Friday, September 30, 2011

When Everything Aligns

I'm driving to work, and I pull up beside a yellow school bus.  The children inside wave and giggle.  I motion back with an exaggerated wave.

I notice one cute little girl in the backseat.  Her ponytail bobs and her head tilts back as she laughs.  I look again.  It's my own daughter on her way to a field trip at the marsh.  She doesn't know that I can see her.  I watch her for a few seconds and then have to exit.  As I pull away from that school bus, something rises up in my heart.  It's the strangest and deepest kind of joy.

I can't explain it other than to say watching a group of laughing school children is good for the soul.

I'm so happy for the warmth and safety of a little yellow school bus that takes children to a marsh. I'm so happy for my daughter as she rides on that bus, laughing with all her friends. God bless that bus.  God bless that teacher.  God bless the whole elementary school, this whole great state of Pennsylvania, and the whole wide world for that matter.

For at least a few minutes, something aligns.  Everything, at least right here, is just as it should be.

Journal:  Can you remember when everything felt "just right" for a moment?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Encounter with a Turkey Vulture

My minivan nearly runs over a turkey vulture today.  A turkey vulture.  On my street!  I take a picture and watch this bold bird swoop from tree to tree.

Turkey Vulture in a Tree in the Neighborhood

 I learn that turkey vultures can smell a dead creature from miles away.

Turkey Vulture
These birds detect death by smelling the special gas released once something begins to decay. I pull over to the side of the road and approach this turkey vulture.  He's surprisingly calm, and I figure it's because turkey vultures have no natural predators; why should he fear me?   

I watch him feeding on roadkill.  Rarely will they kill their own food (that's good because what if he wanted to feast on me?) Instead, they seek out what's already dead and rotting and stinking.

I don't like this bird.  I don't like him at all.  He's not very attractive, and he can't even sing.  He just grunts and hisses. I also learn that turkey vultures cool off by urinating all over themselves.  And if I make him mad, he'll spew semi-digested meat into my eyes. Finally, if I would have happened to harm this bird (by running him over, which I nearly did), I would have to pay $15,000 dollars and go to prison for 6 months. 

I do not like this bird. 

Why would this bird appear in my lovely blog?  Apparently, whether I like this bird or not, he plays a vital role in the ecosystem.  He cleans up rotting things and prevents disease.  We need him.   

Journal:  What thing don't I like that I might actually need? 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Confessions of a Type-A Mother

I have a serious problem.  I love productivity.  I really do.  I don't like to sit down during the day because I just love to get things accomplished.  I love schedules, lists, and organization.  I love doing things in advance.  I was the girl in the front row who had the essay ready a week before the due date.  I arrive 10 minutes early everywhere I go.  I'm thinking about my big plans until the very last minute before closing my eyes to sleep.

The problem is that I think everyone else likes to (or should) live like this.  

My oldest daughter is, let's just say, relaxed about her life.  She likes to create, dream, and just be.  She can sit and hold a cat for an hour and think about daisies.  Nothing feels urgent in her world.  This drives me absolutely crazy.

Lately, I've been a lunatic mother when it comes to her.  From the moment she arrives home from school, I have her life planned out:  music practice, homework, reading, exercise, Bible verses for church, cleaning her room.  Every minute is planned and productive, just the way I like it.

Just the way I like it.  Type A mothers might need to learn from my confession.  Not everyone likes to live like we do.  I'm seriously beginning to consider the notion that some people live differently.  They are patient, relaxed, and refuse to live under a sense of urgency.  Who are these strange creatures under my roof who feel no urgency? 

Everything is urgent to me. 

What would it look like to honor and embrace different personality types, especially within my own family?

She walks in from school, and I keep my mouth shut.  No orders, no plan, and no directing.  This is her life, not mine.  I begin my own writing work and live out my type-A urgent insanity privately.  In a parallel universe over there, I find my daughter has decided to play her flute and then put on an elaborate fashion show with her sister.  Then she sets up an imaginary school.  I'm pretty sure she's doing homework inside the imaginary school.  

She's just herself. And I'm myself.  I'm praying I learn how to celebrate her personality.  Any advice?

Journal:  How can a mother let her children live their own lives?  Is it wrong to constantly urge children to do their homework and accomplish more and more each day?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Can You Make This Unfamiliar?

I'm teaching my students how to de-familiarize themselves from their own writing in order to find errors.  It's a strange phenomenon of writing:  when you write a paragraph and then reread it, it's as if the brain knows how it should read and somehow blinds us to mistakes.

We need to make the text unfamiliar again.

I invite them to read their paragraphs in reverse order; I encourage them to change the font; I have them read words on paper instead of on a screen; I challenge them to give the writing a 48 hour break.  I knew a man in graduate school who placed a ruler under every line of text in order to detach it from its context.  He could find errors every time.

All day, I remember the beauty and power of the unfamiliar.  I remember why I need to detach from the old familiar contexts.  In familiar settings, coping mechanisms, dysfunctional relational patterns, and spiritual blind spots set in.  But remove me from my settings and get me away from the familiar?  Suddenly I have clear focus.  I can see all the junk.  I think this explains the importance of weekend retreats, marriage date nights, travel opportunities, and simple changes in routine.  This explains why I need to get on my knees, away from my life patterns, to listen to God. 

We makes things unfamiliar in order to see again. 

Journal:  How can we make our lives a little unfamiliar today?

Monday, September 26, 2011

When You Must Improvise

When fruit flies start swarming in the kitchen, I know it's time to make peach cobbler.  So ripe they nearly burst in my hand, the peaches ooze and fragrance the whole counter top.  I peel and slice them, and then I toss in a few cups of fresh raspberries, garden ripe and falling off their stalks, just because.

The thing about cobbler is that you just kinda throw it all together.  Melt some butter; mix up some sugar, flour, and milk; slice up your fruit; sprinkle some cinnamon on top; bake for a bit--and there you go. 

I think about other woman in centuries past who made cobbler from their late summer harvest.  I feel connected to them when I pull out these old pioneer recipes.  They had to innovate, imagine, and improvise and thus:  cobbler.

Living with flair means you take what you have and build a beautiful cobbler.  Warm, sweet, and delicious--what a beautiful life!  Cobbler reminds me that the best often comes when we're forced to improvise.

Journal:  Do you have a great cobbler recipe you can share?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Would You Give Like This?

I'm speaking with a lovely woman at a dinner party.  I just love her flair; right down to her shoes, this woman has style.  I find myself complimenting her beautiful jewelry and wondering what it feels like to be that put together.

She's from Texas. (The rest of us can try, but we won't ever be as stylish as a Texan woman.) 

I look down at my drab clothing:  black, professional, and profoundly boring.  Nevertheless, I enjoy myself and take great delight in the company of my new friend.  As the evening comes to an end, I'm talking to another group of people, and I feel something cool and heavy close against my shoulders from behind me.  Before I can turn around, my Texan friend has clasped her necklace around my neck. 

"It's for you!  I have so many baubles, and these are perfect for you!"

"Oh, I can't accept these," I say, absolutely astonished that anyone would remove their own necklace and put it around my neck.

"Oh yes, they are just baubles, and they are for you!"  (I now know one never argues with a Texan woman with baubles.)

I'm still stunned by the gesture.  Have you ever heard of such a thing? Later, I tell my daughters that a lovely woman at a dinner party gave me her necklace and insisted I keep it.

"That's the nicest thing," my oldest says.  I can see her mind wondering if she could part with her own jewelry.  

I want to be the kind of woman that removes her own necklace because another woman might enjoy it.  Might I see my possessions as just baubles to pass around?

Journal:  Would you ever do something like this at a party?  Could you graciously either give or receive such a gesture?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

An Unsafe Life

Anticipating rain, I wear my enormous rain boots out onto the Gettysburg battlefields.  I won't dread the rain or flooding today!  But it doesn't rain; it's sunny and hot, and I find myself disappointed

I'm actually looking for deep puddles, sloshy ruts of mud, and soupy earth I might sink my boots into.

I march across a field with impenetrable protection.  There's nothing to fear with boots like these.  As I think about returning home and marching onward into any uncertain or dangerous territory, I recall God's protection:  impenetrable and so strong we find ourselves disappointed when life seems too safe to need it.  

Journal:  Do you worry that life seems too safe sometimes?   

Friday, September 23, 2011

In Great Deeds Something Abides

I'm walking on the battlefields today.  I'm deeply moved by Chamberlain's words spoken at the dedication of the Monument to the 20th Maine on October 3, 1889, Gettysburg, PA.

He says,  "In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear, but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls. And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field to ponder and dream; And lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls."

Something abides.  Something stays.  Certain places--thin places--where the boundary between flesh and spirit disappears and we can peer into eternity, realign me to great ideals.  Gettysburg does this.   

We ponder and dream here. 

Journal:  Do you know of other places that are "vision-places" for souls? 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What Not to Ask Your College Professor

I'm sitting in office hours, and a student stops in to discuss his philosophy class.  We lean back in our chairs, pondering whether or not greed is inherent to our nature or acquired, and another student enters and offers her own opinion. Then she asks me whether or not a photograph of an object diminishes the beauty of that object since it's not real

An hour passes and the first student leaves in a rush because he's late for an economics class.  The other student remains and we meditate on the meaning of friendship, fame, and the world of dance.

Nobody asks me that one question I just can't stand:  "How do I get an A?"

Living with flair means loving to learn, loving to discuss, and loving to ask philosophical questions.  The grade will take care of itself.

Journal:  What will you discuss today?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Lesson from the Wise Big Sister

Today, my Wise Big Sister offers another bit of wisdom.  This is the Wise Big Sister who wrote me letters in college with Bible verses in them (when I was very far from God).  This is the Wise Big Sister who prayed for me through every break-up, every bad haircut, and every rejection.  When I didn't get invited from the sorority sisters to pledge their sorority as a freshman, she sent me flowers with a card that said, "From Your Real Big Sister."

My Wise Big Sister continues to mentor me: 

In March, she instructed me to do the thing I don't want to do.
In June, she reminded me that when you're having a bad day, there's always the hope of flair. 
In July, she taught me that to get a great thing, you have to lose a great thing
In August, she sent me a message in a bottle to remind me of wonder.  
In October, she encouraged me to go to the gym.  
In November, she challenged me to be my own competition. 
Later that November, she explained that one can be spiritual and stylish at the same time.

So I text her that I feel burnt-out.  She simply says, "Train hard.  Rest harder."  She calls to explain my situation using a running analogy.  She repeats: "Every good runner trains hard but rests harder."  She explains that when you're resting, you really have to rest.  "No running.  You can cross-train, but you can't run."

She diagnoses my burnout as a metaphorical stress fracture.  "You ran when you should have been cross-training.  You didn't rest completely."  Cross-training means you engage in completely different and even opposite activities. Runners will swim instead, for example, when they rest but still keep active. In my life this means solitude instead of company; a movie instead of writing; a walk in nature instead of being plugged into technology; or being taught by a mentor instead of being the teacher. 

Different and opposite activities. 

We have to train hard and rest harder.

Journal:  What would it look like to "rest hard?" What opposite and different activities will we do to rest completely?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Offering a Blank Page

Just now, my printer chokes and halts.  An orange warning light flickers.  A message alert flashes on my computer screen:  No paper. 

I find the stack of new paper, bend down to fill the printer, and suddenly realize something.  Looking at that new blank page warns me somehow.  It becomes a spiritual moment right here by the old printer.

I consider how only a blank page will produce a clear document.

I know this because I've accidentally put used paper in my printer that bore the marks of old essays, chapters from novels, or random printouts from various websites.  When you try to print on paper that's already filled, the printer spits out gobbledygook.

You just can't read words overlying other words or paragraphs imprinted atop other paragraphs.  (Gobbledygook really is a word.  It means meaningless, unintelligible, nonsense language.)

Only a blank page will do.  I realize I have a script for my life--words on the page I want--butI long for the willingness to hand God a blank page.  Trying to merge my own narrative onto the one He's writing produces a kind of gobbledygook:  stress, meaninglessness, and chaos.  If only I might offer the blank page and let another Writer compose!

Journal:  Offering up a blank page seems very freeing, but also terrifying.  What script or story line do I need to clear from my life?

Monday, September 19, 2011

I Didn't Intend to Make a Fool of Myself

By now you know my weakness:  Michael Jackson's "Beat It."  I'm at the school picnic, and the DJ plays the song.  It's like I'm on autopilot; I'm gathering children to my side and announcing to the whole crowd that I know the choreography.

Who is this crazy woman?

It's me.  I'm sorry.  It's just me.  I can't help it.  I'm too old and too tired to be self-conscious anymore.

Besides, later that evening, a random father finds me and gives me a high-five.  "I wish I would have joined you out there," he says.  "I love that song."  Maybe at next year's picnic, he won't be wishing because he'll actually be doing it.

Living with flair means actually doing it.  You will make a fool of yourself, and that's just how it is.

Journal:   What silly thing will you actually do today? 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Things That Make Us Humble

I'm learning to give thanks for things that make me humble.  What a blessing in disguise when we experience failure, sickness, less-than-perfect children, a rebuke from a boss or superior, moods we can't manage, laundry we can never finish, schedules we can't control, or any host of things that cry out:  You are not capable--in your own strength--of living your life!  You are not as great as you think you are! 

I'm sitting in church, upset about all the hard things happening.  I'm skimming the first chapters of the book of Isaiah, thinking about my own proud heart.  I find the most unusual verb: whistle.  God whistles twice in the book of Isaiah.   The prophet Isaiah says God whistles for us--getting our attention--so we'll turn to Him.  I start chuckling in my seat.  I picture myself running off into the distance, into all my own plans and in all my own prideful independence. 

Then, I hear that long, sweet whistle calling me home. 

That's what these disappointments mean.  I need God.  He's calling me home. 

Journal:  Is God whistling for you through this situation you're in?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

"Turning Over a New Leaf " This Fall

Today, I learn the etymology of the phrase, "turning over a new leaf."  It dates back to the 16th century and literally means to turn the page.

I'm ready to turn the page.  I'm ready to move on in my story.  Aren't you?

As the air turns crisp and the leaves begin to fall around my Pennsylvania home, I notice one little tree in the woods has turned bright red.  She's transforming--dropping the old--and preparing for the new.   No other tree feels the need to yet, but she does. 

One Tree Changing Colors
What confidence and courage it takes to transform!   

I'm moving into this new season with my heart open to change. 

Journal:  What changes will I make this fall season?

Friday, September 16, 2011

First Grade, iPads, and the New Language of Six-Year-Olds

We're driving across town, and my six-year-old and I have the following conversation:

"Mom, I uploaded two new apps to the iPad they gave me in computer time today."

 (Note: I don't have an iPad.  I don't even have a phone that connects to the internet.)

"Really?  What apps?" 

"Well, one is for learning words, and the other is a game you play with another person. And the other person is really a computer program!"

"That sounds fun," I say, but I'm still wondering why my daughter uses an iPad and I don't.  She's uploading apps, and I'm not sure I would know how. 

I remember my first grade year.  This language of apps and uploading didn't exist in my vocabulary.  Many words my six-year-old knows didn't exist when I was a first grader:  Google, Facebook, MP3's, DVR's, DVD's, Internet, and even words like microwave and cell phones never came out of my mouth.  In fact, we didn't have a home computer until after I was in college.  Even more shocking is that I dated my husband without the use of cell phones or texting.  We didn't own mobile phones back then.

My college students always ask me how that worked.  "How did you find each other during the day?  How did anybody know where you were?"  They stare at me, mouths agape, breathing rapidly in terror as they imagine a world without texting.  

"Well, a person might leave a message on an answering machine on a ground line phone or write a note with an actual pencil and post it to the dorm room door."

It's inconceivable to them.

I wonder--in forty years--what someone might ask my daughter about life in 2011.  You used iPads?  How old-fashioned!  How did you ever manage?

What words will a future generation speak that have not yet come into existence? 

Journal:  Does it shock you that first-graders use iPads and upload apps as part of a school day?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Do What They Do For a Day

I find a pair of rain boots, and I dig out a fall raincoat.  We're walking to school in the pouring rain today. 

Everyone's excited about the puddles.  Suddenly, I recall those deep memories of childhood: stomping in puddles, twirling your umbrella, tasting the rain. 

So here I am, bringing up the rear of a group of school children, and I'm stomping in the puddles with all my might. 

"That felt exactly like I thought it would," I say to one father as water and mud splash up around my boots.   "It's just how I remembered it." 

What else will my children do today that I might do right along with them? 

Living with flair means you do what they do sometimes. 

Journal:  Can you recall some rainy day memories? 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

It's Not Just About Us

My oldest wants to learn flute, and she nods her head and glances at me when the director says, "When you practice your instrument, it's not just about you.  It's about your community of musicians.  You don't just let yourself down when you don't practice.  You let down the whole orchestra." 

He's talking about citizenship.  He's talking about personal and community excellence. 

The Italian Mama tells me about her son's marching band debut at the football game.  The band director said to the band, "When you put on your uniform, you aren't just representing yourself.  You represent this school, this town, and the whole community of musicians."

I like thinking about our obligation to ourselves and our communities.  It's never just about me

Living with flair means I know that I'm responsible to a community.  I want my children to leave my home and represent themselves, our family, and our community well. 

Journal:  What would change if we walked out of the house and thought about representing ourselves, our families, and our communities well? 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fame Often Comes When We No Longer Need It

My one-eyed cat, Jack, knows he's a blog celebrity.  He tolerates us.  By now, he can pick the perfect lighting and the perfect tilt of the head whenever I have my camera near him.  He endures it all for the sake of others who need encouragement.  You can read his whole journey here. 

Jack's Photo Shoot 

He stays still and waits for the click of the lens.  He extends a paw for a creative shot and displays some claw to remind us of his power. 


Then, he lounges and signifies his photo shoot is over.   

He lets me know he's had enough.  I now have to fit into his schedule. 

This cat's journey reminds me that we move from wounded and abandoned to rescued and redeemed.  We stop begging for attention and clamoring for love.  It's because we already have all we need--in abundance--so much so that when somebody blogs about us, it's not important anymore.  We gain fame at the exact moment when we want it the least.

Jack just does his thing.  He loves his healed cat life.

Living with flair means we just do our thing--healed, rescued, and redeemed.  We don't seek fame or even need it.  If it comes, we'll tolerate it, but we're finally free from needing it.

Journal:  Have you struggled with the desire for fame?

Monday, September 12, 2011

What Our Elementary School Principal Calls Herself

Our elementary school principal manages extraordinary tasks like learning the first and last names of all 495 students in the school.

That's nearly 500 students.  Last September, I wrote about observing her in action in the hallway.

Last week at Back-to-School night, she introduces herself, not as the principal, but as the Lead Learner.  She signs all her correspondence this way as well.  

The Lead Learner!

For some reason, I want to cry right then and there.  No wonder she's been at this school for over 20 years and has the best reputation of any school principal I've ever known or heard of.  No wonder the students at this school love learning so much.  The leader of this school is a learner.  How could we not follow her with that attitude of curiosity, humility, and reverence for this sacred act of learning? 

I recall Parker Palmer's quote, "We teach what we most need to learn."  I want that truth to shape my teaching philosophy and the ways I interact with other instructors, my students, and the material I teach.

I'm not the teacher, I'm the Lead Learner.

I'll think about this tonight at Neighborhood Fitness Group.  The children will learn to jump in and out of the double dutch ropes, and I will too.   I'll try to get a picture of me in action (Lord, help me!). 

Living with flair means being the Lead Learner.  

Journal:  Did you have a teacher (or principal) that acted more like the Lead Learner?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

My September 11th Memory

I woke up this morning, remembering.

Last night, my husband and I remembered together.  We recalled how my phone rang because my friend in Chicago was watching the morning news.  I couldn't understand her because of the crying. 

We recalled how I called my husband at work and how he came home that morning from his office in Ann Arbor.

We recalled how we thought my dad was en route to the Pentagon, and we didn't know--for at least an hour--whether or not he was in the Pentagon or still in Alexandria, Virginia.  He wasn't there that morning, but we didn't know that yet.

We recalled how we stared at the TV--standing up mostly, not sitting--for nearly 9 hours straight.   We recalled how we had to do something, so we went to buy an American flag to fly.  When we arrived at the store, everyone else in our community was thinking the same thing.  I drove around town, pregnant with my first daughter, and asked God if the world was really coming to an end.  Was I ready?

I went to a campus chapel and cried with complete strangers for a few hours.  

Everyone has their story to tell.  One way to honor this day is to allow people in your life to tell it. 

Journal:  Can you remember that day as clearly as I can?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Little Cupcake Grills!

My new neighbor calls me over to come see the birthday cupcakes she's made for her husband. 

I start laughing out loud when I see them.

She and her children have made little grills with kabobs, steaks, hotdogs, and even hamburgers with cheese on top--all made out of candy.  If you look closely, you'll even see the glowing embers of flames (red sprinkles!).  You'll even see the fine grill marks on the caramel cream steak. 

I love these cupcakes!  I'm adding them to my list of whimsical things that make life a little lighter.  Right beside my green apple and hamburger cupcakes, I'm listing one more:  On the Grill. 

Late last night, she invites our family over for this "Grill Out."  My children sneak across the street in pajamas, and we follow behind as lightening streaks the sky over the mountains.  We share cupcakes and ice-cream and celebrate a dad's birthday.

I remember--especially this 9/11 weekend--how thankful I am for this great nation and the simplicity of family, neighbors, and sharing cupcakes. I learned that horrible day that we can't take a single moment for granted. Something about eating whimsical cupcakes puts me in that state of thankfulness.  What a privilege to sit around a table with friends, eating cupcakes and sharing our lives!

Living with flair means you Grill Out with cupcakes.

Journal:  What little thing are you thankful for this 9-11 weekend? 

Friday, September 9, 2011

What College Freshmen Said They'd Keep Forever

After our project on how advertisers persuade us to purchase a whole array of non-essential items, I ask my students to name one thing they'll keep forever.

Baby blankets (some brought them to college)
Military dog tags
Jewelry given from parents or grandparents
Musical instruments

Not one student mentions anything related to trendy clothing or technology.  Nobody claims any attachment to their phones (we're addicted, not attached!), their laptops, their purses, or their toys.

I realize that most things I'm tempted to purchase for my children have no lasting value.  What does?  Simple fabric objects of attachment, emblems of service to our nation, symbols of love passed down from generations before, musical instruments, and experiences captured on film.

If we pare down and trim off the excess of our lives, we'll find what really matters.  As I raise my daughters in a world saturated with stuff, I might ask myself before I buy it, "Will they keep this forever?  What would this purchase symbolize?  Can it be an emblem? An experience?  A musical object?"

My students' answers remind me of what I love and value.

Journal:  What do you own that you'll keep forever?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Hidden Harvest

I'm out in the rain in over-sized rain boots to dig around in the garden. I glance at the raspberry stalks. 


But then--because hope dies slowly--I venture deep inside the raspberry patch and stick my head underneath the wet stalks.  Tiny barbs on the stalks scratch my fingers, but I keep going. 

A hidden harvest greets me!

Ripe Raspberries Deep Within
Afraid they might disappear like some desert mirage, I frantically start gathering berries.  There's too many to carry in my hands.  Hidden on the underside of every stalk, I find more and more. 

I return with a bowl and finish the work.  I'm amazed at this hidden harvest.  We feast until we've had our fill.  

The whole time, I'm wondering about this hidden harvest.  What harvest awaits, hidden from public view--from public consumption--because it's a deeper, internal sort of fruit?   I think about all the quiet, hidden things I harvest from the Lord's work in my life. I think of character traits like perseverance, humility, courage.  The world might not immediately see it, and it might not be obvious to anyone else. 

But I know I'm changing.

Living with flair means thanking God that He produces fruit in our lives of good character.  When there's no obvious fruit on the vine, it just means the harvest might be internal--deep within--on the underside.

Journal:  Has your character changed this year?   

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Believing the Best about Each Other

Remember in May when I believed that my children would destroy a wedding ceremony?  Remember how I doubted them and judged them?  I refused to believe the best.

I learned the power of believing the best that day.  Lately, we've been teaching our children to believe the best about their friends.  Instead of criticism, suspicion, or judgement, believe the best about them.

Years ago, a wise mentor told me that this was the secret to a great marriage.  "Always believe the best about each other," she cautioned, "and speak about the great things you believe about each other."

So we do.  Sometimes I forget, so I call my husband and tell him.  Sometimes I forget with my own children, so I find them and tell them.  Sometimes, I forget with myself, so I remind myself of all the things God says are true about me. 

I'm learning that folks respond to our feelings about them.  They rise up and meet the standard of beauty, wisdom, kindness, and intelligence we believe for them.  They likewise sink down under the weight of our lack of confidence in them, our criticism, our doubt, and our judgment.

I'm believing the best today.

Journal:  Who needs to know that you believe the best about them today?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What a Day Like Today Needs

Soaked with rain and shivering in the 50 degree weather, I realize I'm under-dressed for this kind of day.  Autumn's coming early.  I'm shivering and wondering where I've stored my mittens from last winter. It's so wet and gloomy out here that I'm imagining my warm bed and a cup of hot cocoa.

Hot cocoa?  I haven't thought about hot cocoa for months. 

But that's exactly what this day needs. 

I stop by the grocery store and stock up on ingredients (and marshmallows) for after-school hot chocolate.  Who cares that it's September?  I'm cold

Later, I'm cleaning afternoon dishes, and I start imagining steaming mashed potatoes with gravy.  This gloomy cold day needs something, and it keeps making suggestions.  I'm listening.

Living with flair means asking yourself what this day needs.  Maybe it's just a cup of hot cocoa and mashed potatoes with dinner.

Journal:  What does this day need? 

Monday, September 5, 2011

"Mommy, Today Was a Small Day"

My six year old whimpers beside me, "Mommy, today was a small day." 

"What made it small?" 

"There were not enough play dates or friends.  This was not a big day.  I need big days."

Already, I think about what kind of big life this little girl will lead.  She's challenging me to wake up to big days.  I don't want to ever have a day that's too small. 

I'll never have this day again.  Lord, let it be a big day.

Living with flair means we don't have small days.  

Journal:  What would make today a big day?  

Sunday, September 4, 2011

When You Leave a Dream Alone

I apologize to the cauliflower plants that I've ignored them all summer.  They kept growing and growing, but I grew impatient.  I'd never once seen anything representing a cauliflower, and I gingerly pulled back the leaves all season.  Now, it just seems silly to check, especially since the whole garden is dried up and overgrown.

My husband reminds me that the peppers are just now turning red. 

I obviously have timing issues. 

I decide to give the cauliflower another chance.  Deep within the shaded leaves of the plant, a haven of cool, moist air surrounds something I've never seen growing before:  a real cauliflower in a garden and not a grocery aisle.  I show my daughter, and we wonder when (and how) in the world you pick a cauliflower.

I realize this:  sometimes when you leave something alone, it flourishes.  When you least expect it, and when you're just about to give up, you'll pull back those leaves and find your dream needed that quiet, uninterrupted place to germinate.

Journal:  Do you have a dream you need to leave alone for awhile?   


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Big Picture Moments

I'm fixing my hair because I'm headed to a funeral.

At a funeral, you're forced (finally) to "trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understanding."  I'm a girl who loves to know the narrative.  I love to know what's going on:  the why, the how, the when, the where.  I'm probably too controlling.  What happens when the narrative breaks apart and you have no idea what's going on

In reading, we love these moments of confusion; we're delighted to read on to make sense of an unraveling plot.  In life, though, we stagger and despair. 

A friend calls and reminds me that God knows the big picture.  It was a simple phrase--the Big Picture--but I know it's true.  He sees what I do not see.  

There's a bigger story, a larger picture, and these moments on the page--death, birth, joy, pain, confusion and every form of suffering and beauty--fold into it.

It's a marvelous story if I just read on a little further.  

Journal:  When life unravels, what keeps me pushing ahead? 

Friday, September 2, 2011

How to Survive the Waiting

This morning, a boy turns to me and asks, "Can you give me any tips on how to wait for something?"

I'm stumped.  I'm floored.  I'm overcome with how sweet (but so important) this question is and how many years of his life he'll be waiting for something.  Here he is--just a boy--already waiting and needing to know how to survive the wait.

I'm overcome with how much of life is about waiting.  I think every person I know has something they are waiting for.  My own waiting--for the dreams of my children, for the plans I've made with my husband, for my own novelist longings--are equal parts delight and despair.  Waiting is the not yet.  It's a yes and a no at the same time.  It's the impossible focus on two dimensions:  hope and the reality of now. 

It's the grand universal Maybe. 

I tell the little boy (he's not so little now--we're on our 4th year of walking to school together) that all I can offer is this:  Focus on the great things right in front of you today.  But then I correct myself.  I remember the beauty of longing, the joy of waiting because something is coming.  I run up beside him and tell him that it's a great thing to wait.  It's the best thing in the world.

Something is coming.  It's just around the corner.  Living with flair means we delight in the Maybe.

Journal:  What would you have said to this boy? 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

"The Higher You Go, The More Sap There Is"

My daughter climbs high into the pine trees and returns to me covered in tree sap.  It's everywhere:  hands, feet (she climbs barefoot!), arms, and all over her new white shorts.  They're ruined. 

The next day, she climbs again.  More sap.  More ruinous results.  What can I do?  Do I ban tree climbing?  I imagine her high within those limbs, smelling the sweet pine oil, and enjoying the wind on her face.  Once, I climbed so high into a pine tree that I could see the top of my own house.  Something about that vantage point gave me confidence as a little girl.  Marked by sap, I returned to the earth happier. 

That horrible sap!  But I know this:  Just because there's sap doesn't mean she shouldn't climb.  And the higher you want to go, she tells me, the more sap there is.  Perhaps every truly great pleasure brings its own form of darkness--its own trouble and cost--and we learn to account for it and manage it.  We learn to battle it because the higher we go, the more trouble comes.  I find this true spiritually and emotionally especially.  The more we embrace God, the more the enemy pursues.  The more we love, the more we risk.  

But we're ready.  We are willing because the vantage point we gain delivers a certain joy.  What's a little sap in light of this joy? 

Besides, we discover that Pine Sol cleaner really does remove tree sap from white shorts.  

Journal:  Have you found that the higher you go, the more sap (trouble!) you experience?