My New Year’s Resolution: Be Soap

Before we leave to drive home from our holiday travels, we fear enduring the horrific smell in our minivan.  On the trip down, both girls get carsick all over the seats, the floor–everything in sight.  Have you ever been in a situation that was so unpleasant that it becomes comical?  Picture us pulling off of the highway, both girls vomiting, a snowstorm upon us, and no way to get the car clean.  And we still have 6 hours of driving left. 

Ha ha ha. 

It’s hard to live with flair sometimes. 

Once at our destination, we try everything to remove the smell, including all sorts of sprays and deodorizers.  Nothing helps.  Then, Grandpa tells us his tried and true way of removing any car odor.   You simply take a bar of soap and put it under the seats.

As we pack up the car to drive home, I’m doubtful as I put that little bar of Irish Spring under the seat. I’m plugging my nose and hating everything about holiday traveling. 

An hour later, we pile in, and we cannot smell the carsick odor.  I keep smelling the air, skeptical.
It’s completely gone.  The carsick smell is gone!   All day long, I’m thinking about a little bar of soap with the power to change a whole environment.  I can’t figure it out, but I know it’s working.  The soap somehow absorbs and neutralizes the offending smell.

Meanwhile, I have 10 hours of travel to consider my New Year’s Resolution.  And then it occurs to me that I want to influence my environment like that little bar of soap.  Can I somehow absorb and neutralize every terrible, offensive, negative thing–neutralize it–and in turn refresh whatever situation I’m in?

In 2011, I want to absorb and neutralize.  I want to counterbalance every attack with the good, the true, and the beautiful.  And I can because of God within me.  Might God use us all to change every toxic environment into a sweet smelling paradise?   Even a small intervention–as small as soap tucked under a seat–can change everything.  


Doing Everything Exactly Wrong

I’m reading a book to my daughter that mentions a bunny with a nose that wiggles.  I learn that a bunny wiggles her nose for a very curious reason.  It’s not to help her breathe, smell, or provide any obvious help.  Apparently, a rabbit wiggles her nose only when she’s attentive.  The more interested a rabbit is in something, the faster her nose wiggles.

A thrilled bunny, caught in wonder, wiggles her nose.

My daughter turns to me and says, “Mom, am I doing it?”  She’s right up against my face, her nose touching mine.

I lean back and observe her.  She’s moving everything except her nose.  “Sweetheart, you’re moving your eyebrows up and down, not your nose,” I tell her.  She then puffs her cheeks, puckers her lips, wrinkles her chin, and even blinks her eyes rapidly.

But she can’t get the nose to wiggle.

She focuses, going cross-eyed looking down upon her nose.  I hold her face, offer some advice, and wait. I consider the task before her and realize the difficulty of mastering that particular movement.  She does it exactly wrong as part of learning the skill.  By a process of elimination, she figures it out. Finally, she moves her nose and her little nostrils flare a few times.   

This won’t be the last time we go about getting it right by getting it all wrong first.  How many times in my own life have I done everything exactly wrong on my way to figuring it all out?

Doesn’t God hold my face close, waiting with me–patiently directing– as I get it right?  My little one, that curious bunny hopping about, wiggling her nose, reminds me that living with flair means I sometimes do everything exactly wrong as I explore this great world with wonder.  And that helps me get it right eventually.


What America Cannot Lose

Elliotts Pharmacy since 1914

Yesterday, I encounter flair in a drugstore.

My husband’s family owns the independent pharmacy in the honest town of Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina.  If you’ve lost faith in good people and genuine community living, come visit downtown Fuquay to inspire your heart.  The folks in this place live with the kind of flair that has motivated me since the day I first visited. 

This drugstore, Elliotts Pharmacy, has served the community since 1914, and it still has the fountain to serve customers vanilla cokes, pimento cheese sandwiches, sweet tea, and the best milkshakes in town. 

I had never used the words pimento cheese sandwiches before I married into this town.  I had never seen folks line up for sausage biscuits and orangeade.  If you’ve never had these things, you are not fully alive yet. 

We walk in, and we enter another time and place–the kind of era when folks stop everything, come out from behind their cash register, and shake your hand.  It’s the kind of place where you know everybody, and everybody knows you.

You can spin around on the bar stools, just like your granddaddy did when he came to Elliotts after school with a nickle to buy a cola and a dime for square nabs or a candy bar. 

You can talk to the pharmacist about anything you want, and he’ll remember everything about you if he doesn’t already know.  He will not rush you.  People in the South don’t know how to rush. 

I know for a fact that he once brought a customer a heating pad in the middle of the night, and he answers his phone during Christmas dinner to take care of any customer in town who needs him.  Right now, I asked him to read this blog before I posted it, and he said he’d be right back because he’s delivering medicine to a customer.

Would a big box pharmacy do that?  Have I ever once sat around a chain drug store, eating lunch and shaking hands with my neighbors and asking about their relatives?

Grandpa says his store is “a modern pharmacy with old-fashioned qualities.”  I love that.  I want my whole life to be modern with old-fashioned qualities like Elliotts.

I’m not ready to let a place like Elliotts go.  While so many downtown stores close because customers go to Super Centers, places like Elliotts wait patiently on the corner.  A drugstore like that symbolizes what we cannot lose in America.   


Sledding in My Pearls

Our Saucer Sled

It’s late afternoon, and I’m all fixed up for a night out.  I even have my pearls on. 

My youngest daughter stands by the door and says, “Mom, can we go sledding real quick?  Real quick?”  She’s already pulling on her snow pants, and as I look out the window towards the sledding hill, something comes over me.  I realize I must do this; I must take a minute and live with flair.  So many moments of pure joy have come from spontaneous, ridiculous activity.  I have to go sledding. 

Of course this makes no sense at all. 

I pull on Grandpa’s huge snowsuit (that fits over my outfit without messing it up), grab my husband’s jacket and gloves, yank on some boots, and I’m out the door. 

Sledding in Pearls

We sled down the hill in a bright blue saucer.  I sit down first, and she plops down right on top of me.  We push off, holding on to each other for dear life. 

I’m actually late for our evening plans.  As the woman who is always ten minutes early to everything, I’m amazed with the joy I feel being late for something.  I apologize to the other couples and point to the sledding hill.  As I strip off my snow gear, I tell everyone not to worry.  I’m ready to go.  See?  I even have my pearls on. 


When You Feel Like Burnt Toast

When you burn food, you apparently ruin it by overcooking.  Too much time, too much heat, and the thing burns.  This morning, I nearly incinerate the bread in the toaster oven as I attempt to make toast for my daughter.  I’m not paying attention, and before I know it, the bread loses that delicious browned toasty color and suddenly adopts the despair of burnt black waste.

But I’m standing by a grandmother who, among millions of other wise lessons, teaches me not to waste anything.  I pick up that toast and consider the truth that it’s only surface damage.  I can salvage something good from this disaster.

I scrape the charred landscape to reveal the real thing underneath: perfect toast.

It only looked like disaster.  It only seemed like despair.  

These things about my day, my life, that feel like something burnt beyond repair might be perceived differently.  Underneath the surface, the true good thing remains.  I ask God to run the butter knife over the landscape of my life, clear that surface damage, and let the real me shine through.

Living with flair means that when I feel like burnt toast, I remember what’s unseen beneath the surface. 


Will Eating Snow Kill Me?

Holiday Snowfall

Traveling south, we emerge into a winter wonderland.  Every direction you turn, you see white fluffy frosting, pure enough to eat.

So we actually eat it.

I stand by a tree, lean in, and lick like I’m eating from a kind hand.  My children shovel snow into their mouths like it’s vanilla ice cream.

I imagine coconut or maybe white chocolate flakes. 

For a moment, I think about pollution, toxic things, and all the germs I’m taking in with every lick.  I’ve read the websites that tell me I’m eating more bacteria with every taste of snow than if I were actually eating dirt in the yard.  This was last year, when the girls wanted to flavor their snow with syrup to pretend they were pioneer girls like Mary and Laura Ingalls.  I let them, even though I read that you should limit your snow consumption to one cup every 5 years. These websites also claim that I am eating spores from outer space every time I eat a snowflake.

Just now, I think I ate 2 cups of snow.  I’m doomed! 

I couldn’t help it.  The sky made a beautiful gesture–an appetizer offered from the trees’ arms, like servers’ platters at a fancy party–and I bent down and received what nature made.  I am trusting my stomach acid to neutralize what I’ve just done to myself. 

Living with flair means I eat a little snow. Maybe just one lick.  I just had to.


What We Most Want

Finally, at 6:00 AM, we agree to open presents.  This is only after the 2:00 AM squeal alert that presents had arrived under the tree.

My living room sparkles with shreds of wrapping paper, bows, and tissue paper.  By now, the little girls play happily with their new dolls, and I drink coffee–lots and lots of coffee.  

Amid the laughter, I hear my husband calling out, “Can you think of any other person’s birthday party where you get the presents?”

He turns to me and says, “Isn’t that the real meaning of gospel?  We celebrate Jesus, but we end up getting the gifts.” 

Bring on the gifts, the shimmering joy, the peace, and the love.   May we unwrap His gifts upon gifts, in obvious and hidden forms, today and all year.  May we have the hope and the faith to see them, despite every circumstance.

May we lift our eyes and be led to what we’ve been waiting for all our lives.  Can it be that what we most want, we find in that manger?

Merry Christmas from Live with Flair!


Light in the Darkness

In the hustle and bustle of this Christmas Eve day, I pause to think about my electric candles set in every window of our home.  Within the core of these candles, the builder placed a photo sensor that automatically responds when the light grows dim outside.  As soon as it’s dark enough, the candles light up.  We never have to turn them on–the darkness does it for us.

The darkness makes the light shine.  As I think about this day, I know that many suffer in unimaginable ways.  Friends and family members have passed on, and this Christmas, we often think about who is missing from our gathering.  Instead of experiencing a joyful holiday, some of us feel the darkness of sorrow.

I love that Psalm 18 says “God turns my darkness to light,” and the promise of Christmas, recorded in Isaiah 9, is that “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned.”

The deep darkness (no matter what kind) doesn’t win this Christmas. Sometimes the Builder makes it so that we pass through a bit of darkness in order to discover that light.  My strange little candles remind me that living with flair means that when I sense the darkness coming, I know the light will shine.  I don’t have to manufacture it or flip some magic switch.  God dwells within, and in the core of my being, the light shines even in–and especially because of–darkness.  By faith, I embrace the truth of it.  I rest here, let the darkness fall, and let God shine


A Christmas Gift to Yourself

I’m sitting around a table with other couples, all in their 30’s and 40’s.  As we talk about the different activities we’re encouraging our children to try–voice lessons, dance, musical instruments, acting–one mother suddenly announces how much she wishes she could take ballet lessons. 

“Why don’t you!?” we all exclaim just as another mother confesses her desire to learn ballet.  And then, the whole table erupts in a discussion of the classes we wish we were taking.  We go around the room and answer the question: “What class do you secretly wish you could take?” 

Painting, photography, guitar, voice, history, Spanish, piano. . . the list goes on as we share the things we still–even at our age–want to learn and do.  But is it too late?  I had just finished reading a chapter about neuroscience and the importance of novelty for brain health.  Novelty–fresh ideas, fresh experiences, fresh activities–strengthens the brain as it ages.

It’s not too late.  It’s never too late. 

We commit to it as a group, encouraging one another in our desires.  The gift we might give ourselves this Christmas for 2011 is novelty.  Then, by Christmas of next year, we’ll have another interest to pursue.

Living with flair means I give myself the gift of novelty.  Who cares if you’re the oldest ballerina in the room or if your arthritic fingers hesitate over the piano keys?   You’ll inspire the rest of us with your courage, your enthusiasm, and your flair.  Is there something you secretly wish you could learn?  I’d love to hear it! 


Christmas Disorder (This Place is a Disaster!)

Gingerbread Disaster

I’m decorating gingerbread cookies with my 5 year old and her little friend.  A blanket of frosting and sprinkles covers the counter tops, and as I observe the smear upon the floors, the walls, and probably the ceiling, I exclaim: “This place is a disaster!” 

The small child before me, the one shaking bright red sprinkles upon everything but her gingerbread man, responds: “When it’s this messy, it just means we are working really hard.”

I consider the truth of her words.  The Christmas disaster all over my kitchen and living room–tissue paper in shreds, manger scenes all discombobulated, and crafts partially completed–I realize the beautiful work of Christmas and the mess we leave in our wake.  Our schedules are in chaos; our diets reconfigure to include ridiculous amounts of gooey treats; our family issues bubble up to the surface; our cats have scattered ornaments all over the house.  Messy, messy, messy. 


But something is happening in the mess.  Something beautiful and right.  When it’s this messy, something is working really hard. 

A lot of things about Christmas are messy–even Jesus arrives in the filth of a manger in the chaotic way that disorders a whole world back to order.

I’ll clean up in 2011.  Right now, I’m disordering the place into the kind of Christmas order we need.  When it’s this messy, something’s right.