A Little Love Story

This morning, the little one plows into our bed and announces that she is about to lose her first loose tooth.

The world stops for a minute.  A first lost tooth!

In our family, we let Dad do the tooth pulling.  There’s even a title assigned to this role.  He pinches his thumb and forefinger together and calls his hand the “Extractor.”  The girls giggle and squeal as the Extractor approaches the loose tooth. 

Meanwhile, my daughter’s mouth contains exceptionally tiny teeth, and the Extractor can hardly get a hold of that one small front tooth.

I’m watching this dad–so large by comparison–bending low and peering inside that small mouth.  He examines with great care that little tooth and suggests we try to pull it this evening since it’s not quite ready.   It seems so strange, so wonderful, as I observe this interaction.

Is there anything too small for this dad to care about–to know so well?  Is there anything about his daughter that he wouldn’t stop everything for, bend low, and examine and tend to?

God whispers in my heart:  “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”  I imagine myself as that daughter. Do I realize God knows everything about me?  Can it be true, as the Psalmist says, that our tears are on a scroll–part of God’s record?  Can it be true that, as Jesus himself proclaims  “even the very hairs of [our] head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid. . . “?  

A father knows–and cares deeply about–even a loose tooth.  What can happen to me today that falls outside the knowledge and loving attention of the Father?  

Living with flair means I realize that even tiny details about me are known, cared about, and tended to by God.  

Journal:  What small event (that I’m tempted to think nobody cares about) might I entrust to God today?


Overwhelming Cravings for Fattening Things

I’m currently obsessed with all things coconut.  I love the smell, the texture, and the flavor.  I realize it’s strange to love coconut so much.  This week, I indulge in coconut cake and then, as if that weren’t enough to ruin my weight-loss plan, I must have coconut ice-cream.

Last night, I actually dream of eating coconut cream pie.  

This morning at church, I ask the ladies for their help in managing my coconut addiction.  It’s a horrible thing to love:  even in just one small cup of the stuff, I’m eating so many calories and fat that it’s hard to justify.

I actually pray about this.

Later, I’m out running errands with my daughter, and we’re about to stop for a fun treat.  Immediately, I imagine us eating coconut cake, and I know just where to get some.  Instead, my daughter asks for a treat in the form of crafts: new markers that you can twist and blend together. 

I’m stuck longing for that fluffy white coconut confection that I won’t be getting.  

I have to find some coconut, or I just might die. 

In the craft store, my daughter points to a rack of candy.  Small and unassuming, a package of tiny coconut candies from Belgium sits.  Because of portion size, this coconut treat represents a reasonable, low calorie, and remarkably low-fat little treat.

Back in the car, I have just one, and I’m satisfied.

Living with flair means I have to remember that I don’t need to gobble the whole cake or scoop out mounds of ice cream.  I can find healthy alternatives in small portions.  When the craving hits, I know what to do.  

That leaves me time to get to the good stuff:  drawing pictures with my daughter’s new blending markers.

Journal:  I’ve learned in my Weight Watcher’s meetings about “substitutions” for my favorite unhealthy snacks.  Instead of potato chips, I can grab a healthy substitution like air-popped popcorn or pretzels.  What “substitutions” can I make for other unhealthy food, thoughts, or behaviors?


2 Secrets of the Wandering Albatross

Last night, my daughter wins a book about winged creatures at the school’s Bingo Night.  We read all about butterflies, bats, hummingbirds, flying squirrels, bees, and ladybugs.  Then, I turn the page and learn about the magnificent Wandering Albatross.

I learn that the Wandering Albatross stays in flight for months without landing.  I stare, stunned at the page, as I consider the lonely, distant travels of this bird who never finds a secure place to land.  And even when she does, the awkward bird tumbles over her own feet, crash-landing into the others, and somersaulting several times before finally standing.

She prefers the flight to the landing.  

I have to check my facts this morning.  Is it true that this bird stays aloft for months?   How is this even possible?

I discover that the Wandering Albatross has the largest wingspan of any living bird.  I also uncover the bird’s secret:  she knows how to sharply swing into air currents to let the wind blow her to great heights. She lets the wind do the work for her. 

As I consider the Wandering Albatross today, I realize how often it feels as if we wander–for months–unsure of where to land.  As lonely travelers, we struggle to stay aloft.  And we must.  Our survival depends upon our ability to soar in the midst of our wandering.  Sometimes, there’s no land in sight.

You spread wide your arms, turn sharply into the wind, and you let it carry you to great heights.  I think about a life lived with God’s power.  I think, too, about adversity being a stronger air current.  I throw myself against it, leaning hard against the Lord.  What a magnificent flight!

Journal:  When I feel like a Wandering Albatross, how can I widen my embrace and learn to use adversity to carry me to higher places emotionally and spiritually? How can I remember to see God as the air current that “does the work for me” today? 

(photo, “Wandering Albatross” from photolib.noaa.gov, by Lieutenant Elizabeth Crapo, NOAA Corps.  Photo taken in the Southern Ocean, Drake’s Passage)


If You Were an Explorer. . .

This morning I learn about the exploration goals of the 3rd and 4th graders.  If they could be explorers–anywhere–where would they go and why?

My daughter says, “I would explore the ocean depths to find sea glass, coral, and dolphins.”  Her friend agrees, but he suggests that they explore the Bermuda Triangle for these things because you can always discover the lost city of Atlantis along the way.  

I follow along, hands in my pockets, listening as the children describe, in specific detail, this exploratory trip.  They will need underwater cameras and a submarine obviously.  I hear the children talk about sea glass and how you never know what kind of object that glass came from.  “It could have been on the Titanic, you know!”

Anything is possible.  

Everyone walks much faster when we have these conversations.  Nobody notices the freezing cold, and nobody complains about the slippery trek uphill.  When we access the explorer in us, something changes. 

The world, vast and unexplored, lies before me.  I transform myself into an explorer:  one who travels into unknown or less understood regions–physical, emotional, or spiritual regions.

I learn to inquire, take notes, preserve artifacts.  Like a child dreaming of the depths of the sea, I experience the thrill of discovery.   Anything is possible today. 

Journal:  Children are natural explorers.  When I was a 3rd grader, I went on a field trip to Puget Sound in Washington. That day, I discovered a baby octopus.  The teacher brought the entire class over to where I stood by the water, and I had the thrill of sharing my discovery.  I love that explorer memory; it’s one of a dozen of special experiences of discovery.  If I approach my day as child-like explorer, will that change my attitude regarding my tasks?


Not Even for a Second

I’m driving home from a depressing budget meeting where I learn that the English Department can no longer afford to keep many of its most wonderful instructors.  Courses might be cut, faculty might lose work, and entire departments could be reconfigured.  Times are tough, and my teaching future seems uncertain.

I’m moving along the road at exactly 2 mph because a blizzard swells about us.  With little visibility and no traction, I follow the line of cars for a 30 minute commute that should take 4 minutes.  Finally, the traffic breaks as I turn right onto a main road.  More traveled, this road seems clear and open.  I accelerate ahead, my mind replaying the budget meeting.

Suddenly I’m swerving and sliding in my lane.  You just can’t lose focus and drive in a blizzard, no matter how clear the roads appear.  My mind snaps back to the present moment like I’ve changed channels on a television.  And the picture in view astounds me:  a winter wonderland stretches out for miles, pure white, with fluffy flakes like miniature coconut cupcakes falling all around.

I continue on, and I force my mind’s full attention on the road before me.  I can’t let it wander–not even for a second–in these driving conditions.

Besides, it’s beautiful out here.

A danger threatens when I’m dwelling on that past meeting or fretting about a future that’s not even here.  I keep my hands on the wheel, look straight ahead, and marvel at the freshly fallen snow.

It’s the only way I’ll get home safely. 

Journal:  How do I let my worries about the future rob me of joy?


How You Know You’re Happy

A friend tells me that Oprah will feature a quiz today to determine if we are happy.  The radio also announces a seminar I can pay for that will help me realize whether I’m happy.  I also learn from a blog reader that certain countries actually try to measure the happiness of citizens.

How would we know?   What tool can measure it? 

All morning, I wonder how we know if we’re happy.  I ask my husband, and he answers that he knows he’s happy when he feels connected to God.  I nod, realizing the truth of that one word: connected. 

What if we measured happiness by how connected we felt to ourselves, to God, and to others? 

As somehow who felt deeply unhappy for so many years, I evaluated what contributed most to that state.  Indeed–and not to simplify mood disorders–my unhappiness related directly to disconnection.  I lost connection to my true self.  I wasn’t relating to God, and I wasn’t in vibrant community.  Unhappy people often describe their profound loneliness.  They experience isolation and a fractured sense of self.  

My journey to discover lasting happiness began with discovering myself and who God made me to be.  I learned to put boundaries between myself and oppressive, toxic environments or people who couldn’t celebrate or encourage the true me.  I learned to connect with God authentically–not with a false self that performed some religious ritual–but by radical honesty, frailty, and need.  I embraced my weaknesses, delighting in failure because it opened the door to grace.  

In the midst of this journey, I devoted myself to building community wherever and however I could.  Maybe it was a walk-to-school campaign to connect with neighbors or a Fitness Group to love the children.  Maybe it was a potluck dinner or a pancake breakfast with the family down the street.  

Why does that freezing walk to school increase my happiness every day? 

My well-being depends upon connection.   I have to invite folks in, enter into their story as well, and realize we belong to each other.

I also learned the forms of counterfeit connection.  Fame, prestige, and wealth create illusions of happiness, but they fail to ever fulfill the heart’s true cry for belonging.   I’d rather walk the children to school than be on Oprah today (unless, of course, we were all there together).  Or, better, Oprah could come to us.  

I guess I’ve learned that even though fleeting moments of attention seem like fun (Oprah would be fun!), they really don’t contribute to our lasting well-being. And even when I have lots of cash in my pocket, it doesn’t connect me with anyone.  It just gives me something to buy that can’t love me back. 

I’ve been happy for many years now.  It’s connection.  And I didn’t realize it until this morning.

Journal:  Is happiness directly related to my connection to myself, God, and others?  If one of these relationships suffer, does it contribution to unhappiness?


Count Your Whorls

I learn this morning that you can tell the age of a pine tree by its number of “whorls.” One child stops in the woods on the walk to school, and she counts the circles of branches that shoot out from a tiny pine tree.  The top layer of branches is one whorl and represents one year of growth.  The next layer represents another.  This baby pine tree boasts seven whorls, so it’s been growing for seven years.  It stands as tall as my daughter. 

“Next year, they’ll be eight whorls!”  The children, wide-eyed, pause and look down upon the tree. 

I’m struck by the slow growth of this little pine that’s witnessed our journey to school all these years.  Now, we witness the pine tree, mark its age, and incorporate that growth into the whole system of things that grow and change about us.

These things matter so much to children.  Just last night, at Neighborhood Fitness Group, the children always gather to record their growth on my kitchen wall.  They inevitably check, every single week, if they’ve grown even a little bit. 

They record each each others’ heights, and they claim they’ve really grown each week.  The wall, smeared and nearly illegible, tempts me every Saturday morning as I stand beside it with my cleaning bucket.  I just can’t clean the wall.

We have to count our whorls.  And, even though I’m no longer getting taller, I want to count my own growth somehow–visibly, publicly.  Am I growing kinder?  More patient?  More wise?

Let me retain that child-like quality of marking my own growth.  There’s something to celebrate; there’s something to note here.  

Living with flair means I count whorls.  We’re growing–changing–and we must witness it.

Journal:  How do I measure my own growth?  What tool might I use to track spiritual and emotional growth?


Throwing Boiling Water into the Air Gives Us an Ice and Snow Display

I’d seen those Youtube videos where folks in Alaska or Canada throw pots of boiling water into the air only to have the water freeze immediately and rain down a puff of snow and ice.

I figure (since it’s -8 degrees F), I would try it myself.

We boil water, pour it into cups, and stand on our back porch.  Ready?  We toss the boiling water into the air.  Instead of water, an amazing cloud of snow falls beautifully to the ground.  The children have no idea why this is happening, but it’s fantastic

Even when I explain the science, it doesn’t diminish the awe.

I learn that the boiling water is already so close to being steam that, when I toss it into the air, the water breaks into tiny droplets with large surface areas.  They lose heat so quickly, and the drops are so small, that they literally freeze before they hit the ground.

That conflict in the air astounds me.  Boiling water meets freezing air, and–voila!–the water transforms into a beautiful and completely unexpected state.  A state so fantastic we experience awe

I remember this today as I press on against my own internal and external conflicts.  What transforms in me when I release these struggles amounts to something beautiful and gloriously unexpected.

Journal:  Today, I experience a funny conflict:  Every other family member has a hot shower this morning, and when it’s my turn, I enter a freezing waterfall.  Talk about boiling rage meeting freezing!  I laugh about God’s sense of humor since I had just chosen the blog entry for today.  I learn that even my cold shower can transform something about my character.  Every conflict, disappointment, and struggle surely can.  How are my struggles transforming me today?


What You Stir Up

Today, for some odd reason, I think about how many times I stir throughout the day.  I stir my coffee or tea, I stir the oatmeal, I stir the batter, I stir the juice, I stir the sauce as it simmers.  Stir, stir, stir.  Maybe it’s the Italian Mama rubbing off on me, but I have a spoon in my hand most of the day.

I stir because the good stuff settles at the depths, and my quick spoon riles it up and mixes it back in.  

I’m in church, praying that God would stir up good things in me.  I want passion stirred, hope stirred, and the kind of faith that moves mountains stirred.  It’s in there, settled at my depths.  Stir me!

Later, I go home to look up that beautiful verb.  Unfortunately, it’s often associated with negative ideas.  We stir up dissent, controversy, and drama.  We stir up anger, bitterness, and jealousy.  In the book of Proverbs, I find that every single use of the verb stir warns against rousing up these negative traits.

I don’t want to be a person who stirs up the wrong sorts of things.  

I want to stir up goodness.  I want to leave a wake of peace, joy, hope, and faith.  Once you spend time with me, I want to have stirred up love and happiness in you–not conflict or anger.

Living with flair means I trust God to stir up good things, and I, too, stir my environment to mix in every wonderful element I might.

Journal:  Am I a person who stirs up controversy or leaves a wake of peace?


Our Uncommon Uses

While cleaning my home today, I notice two of my favorite objects: a flowerpot and a serving dish.   We received them as wedding gifts over ten years ago, and they were both too beautiful not to use.  
But I don’t grow flowers inside in pots, and I rarely transfer our dinner onto serving platters (and this one seemed too small for my family).  I couldn’t keep these things hidden away!  Instead, I found uncommon uses for both the pot and the platter.

The pot became my cooking utensil holder.

The platter became our key tray. 

I realized that the pot can hold more than soil; the platter can carry more than a meal.

As I think about all my specific plans and dreams–the things I know I was made for–I have to pause and ask about the uncommon uses for my skills.   

Over the years, I have been so busy telling the Potter what I am really made for, and He’s already using me for broader, more interesting and more useful things. Things I hadn’t imagined.  Immeasurably more! 

Sometimes we emerge into the world on usual paths, using our gifts and talents in uncommon but wonderful ways.  Living with flair means I allow it.  We are too beautiful–too loved–to be kept hidden away. 

Journal:  Our wedding theme verse was from Ephesians 3:20:  “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us. . . “  As I look at my wedding objects today, I think about the unsual paths our lives take.  How have I seen God do “immeasurably more” with the plans and dreams of my heart?