Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Becoming a People Gatherer

Lately, my community has been reflecting on how we came together.  We've been in the news twice because others folks take notice of this strange phenomenon. 

In the last few years, we learned the art of gathering.  To gather means to cause to come together. 

We figure out a reason to come together, and each neighbor brings his or her own flair.  In the midst of ladies lunches, the play date for Dads, Saturday pancakes, Monday Night Fitness (which grew from 4 people to 50!), community service projects, walking to school, potluck dinners, birthday celebrations, living room singer-songwriter concerts, or whatever else might happen in a week, we consciously decide to do it together. 

We resist the temptation towards isolation.   And we gather, even if the invitation puts us into unusual situations with folks we aren't used to.  Whatever we are doing, we ask ourselves, "Which family can I invite along?" 

Living with flair means finding a reason to bring the neighbors together.  You have to pick up your phone or go door-to-door.  Whatever it takes, you fight isolation and gather people into community.  And once everybody has a place to belong, we all flourish and discover this is how it was meant to be. 

Journal:  What families do I need to gather into my community? 

Monday, May 30, 2011

We Could Hardly Wait for This!

We could hardly wait.

No, it wasn't anything electronic, expensive, or fashionable.  It wasn't anything involving travel, tickets, or long lines for amusements.

It was a single red strawberry (our first one) in the strawberry patch.

First Ripe Strawberry

The squeals of laughter!  The bare feet running across the morning grass!  Living with flair has taught me that the whole family can take great delight in the profoundly simple.  This strawberry represents nearly two years of waiting.  Last year, we couldn't let the plant produce in order to let the roots go deep.  Then, with the help of compost and netting to keep the birds and chipmunks away, we observed those green strawberries growing.

Every single morning we went out to check on the patch.

My youngest daughter just said, "This is the most awesomest day!  I can't believe I picked a strawberry!"

It was delicious.  All of us had a bite in the kitchen.

Living with flair means simple, patient, ordinary living.  You don't need any other life. 

And today especially, I'm so thankful for the men and women who fought and died to make these ordinary days possible. 

Journal:  Tell us all something about your ordinary life.  What beautiful thing happens in your ordinary day?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Great Big Show-Off

This morning in the garden, I turn the corner towards my little peony plant.  Every time these buds fully bloom, I always think to myself, "Now that's just showing off!"  A peony is just an over-the-top kind of flower.  What flair! 

Pink Peony in Full Bloom

I lean in to observe what seems just like all the popular ruching patterns I see all over skirts and shirts this season.  God indeed clothes nature in a kind of splendor we can only copy.  I look up that word, "splendor," because I begin to recall how frequently it appears in Scripture.  It means magnificent, gorgeous, and brilliantly distinct.  I find references all over the Bible that we worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness and majesty.  I also learn that God says we are His "splendor" and that He displays His "splendor" in us

Peony Ruching
He shows off in us.  I even read that the splendor the Lord gives makes our beauty perfect.  

I finally recall when Jesus says, “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?"  

God is all splendor.  He displays that splendor in us.  When I look at peonies showing off, I remember a magnificent, gorgeous, and brilliantly distinct God who, in turn, clothes us with all we need to display that kind of splendor.  I want to open my eyes and see that splendor in every face I meet today. 

The Splendor of the Peony

Journal:  What else do you observe that makes you laugh and say, "Now that's just showing off"?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sally Smith Says, "You Can't Fall Apart Over Things Like This."

Last night I watch a woman, Sally Smith, standing in the rubble of her mother's home in Joplin.  She turns to Anderson Cooper and says, "You can't fall apart over things like this."

I burst into tears.  Can you imagine your whole life crumbling around you and saying that?  What does she know that I don't?  Sally Smith is firm in her resolve, smiling.  She picks up the pieces of dolls, trying to identify fragments.  Anderson asks her where you even start to build your life again after a tornado like this.

"I don't know what I'm going to do, but it will work out.  It will."

Anderson notices her t-shirt, and she says, "Life is good.  God does not give us anything we can't handle.  I know His hand is in it; I've seen too many things.  We'll be fine.  Saying good-bye to things is hard. . .

Anderson says, "You're about the most optimistic person I've met in a long time."

That's when she says, "You cannot fall apart over things like this."

Sally Smith has the faith, strength, and courage of a woman who lives with flair.  I just love her.  Will I ever be the kind of woman who can look in the face of disaster and proclaim the kind of truth that she can? 

Journal:  When I'm complaining about any disappointment today, I'm going to remember Sally Smith in the rubble.  Where can you say, "You cannot fall apart over things like this"?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Moving Ahead Despite Danger and Uncertainty

I wait for the Northern Cardinals to leave.   I lean in, snap the photograph, and then get out of there before I'm pecked to death or beaten with a mother bird's wings.

Northern Cardinals Growing in the Nest

I don't even check the photos until I'm safe inside.

Sleeping Northern Cardinals

It's the same caution I take when I photograph a snake or a snapping turtle.  The best photographs involve an element of danger.

Living with flair sometimes includes danger.  We take risks; we move out of comfort zones; we endure the possibility of harm.  Why?  Because there's beauty and joy right on the other side.  I wonder, too, if moving deeper into a life of faith requires confronting danger--seen and unseen--because that's the only way to have a clear picture of the power and victory of knowing God.  That's the only way to grow faith.

If I only move ahead in my life into safe and obvious directions, maybe I need to think more about choosing avenues that call for the kind of faith that I want to have.

So I face the danger, and I move out in faith.  There's a beautiful picture waiting. 

Journal:  Do I need to move ahead despite danger and uncertainty?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

I Forgot to Tell You. . .

I forgot to tell you that the lilacs are blooming.  That's what we smell on the walk to school.  We bury our noses in lilacs.  When we get the mail?  Lilacs!  When we open the doors to our homes, it all lilacs--all the way down the road.

Lilacs Blooming

Lilac doesn't even give you a choice about it; no matter what you're thinking about or feeling, you'll notice the rich smell, close your eyes and just enjoy it for a moment. 


The forced nature of that lilac scent--overpowering, insistent, saturated--made me think about how, sometimes, we need some forced pleasure because we're too stubborn, too negative, too worried, or too sad to enjoy anything anymore.  The lilac cries out, "I'm here, and you're breathing, so enjoy this, will ya?

Living with flair means receiving the joy today.

Journal:  What is insisting that you enjoy it today?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Do You Know a Mama Like This?

Do you remember the Italian Mama?  She taught me how to have a soundtrack to my life a year ago as I learned about sauce.  Then I studied meatballs and how to clothe both them and my own children.  In November, she instructed me in the fine art of relaxing and throwing those meatballs.  In December (during that awful cold) she brought enough baked ziti, turkey noodle soup, bread, and chocolate to feed a village.

Today, just when I needed it most, she hosted an Italian Mama's Lunch.  Since I'm partly Italian (and studying how to be an Italian Mama), I skipped down the street like a little girl going to her first party.  I couldn't wait!  I arrived to this: 

Roasted peppers, tomatoes, basil, four types of cheeses, meats, olives, artichokes, fresh bread, cannoli desserts, and freshly ground espresso comprised this lunch.  As we dined, I learned that Italian Mamas are always authentic, passionate, honest, generous, and so vibrant that they literally have to hug you, use hand gestures for every word, and talk about everything.  

Italian Mamas live with a particular kind of flair.  They can hold the whole neighborhood in their embrace.  Whatever suffering--whatever hunger--they can soothe it.  I know this:  Everyone needs an Italian Mama for a neighbor.  And even though I'm still learning how to be one, I know that I can also be that Italian Mama for someone else.  I want to live that passionately and generously.  I want to hug you and talk about everything.

Journal:  Do you know a Mama like this?  Are you one of them? 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Desperate and Dependent

The Northern Cardinal eggs hatched this morning!

Baby Northern Cardinals

Fresh from their shells, those little mouths open so wide!   Feed me!  Feed me!

I love the desperation in those little beaks (especially the baby bird on the left).   So dependent!   Those eyes cannot see yet.  Those wings don't flap.  They contribute nothing.  I later learn that the father bird comes and feeds the baby birds.  There's something precious about this as I consider the truth in Psalm 81, where another Father commands his people to do nothing except one thing:  "Open wide your mouth and I will fill it." 

Might I lean back, open wide my life (even when I can't see the path) and let God fill me?  Desperate and dependent characterizes another way to live with flair.  We're baby Northern Cardinals, opening wide to the Father's provision today. 

Journal:  Have you found God's provision when you are desperate and dependent on Him?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Can You Guess What This Is?

It's my daughter holding the remains of a turtle egg.

Turtle Egg
This weekend, I went for a walk along the Rappahannock River.  As I walked along, I started to hope--against the odds--that I might find a turtle.

On the Banks of the River
I always look for turtles.  I rarely find them.  (There was that one strange day when I tried to lure a turtle out from under my porch.) Turtles and I have a strange history.  I can remember every single one I've ever found.  When I think about turtles, they symbolize all the Good Things, all the Enchanted Wonder, all the Beautiful Hope of childhood.

Have you found a turtle and felt this way?

So I'm walking along the river, hoping for something as silly as a turtle.  

And lo and behold! 

Turtle Laying Eggs

 The whole landscape becomes a turtle heaven!

Turtle Eggs
The mountain laurel hides their nests. 

Hiking Through Mountain Laurel
I look down, and I find another one. 

Turtle Hiding in the Leaves
Mountain Laurel Blooming

 And then another. 
Another Turtle
 It was a great day.

Then, as if those turtles weren't enough, I saw three more when I went on a walk with my sister in another part of the state.

Those turtles remind me of abundance and delight.  If I hunt, I will find. 

Journal:  Do you remember finding turtles?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Believing the Best

My daughters were flower girls in a wedding yesterday.   Their job was to follow the bride everywhere, keep their satin dresses clean, and smile.   I envisioned disaster the whole morning.  I could just see my youngest stepping on the bride's train and sending her flying on her face.  I could just picture the oldest one stomping off in protest of having to stand still for the entire ceremony. 

I became a controlling, negative mother as I worried about their performance.  Those girls were going to ruin everything.

I imagined the worst.  I really did. 

But when the moment came, I turned and saw my girls walking perfectly down the aisle, casting rose petals left and right.  When I saw them standing still and smiling for 30 minutes, and when I saw how they gazed at the bride and floated around her like little angels, I felt ashamed at my own lack of faith in them. 

I'm a mom who imagines the worst instead of believing the best.  Something changed in my heart yesterday.  Instead of anticipating their failure, I learned to delight in those little girls.  I want to believe the best from now on.  Not just in parenting, but in marriage and in friendship.  And what about my relationship with God?  Do I believe the best instead of anticipating disaster? 

Living with flair means believing the best about people. 

Journal:  Who needs you to believe the best about him or her? 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Moodiness to Marvelous

We're in a new town for a wedding, and we ask the pastor where we might go for breakfast this morning.

This is the pastor who describes this little town as "ordinary people who serve an extraordinary God."  He leans over and tells us we can go to all the normal breakfast places, but if we really want the best place, we need to go to Java Jacks.

Java Jacks looks like a run-down house on the side of the road!  This can't be the place.  A dog named Samson sits by the side door waiting for a sample of sausage.  But the pastor said this was the place, so we enter.

I have one of the best breakfasts (in the quirkiest settings) I can remember in a long time. (By the way, a "Jacks" is a little funnel cake they serve on the side of your blueberry pancakes and crab omelets.)

I love finding people who know the local scene.  You have to leave the beaten path, not judge by appearances, and be willing to go on an adventure. 

I used to detest traveling.  All my anxiety and bad moods would flare up in resistance as soon as I packed the car.  But not anymore.  Living with flair has set me on a journey to find the extraordinary thing--often off the beaten path--that nobody else notices.  When I travel, it's now anticipation instead of anxiety.  It's marveling instead of moodiness.

Journal:  What's the best kept secret in your town?  A coffee shop?  A bookstore?

Friday, May 20, 2011

After a Rain Shower

It stops raining, and so we go outside just to take a look at things. The peony might just bloom this weekend.

Peony Soon

And maybe the yellow iris. 

Yellow Iris Almost Here

The weeping cherry won't bloom for us again this year, but if we part the leaves like a great green curtain, we can enter a secret chamber.  The limbs embrace us, hanging low to the ground.  I'm a grown woman, and yet I can't resist burrowing deep within the tree.  From the street, you'd just see a tree with blue garden shoes sticking out from below.

Within the Weeping Cherry

Living with flair means going outside to just take a look and finding yourself inside a tree. 

Journal:  Do you have tree memories? 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

On the Cheap

Who would have thought that living with flair could be. . . cheap!  I used to think that budgets and coupons and delayed gratification (blah, blah, blah) meant limitation.  But it actually offers me a different kind of freedom.  I'm free not to buy.  Imagine! 

Just today, my daughter and I made homemade hazelnut frappuccino drinks because you can make anything good with a blender, ice, and something sweet.  You put out some ingredients on the counter, start pouring things into the blender, and you ask--wide-eyed and smiling--"What can we make with this?" 

It was better than Starbucks.  I mean it.

Earlier, I took the advice of my world-traveling neighbor that you don't need to buy expensive craft kits or distractions for your children when you travel in the minivan.

"You just need one thing," she says.  This is the woman who drove her children from Pennsylvania to Washington in her minivan last summer.  "And it will cost you less than five dollars."

"What?"  I'm taking notes.

"Pipe cleaners!"  She tells me that if you hand a child a bunch of pipe cleaners, they can make whole villages of imaginary animals and flowers.  "There's no mess on the floor, either."

I'm going to buckle them into their seats, hand them some pipe cleaners, and simply ask, "What can we make with this?"  

I like living on the cheap.  It's never felt more creative.

Journal:  How do you live on the cheap?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Who Needs You to Listen to Them?

Every few months or so, I'll get a migraine headache that forces me to get in bed.   

Last night, I crawl into my daughter's bed, and she joins me.  At 7:00 PM--two hours before her bedtime.  

The little one finds her pajamas, brushes her teeth, and snuggles up on the other side of me.

For two hours, we stay there.  I listen to exactly 35 diary entries that chronicle my daughter's 3rd grade year.  I listen to a debate about which glitter pen is actually better--red or blue.  Then I listen to prayer requests straight from the heart of a child.  I hear about best friends, arguments, crushes. 

For two hours, I listen because it doesn't feel good to talk or to move. 

I need to get sick more often.

Journal:  What can I change in my schedule so I have time to listen to family members?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

2 Ways to Fight Envy

Sometimes, what keeps us from living with flair is a deep-rooted sin.

I've been thinking about the spiritual disease of envy today.  It creeps into the soul and causes the kind of devastation that leaves us depressed, angry, imprisoned, and lonely.  We know we're being controlled by envy when we cannot rejoice in the prosperity of others.  We know envy has taken root when we secretly feel better about ourselves when we hear of the misfortune of others. 

These are deep, ugly, honest things.  Living with flair means we expose them and live in the truth.  When we compare ourselves to others and then find ourselves wanting more, we get sucked into the powerful delusion of envy.

Envy oppresses and depresses.  It sabotages friendships.  It divides us from our true self.  It alienates us from God. It imprisons us in a world of competition, accumulation of possessions, and frenzy to prove ourselves. 

It just might be the major cause of unhappiness in American society.  As I thought about this today, I discovered two truths that help me battle this spiritual cancer:

1.  Envy cannot stand in light of the sufficiency of God.  God provides for all of our needs.  I can rejoice and claim that, "The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need." Why compare myself to others?  Why look with longing on what everyone else has?  I have everything

2.  Envy cannot stand in light of perceived abundance.  Perceived abundance means just that:  we choose to acknowledge every place of abundance in our lives.  Instead of perceiving scarcity, we rejoice in abundance.  My daughters have so many toys.  But guess what?  They want the one thing they don't have.  They want the one toy the other child chooses.  I've watched this dynamic for the past 5 years.  Why do children go crazy over the one toy in the playroom that somebody else has when there are hundreds of other choices?  Envy!  It blinds them to the reality of abundance

When we feel that resentful longing of envy, we confess it and ask God to show us the truth of His provision and abundance in our lives.   I want to be the kind of woman that truly rejoices over the prosperity of others and celebrates that abundant life that God always--always--offers to me. 

Journal:  How do you fight envy in your own heart? 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Too Deep for Words

Waterfall After the Rain
When I'm out here in the woods, I don't think about shopping or decorating my house or how many pounds I have to lose. 

When I'm out here in the woods, I listen to the way the water sounds as it spills down this hill. 

And when I'm out here in the woods, I talk with my friend about Jesus and truth and meaning.

There's something about creeks and rivers that sets my soul back on track.  I look deep into the pools that gather by fallen logs, hoping to see fish or turtles.

I've never, even after all these years and pages and pages of writing, been able to capture in words what it feels like to stand by the rushing water in the deep woods.

It's too powerful for words.

Water Rushing in the Deep Woods
Living with flair means finding places with God that go deeper than language.   

Journal:  What's that sublime place for me? 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Why You Belong Right Here

I'm walking with my neighbor in the woods.

Lady Slippers in the Woods

All of a sudden, she cries out, "The lady slippers have bloomed!"  She's pointing to the earth, and at first, I do not see anything.

Then, I see them.

Pink Lady Slipper Blooming

I don't even really know what I'm seeing or why it matters.   

Lady Slipper Reaches Out

My friend tells me something wondrous.  Lady slipper orchids are extraordinary.

Are You Looking at Me? 

It's illegal to uproot them.  It's actually against the law to harm these wild orchids.  I learn two amazing facts that explain why.

First, the US Forest Service reports that lady slippers depend upon a very special fungus in the forest that allows the seed to grow.  The fungus cares for the seed--passing on nutrients--until it grows older.  And when the plant matures, it then sends nutrients back to the fungus through its roots.  That symbiosis will be destroyed if we harvest the orchids.

Second, I learn that the intricate system of orchid roots means that if you take even one plant away, you harm the entire network of orchid plants. 

Lady Slipper Family

Every single one matters.  And the location isn't an accident.

As I think about the impossibly complex design that allows these orchids to thrive, I consider my own community.  Every single person nourishes each other, and we're here for a reason.  There's nothing accidental about it. The conditions for our growth exist only here.

Doesn't God tell us that He "searches out the exact places where we live" (Acts 17) and that we are "all part of one body"? (Romans 12)

You are here for a marvelous reason.  We need you!  And even when these growing conditions seem like, well, fungus, this is what we require to thrive.  

Living with flair means really seeing ourselves as a community and knowing why it matters.  We are part of each other. 

Finally, it took another person to reveal this beauty to me.  I would have never noticed these lady slipper orchids without her.  Living with flair means that when our neighbors don't see it, we show them. 

Journal:  Do we really believe we are part of one another?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Exciting News from My Winterberry Bush

All winter, that faithful bush offered me glimpses into a secret world of snowflakes and icicles on bright red berries.  All winter, we waited with hope while we watched our homemade bird feeder.  I've witnessed a whole cycle of death and rebirth outside this kitchen window. 

That bush never fails to show me something about my own heart.

Today, we position a kitchen chair and take another peek at the Northern Cardinal nest.  Three eggs!  I learn that this collection of eggs is called a clutch.

Northern Cardinal's Clutch of Eggs

I know it only as a verb.  To clutch means to grasp and seize.  It's a desperate verb.  But as a noun relating to birds, it simply means all the eggs produced at one time in a nest.  No desperation, no seizing.  It's just the fact of reproduction and new life.

If I wait out the seasons, and if I stop grasping and instead let God bring things about in due time, the result will be as wonderful and right as a Northern Cardinal's clutch of eggs.  They'll hatch in a few weeks.  We can't rush this.  We can only observe and honor it.   We cooperate, not clutch. 

A wise mentor told me that the secret to a life with God is to be "led and not driven."  It means patience.  We don't clutch.

Journal:  Where can I be more led and less driven?

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Thing You're Neglecting Might Be the Thing You Need

First Green Strawberry
Today I zoom in on the first little strawberry in the patch.  I take a moment to focus.  The background blurs, and all of a sudden, I see what I have never observed in my whole life:  the white fuzzy covering on a new strawberry's stem. 

Have you noticed it before?  Not me!  It's because I value (and pay attention to) final products that I can consume;  the juicy bright red of a strawberry far outshines the immature and stunted green bud.

Not anymore.
That's what living with flair feels like.  It's a mindset and a focus to notice that one stunning thing (that you haven't paid attention to before) that ushers in beauty, wonder, and mystery. It's often not the obvious final product that gives the most delight.  It's the not-yet and the neglected.  It's the unripe and the green. 

Look there, and you'll find flair. 

This white fuzzy stem declares something today. A tiny, beautiful thing is happening here.  Not glamorous or stage-worthy.  Not marketable or consumable.

But beautiful. 

Journal:  What neglected thing has the most wonder and beauty for us today? 

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Choosing to Appreciate Pollen

A fine dusting of pollen covers the town today.  Everything bloomed at once in Pennsylvania, and it's as if God shook down yellow fluff from the heavens.   It's not just car windshields and house shutters; even inside the house, the golden film cloaks the furniture and linens. 

My allergies!  As I dust and vacuum and launder the bedding, I stop to consider what pollen actually is.  All this powder?  It's the male part of the flower.  It's the part of the flower that will connect with the female part to then germinate

Millions of microscopic grains await meeting just the right receptor site (on a compatible flower) for growth.   Right now, the air currents as well as insects disperse all this pollen.  Some of it will find the perfect conditions whereby, once matched, some astonishing flower or fruit will eventually burst forth.

I appreciate this widespread covering of pollen today.  It's a hopeful gesture that maybe--just maybe--conditions will be favorable for germination.  Might I cast my ideas out so broadly?  Might I send out spores of creativity, encouragement, prayers, and love?  What if that particle happened to land at just the right sight where something amazing could grow from it? 

Who knows?  I think about how ideas germinate today.  Living with flair means we sow broadly because we can't predict where and when pollination might happen. 

Meanwhile, I'll never look at Spring dusting the same again. 

Journal:  What can I send out today that could grow into something amazing? 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What Would You Wish For?

Just a few days after mowing, our backyard transforms into a wonderland of wishes. 

My youngest calls me outside and hands me a dandelion and tells me to make a wish.  She closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and whispers that little girl wish that sends the seeds flying.

"Now you do it!  Make your wish!"  

I stand there, holding my breath, and just as I begin to exhale, I realize I don't know what to wish for.

Sometime this past year, my desperate longing for something more became satisfied.  I had all I needed because God was sending the flair right into any circumstance.  It didn't matter where I was because He was there. 

Even in the weeds of suffering, illness, and disappointment, there was always some flair.
So what's left to wish for?  I'm holding the weed in my hand and asking God what His wish for my life is.

I remember that God's name and His renown are the desire of my heart.  What does it mean to wish that your life radiates with the power and presence of God?  What does it mean to wish for a life that brings the most honor and glory to God--that His name would be made great through your life?

These are serious wishes.  These wishes include sacrifice and dying to self.   These wishes invoke a sort of hope and intention that invites God to work in my life no matter what the cost.   It's a surrender that sends my life flying out into the unknown.

Is this a wish I'm ready to make?  I exhale everything out across the landscape.  I don't know where these seeds will land, but land they will.  This is my life that I'm scattering out.  It never belonged to me anyway. 

Journal:  Can I surrender like this? 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Released from the Snare

All day, I've been thinking about a verse from Psalm 25:15.

"My eyes are ever on the Lord,
   for only he will release my feet from the snare."

A snare means a trap.  It's a deceptively enticing situation or mindset that captures us.  These past few days, I've repeated this verse over and over again.  I've applied it to unwise relationships I've formed (professional or personal), foolish commitments I've made, and ungodly mindsets I adopt.   When I feel ensnared by something, I'm learning to ask God to set me free.

And He does.

Living with flair means I keep my eyes "ever on the Lord."  He knows exactly how to "release my feet from the snare"--whatever it may be today.

Journal:  Do I feel ensnared by something from which I can ask God to release me?

Monday, May 9, 2011


Our morning routine includes espionage.  We have to scour the backyard for secret information.  

Even in our bare feet, we tiptoe across the morning dew to snoop on the strawberries.

Then, we plunge inside the winterberry bush to spy on the Northern Cardinal who built a nest there this past week.

It doesn't stop there.  "We have to check on the beans!  We have to check on the beets!"   And we whisper because this is a garden reconnaissance mission, and I haven't even poured my coffee yet. 

That's what we do now.  After school, we'll investigate to see if the eggs have hatched at the vernal pond. 

I'm right there with them.  Living with flair means I'm spying on Spring.  We quiet ourselves, walk gingerly, and peer into secret processes.  You don't outgrow this kind of wonder.

Journal:  How can I find some wonder outside today?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Strange Lesson from My Mother's Day Candle

My mother was the first to teach me that candles have "memory."  When you light a jar or pillar candle the first time, you must let it burn for a few hours until the wax pools all the way to the edges.

You see, the candle remembers how far the wax pooled that first time, and it will only burn to that boundary every time you light it.  A small wax pool means your candle will tunnel as it burns.  It will waste the majority of the wax.  It can't break free of that early pattern.  It remembers.

This morning my family comes into my bedroom with presents for Mother's Day. Two scented jar candles, wrapped in tissue, roll out on the bedspread. My oldest daughter has breakfast on a tray for me, and as I look at this little family around me and light my candles, I think about candle memory

Will I ever break free from old patterns?  Am I doomed to candle memory in my own soul?  

Sometimes life feels so limited by our destructive patterns--set deep in stone--that we cannot change.  But I don't want a narrow life!  I don't want to tunnel down--bringing my children with me--because of old patterns set by the world, the flesh, and the devil (as Scripture teaches).  All morning in church, I think of the hopelessness of that candle memory and of a life that cannot ever break free from a set pattern or false belief.

I need to recover from the patterns of thought--lies I believe--about where my hope and security originate.  
In church, I look and see rows and rows of folks in recovery from drugs and alcohol.  A few minutes before, I shake hands with a woman who tells me (in the same breath) her name and her reality:  I'm in recovery.  She's been clean two weeks. 

What can break the old pattern?  Who can erase the narrow boundaries and set us free?  That new friend knows her name and her reality.  She's in recovery.  Day by day, she embraces a new reality, a new pattern.  It's Jesus in her--the only One who can set us free from the prison of ourselves.  

That's what I think about when I light this Mother's Day candle.  Candle memory may seem final, but there's a Light that knows no boundaries and can expose any false pattern.   I invite Jesus in--all the way to the far edges--and let my heart melt and pool deep and wide. 

Journal:  Do you ever feel trapped by an old pattern?  

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mothers are Beanstalks

This afternoon, the children run outside and design a bean garden for themselves.  They want a beanstalk.  

I discover that we need a structure in that bean garden around which the bean plants can twine.

I love that verb, first of all.  To twine means to interlock tightly, twisting up and coiling about.

Beans are twining plants, and this means they cannot support their own weight.  For vertical growth, they circle around a support in order to grow.  They exert continuous pressure against this support so they can rise tall and strong.

They will not survive without interlocking tightly, twisting up and coiling about a supporting structure.   

I needed that truth today as I think about motherhood and this life of faith.  I cannot do this on my own.  I lean hard against the Lord as that internal structure around which I cling.  I interlock.  Every tendril of thought and action encircles one singular support. 

If I'm exhausted, shriveled on the vine, and incapable of doing this alone, I remember I wasn't meant to.  I'm supposed to twine

Journal:  What does interlocking with God mean when I'm exhausted?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Darkness Turned to Light

I don't know much about photography.  I've never taken a class, and I don't use a fancy camera.  All I know is that taking pictures has become a source of joy and flair.  Just yesterday, I realize that what photographers do best is capture the light.   We have a whole day to observe the light. 

Morning Sky and Cherry Blossoms

When I look at the light all day, I see the world differently. 

Purple Flowers in Afternoon

Tiny Spider Web at 3:00 PM

Hello, Late Afternoon Little Bug

Cherry Blossoms as Sun Sets

There's a gift to receive because the light shines.  Even when dim and hard to discern, there's a gift.  As I think about the radiance of God today, I remember that a life of faith means I'm a photographer setting out to capture the light.  I open my eyes and see His radiance.  That light reveals truth and guides us to beauty, to hope, and to salvation.   The prophet Isaiah writes: 

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
   along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
   and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
   I will not forsake them. 

With camera in hand, living with flair means I set out in faith that God can turn any darkness into light.  I look through that lens and see it today.  We are not forsaken, and any rough places will be smoothed.  The result?  Radiance!  Beauty!  We are not forsaken. 

Journal:  Is there a darkness today that God will turn to light? 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

What My Daughter Brought to Show and Tell

This morning, my daughter puts a copy of How to Write with Flair in her backpack.  It's her show-and-tell day. 

I want to cry.  

I think that motherhood is all about celebrating children, but sometimes, they celebrate us.  

"I'm proud of you, Mom."   

I'm going to go cry now.  

Journal:  I want to do things that make my children proud.  I haven't thought of it this way before.  Am I living a life that my children will continue to celebrate?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Why Not? (The Story of the Green Apple Cupcakes)

This year, I've learned to be a little gourmet.  My children taught me that with the hamburger cupcakes.  I'm learning to try things that fall way outside of my natural gifts and abilities.

Take green apple cupcakes, for example.  My youngest can't wait to bring in cupcakes to kindergarten this week for her birthday.  She wants gourmet cupcakes, just like her sister's hamburgers.  We search the internet together and find a lovely cupcake blog that features green apple cupcakes. 

I'm nervous about this.  We get the ingredients for cupcakes, and then I'm told I just need green sprinkles, a pretzel stick stem, a mint leaf, and some brown sprinkles to resemble apple seeds.  I'm supposed to take a little spoonful of sprinkles away to make it look like somebody took a bite out of the apple!  I have to admit that, in theory, this whole thing has the potential to be adorable. 

Slow and steady.  I follow the directions, and voila! 

I'm so happy I could burst.  It's the same way I felt when I followed the directions to thread my old sewing machine.  I sewed doll pillows with my daughter just by following directions.

Slow and steady.

Living with flair means we do things we wouldn't normally do.  We enter unusual worlds (like sewing and baking) and find pleasure when we simply follow directions.

Journal:  Is there a project I should try?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Come See This!

At Fitness Group, the children huddle around me and tug on my sleeve because they have things to show me.

One boy has drawn a dragon out of chalk that spans the length of 3 cars.  He drags me over to his drawing, insisting that I observe the scales, the teeth, the wings, the claws.  With precise detail, he explains his work.  "You have to see this!" he cries and points to the "primary set of claws."    

Others alert the parents to ducks that have landed in the far corner of the parking lot.  "Watch me chase them!" I hear.  Still another displays a kite in the shape of an owl.  "Come see this!" she calls out.

Others jump rope and tell me I have to watch them

I consider how beautiful this insistence to come see this! is.

It won't always be this way.

At some point, they'll stop showing themselves--and their discoveries--off.  They'll become self-conscious and internal, hidden away and private.  The world becomes a critical judge, and they'll hide. They'll become embarrassed and worried about the crowd.

They'll produce things that deserve our attention, but we won't know about them because they won't dare tell anyone.

I know because I teach college seniors.  Dragon drawings will stay hidden in notebooks.  Nobody admits to chasing ducks or wanting to fly an owl kite.

I wish we all did. 

Living with flair means we build communities where it's right and good to cry out, "Come see this!"  We build communities where we invite others to show us what they've made, where they tell us what they're thinking, and where we watch and listen intently.  That's why I love Saturday Morning Pancakes and Creative Projects Night Out with the Ladies (what we did for my birthday in autumn).

In these spaces, we celebrate one another and rediscover that child within that once drew dragons, chased ducks across a parking lot, and told everyone about it.  Come see this! 

Journal:  What have you made or been doing that you can tell others about?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Making Us Suitable

Do you remember my huge gardening mistake?

This morning, I look out the window and remember how difficult it was for me to remove all the blossoms and young fruit from my blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries that first season.  I didn't understand it!  I didn't want to wait!  But I learned this:  

This counter-intuitive and destructive move would make my plants thrive.  If I take away the fruit, the plant directs the energy and nutrients to the most important part of the plant: the root system.  A new berry plant needs a few years to make an indestructible foundation of roots. 

I walk out to the garden and notice the morning dew on the strawberries.

The berry patch has tripled--maybe quadrupled-- in size.  My deliberate attempts to diminish these plants by removing the fruit worked.  

Even the raspberries come back larger and more abundant.  This bush was one shoot last summer. 

I'll never forget this.  What looks like a fruitless season--cut short, wasteful, damaged, stolen--is preparation for abundance.  We are being made ready and suitable in advance.  My roots are being nourished and strengthened to support what's coming next.  It may take a year or two (even three), but it's God's preparation for the fruit to come.

Journal:  Do you feel like you are in a season of preparation? 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Are You Confident?

Confidence.  I think about this word today because I read a story about a woman who changed her hair color.  She became so much more confident.  A silly thing--an external change--altered her perception of herself and influenced how she interacted with others.  

I look up the word.  Confidence means you have assurance about yourself and your abilities.  But where does it come from?  Why are some folks so confident?  They move forward with a security--a trust--that they can launch out into new frontiers with sure success.

Others have ideas that flicker out like snuffed flames because they can't imagine themselves ever really doing what they want so badly to do. They cower under the reality of potential criticism, inexperience, and insecurity. 

As I imagine a picture of confidence, I realize that confidence comes from the deeply held belief that we're unconditionally accepted, equipped, and commissioned by God to do things.  If we fail, it doesn't matter: we're accepted (and even in failure, God works out a favorable outcome).  If we feel inadequate: we remember God equips (and in our limitations, God shines).  If we feel uncertain: we recall that God has set apart the good works for us to accomplish. We're commissioned.   

When my writing book showed up on amazon, I had a moment of sheer terror.  It was public.  I was going to be mocked!  I was going to fail and forever go down in history as the poor woman who tried to write a book (in reality, nobody really thinks about us as much as we imagine).  But when I picture the confident me--the one whose confidence rests in God who does not fail us--I took a deep breath and remembered the truth. 

Living with flair means we cultivate a picture of confidence.  What do we want to do that a simple lack of confidence hinders? 

Journal:  What takes our confidence away?