The One Word Reminder

Years ago, I read a parenting book about the power of the one word reminder.  Instead of spouting out long, elaborate directions to children, especially in times of transition (leaving for school, going to bed), you simply call out the one word reminder.

Shoes! 

The single reminder houses an entire narrative:  the child remembers now to get her jeans on, put on her socks, and find her shoes.  She doesn’t need my monologue.  One word does it. 

As I thought about the power of one word to invoke a whole series of commands, and how that one word gets a child’s train of thought back on the right track, I wondered about my own one word commands.

What if I used one word reminders to get my mind where it should be and to realign my heart with the truth?  If one word helps children, why can’t one word help adults too?

I used a couple on myself today. 

In the slopping rain, I call out to myself: flair.  Suddenly, I remember to look for it.   Later, I use the single word gentle to remind myself to be gracious and gentle with myself and others. I’ve been known to call out the word “Jesus” to invoke the enormity of the gospel into whatever situation I’m in. 

One word triggers–mantras of focus and truth–can reshape the day, get my head out of a muddle, and refocus my heart. We have an entire arsenal of power here.  We can apply it right now, that one word reminder, that will change everything.  

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Belongingness?

I learned last week about the word “belongingness.”  It’s the human need to feel like we belong to a group and that we are part of something greater than ourselves. Right after the basic need for food, water, and shelter, belongingness ranks next in importance.

I think we skip this need and move right onto the need for esteem and self-actualization.  We abandon belongingness because it doesn’t seem important.  And yet, so many of us suffer from profound loneliness and the kind of isolation that drives us to despair.  I’ve seen it with my own eyes. 

My students often make comments that they felt like they really “belonged” in my classroom.  Feeling like you belong–that you are in the right place, in the right situation, with the right people–might be one of the best feelings in the world. I labor towards this goal for my students; I learn about them, share about myself, and insist on ridiculous name games for the entire semester, long after we know each other. 

Vibrant community–lived out in faith and love–fills the soul so deeply.   I’m learning that it takes effort to build community.  You have to do something:  walk kids to school, launch fitness groups, host potlucks, inspire creative project nights, arrange play dates for dads.

One day, you will all feel like you belong to each other.  You’ll never be the same when you look around you and feel belongingness. 

Folks are suffering from a lack of where to belong.   Living with flair means I gather as many folks as I can and help them find a place to belong.  I don’t wait for somebody else to do this work.  And before I know it, my heart overflows.

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My Daughter’s Perspective on Holiday Shopping

We’re in a glitzy store, admiring all the ornaments and enjoying the holiday smells.  As my children wander down the aisles to observe the dazzling toys, my youngest cries out:

“Mommy!  You have got to come see this!  It’s amazing!  Come here right now!”  She’s calling out to me, weaving in and out of shoppers to pull me to her side.  I think she’s about to show me some toy–the kind with bells and whistles and a price tag we’ll never be able to afford.

Instead, she drags me to. . . nothing.  In silence, she points to the floor.  There, on the store’s carpet, imprinted with the markings of a thousand holiday shoppers’ shoes, a rectangular rainbow appears from the perfect configuration of light coming through the window through some prism I cannot see.

“Look at it.  Just look at it!”  She moves her feet and hands within the rainbow, and I do the same.  The light on our skin makes us blaze with a spectrum of colors.  She’s filled with wonder at this rainbow on the floor.

It cost me nothing.

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Snowflake Photography

Early this morning, the children race around the house to announce the news:  Snow!  Just flurries, but still the excitement mounts as the sun rises on our town.

I grab my camera and go outside on this blustery morning.  I’m in thin pajamas–no hat, no gloves, not even my coat–and it’s amazing how I don’t notice the cold.

First Snow on a Berry

It’s because I see something so magnificent it diminishes me for once.  I’m not even aware of my own frozen fingers. 

Snowflake on Concrete

Is it true that each one is different?  And why does this design delight? 

 
Snowflake on a Stone

Close up, I see something so wonderful, so miniature in its grandeur.  

Snowflake on a Log

The beauty of these tiny designs keeps me outside too long.  But I don’t notice what comes against me; I don’t notice myself at all.  That’s what beauty–real beauty–does to a soul.

You get caught up in the awe of it, and even in the cold gray of a winter morning, you are set free from yourself.

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Spiritual and Stylish Too?

Today, my very stylish sister takes me shopping.  I used to be stylish–maybe 20 years ago–when I had the means, the time, and the desire to look my best.  While my internal flair has grown exponentially this year, my external style needs help. 

I’m too tired, too old, to be cute.  

I’m too spiritual to be stylish. I’m too academic, too poetic. 

But there’s a part of me that I’ve left behind somewhere.  My external flair has turned to. . . frump.   

So my sister has me in a dressing room at a very stylish store.  As I pull on layers of beautiful clothing, I’m surprised at what my heart feels.  

It feels wonderful to be in these clothes.

And then it feels awful that it feels so wonderful.  I know that life is not found in clothing; I know that true joy will never come from a shopping trip.  Living with flair means I find my true self in relation to God, not this soft pink sweater or these jeans that somehow make me look like I’m 18 years old again.  Besides, I’m on a tight budget.  Who can afford these things?  

I’m looking at price tags and frowning.  My sister sings out as she shoves more clothing into the dressing room:  “It’s all 40% off!  We can buy a whole new outfit!”

I have a whimsical shopping bag tied with a bright bow with new jeans and a pink sweater.  As we leave the store, I mention to my sister that I feel guilty feeling so happy about an outfit.  I don’t shop.  I never buy new clothes.  I’m above that pull of materialism and addictive consumerism.  I don’t need these things. 

My sister reminds me that I’ve swung the pendulum too far.  She tells me I can celebrate being a woman in ways that showcase my unique style and elegance.  It’s not ungodly to dress well.

I’m still figuring this all out.  I know there are wise and balanced ways to be stylish, and I want to learn them.

Do you have any advice for me on this journey?  How do you balance spending money on clothes while keeping perspective on what matters most in life?  Do you fear shopping addiction and materialism too? 

(It didn’t help when I asked the saleswoman for her advice about my guilty feelings.  She said, “Oh, those? Don’t worry.  They go away in a couple hours.”)

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A Double Serving of Peace

I’m racing about, scrubbing floors and making beds, and my cell phone rings and rings.  Who has time to chat at a time like this?

Besides, it’s storming outside and my beautifully raked lawn is now a tangle of leaves and branches.  Everything was supposed to be perfect as my family arrives for Thanksgiving. 

Nothing is going to be perfect.  I know this. 

I check the voice mail and a neighbor chirps:  “Go outside!  There’s a rainbow sitting on top of your house!”

The Rainbow

The phone rings again.  It’s my husband.  “Go outside!  There’s a rainbow!  Show the girls!”

We stop everything and observe this glorious display.  It doesn’t matter how anything else looks right now because there’s a rainbow over me.  And it’s now a double rainbow, barely visible, but there.  

I marvel at that sign of God’s goodness and love, that sign of peace.  It’s over me, barely visible, but there.   

There’s a rainbow over you right now.

A double serving of Thanksgiving peace.  

 


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Keep Your Wits About You

When you carefully manage your mental health like I do, a change of routine can get everything out of balance.  An older, wiser mother I know offered her best advice for enjoying the holidays–despite any stress or change of routine.

She said, “Keep your wits about you.” 

In other words, do whatever it takes to keep yourself in balance.  Even in the most rushed of days, I want to take time to exercise, sleep enough, eat healthy foods, and spend time in reflection and prayer.  My doctor says that these activities recalibrate the brain to keep me from being “reactive.”

Venomous Cobra

Imagine a snake that whips her head around and attacks with speed and ferocious power.  When I’m reactive, I snap at family members and let the venom of a bad mood dominate my speech and actions.

Instead of reactive living, I want responsive living.  I want to be at peace in my heart and gentle in my speech.  I want to respond, not react.  I want to be like a butterfly, carrying sweet nectar–not venom–within me. 

So when I excuse myself from the holiday rush for a brisk walk, an early bedtime, or a moment to reflect and write a blog, I’m investing in my own balance. 

I want to enter a room full of friends and family and be a blessing–alighting as a butterfly upon each dear soul.  Let me offer beauty, let me delight you.  But first, let me take a moment to keep my wits about me.  

(Photos, “Indian Cobra,” courtesy of Kamalmv, Wikipedia, and “Monarch in May,” courtesy of Creative Commons)

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Answer with Joy

Winterberry Holly

This weekend, I could not help my fascination with winterberry holly.  I love how vibrant the berries appear against a drab late-autumn landscape.  Those berries challenge their depressing surroundings with a hallelujah of red. 

Thorny Cages

They rise out of treacherous, thorny cages of leaves. 

They nourish entire populations of birds–over 48 species.  Even small mammals depend on these luscious berries to sustain them through the bitter winter. 

Let me rise out of thorns, answer with joy whatever dark background hovers about, and nourish those around me.  

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Texted: What Should I Do with My Life?

A high school student in my town had a problem.  She didn’t know what she wanted to do for a career. 

So she polled everyone.  She texted all her friends and family–the ones who knew her the best–and asked them for their opinion on the matter.  She even inquired of her teachers.  She asked people what they could imagine her doing because she figured that those who know her best might have noticed some of her strengths and talents she couldn’t necessarily see. 

A high percentage of texts came back suggesting she pursue a career she had never imagined for herself.  Her friends and family saw a direction that she couldn’t see: a teacher.  Text after text explained to her why she would be a perfect teacher.  The texts even came back with a specific grade in mind with clear reasoning why.  This overwhelming response made her deeply consider a new direction and think through what she had forgotten: a childhood passion for teaching others. 

This is career planning with flair.

It takes a brave person to send out the question: “What should I do with my life?”  At that moment of humble confusion and uncertainty, an entire network answers the call to help.  In this student’s case, the community arrived at a quick consensus.  All of those loving and insightful texts remind me that career planning (or any future planning) doesn’t have to happen alone. We can poll our friends and teachers, gather wise opinions, and move forward with new insight. 

The subtext of those texts?   We love you, we care about your future, and you are not alone.  

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