Monday, October 31, 2011

The Return of the "Boo Platter"

I arrive to the elementary school with a giant turtle, Cleopatra, a fairytale queen, and a cat in tow.  We merge with a Rubik's Cube, a jellyfish, and a 1920's flapper.  Today, children will parade around the school and enjoy a Halloween party in their classrooms.

Parents bring treats for these parties, and once again, I feel that old anxiety about baking and creativity.

But my daughter doesn't want what the other mothers can bring.  She begs for the "Boo Platter."  It's the third year of making this platter, and still, she wants it.  The legend of the "Boo Platter" as my most memorable act continues.

I shape the letters and realize I can experiment.  Instead of vegetables, I peel exotic fruits.

I'm giggling as I make this silly old platter that doesn't seem that special.  But for my daughter, this platter means so much.  Now, it's tradition.

It's a tradition that taught me perhaps the best principle of motherhood:  Be Yourself.  You're the perfect mother for these children; God chose you and not somebody else. 

So I'll keep writing.  I'll keep making words for them because they cherish even this little Boo

Journal:  What's something so unique to you as a parent or caregiver?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

It Looks Like Cotton

This morning, the snow on the trees looks just like cotton on a hot, blue-sky summer day.  

Cotton or Snow? 
I love the way the mind works by analogy and association.  I know the beauty of this tree branch because of what it approximates:  it's like something else.  Is this what it means to learn?  Is this what it means to make sense of something? 

I know it's freezing out here.  I know the branch icily traps this snow.  There's nothing cotton about it. 

But turning this snow into cotton for a moment brought some joy to the day.

Journal:  Can you think of a good comparison that brings some joy?   

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Perfect Packing Snow (Pictures of the First Snowfall)

It's snowing!  We scatter about the house, looking for mittens and boots.  This first snow, according to the Artist Friend, is particularly generous. 

It falls in great big glops, and so we know we've got packing snow.

You don't need to tell a child what to do in packing snow like this.   

They make snowballs. 

They eat snowballs.

They throw snowballs. They attack one another, but then they turn their snowballs into a snowman. 

I loved my brief Autumn, and as I stand at my kitchen sink and look out to the forest, I welcome Winter.  What a generous snowfall; what a generous moment between sisters; what a generous warmth I feel as I look through this window. 

 Living with flair means we embrace this generous winter.

Have you had snow yet?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Look For Your Gift Today

Do you ever have a morning when you don't want to get out of bed but you finally do and then you don't want to get out of the shower but you finally do?  You slug along and wonder how in the world this day could be any good. 

I've had so many days like this.  I've wasted so many beautiful mornings. 

I sip my coffee and walk out into the driveway.  Frost covers everything.  Already, my wonderful season changes. 

But you know, if you've read this blog for any amount of time, how this is going to go:  I look closer.

Love Note in the Frost

The sun rises higher in the sky, and I realize the morning offers more gifts.  The forest, for one thing, reminds me to look deep into the dark and bare spots and find that bright yellow place. 

The oak tree tells me to lift my eyes as high as I can, above this bitter morning, and take in the sun as it shines on those leaves.

Oak Tree Waving Good Morning

Even today, I find a message in the frost and gifts within the trees. Thank you Lord, for the little arm of this oak tree that waves a "Good morning!" to me and for the hand that writes in the frost. 

Journal:  Have you already found a gift today? 


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Your Best Habit

On the walk to school, my rurally-raised neighbor (who knows everything about the land) comments upon the beauty of various trees' habits.  She informs me that a tree's habit refers to its overall shape.

She identifies trees by their habits.  Some trees squat and spread lower to the ground:

Others rise tall into the sky as perfect vase shapes:

Some grow into beautiful ovals:

And some unfold against the sky like Japanese fans. 

But as I look around me, I notice something astounding.  Some trees in the forest don't squat or unfold.  Some don't rise up and spread their arms wide.

I learn that if other plants or objects crowd a tree, the intended habit changes.  It diminishes.  Stunted and pressed upon, the tree loses potential somehow.

I think about the simple and natural need for space.  We have an intended shape--our best habit--but when crowded and pressured, we change. 

I think about making room for my husband, children, friends, students--and myself--to unfold, to stretch wide.  Do I stifle?  Do I crowd?  What would it look like to give everybody some breathing room? 

Today, I'm making space for my best habit to take shape.  I want to unfold like a bright yellow fan.

Journal:  Do you feel like you've taken shape into your best habit?  What allowed this?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

You've Got to See This

My neighbor has a gift.  She's an artist, but nobody really knows--at least we didn't--until she began to show us all.

Her drawings make me so happy.  They evoke something in me that the real object doesn't.  I realize I'm just looking at a drawing of a little girl's shoes, but something about this artwork delights me. 

Reluctantly, she shows her sketches to the neighborhood children, and they gather around her in wonder.  "You drew that?  You really drew it?  With pencil?  How?"

If you ever get a chance to speak with an artist, I highly recommend it.  I ask Jennifer Kelly to explain to me why I love this drawing so much.  She writes, "There's just something little-girly about the shoes, kicked off in a rush to go play. Their shape is reminiscent of the body's long curves; the interior almost calls you to put your foot in, and your skin tingles, remembering the feel of your last pair of flats. Maybe the visceral nature of pencil strokes enhances the touch-feel-experience of the memory."

Living with flair means you seek out your neighbor's hidden talents.  And if you are the neighbor with the gift, living with flair means you offer it to the world.  You go public, you open your sketch book, and you let the community be delighted by you and God's creativity flowing through you.  

Journal:  What gift are you hiding from us?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

While It Lasts

 Autumn arrives and fades so quickly.  

Already, some trees surrender their leaves.

The weather report predicts snow for later this week.  Snow!  I'm never ready for it. 

All day, I'm reminded of these glorious colors that do not last

I look up from my life, and time has fallen around my feet like leaves from an oak tree in winter.  I tell my oldest daughter to enjoy these carefree days of childhood while they last.  A college student's mother visits my class and tells the students to "be sponges and enjoy college while it lasts.

This impulse (and commitment) to blog--to record a moment in time--has something to do with capturing the fleeting day.  This day happened!  It really did!  The sky was that blue.  The leaves were this vibrant. 

Each day offers something.  One day, I'll rake them together like a pile of leaves to jump in, squealing with delight like I did as a girl. 

Journal:  What moment would you want to record about this day? 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Turning the World's Worst Weed into the Best Bouquet

As I walk in the field, I pick my way around the worst weed.  The farmer tells me it's called Velvetleaf, and, as far as crop weeds go, it's an absolute terror:  competitive, nutrient-draining, murderous of other plants, and just plain ugly.   

Velvetleaf in the Field

You can't destroy Velvetleaf.  The seeds stay viable in the earth for over 50 years.  Impervious to weed killer--even the strongest herbicides--this damaging, noxious plant represents a farmer's nightmare. 

My mother sees something different. 


With an eye for beauty, she asks the farmer if we might take a few stalks.  He laughs out loud and shakes his head.  "You don't want that stuff," he insists.  "Even one seed pod dropped on your lawn will destroy it, and you won't be able to get rid of it."

"We would like some," she says as he continues to laugh. 

Back home, my mother takes a vase and builds the most beautiful bouquet to fill out the corner behind my piano. 

You take a weed--even an ancient one that can last generations--and you turn it into something beautiful. 

If you can't destroy it, make it beautiful. 

Journal:  Have you ever made something beautiful out of what others consider worthless? 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

It's a Grand Pumpkin Patch

We drive out to the pumpkin patch.

Pumpkin Patch

I let my daughter loose against the Autumn landscape.  

She finds the one she wants, and it weighs as much as she does. Grandpa carries it back to the tractor.    

With pumpkins this size, we'll be eating roasted pumpkin seeds for weeks.

I think about that little girl racing through rows and rows of pumpkins for the taking.  Life is so big, so abundant, that you can't even carry the harvest back yourself.

Journal:  Do you have pumpkin patch memories?   


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Go and Find a Contra Dance

Last night, I attend my first contra dance.  My own husband has invited the family (including my parents!) out dancing.  Contra dance, otherwise known as patterned folk dancing, has great potential to create a fool out of me.  You know how uncoordinated I am.

I resist going until the very last minute. 

But I know that living with flair means I try new things and embrace--not just endure--new experiences.  It helps that Devin, my friend and contra dancing expert, has been telling me for two whole years that I will love contra dancing. 

When you go to a contra dance, you become swept up (quite literally) in a world gone by.  You feel like you're at the Dance at Grandpa's from the Little House books.  The band plays all the traditional folk tunes, and a caller tells you what to do.  It doesn't matter what you look like or how old you are.  Nobody cares because when the caller tells you to switch partners, you do it.  You find yourself dancing with a 4 year old and then a 70 year old, a teenager, and then your husband. You find yourself dancing with your own father for the first time since your wedding day.

You'll hold hands with complete strangers, form a circle, and shout together.  My own daughters learn the dances and circle off away from me.

It occurs to me that this is exactly what communities should do on a Friday night in a college town.  I didn't want to leave. 

I now love the verbs promenade and do-si-do.

Living with flair means you attend a community contra dance sometime this year.

Journal:  Have you been to a contra dance? 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Going Back to Old Dreams

I remember the story of an older friend of mine who went back to an old dream once her children left for college.  All her life, she wanted to be an actress.  All her life, she was too busy for it. 

But one bright day, she decides to audition for community theater, lands the lead role, and launches her acting career twenty years after putting it on hold. 

It's brave.  It's unconventional.  It's risky. 

Why not?  I think about novels I've tucked away or plans I once had--before children, before schedules, before endless loads of laundry.  What if I made a little space again and took a risk on a dream?  

Living with flair means I'm not too busy for those dreams.   

Journal:  Did you ever put a dream on hold? 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"The Best Things in Life Aren't Things"

My friend delivers me a little card with the quote, "the best things in life aren't things," from journalist Art Buchwald.

I want to remember that.

Love, friendship, ideas, creativity, conversations.  These things I can't hold in my hand.  

Journal:  When you think about your "best things" in life, are they objects you've purchased? 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How We Made Acorn Flour (A Lesson in Bitterness)

We gather the acorns from our oak tree.

A Bowl of Acorns

Then, we carefully crack the shells and remove the nutmeat (I use a little hammer and a pick).

Cracking Acorns (with a Hammer!)

Shelling Acorns

We shell about 2 cups worth of nuts because this is our first experiment.   

Acorn Nutmeat
Then, it's time for the long process of removing the tannins.  I learn that tannins can harm you; they inflict stomach distress and kidney problems if you consume large amounts of this bitter substance.  Removing the bitter tannins requires time and a steady flush of fresh water--either cold (like in a stream over a week-long period as the Native Americans did) or boiling hot (the quicker way).

Removing Acorn Tannins by Boiling Method
When boiling, the water turns a deep brownish-black.  Every 20 minutes, I change the water.  After several hours, the water boils clear, and that tells me the tannins are gone.  To be sure, I'm told to taste a nut.  If it tastes like a sweet pasta--bland and not bitter--I've successfully leached the tannins.  Since my acorns are from a Red Oak, they taste supremely bitter (as opposed to a White Oak), so removing these tannins takes nearly 4 hours.  If I had finely chopped the nuts, I could leach them faster.

The verb leach, by the way, means to drain away and remove.  Here I am, leaching bitterness out of acorns, and the spiritual parallel rises up as surely as the sweet smell of acorn nutmeat.   Those nuts submit to the process of cleansing, of uncomfortably stressful temperatures, over a long period of time.  No wonder life seems hard sometimes.

Perhaps I'm being leached.

Finally, I take the leached nuts and grind them in a food processor.  I want a course grind for a hearty, nutty bread.

Grinding the Acorn Nuts
I add a few cups to a regular bread recipe (flour, yeast, honey or sugar, oil, egg).  I knead the dough, let it rise for one hour, and bake it at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.  I've heard you want to use equal parts acorn flour and another flour or even cornmeal. 

Acorn Flour for Bread

Acorn Bread Loaf

The bread tastes absolutely delicious.  It's a warm, nutty, rich bread that the girls spread with sweet cream butter for breakfast.  I'm not an expert in acorns, but the research claims that as long as you leach out the tannins, your acorns can provide muffins, breads, pancakes, cakes, and a whole variety of baked goods. 

But you need that fresh water, boiled for a long time. 

Lord, leach me.  Remove every bitter thing in my heart. 

Journal:  Can you imagine the work that went into making food in centuries past?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What We Take for Granted (My Plan to Make Acorn Flour)

I will never look at flour the same way again.  

It's because I'm actually going to gather acorns, extract the nuts, leach them, grind them, and make acorn flour.  A woman from across the country emailed me to tell me about making acorn flour, and I can't get the process out of my mind.

Who has time for this?  Who in her right mind would spend a Tuesday afternoon cracking acorns and boiling off the tannins to make a loaf of bread, some muffins, or even pancakes?  I can buy flour at the grocery store, remember?

But I'm drawn to this work.  It's an ancient work.   
I talk to my daughters about the Native Americans surviving a whole year on acorn flour.  I learn that acorns, according to the email, are a "superfood, having an ideal mix of protein, carbs, and fat."  Right under my oak tree, sustenance--daily bread--rests scattered and trampled upon.  What I see as inconvenient and messy, others see as nourishment.  What I take for granted--flour, bread, food--others had to work all day to produce. 

I want to remember this.

There's something special about being connected to the land, to the trees, and to the lost art of gathering food and baking meals right from the earth's offerings.  There's something sacred about not taking food for granted. 

My children cannot wait to begin this process.  The oldest runs out into the cold night air to gather acorns, and I restrain the youngest from following after her.  "Wait till daylight at least!" I call out.   "We'll make our flour tomorrow!"

Some might think we're about to waste an entire afternoon, but something tells me it's exactly what I should be doing.  I'll report back (with pictures!) about our efforts.

Living with flair means connecting to the ancient work of finding food and not taking it for granted.  

Journal:  Have you ever made something from scratch that reminded you not to take our food for granted?

Monday, October 17, 2011

When Life Gives You Acorns

 I'm standing under my oak tree, and acorns bombard my head.

The Oak Tree

"Ow!  Don't do that!" I cry and shake my fist with one hand and rub my sore head with the other.  I can't even walk down my driveway without that tree pelting me with acorns.

Today, still sore from acorn wounds, I decide I can make something of all these acorns.


I take a little basket and fill it high with acorns.  I challenge myself to find the ones with their little caps still on them.  I bring my basket to the kitchen, and the children and I add cinnamon sticks, ginger, and some whole cloves. 

I've made myself some Acorn Potpourri. The whole kitchen smells like a spiced harvest.

Acorn Potpourri

You heard it said that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.   Well, when life throws acorns across your path (and on your head), you gather them and make Acorn Potpourri.

Journal:  What would you do with hundreds of acorns?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Books that Shape Your Life

While cleaning my bookshelves, I wonder what I would do if I had to choose a few of the hundreds of dusty books to keep. 

I treasure books--their smells, their textures, their histories, their marginal notes.  I flip through my old favorites and find phrases I underlined and circled when I was a young college girl.  I have fond feelings towards that lost young woman who searched for truth deep within every word. She underlined everything in case it might matter one day.  The books that have hardly survived the decades all fall into one category: 


I cannot part with the Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson, John Keats, A.R. Ammons, or Walt Whitman.  I hungered for truth back then, and the poets, to me, had most of it.  All these poetry books held a spotlight on truth; Elizabeth Bishop, Marianne Moore, and Sylvia Plath all bore witness to. . . something.

I had to find it.  I wanted that thing that every great poem gestures toward.

Back then, I read C.S. Lewis writing about desire and joy.  He writes this:  ". . . For all images and sensations, if idolatrously mistaken for Joy itself, soon honestly confessed themselves inadequate. All said, in the last resort, 'It is not I. I am only a reminder. Look! Look! What do I remind you of?'"  

Poets isolate moments and make us see them in new ways.  They rearrange experiences and press into them until they tell the truth. The poems cry out, "Look! Look!  What do I remind you of?"

The poets helped my journey towards God.  I needed words like that.  I still do. 

Journal:  Do you have a poem that helped you discover a great truth?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Using Your Question Words Again

I'm stuck in traffic with an entomologist.

If you ever have to be stuck in traffic, I highly recommend finding an entomologist to help the time pass (especially an entomologist who studies honey bees).  Since she's presenting lessons about bees to fifth graders, I learn about the kinds of questions fifth graders ask about bees.  It's all back to the question words: Who? What? Where? When? How? Why?

1.  How fast do they fly?  (We wonder how you might motivate a honey bee to fly as fast as she could.)
2.  Who gets to be queen? (Once chosen, she lays up to 3,000 eggs a day.)
3.  How do they communicate?  (They dance!  A waggle dance!)
4.  Where do they carry the nectar to bring back to the hive? (In a special stomach.)
5.  Where do they put the pollen they collect? (In little pollen pouches behind their legs.)

Inspired by the children, I start asking my own questions.   My husband asks about how much honey a hive can produce, and I ask more about the selection process for queen.  As we talk about bees, I realize I could continue asking and learning about bees for hours.  

Just one topic--bees--can last for a whole traffic jam if you ask the right questions.  Living with flair means you think like a curious fifth-grader and become fascinated again with the mystery of creation.

Journal:  Did you know that all the worker bees in a hive are female?  I didn't!

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Prudent Man Overlooks an Insult

I'm reading Proverbs, and the wise counsel I find convicts and inspires.  A simple verse in chapter 12 challenges me:

"A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult. " 

As I think about living with flair, I know that I want my life to reflect a counter-cultural and revolutionary way of thinking and behaving.  What would it look like to "overlook" insults?  The word overlook as a verb means failing to notice, but as a noun it means "a commanding position or view." 

When I overlook an insult, I stand high on the overlook of God's love and compassion. 

Journal:  Have you chosen to overlook an insult? 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

How to Write a Great Email Subject Line

I'm teaching the fine art of crafting email subject lines, and an interesting rule emerges:

Write subject lines that one cannot interchange with any other subject line.

We open this kind of email.  This kind of email intrigues and entices.  This kind of email rises to our awareness atop a pile of the 100 you might have received today. 

In other words, be ridiculously specific in as few words as possible.  Gone are the vague and useless email subject lines like "Quick Question" or "Two Things" or "Meeting Request" or even "Good News!"  Instead, I'm learning to make a mark by being ridiculously specific. Thank you, David Shipley and Will Schwalbe, writers of Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home for alerting me that these email subjects accomplish nothing.

So my subject lines zoom in.  A specific subject line clearly defines and clearly identifies what you want and need from a reader.

Instead of "Quick Question," I'm writing, "May I have the spanakotyropita recipe?"  

I'm taking my time, narrowing my focus, and asking what I want and need with ridiculous specificity.  It's good for emailing and for living. 

Journal:  Are you more likely to open an email with a ridiculously specific subject line?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Good Verb Can Change Your Life

Today I tell a student I have another favorite verb besides grapple


I just love this verb.  It means to magnify, to raise the quality of, or to intensify.  It derives from the Latin and French words meaning "to raise up." 

I'm convinced that a good verb can change your life.  

What if when we entered a room, folks thought that our presence enhanced the beauty, goodness, and peace of the atmosphere?  What if we worked to raise the quality of every single situation? 

I will enhance the hot cocoa with marshmallows and mini chocolate chips.
I will enhance my office hours by offering cold beverages and playing uplifting music. 
I will enhance my marriage by surprising my husband with a gift. 
I will enhance my home by exuding hope and optimism. 

I'm leaving for campus and asking myself how I can enhance each moment.  Living with flair means we enhance

Journal:  What did I enhance today? 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My Ruined Fall Photos

I live on a street where, when the leaves change in the fall, they seem lit from within like they're going up in flames. "You just have to see the one in my backyard," my neighbor says.  I stand with my neighbor and observe this tree.

I take several other pictures of gorgeous autumn leaves so red and purple that you can't even believe it.  But when I upload the photos, a blurry smudge obscures every shot.  Whatever it is, it's actually on the lens. 

You can't take beautiful photos with a dirty lens.  I think about this very simple and obvious lesson:  I want to cleanse my heart and mind so I can observe with clarity the beauty about me.

I ask myself what ruins my outlook, and it's usually that I'm self-focused rather than God-focused. I wipe the lens with the cloth and return to the task. 

Journal:  What often ruins your focus? 




Monday, October 10, 2011

One Little Cane, Passed On

This morning, a neighbor comes by with a shovel to uproot several of my raspberry canes to plant in his own garden.  I want to offer a bit of what was originally given to me. 

Two years ago, I was that neighbor taking raspberry canes from another garden down the street.  That neighbor was so generous, and I planted five of her canes that multiplied from a single plant. 

Two years from now, I wonder who will take canes from the neighbor who came today.  The five he takes from me will multiply and cover his whole backyard. 

All throughout the neighborhood, folks harvest raspberries.  I realize the beauty of how interconnected this harvest has become.  All this produce came from just one little plant that multiplied and spread. 

I think about my own life's work.  I want my words and actions to nourish a family, a neighborhood, a city, a nation, a world.  I offer bits of what was originally given to me--loving, encouraging, teaching--and pray the roots go deep and pass between generations. One little cane, over time, can cover a whole community. 

Let it be beautiful fruit.  I think about the bitter fruit of a negative, discouraging, damaging presence passed on between generations.  Equally prolific, I fear this fruit also stays within a community. 

May our raspberry canes be a blessing and not a curse. 

Journal:  What bits can I offer to pass on? 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Hearty, Hearty Joy

I love mums!  We buy some at the local grocery store, and my husband transplants them.  I can't help but smile when I look at these mums. 

Every time I pass by, I think to myself, "Hearty, hearty mums."  They withstand the bitter cold; they love the sun; they love water.  I want to be mum-like: hearty, well-nourished, and blossoming even against the cold. 

Happy Deep Pink Mum
Welcome Autumn Season!  Let it be one of great blossoming, vibrant living, and hearty, hearty joy!

Happy Dark Orange Mum
Journal: What about autumn makes you happy? 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Secret Place

I read this morning a King James translation of Psalm 91:1:  "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty." 

I think for a long time about the secret place of the Most High.  The psalmist writes that in such a place, God "covers us with his feathers" and hides us "under his wings."  Could anything be more lovely and warm, more safe and hidden? 

I ask God to help me make my dwelling in that secret place.  Even in the midst of chaos, noise, and uncertainty, there's a secret place to dwell.  Even in suffering.  Even in loss and disappointment. 

There's a secret place lined with feathers to rest the soul. 

Journal:  Have you been in the secret place? 

Friday, October 7, 2011

I've Completed My Italian Mama Training (Photos from the Italian Mama's Lunch)

Today, I host my first Italian Mama's Luncheon

I've been in training for over a year to learn the ways of a true Italian Mama.

I arrange the antipasto platter; I slice the crusty Italian bread; I spoon out the olives and roasted peppers.  I'm nervous.

Antipasto Platter

The Mamas arrive bearing gifts:  chocolates, flowers, baked goods.  We talk and dine and drink coffee and laugh.  I learn that once you feast on the antipasto, you offer the pasta; in this case, I make fresh pesto and invent my own Italian pasta dish.  I add Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and artichoke hearts.  Pesto-baked chicken accompanies the pasta.

So far so good.  But I'm not finished.  A true Italian Mama brings out more

I've made homemade raspberry sorbet from my fall raspberry harvest.

We cleanse our palettes, and, just when we cannot eat another bite, an Italian Mama must present the desserts:  tiramisu, cannolis, and lemon cake.

Meanwhile, I'm realizing that Italian Motherhood means you always have more.  You know how to offer even more love, warmth, nourishment, and community.

Just when you think you're full, she brings out more.  Italian Mama Training taught me the fine art of abundant living and giving.  These lessons have helped me live with flair this year.

Journal:  How can we live abundantly and give abundantly?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

How Embarrassing!

This morning, in my rush to get to class on time, my purse catches on a door handle.  I fling back against the door like a dog who has reached the end of her leash.  

In the commotion, I actually punch myself in the face with my flailing arms.  Students look on with pity. 

How profoundly embarrassing and highly unprofessional!  

To make matters worse, a student orbiting nearby becomes sucked into my gravitational pull.  She steadies herself against the door so I don't bring her down with me.  She's young, cute, and very stylish.  I'm worried she's broken a stiletto heel in an effort to avoid me.

"I'm so sorry!  My purse caught on the handle!" I explain, fumbling with my books and trying to untangle the purse strap.   

She turns to me and giggles.  "I do that all the time!  I really do!  That happens with my purse so much."  She helps me regain my balance and then moves forward into her bright future.

I watch her hurry away, and I'm so thankful for that sweet college girl.  There's something about rushing to the aid of a person in an embarrassing situation and saying, "This happens to me all the time."

I felt better.

Journal:  Have you ever helped to diffuse an embarrassing situation?   

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

In Praise of Helpful People

I'm sitting in my office, and I realize the difference it makes when you encounter a truly helpful person.

Helpful people inspire me; it's like they actually enjoy serving others.  Sometimes, I'm just overwhelmed that someone would be so helpful, especially when it brings no obvious or immediate benefit to them.

This week, so many people went out of their way to help me:  friends babysitting my children for free, coworkers making my photocopies or delivering books when they didn't have to, a technician installing speakers on my computer so I could enjoy music in my office, or neighbors lending a car when our minivan broke down.  Just this very moment, a coworker sent me an encouraging note after a very discouraging meeting.  Each day, whenever I needed help, help arrived. 

What if we were all just. . . helpful?  I wonder who needs some help today.  I want to be the one who arrives on the scene.

Journal:  Aren't you so thankful for helpful people? 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Be Careful What You Pray For

This afternoon, a group of children practice their instruments together in my home.  One girl drags in an enormous baritone horn, another assembles her flute, and still another positions herself at the piano.

These brand-new musicians (two being my daughters) all want to practice their first song:  Hot Cross Buns.

It's loud, squeaky, and all out of sync.

I'm listening to it all, and I remember how I prayed that God would fill my home with music.  I know nothing about music.  I don't even know how to read music.  But I knew I wanted to raise musical children; it seemed right and good and wonderful.

That year, I said in despair to a friend, "I don't have a piano, and we'll never be able to afford one."  My friend said, "Well, you need to ask God to send you a piano and to fill this home with music!"

So I did.  And He did.  The next day, a friend texted to tell me the church down the road was giving a perfectly good piano away because they were getting a new one.  Did I want it? 

Within an hour, I had a dolly and a truck from U-Haul, several strong students, and a piano entering into my living room.

And today I have a concert happening before my eyes.  

I think about that prayer as my house explodes with music.

I've never heard a more beautiful sound.

Journal:  Did you ever ask for an extravagant thing that you received?

Monday, October 3, 2011

What to Tell Yourself When You're Nervous

As soon as you launch out into anything public, you might suddenly become very nervous. 

When I speak, teach, blog, or lead, I've learned that my nervousness stems from a fear of shame--of rejection--that once removed, sets me free to be myself in front of a crowd.

When I wonder what others will think of me, I get nervous.
When I wonder whether or not I will do a good job, I get nervous.
When I wonder whether or not I should be doing this public thing, I get nervous. 

So I try to stop wondering these things by (and I know this sounds crazy) learning to anticipate the worst that might happen.  Rejection?  Mockery?  I've been there and survived (with flair).  I remember that my public offerings represent gifts to the audience I serve. Others might reject the gift, but the point is I'm giving--not receiving--from the audience. I pray God enables it to not be about me.  I also remember that public opportunities are acts of obedience to my calling.  In this sense, I'm performing for a God who already approves, already accepts, and already delights in me.  There's no earning my own way; there's nothing at stake. 

Living with flair means going public. 

Journal:  Are you ready to be in public? 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Arise, Go

This morning in church, I notice the verb God uses when he speaks to reluctant prophets.  He says:  arise. 

I can't stop thinking about this verb.  Arise!  Arise and go!

It's such an interesting command.  I learn that arise literally means to come into being, to emerge, to move upward.  

Arise!  Come into the calling I have for you!  Emerge out of whatever darkness you're in!   


He takes us by the hand and invites us to arise and go.

Journal:  In what ways am I being called to arise and go?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

How to Feed a Friendship

This morning, a mother mentions that she's teaching her child how to "feed a friendship" in order for it to grow.

I think of that tiny seed of friendship--that little spark between people--that makes the heart cry out:  "I like you!  I want to spend time with you!  We are great together!"

The seed takes root, and then it needs to grow

You can feed a friendship in so many ways. I think of how children intuitively build friendships:  spending time together, exchanging notes and little gifts, talking on the phone, narrating experiences, and wanting to share clothes and dolls.  Some children build forts together, go exploring in the woods, or devise great adventures. At this age, friendship is most important.  When do we stop needing our friends?  Never.  I watch these children, and I remember to feed my friendships.

Journal:  What are some ways to feed a friendship?