Secret Agent Life

This morning, I read about how a businessman responds to a doctor’s order to go to a train station and “look for someone who needs help.” The doctor believed that if the businessman practiced doing something for another person every day, that man would begin to feel better about his life.

He did.  It worked.  

I wonder about the direction to “look for someone who needs help.” What if that mission shaped my day?    I wonder what it means to live a life that anticipates, on a daily basis, how I might serve another person.

Someone we’ll encounter today will need something (a hug, a word, a ride, a lunch), and what if God wanted to use us to meet that particular need?  What if each day we were on a special assignment to care for somebody in our path?   

But we will not know who, where, or when this person might appear.  We just know that it will, most certainly, happen.  So we keep our eyes open, waiting for our special assignment.

I tell God I’m available.  But I’m nervous–a little–about what shape the day will take.

The day transforms into an action-adventure film.  I’m the one scanning the train station platform, looking for the helpless.  But it’s not the train station; it’s my own street, my own neighborhood, my own office.   

I feel like a secret agent on a mission from God. I feel like this covert operation changes the focus, the purpose, and the meaning of what it means to be alive today. 

Living with flair means I’m available for secret missions to care for everyone and anyone, stranger or friend, who enters my life today. 

____________________
Journal:  Who was my special assignment today? 

Share

When Your Scars Leak (Warning: Graphic Image of a Cat’s Infected, Although Missing, Eye)

Yesterday, my daughter cries out that Jack’s scar is leaking

Remember Jack?  Our one-eyed cat, over this past year, seemed fully recovered from the day we rescued him:  he learned to purr again; he discovered his lost meow; he started caring for other cats; then he learned to stand up for himself against the other cats; and finally, he learned how to knead the bed like normal kitties do.

He was fully alive, fully cat

We hardly notice the scar anymore.  It’s only when other folks come over and comment that we remember.

Infected Eye Wound

But the wound where his eye once was becomes infected.  The vet says the infection is so great, so deep, that it has to burst out of the scar. 

We hold Jack all evening.  We care for the infection, treat it with medicine, and give special attention to him. 

I remember that sometimes wounds leak.  Even after a year of healing, the old scar can ooze.  Just because we don’t notice the wound, one day, it bursts back into our lives and threatens us with that discouraging reminder.

But we aren’t discouraged.  We go back to the basics.  We hold him, love him, and treat him.  We aren’t shocked or repulsed.  It’s part of his journey, and we’re right here with him. 

Living with flair means I’m in this with you.  Even when the old wounds leak out, we go back to the basics, take care of one another, and let the healing begin again. 

_____________________
Journey:  When old wounds leak, how can I keep from being discouraged?

Share

Walking on Water

This morning, the lawns become ice skating rinks.  The children are so light they can skate across the surface of the snow without falling through. 

When I walk, I sink.  I’m just too heavy.

All day, I think of those weightless little children and the joy they exude as they twirl and slide to school. 

I pray that I learn to travel light, as they do, to cast my heavy burdens on the Lord, and to shed the worry and stress from my heart.

Without fear, weightless, I walk on water. 

___________________
Journal:  What weight might I cast off and onto the Lord? 

Share

Next Time, Try This

I’m sitting next to a stack of essays, coffee in one hand, pen in the other.  As I read, I celebrate great writing with enthusiastic comments in the margin.  Bravo!  Genius!  Fantastic!

I circle mistakes; usually I find semicolons used improperly, weak verbs, or sentence patterns with no variation.  Immediately, I find myself writing, “Next time, try this,” as I scribble out a plan for their writing improvement.

I realize how discouraging a bad grade feels.  The only thing that soothes sometimes is that plan for “next time.”  These strategies for development keep our focus on growth, not setbacks.

I remember a parenting book that taught me to correct a child’s behavior and say “next time” right away.  “Next time, don’t jump on the furniture,” or “next time, don’t spread the peas all over the kitchen wall.”

It really works.   It’s like a little mantra that reminds us we are all on a journey of growing, of getting it right eventually.  “Next time” invites me to rise up to a challenge, and it keeps me from the despair of failure.

I think of that with my overeating, my fits of dark emotions, my bad choices with my time, my harsh words.  Next time, I’ll change something.  Next time, I’ll grow a little bit more into the woman I want to be.  And the beauty of the “next time” expression is that it starts immediately.  I don’t have to wait till tomorrow or next year. 

When I get it wrong, I think of an immediate plan for development.  We’re moving forward, don’t look back.  Start fresh!  It’s next time right now. 

There’s always another chance to grow.  I want to be as gentle with myself as I am with my children or my students.  If I fail today, I remember that next time, I can try this. 

___________________
Journal:  If I’ve already messed up today, how can “next time” help me?

Share

You Don’t Bug Me

This morning, a little boy who walks with me to school every day hands me a Valentine.  He’s not a big talker, and he delivers it to me while looking at his shoes.

I open it up, and I see a picture of a giant bug.  It says, “You don’t bug me.”

I’m glad I don’t bug him.  And, as a writing instructor, I have to admit I love the wordplay. 

I walk beside him, not saying even one word.  He doesn’t like to talk, and I realize I don’t have to be talking to know we’re friends. 

Living with flair means I accept the slightest gestures of love, receive them fully, and walk beside my friends on their terms.  If that means silence, then I’ll do it.

_________________
Journal:  What does it mean to love a person “on their terms” today?

PS–Here are two photos from my photo shoot which only happened because my friend stood knee-deep in snow with that reflector shade.

Share

When You Can’t Settle For Less

I do not believe my friend when she says that New Jersey bagels–from her neighborhood– are the best in the world.  She calls me from New Jersey and tells me all about her coffee and New Jersey bagel and continues trash-talking all the other bagels in the world. 

I hear she’s traveling back to my neighborhood this morning, so I throw out a challenge.  I kindly ask her to bring me home some of these mythic bagels so I can see what all the hoopla is about. 

Two minutes ago, I walk into my kitchen and find a bag of New Jersey bagels (she sneaks them inside!).  She delivers them the same day they were made. 

I have to admit they do look rather yummy.  

New Jersey Bagel

Doubtful, I tear into the first one.

I stop everything.  I call my husband and children into the kitchen to taste these bagels.  I even have to take a picture.   

I’ll never be able to settle for less now that I know the real thing exists out there in New Jersey.   And I’ll expect more now that I know how good they could be. 

It’s a good lesson for me to remember:  I won’t settle for less when I encounter the best there is.  And true friends remind you of the difference between the good and the great.  True friends help you experience the more that life can be. 

_____________________
Journal:  Where am I settling for less than great? 

Share

Going to the Bottom of the Well

Just this week, a dear friend of mine describes herself as  “holding on to the edge for dear life so she doesn’t fall to the bottom of the well.”

You grip the well’s ledge, keep your chin up, and refuse to fall. 

It’s a haunting image of a life lived in fear of surrender.  My tight grip on the ledge represents a picture of what I cannot face on the road to personal transformation, freedom, and joy.   I’m afraid of what’s down there if I journey deeper into places of brokenness.  Can’t I just stay up here, white knuckled, with my jaw clenched, fighting? 

All day, I consider how I need to let go of my tight grip on my life, trying to hold everything together in that desperate and clenched way that drains out the life and hope. 

A friend looks her straight between the eyes and says, “You need to let go and fall to the bottom of the well.”  That’s the way to begin to heal. 

But what happens when she lets go?  What fearful thing awaits?  She cannot do this alone. 

Another friend says, “I’ll fall to the bottom with you.”

And another, days later, adds:  “God is at the bottom of the well.” 

We release our grip, surrender to the work of healing God wants in our lives, and look around.  We aren’t alone:  Friends journey down into the darkness with us, and God himself embraces us at the moment we let go. 

(Photograph of a well in Argentina, Creative Commons)

___________________________
Journal:

Today, I remember a quote from the poet Rainer Maria Rilke:  “Works of art always spring from those who have faced the danger, gone to the very end of an experience, to the point beyond which no human being can go. The further one dares to go, the more decent, the more personal, the more unique a life becomes.”  
What danger do I need to face? 
Share

A Picture of the Friend I Want to Be

A local photographer arrives for a photo shoot in my home.  I need a professional head shot for my writing, and I have the worst time looking natural and being myself.  I never look nice in pictures!  But I have a secret weapon today:  I invite a friend over who I know tells the truth and helps me be myself.

We’re knee deep in snow, and the photographer asks my friend to assist her by holding the “reflector.”  It’s freezing outside, and I’m standing by my favorite winterberry bush.  My friend positions herself beside me and holds up the circular shade.  She accomplishes two tasks:  she reflects the light toward me (so light bounces off her shade towards me), and she diffuses the harsh sunlight that’s overpowering the shot.

It looks something like this (only imagine the snow, the wind, the freezing cold, us shivering, and plain me since I look nothing like this model):

I’m smiling at my friend, suddenly feeling just like myself.

I want to be a friend like this.  I want to reflect the light towards her, and I want to diffuse whatever attempts to overpower her. 

I can’t wait to show you the pictures!

Living with flair means I’m a reflector and a diffuser. 

(photo by Mila Zinkova, Wikimedia Commons)

__________________
Journal:  How can I reflect the light and diffuse what’s harsh in my friend’s life today?

Share

Amazing Valentine Cookies

I approach the table of snacks, and I see that a mother (Laurie) has made the most beautiful Valentine’s cookies.  I do not want to eat them; I want to photograph them!

Amazing Valentine Cookies

Boring square cookies transform into romantic letters sealed with wax:

A Letter From an Admirer?  

Heart-shaped confections display icing dotted and adorned with tiny roses; a whimsical chocolate heart tempts me with that frosting made to resemble a Valentine’s puzzle.

Puzzle Heart Made from Leftover Icing

I love that God makes people who can do things like this.  Not everyone creates the same kind of flair; I know I could never design such cookies.  But someone else did, and I’m so glad.  The children felt special as they ate such treats.  The took their time about it.

I realize that when we observe (and make) beautiful things, we begin to take our time.  We slow down and savor.  

Living with flair means we embellish things–turning the ordinary into art–for others to enjoy.  It slows us down.

_____________________
Journal:  What ordinary object or activity can I turn into “art” today? 

Share

And There Was Light!

We’re slumped upon the kitchen table.  One daughter labors over math homework while the other colors slowly on paper.  I’m answering an email, sighing.  The day feels sluggish and old, dark and spent. 

Then, light invades through the kitchen window.

An hallelujah chorus of dappled light dances all around us.  For days–months–we’ve been in the dark shadow of winter.  The sky looks more like a sidewalk.

But not now.  Not for this one glorious moment when light breaks through.  The forest sparkles with it.  The sky has never seemed so blue, so wide, so clear. 

We bask in it. 

To bask means to derive great pleasure from something.  As I open wide the door and feel the sun on my face, I realize what makes this moment so pleasurable.

It’s because it’s been so very dark, so very gray.  

I’m thankful for contrast in my life.  I realize that’s the only way I learn to bask.  The hot showers I love because I’ve known the freezing ones; the deep breath of air I relish because I battled congestion for a month; the authentic community I cherish in my neighborhood because I’ve walked the road of loneliness; the joy rising up in my heart, so precious, because I once knew the despairing days of depression.

The beauty of contrast:  what we bask in because we’ve seen its absence.  A blessing, a mystery.

________________________
Journal:  Can we only know joy by contrast?

Share