My Top Ten Name Game Questions

If I were to write a book called, “How to Teach with Flair,” I’d have an entire chapter on the power of name games.  Before I teach any class, I have to know these folks, and they have to know me.  The foundation of teaching–that base of solid rock supporting the whole framework–is community.  We have to know each other, and then, we transfer information in that beautiful and mysterious moment called teaching.

And yes, we all have to know first and last names.  Knowing names changes something. 

When you know each other, barriers drop, the mind opens, and we recognize the dignity and contribution of every person in the room.  I can’t imagine teaching without this foundation in place.  

It’s the same for Sunday school classes, neighborhood groups, business seminars, book clubs, family dinners, or any other gathering.  When we connect with one another, something marvelous stirs and rises within us.

Here are my Top 10 Name Game questions with some of the best or most common answers I’ve received in ten years of teaching.  So, say your name and:  

1.  What were you known for in school?  (embracing mediocrity)
2.  What accomplishment to date are you most proud of? (beating cancer)
3.  What was the last thing you googled? (the snowy owl)
4.  What’s something you consider yourself addicted to? (the Food Network)
5.  What’s a movie you think everyone should see?  What’s a movie you think nobody should see? (Life is Beautiful / Hancock)
6.  In a group of 3 people, find the most bizarre thing you have in common. (All obsessed with the cartoon, “Thundercats” and knowing lots of Thundercats trivia)
7.  What’s a song or youtube video you like to listen to or watch over and over again? (Hit Me Baby One More Time / Crazy Cats)
8.  What was your favorite childhood toy? (a tree)
9.  What is your favorite home-cooked meal? (homemade mac-n-cheese)
10.  What is your favorite way to procrastinate?  (Facebook)

I love name games because they connect us.  Tomorrow, I’m asking students to tell me their favorite quotation.  I’ll learn more about them in that moment than you can imagine.

Living with flair means I play name games when I’m in a group.  It might be silly, but it creates serious connection. 

Journal:  What’s another great get-to-know-you type of question I can ask a group?


Do I Really Need This?

All afternoon, I consider the difference between perceived need and actual need.  If I live my life based on what I perceive I need, I sometimes end up harming myself.  I either indulge or deprive myself based on unreliable data.

For example, I realize today just how little water I actually drink.  The reason?  I never feel thirsty.  In fact, if I went by perceived need, I wouldn’t drink anything at all, ever.  I just don’t get thirsty.

On the other hand, I believe I’m hungry all the time.  I love to eat, and if I went by perceived need, I would eat my weight in chocolate.  I just don’t ever feel full. 

So I implement guidelines to help–external, expert sources–to govern the day.  I eat within my calorie limit, and I drink several glasses of water.  I take medicine I know I need.  I enact spiritual disciplines I know transform me.  But I often don’t feel as if I need these things. 

I wonder what else I actually need that I don’t perceive as a need.  Conversely, I wonder what I insist I need that isn’t actually a need. 

I don’t want to live by unreliable perceptions anymore. Some days, my feelings just aren’t the truth. 

Living with flair means applying reality checks to my perceived needs (or lack thereof).  Sometimes what we need most of all resides deeper in the heart beyond the reach of our emotional states.  So I press on, hydrating my soul with the things I know it needs, even when my emotions direct me towards toxic, dehydrating things.

Journal:  What do I need that I feel I don’t?  What don’t I need that I feel I do? 


Visualize This

Just now, we return from attending our first college gymnastics meet.  At the uneven parallel bars, the gymnasts perform extraordinary movements that, when seen live and up close, actually terrify me.  I squeeze the arm of the neighbor sitting next to me with every rotation and every dismount.  I’m certain these gymnasts will crash-land into the floor. 

As I watch, I notice the coach (suit and tie, arms crossed firmly) at the sidelines.  As soon as one of his gymnasts begins a difficult and dangerous sequence, the coach plants himself directly under his gymnast, holds both hands out as if to catch her, and waits for her to complete her performance.  And how that coach cheers!

Within one routine, he darts in and out from underneath the bars many times, ready to assist and catch in the exact moment of possible danger or difficulty.

What I would risk if I knew I wouldn’t fall!  What things might I attempt if I knew someone stood beneath me, arms ready to catch or cheer?

This uneven life, running parallel to spiritual realities, offers chances I cannot possibly attempt (out of fear, out of danger).  But with One beneath me?  I swing out into new directions, and I visualize the firm stance and wide arms of a God who will not let me fall. 

Journal:  What would I try if I knew I’d not fall?


Does This Help or Harm?

This week, several interesting opportunities flooded my inbox and my voicemail.  I wanted to do them all.  But after 10 years of marriage and two children, I’ve learned (finally) to ask the question, “Will this decision help or harm my marriage and family?” 

A simple decision-making tool expanded today to include a far-reaching scope.  I made this list today:

1.  Does this behavior or decision help or harm my relationship with God?  (helps me identify sin)
2.  Does this behavior or decision help or harm my husband and children? (helps with my career choices)
3.  Does this behavior or decision help or harm my mind and body?   (helps with my food choices)
4.  Does this behavior or decision help or harm another person?  (helps with my speech)

So far, I turned down the Oreo cookie binge and an invitation to take on a new teaching project that would take too much time away from my husband and children.

I like this little list.  It helps me live with flair. 

Journal:  Help or harm?  


Why We Still Need Road Trips

Interstate 99 South.  You’re only driving to another town to see a new doctor.  It’s just 45 minutes from home, but you’re all alone, and in mother time, 45 minutes is an eternity of quiet space. 

You leave one town and enter another–county after county–and when you crest that hill, the tree line looks like day-old stubble on a smooth white face of a mountain.  At the throat, a little town of houses warmed by wood-burning stoves exhales. 

You can take in the whole county in one glance. You imagine all the lives lived there.

You remember other road trips: stretches of highway promised, in the distance, hopes and dreams and greater versions of you.  You were young and fresh, and you believed that happiness was just over the mountain.

But not today.  Today, the older and wiser you holds the wheel.   You know that happiness was never outside of you.  It was never down the road in some other town, in some other life.  It was always inside of you quietly waiting its turn to reveal itself–if you welcomed it.

By the time you reach the doctor’s office, you’re already healed.

Journal:  Is happiness something we find outside of ourselves–in our circumstances? 


Keep Contact!

We skated to school today.  It was the only way to make it down the hill.  “Keep contact!” I cry out to the children.  We discover that if you try to walk on ice, that’s when the falls happen.  But if you keep contact–never lifting your shoes–you can glide smoothly along.

Keep contact!  I say it over and over again, reminding myself I will not fall if I keep my feet down.

Later, as I begin the morning rush of dishes, laundry, doctor’s appointments, responding to student emails, lesson plans, and all the rest, I stifle my spiritual self, my true self, designed to rest in and receive from God. That little mantra repeats:  Keep contact and you will not fall. 

On days like this, when I’m already late for everything, I remember that keeping contact matters most of all.

And all of a sudden, the day opens before me, smooth and clear as winter ice.  I launch out, skating smoothly with the wind at my back and the sun on my face.  

Journal:  How can I keep contact with God today?  Is it possible to stay connected on busy days? 


This is Some Ice Storm!

Our yard and driveway transform overnight into a skating rink.

The trees bow or else raise their limbs to silvery worship.

The ice cannot discriminate; it covers all things equally, thoroughly.

That ice, although dangerous, makes this winter morning glorious.  I look out the window and see how the ice upon the winter berry bush acts like a giant magnifying glass directing my gaze towards those buds. 

The children pull their snow pants on over their pajamas and hardly finish breakfast.  They skate on the driveway and worry over the tree limb that carries their tree swing.

It has no choice but to bend in a storm like this.  Lord, let me be covered like this–thoroughly–with whatever reflects your glory.  Let me bend and bow.  In this way, I will not break. 

Journal:  Where do I need to bend and bow (instead of remain stubborn) today?


Digging Deep

Today I learn from the neighborhood children all of their digging stories.  Children seem to have lots of these:  digging in sand; digging in dirt; digging in snow.  They report the treasures they’ve unearthed in the form of bones and shells and marbles and old pennies.

“If you dig deep enough, you will find something,” a little girl tells me.  She explains that once, last summer, she struck water just by digging and digging.

I recall my own tendency to dig as a child.  Finding worms, I admit, was a particular delight.  But I also believed that I would find buried treasure if only I kept digging.  And usually, I actually did.  I’d get to a layer of earth and find what I thought was magnificent:  a piece of turtle shell, a strangely shaped stone (an arrowhead?), or an old piece of twine. 

This instinct to dig stays with me, even today, as I work to turn up beauty.  It does feel like excavation.  There’s a layer down deep that holds the day’s treasures.  I think of analogies–of symbols–that things I encounter might represent.  It’s as if a spiritual current runs beneath this dust and dirt of life.  Dig deep enough, and you strike water. 

We just keep digging, and it’s surely there.  

Journal:  The Great Awakening preacher, Jonathan Edwards, practiced the art of analogy–or making connections between the natural world and a spiritual truth.  What else do I see today that helps me, by analogy, understand something about God?