 6 weeks (42 days), and when I started Live with Flair, I wondered if blogging would stick for me.  Would it fizzle?  Would anyone read it?  Would this whole thing continue? 

It did.  I love it, and I look forward to it every day.  Sometimes I have 10 minutes to write.  Sometimes an entire hour clears.  Either way, I write.  And along the way, I figured out three secrets to blogging every single day.

Here they are: 

1.  You have to ask yourself a good question. 

My question for each day is simple:  Where's the flair?  This question means that blogging is my commonplace book--that treasury I keep of answers to a question.

There's a genuine question to answer today, and, as you've read before, I pray for the answer (usually in the shower when I'm tempted to feel grumpy about the day).  I have to believe that the answer to the question inspires someone else as well.  That's the second secret of daily blogging:   

2.  You have to believe that what you write will be good for someone else. 

I've talked to so many bloggers who don't think their thoughts are worth anything to anybody else.  These last few years, I've seen brilliant student writers refuse to share their work in class because they think it's "worthless" and "nobody cares."

What if we did?  What if your thoughts today could inspire a whole community?  We do care, and your thoughts can inspire

Living with flair means we ask good questions and build a treasury of wisdom to offer to others.  Sure critics will come against you.  Sure you'll think nobody cares.  But when you learn something and pass it on to others, you're engaging in an ancient art of recording wisdom for future generations.  Why wouldn't we blog every day?  Why wouldn't we ask ourselves philosophical questions every single day and tell someone what we think?

In this way, we also build a community of readers--fellow pilgrims--who join in and contribute their own wisdom.  It's a beautiful thing.  Right now, we can say "hello" to readers in Germany, New Zealand,  Nigeria, and Australia.  We can engage with readers from Turkey, the Netherlands, Taiwan, Russia, and Italy.  (Hello friends!) 

Blogging means I'm going international every day.  That's the final secret:

3.  You blog every day because you have an appointment with your readers.

I hope this post encourages fellow bloggers and reminds you why you started blogging in the first place. 

Journal:  What question am I trying to answer today?  Do I believe I have wisdom to share?  Do I have a community with whom I might share these thoughts?  We are all waiting to hear what you think!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Passage Through Thorns

On the way to the vernal pond, I notice how we can't even approach it unless we pass through the thorns.  There's no way around them. 

These thorns tangle and form a crown above us. 

This Easter, I think of the passage Christ paves through that crown of thorns he wore at the crucifixion.  And today, that beautiful resurrection means I enter in, and I'm free. 

A paradise awaits, but I have to pass through the thorns. 

Journal:  He is risen indeed!  Have I walked through that free passage, marked by the crown of thorns?   

Saturday, April 23, 2011

My Easter Tantrums

I could chronicle my life in tantrums.

Two years ago, I demanded new Easter dresses and complained that we didn't have reservations at the expensive place where all the neighbors have Easter brunch.  Can you believe it?  We were miserable in those dresses, and we changed into our shorts and t-shirts and ended up having a brunch of juice and popcorn out in the woods together.  Easter rose up in my heart that afternoon.

Last Easter, God reminded me of his grace when I witnessed a flair disaster.  It was a great Easter, and I didn't even think about dresses or brunches or new hats and shoes.  We didn't need any of it.   I actually woke up this morning thinking about how far I've come

But just now, I find myself complaining to my husband that he didn't get the Easter Egg Coloring Kit.  I fall apart because we haven't colored our eggs yet.  I actually raise my voice.  I'm throwing a tantrum about coloring eggs.  I thought I had come so far! 

I apologize to my husband and children, and as I stand in the kitchen, worrying that Easter's not going to be good enough because the cookies aren't right and the eggs aren't colored, I let out a huge sigh and cry out, "I need the real Easter!  I need it so badly." 

The real Easter is Jesus rising to save us from ourselves.  And just when I think I'm finished with these tantrums, I find the old self oozing out.  I'm glad it did.   I won't ever not need Him.  I won't ever be strong enough, mature enough, or wise enough to not need Jesus.  

I need the real Easter!  I need it so badly.

Journal:  Will I find the real Easter?

Friday, April 22, 2011

This Question Might Help You Rejoice Today

During breakfast, my husband announces: "The tire man really helped me rejoice today!" 

I know that some flair is coming.

"What do you mean?" 

"Well, when I dropped off the car at the tire shop, I told the man how thankful I was that this flat tire happened in a parking lot and not out on the road in traffic.  I could change it safely in that lot and not on the side of the road.  But then guess what he asked me?"


"'Was it raining?' And I said, 'No it wasn't!  It was the only hour all week that it wasn't raining!'  I was so thankful when I remembered that."

My husband remarks that the tire man simply asked the right question to help my husband rejoice in the midst of something inconvenient. 

Living with flair means I ask the right questions to realize all the ways God is indeed protecting and providing even in the midst of trouble. 

Journal:  Was there a time in my life that God protected and provided for me even during trouble? 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What Has to Die in Me?

This afternoon, I notice my winterberry bush budding in the backyard. 

Those blooms hold particular significance this Easter season because I've beheld their cycle this whole year.  I see death and resurrection, and I suddenly remember the importance of death

For months, this bush seemed more acquainted with death than life.    The brittle and barren branches! 

This bush endured the assault of ice storms.  Those branches seemed hopeless, trapped, and unchanging.

Things were being put to death in her.

Now, these new buds burst forth. 

I remember my winterberry bush when I think about God's work in my life.  I go through seasons when things have to die in me.  The soul in winter feels like death, but with every burial, there's a resurrection.  What will Jesus bring forth in us?  We await that bloom even when we cannot perceive the secret work happening deep within our souls.  

Journal:  What has to die in me this Easter?  What will God bring forth? 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Message in the Clouds

It's raining.

I look up into the clouds.  Rain falls because the water vapor becomes too heavy.  It leaks out. 

Yesterday, a friend remarks that when we are filled with God, He leaks out.  He overflows. 

It's as natural as rain falling. 

You need upward motion (cooling the water vapor, making it heavier) and moisture (from various sources) to get that cloud so saturated that it leaks out rain.   

I want to be soaked with God today.  Moving upward, adding in moisture, I want to leak out radical love.  There's nothing I have to do but fill up.  And the result can nourish whatever earth it falls upon. 

Living with flair means I soak up and leak out. 

Journal:  What's a favorite way to soak up God? 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Even in the Rain: The Best Part of the Week

I didn't think anybody would show up to Neighborhood Fitness Group.  It was raining and dreary; who wants to exercise in the rain?

But we can't help ourselves.  We love it. 

By the time I get the double-dutch jump ropes out, a group of children is already rolling down a hillside.  Then I look and see that my daughter has tied a kite to the back of her bike, and she rides as fast as she can to keep that kite flying.

You can't slow down.  That kite needs speed. 

Then, the best part of all, one of my college students shows up to teach the children how to play 4-Square.

I find myself right in the mix.  I play 4-Square.  I jump double-dutch.  I dance to the music from the car speakers.  It's raining, and I don't even notice. 

I realize that I need this.  I need to be part of my neighborhood.  I need to know folks by name, roll down a hill with them, and gather even in the rain.

On the walk to school this morning (in the pouring rain), two children announce how far they got in 4-Square.  "I was almost King!" they shout and pull on my sleeve.

Is this what they'll remember in 20 years?  Is this what they'll put into place in their own neighborhoods in another generation?

I'm starting to think that showing up at Monday Night Fitness Group is the best thing I do in a week.  Even in the rain, I'll be there next Monday. 

Journal:  What else can we do to build our neighborhood?

Monday, April 18, 2011


Cherry Blossom Buds
A weeping cherry tree sits outside my bedroom window.  This morning, my youngest daughter points out the bright pink buds.  Soon, we'll have a whole explosion of pink fireworks upon this little tree. 

The blooms won't last long.  The fleeting nature of cherry blossoms makes us that much more attentive to them.  We delight differently in a bloom like this.

We pay close attention.

It's a reminder today that things change quickly, and I miss the beauty of so much by simply not paying attention.  

Why is it so hard to pay attention?  Why can I walk by a house for two years and just this morning notice the beautiful pattern in the roofing?   Lately, I've become aware of how much I'm missing.

I carry my camera everywhere now.  Just in case.  I'm training my eye to see, and I'm training my heart to pay attention to every gesture of God--every message and allegory--in this day.  Today, it's a cherry blossom bud.  Pay attention, it cries out.  There's something to notice today, and it might be gone tomorrow.

Journal:  How can I train myself to pay attention? 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Do You Get Territorial?

My One-Eyed cat, Jack, taught me something else last night.  You can read his whole journey of healing here: Jack's Story

Are you ready to see something strange and wonderful about these little cats?  Well, they each choose a child to "protect" in the night.  Louie curls up by the oldest daughter, and Jack guards the youngest.  Every night at bedtime, they assume their posts in each respective bedroom.  It's been this way all year. 

Last night, the girls want to have a sleepover in the oldest daughter's bed.  Jack innocently follows the youngest wherever she happens to be sleeping.  But Louie is the alpha male cat, and this is his territory.  Normally, he'll hiss and claw at Jack if he even dares to approach the bed.

Jack has an assignment, though.  He's on a mission to guard the youngest, so he dutifully curls up at her feet right next to where Louie guards the oldest.

A staring contest ensues.  Jack's one eye doesn't even blink. 

Finally, Louie recognizes Jack's purpose here.  No fighting, no clawing.

As I tuck the girls in for the night, I realize that Jack has a specific role now that everyone acknowledges and supports.  And in the midst of this service, enemies are brought together.

There's something more important than our need to control or our need to be territorial. Jack knows this.  He risked the danger to do what he was supposed to do.  And Louie let him, risking his own position and power. 

And in case you're wondering where Snowflake serves in the midst of all this, well, she's recovering from a Bridal Shower where she sat peacefully on the couch in a bridal veil.

And then she came to sleep at my feet. 

Journal:  Am I afraid to do certain things because it's someone's "territory?"  Do I need to let others serve even if I think they are in my "territory?"

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Loving the Thing You Hate

I walk outside, and hundreds of bees swarm around my ankles.  And I'm allergic!  I carry an epi-pen every day, and for me, these bees represent death.

I look closely, and I see dozens of nesting sites for bees.  They cover the side yard. I quickly call out for the girls to run inside to safety.

I phone my entomologist friend (everyone needs one of these) who comes over to help me.  Where did these bees come from?  Are they killer bees?

My friend examines the bees and proclaims how fortunate I am that they have chosen my yard.  Not only are these bees harmless and not aggressive, but in Pennsylvania, they are also considered the best early pollinators.

She picks one up, and she shows me how each female bee constructs an individual nest to lay eggs in.  I'm actually watching it happen right before my eyes.  Not one tries to sting, not one even flinches.  

I was ready to call the exterminator, and now I'm enamored with these harmless bees.   I lean down and see a mother in her little home, getting ready to lay her eggs. 

Far away, you can hardly see her, but close up, you can. 

I think about how much fear I had.  I think about how I was ready to exterminate.  But these little bees are gifts to my garden.  They are indispensable on the journey to produce fruit.

Living with flair means I stop and look more closely at the things in my life I want to exterminate.   This thing I hate, this thing that I'm running from, might be God's gift to produce great fruit in me later.

And when you look deeper, you find yourself delighted by this terrible thing that actually looks really cute.   Look at that little bee!  I'm glad they came to my garden.

Journal:  Might I rejoice in these pesky things that God sends to produce fruit?

Friday, April 15, 2011

What to Do with Your Fear

Last night, my daughter can't sleep because of nightmares.  She's terrified.  I ask her to come beside me so we can pray for Jesus to take away all her fears.

"Don't ask Him to take away all my fears," she responds.  "I need some of them." 

"Which ones do you need?" 

"The ones that keep me safe, you know, from bad places and dangerous things," she explains. 

Some fear is good, I realize.

Just that afternoon at the pond, I find myself overcome by fear.  A snake slithers across my garden shoes, and I nearly run back home, leaving my children behind.  It moves into the water, and suddenly, the whole landscape changes.

Snake in the Pond

The beautiful pond turns ominous, deadly, haunted.  My beautiful secret pond has trees with claws and thorns set as traps for my arms and legs. 

I actually can't breathe for a minute. 

The Trees Have Claws

Snakes!  They really are out here.  But then I find my camera, and I notice the way the late afternoon sun covers the whole place.  When I see what the sun reflects, I perceive beauty again.  It's the kind of beauty that always lives alongside danger and fear. 

Put back in context, I realize that a little garden snake and an old tree don't have any power here.  There's something greater in these woods.  The fear is real, but there's always something greater than our fear.  It's the power of God.  It illuminates this path, covers everything, and lets us run with freedom. 

Running with Freedom
Some fear is good.  But when fear consumes and paralyzes us, we have to remember who is greater than our fear. 

Journal:  What fears do I need to put in the right context today? 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Turning Point Statement

During the summer of 1994, a friend told me she thought I had the spiritual gift of encouragement.  She posted a little note by my bed.  It said, "You are an encourager."  I remember exactly what it looked like--the handwriting, the color--and how it felt to have someone name something like that about me.  My friend saw what I couldn't see. 

That single comment shaped the next 15 years of my life.  I wasn't just an average girl; I was a hope giver, a courage finder, and an inspiration provider.  I wasn't just a nobody.  God wanted to use me to point others towards a beautiful future. 

It took someone naming it to help me see it. 

I had a student who told me that of all my weeks and weeks of teaching, the most memorable thing from my class was a single comment I wrote on one of his many essays.

In the margin of his paper, I wrote:  "You sound like a great teacher right here."   He was overwhelmed that I named that in him, and he later wrote about his dreams for graduate school to become a teacher.  As my husband and I discussed these turning point comments, he told me he remembered the exact words of a Scout leader who pointed out some unique gifts he saw in my husband.   Those were turning point words. 

Today, as I guide students through their memoir drafts, I realize that I'm not naming what I see enough.  I wonder what I need to name in my children, in my friends, and in my students.  I see this in you.  Maybe God will use it to shape a life.  Maybe those words will be a turning point for someone today.

Journal:  Did someone speak "turning point words" to you when you were younger?  Can you speak a "turning point word" to someone in your life today? 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Do You Need a Tickle Fight Today? I Do.

Tickling.  My youngest daughter loves to have tickle fights.

Being tickled drives me crazy.  Tickling is the last thing I need today.  I have laundry, dishes, lesson plans. . . There's no time for this nonsense. 

But she absolutely loves it.  Last night, I'm reading to her in bed, and she leans over and starts tickling me.  She's laughing so hard (and she's not even the one being tickled).  She throws her head back and laughs with that open-mouth-can't-catch-your-breath laughter.

I keep myself still as stone, and then, just when her laughter turns to concern that she's somehow frozen her own mother, I pounce on her with tickles.

This morning, the two of us (now experts in guerrilla tickling), attack an unsuspecting father and older sister in the kitchen.  They're too old for tickling, but somehow, they can't resist the game.

Maybe we're never too old for tickling.

Did God make tickling for any good and useful biological reason?  I love that it's spontaneous and supremely useless in terms of productivity.  But we needed it today.  I suddenly remember how this big flair project began.  I did something else in my kitchen that changed the whole feeling of the day:  I danced in the kitchen.

Then I asked, "What is it about the spontaneous, the supremely useless, and the silly that lets the joy in?"

Tickling made this morning have flair.  It let some joy in.  

Journal:  Who needs a tickle today?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

It's Like Victoria Falls

Last night, I show my daughters the footage from Discovery Channel's Human Planet of the fisherman in Zimbabwe who brave a waterfall to catch their supper.  As the greatest source of natural power, Victoria Falls cascades down for 360 feet.  We watch, fascinated at the beauty and power of it.  It's a sublime encounter just to experience it in film:  I feel fear and wonder simultaneously.

Later, I'm reading a book about the power source of God within us.  The author compares knowing God to having power deep within that far surpasses even Victoria Falls.  I'm struck by the fact that I had just seen the footage of this waterfall two minutes before.

I think about that power.  It seems a little terrifying, a little dangerous.  But it also seems beautiful and wonderful.  It's a visual reminder I can't stop thinking about today.  Is the power of God like that in me?  And what do I need power for?

For everything.  I need God's power for everything, especially that very thing I think I cannot do.

I send a message to a struggling mother to tell her about this power within her.  "It's like Victoria Falls.  Remember that."  

Living with flair means I tap into that power source today.

(photo, "Victoria Falls Zambezi," Creative Commons, author Zest-pk)
Journal:  Do I live like I have that power within me?  What would I dare try if I was certain of this power? 

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Text Message I'm Waiting For

The text will arrive sometime today.  I don't know when.

All it will ask is, "What do you see?"

Today marks the beginning of the "What Do You See?" campaign on campus.  Students in the graduate student campus ministry receive a random text message from my husband every day for two weeks.  When I receive the text question, I'm challenged to do three things:

1. Look up and see who is around me.

2. Pause and pray for a few moments, asking God to open my eyes and to show me how He sees those who are around me.

3. Think about what God shows me and contemplate how that is different from how I typically see that person/those people.

I'm also challenged to record what happens--who I see and what I do about it--when I get that text.   

The last time I agreed to this challenge, I received the texts at the most inconvenient times.  Every person in my path seemed angry and unapproachable.  But I'd look down at my phone and see the question, "What do you see?" and pray for God to show me what He sees instead.

I found courage to stop my minivan and ask my neighbor how she was doing.  I turned to complete strangers in elevators and perceived them in light of eternity.  I looked up and saw the office assistant as precious to God.

In John's gospel account, I learn that Jesus tells the disciples to "open their eyes" and see the fields are ripe for harvest.  Jesus tells the disciples to "open their eyes" right after His encounter with the Samaritan woman (who everybody saw as an outcast).  Jesus saw her differently.

I pray my eyes are opened today to see people as God sees them.  I don't know where I'll be when that text comes, but I pray I have the courage to love the way God does.  Eventually, I won't need a text message to remind me to see folks in my path differently, but for these two weeks, I'm training my heart to love. 

Journal:  What do you see as you read this?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Home You Take With You

This morning, I remember my daughter's explanation of "The Warm Welcome" from October.  As I clear the breakfast dishes, refold the green blanket on the couch, plump the pillows, and reposition the bright yellow daffodils in a cobalt blue vase, I tell her I'm orchestrating my own Warm Welcome.

I want to come home to order and beauty. 

In church, I think about the inner landscape of home and the Warm Welcome I have when I respond to God.  As the poet writes in Psalm 90, "Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout the generations."  I come home to that spiritual dwelling place within my own heart where the Holy Spirit waits for me, and I find the kind of peace and sanctuary I need.  I'm home. 

It's not a location.  I carry it with me. 

That means it doesn't matter where I am.  And it means I can offer others a dwelling place they can have with them always, even when they are very far from home. 

Journal:  What does it mean to be "home"? 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Live Video of Baby Eagles!

If you haven't already seen the live video stream of the Decorah Eagles in their nest in Iowa, you might want to.  The nest rests 80 feet in the air, weighs 1 and 1/2 tons, and contains 3 fuzzy eaglets and two majestic parents.

I keep checking in on them.  My students, my neighbors, and my family visit the nest online and watch the eaglets.  I realize this morning that I'm observing in nature what no human eye could ever see before.  It's amazing to think that right now, in Iowa, little eaglets grow. 

Just to know, just to peek in on it, brings wonder to our Saturday Morning Pancakes. 

Journal:  What makes these eagles so fascinating? 

Friday, April 8, 2011

When You Stop Resisting God

Last week, I was asked to write a piece on depression and Lent for The High Calling.  At my lowest point, I imagined God asking the question, "Will you live the life I ask you to live?"  I was humbled and so encouraged by the comments on this little essay called, The Best Question.  (Click the link and enjoy.)

Yesterday, I'm walking to the vernal pond and recalling that depression.  I remember how many years I resisted the reality of my life.  It didn't look like it was supposed to.  But God knows what I don't know; He sees what I don't see.  But I wasn't ready to surrender. 

Humbled again, I'm silenced as I walk in the woods.

We find our secret pond, and on the surface, I see the blue sky reflected. 

My daughters peer deeply, waiting patiently.  All of a sudden, we see the new frog and salamander eggs.  They might even be turtle eggs. 

Then, the water's surface trembles:  little salamanders, spotted bright red and orange dart beneath the leaves.

Can you see that one hiding?  

I look out, and I see an entire pond filled with eggs, and tiny creatures move about everywhere. Those white cottony puffs are great big globs of frog eggs.  Next week, we'll see unimaginable numbers of tadpoles.

As I think about my life (the one I resisted all those years), I hear another whisper of the Spirit.  I look deep into that pond, and I see how fertile, how bountiful, how rich and teeming this exact spot is.

This very spot where I find myself (no matter how wrong) will produce life in abundance as I cooperate with God.  And when nothing seems to be happening, I just have to look beneath the surface.  

Journal:  Will I live the life God asks me to live? 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

What My Daughter Hid Behind the Piano

I'm sitting in my rocking chair, taking just a moment to catch my breath and talk to God, when I notice something sparkling in the corner of the room.  It's actually sparkling from behind the piano.  Someone has hidden something back there. 

It's my daughter's diary--the one with the glitter cover--that she asked for last June.  Our piano sits in the corner of the living room, and if you squeeze behind it, you find yourself in a little dark alcove.  It's the perfect hiding place for a child and her diary.  (I ask my daughter for her permission to blog about this secret, and she says, "Yes, and tell people it's too hard to think when there's a crowd around you. Sometimes you have to hide.")

She hides back there, writing down her secret thoughts, and then she locks the diary and tucks it far back into the corner.  She says it's important to think about the good and bad of each day--just to know it and work it all out

I imagine that dark behind-the-piano solitude, and I wish I could fit back there today.  That journal's flashy cover catching my eye all day beckons me to go hide and think for a while. 

It reminds me to leave my children alone sometimes and just let them think about things

Living with flair means hiding away at some point today to think about things.  And it means letting others do the same.

Journal:  Do I have a hiding place to go and think about things? 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Your Fresh Start

This morning my daughter brings out her whiteboard easel and draws me a coconut palm.  She says, "Mom, you will love this." My coconut obsession has infiltrated my daughter's imagination. 

She carefully chooses the right dry erase markers.  A whiteboard offers the kind of freedom and mistake-proof activity just right for her age.  Permanent errors do not exist with whiteboards.  You just start fresh with a simple wipe of a cloth. 

"Let's start fresh," is a phrase we repeat in our family, not just with the whiteboard, but after disagreements, complaining, failures, or bad moods.  We give a hug and say again, "Let's start fresh."

Reading about whiteboards, we discover that the non-porous surface means the ink cannot sink in, and even if it could, the dry erase markers have a chemical compound that makes the ink dry too fast for staining.  So the color rests on top, and you can wipe it away, leaving no residue on the surface.

Living with flair means we work as a whiteboard.  No matter what happens today, we can start fresh right now.  This failure doesn't sink in and doesn't stain.  We don't let it.  We start fresh. 

Journal:  Who needs a fresh start today?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Listen to This Story

Vernal Pond in PA
Today, I had time to listen to different folks tell me a story.

I ask a neighbor to tell me the story about how she moved from one county to another.

I ask a complete stranger to tell me the story of how she transferred from one college to another.

Both women said, "It's a long story."

I said, "I have time."

I decide I want to have the time in my life to listen to long stories.

I'm teaching memoir writing this month for the college seniors. They have incredible and beautiful stories deep inside that nobody has yet asked them to tell.

I wonder how many people we encounter each day who have incredible and beautiful stories deep inside.

They are in there, hidden away like a secret vernal pond.

Living with flair means I encourage others to tell the story inside of them.  It's been an amazing day because I've lived the adventure of listening.

And here's the picture of me listening to the sound of snow falling on the vernal pond.  Thank you, Jennifer, for being part of my story.

(photo taken today by Jennifer Kelly and her fancy phone)
Journal:  What if I asked this person to tell me his or her story?

Monday, April 4, 2011

You Can't Touch This

It's finally warm enough to visit the vernal ponds in the woods behind our house. 
A  Vernal Pond

Last week, I didn't know what a vernal pond was. 

It's a temporary pool of water, normally full of rain or melted snow, that lasts through the spring.  What makes a vernal pond so special is the absence of predator fish. 

Without fish, a vernal pond allows all the toads, frogs, turtles, salamanders, and newts to develop and thrive without being devoured.  You can go to the vernal pond, examine all the eggs, spy on tadpoles and baby turtles, and pick up salamanders. 

I learn that in Pennsylvania, nobody knows how many vernal ponds exist or where they are.   These secret ponds evaporate and hide. The PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources sends researchers deep into the woods to locate, certify, and protect these wondrous locations.

What child (and her mother) can resist the mission to discover a secret habitat? 

And how can I not relish the symbolism of such a beautiful concept?  Just as the forest depends upon that temporary safe haven that cultivates what cannot develop elsewhere, I might form my own vernal ponds--deep within my soul, secret and safe from predators--where the things of God breed and develop.

This new season of birth and growth in nature reminds me to protect my own inner habitat from things that devour my hope and energy.  And I want to be the kind of wife, mother, and friend that protects the places deep within the heart where others are growing and changing.  I ask myself and others what we need to thrive.  I live with flair by developing habitats where what needs to grow in us can and will.  Untouched by predators, not threatened by what devours, we have a season to thrive. 

(photo from Wikimedia Commons, Werewombat) 

Journal:  What do I need to do to create a thriving habitat both internally and externally in myself and others? 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Loving by Faith

This morning, I remember the simplest of truths:  I love others by faith.  There's a supernatural, unconditional, pure and deep love that God wants to produce in me for others (and myself).  But I cannot conjure it from my own flesh.  I cannot think or feel my way into loving folks that, for whatever reason, are difficult for me to love. 

And God commands I love others--especially enemies, especially the unlovable--with that pure and deep love.

Impossible!  Yes.  In my own strength, it is impossible. 

I pull a little booklet off of the dusty bookshelves.  It's How You Can Love by Faith, by Bill Bright.  I flip through the pages, hungry for the truth there.  He writes:

"God has an unending supply of His divine, supernatural, agape love for you.  It is for you to claim, to grow on, to spread to others, and thus to reach hundreds and thousands with the love that counts, the love that will bring them to Jesus Christ. In order to experience and share this love, you must claim it by faith; that is, trust His promise that He will give you all that you need to do His will on the basis of His command and promise."

Suddenly, I'm parenting my girls with the pure, deep love of God flowing through me.  I'm overwhelmed with divine love for my husband, my neighbors, my students, myself.

When God gives a command in scripture, He gives the power to fulfill it.  Living with flair means I enter, by faith, into that divine flow of agape love.  I love the unlovable.  I love the ones hardest to love.  I love in a way that counts. 

Journal:  Bill Bright suggests I make a list of folks in my life that are hard to love.  Then, I choose to love them by faith. I'm to ask the Holy Spirit "to fill [me] with Christ's love for each of them", then pray for them and think of ways to tangibly demonstrate love to them.   Will I love by faith this week?   

Saturday, April 2, 2011

What Needs to Go?

I'm standing in my daughter's room, and we touch every item and decide whether we need it anymore.

We are making space.  Saturday cleaning day means deep cleaning for Spring.  We pile up books we never read, clothes we never wear, and toys we don't use into one big heap to donate.   Afterward, the room seems to open up into this beautiful expanse.  The older daughter can actually turn cartwheels all around the room with that kind of space.

With space like this, the girls create and imagine.  I can't get them to leave that room.

We release objects from our grasp.  We let things go to make room, not just for more stuff, but for an emptiness we need in order to thrive.  For example, I learn that most folks only wear 1/3 of their wardrobe on a regular basis.   It's true.  My youngest has four or five outfits that she wants to wear over and over again.  She chooses between those alone.  The rest?  We donate.

Her choices are now clearer and her decisions less stressful.  She thrives with less.

I look at my life today and think about reducing down to the important 1/3 of it.   What about this clutter in my mind?  All the worries, all the stress?

I wonder if 1/3 of what I think about actually matters for eternity.

I want spacious places.  When I get to those places in my heart and in my home, I barricade my life against the onslaught of more that we seem to suck in, like a vortex, as soon as space clears. 

1.  Find the 1/3 that matters.
2.  Give away the rest.
3.  Keep the spacious places open. 

That's how I'm living with flair on this Saturday Cleaning Day. 

Journal:  What needs to go?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Hammering Against Your Life

I'm walking down the sidewalk in the freezing, dreary, and muddy slosh of an April snow.

It's quiet and bleak.

Then, I hear a group of little children above me shrieking with laughter.  But it's not little children--it can't be.  I turn circles and look up into the trees as I follow the strange sounds.

Then, I see them--bright and vibrant, loud and swift--flying loops around the trees.  Set against the white snow, that bright red head makes me pause with wonder.  They can't hide on such a stark day.  One of them lands.  I don't have my camera, but I find this picture of what I saw:  Pileated woodpeckers darting and then landing right in front of me.  Their cheerful calls sound like giggling children. 

The funny thing about quiet, bleak days is that everything else, by contrast, is that much more vibrant.  I stand and watch them for what seems like hours.  Those woodpeckers persist in hammering against that hard surface until they find the sustenance they need.

I remember the own hard places of my circumstances.  I think about hammering against them, gripping tightly, until I find the good and beautiful thing that nourishes my soul for the day.

I love observing these woodpeckers.  And I know it required a snowstorm and a stark April day to allow it.

(first photo courtesy of Noel Lee, second photo courtesy of Rwdanielsnhncm, Creative Commons)

Journal:  What hard circumstance might I hammer down into to find beauty?