When You Don’t Get Recognition

All day, I think about the verse in Colossians that implores, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Crocus Hiding in Snow

What does it mean to have a hidden life?

I wake up to a snowfall.  The forest that just yesterday made a glorious, boastful display of buds and bird nests and bullfrogs now stays silent, keeping secrets. 

It’s deathly quiet on the way to school.  Snow buries the crocus and daffodil shoots.  Oh, that I could bear the weight of a hidden life with such grace!  Oh, that I could see the beauty in this tomb of snow when I was expecting Spring’s grand performance!

What if we are hidden away at the moment when we’re supposed to bloom? 

The temptation to be seen, to be public and praised, to be recognized and valued loses its power when I think about what it means to be hidden.

Later, I stand in my kitchen.  I’m crying about hidden things:  the years behind us and the years ahead of us of invisible labor.  We do beautiful things today that nobody awards or congratulates.

But God sees.  Being a hidden treasure is a way to live with flair.  And the scriptures teach that God “who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

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Journal:  How is a life hidden in Christ our greatest blessing?

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Cut Out the Unhappy

Today my friend sends me the results of a study that suggests older folks–in their 80’s–are the happiest.  The report published in the American National Academy of Sciences claims that as we age, we “become more selective with how we use our time, focusing more on doing things we enjoy and cutting out parts of life that make us unhappy.”

It seems like such a simple prescription:  Focus on what we enjoy, and cut out what makes us unhappy.

While I’m not sure it’s possible to simply “cut out” what makes us unhappy, I wonder what life would look like if we did indeed focus more on doing enjoyable things.

And what if we stopped doing things that make us unhappy?  Not getting enough sleep makes me unhappy.  Drinking too much caffeine makes me unhappy (why do I keep doing this?).  Not exercising makes me unhappy. 

And what if we learned to turn unhappy circumstances (the ones we often cannot change) into moments of flair?  

So (of course), I ask my students to tell me one thing that makes them really happy.  Diet Coke, travel, musical solos, penguins, driving with the windows down on a warm night, watching Hello, Dolly!, playing the game Angry Birds. . .

It’s a nice reminder to enjoy life today.  It’s a challenge to stop doing what makes us unhappy.  And when we cannot change our circumstances, we learn to find the flair.  Maybe it is that simple. 

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Journal:  What makes me happy?  What thing that makes me unhappy can I stop doing? 

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Sneaking Up on Jack, I Caught Him Doing This:

Jack Basks in the Sun

He was basking

My One-Eyed Cat, Jack, continues to teach me how to live with flair.  First he learned how to purr and taught me something about finding yourself again, even when you’ve been wounded.  Then, he let out his first meow, and I learned something about rediscovering my voice.  Then, despite those wounds, he began caring for other cats, and that showed me the power of serving others. 

Then he started becoming fully alive, doing all the things that normal kitties do.  Next, he learned courage, standing up for himself and proclaiming what he loved and needed. 

But then his scar started leaking, and it felt like were were starting over.  But Jack got better, and today, I find him basking in the sun.

That cat won’t leave the warm spot in the window.  He gazes up in the bright sunlight and lets himself become toasty warm.  As I watch Jack basking, I suddenly want to join him on the window ledge.  To bask means to receive great pleasure from something.

Did I bask today?    I want to bask in the love of God.  Did God design us to derive great pleasure from knowing Him and enjoying creation?  Oh, the great pleasure of sleeping in a sun ray, eating fresh pineapple, teaching a boy to jump rope, finding a perfect verb, or listening to a cat purr.  What things exist in my life today that God places there from which I am to derive great pleasure

Jack wants to know as well.

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Journal:  What things did I derive great pleasure from today? 

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Scheduling Nothing

Here’s the Big Thing at after school pick up: the children huddle and negotiate who plays where and when.   After school scheduling feels like I’m on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange; I’m signaling certain parents, tapping my foot, swinging my purse around, and checking my texts. 

It’s stressful.

Today, I decide to opt out of the game.  I need a break from after school chaos.  I warn the girls as soon as they exit the school, and I usher them down the sidewalk before tears ensue. No playdates?  How will we survive?

Oh, we survive.  We finish our homework for the week, have a fun snack that involves sprinkles, decide in peace how two sisters four years apart will both play in the living room, and then do nothing.    At one point, the youngest reminds me that we need to check on the daffodils.

Later, we decide to go look for robins in the field. This feels like a perfect day!  Didn’t I learn this lesson last year when I scheduled deliberate boredom for my child? 

I turn to my daughter and ask her what she thinks about this “Scheduling Nothing” day.  She says, “Mom, it’s cool because I get to talk to you about things.”

I gotta run.  My oldest has things she needs to talk about.  And I’ve got a whole afternoon to do it.

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Journal:  When can I schedule nothing this week?

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The Most Selfish Little Girl

I wake up this morning to the sound of my daughters screaming about who gets what toy.  They have little stockpiles of toys in the living room for an imaginary game, and they both want the same doll to add to their pile.

How dare they! They have so much, and instead of being generous, they insist on more, more, more.   I call them into the bedroom for a grand lecture on greed, but as I look into their faces, I realize I am looking into a mirror of my own selfish heart.  How am I different from these girls?

I’m that little girl demanding more. 

I’m overcome with compassion as I realize the depth of the cultural myth–the deeply spiritual myth–we all adopt.  I believe in the poisonous narrative of greed.  I believe that if I had more wealth, more productivity, more time, more anything, I would have the good life.

It’s a lie that’s killing us.  

“Girls,” I insist with tears in my eyes, “I want you to put something to the test.  I want you to practice generosity and see how it feels.  You will never be satisfied with stuff.  Your heart will only be truly happy when you live generously.  Besides, it all belongs to God.”

I even read the scriptures aloud where I learn the wisdom of Proverbs 11:  “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” or the truth of 1 Timothy 6 that we are to put “no hope in wealth” but to “hope in God who richly provides all things for our enjoyment.”  The writer continues by saying, “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

I want to be rich in good deeds.  I want to have a generous heart that wants to share.  There’s a life out there that’s “truly life,” and I fear that my heart’s desire to accumulate more robs me of that true life.

Later in church, the pastor announces his message is on greed (isn’t that funny?), and meanwhile, my daughter works the registration table to greet families and give out name tags.   As I watch her serving others, I see that carefree smile–those bright, refreshed eyes–of somebody giving to others. 

The day goes on: toys, food, games, and the stuff of childhood.  All day, I wonder about the path to happiness. 

I ask my daughter when she was happiest today.  She replies, “at the registration table.”

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Journal:  Is it true that when I refresh others, I am refreshed myself?

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Waking Up with a Sore Throat

This morning, I realize immediately that I have a sore throat. 

I know what this means:  I’m getting sick (or maybe it’s an allergy or just the dry air in my home or the fact that there’s snow on the ground one day and daffodils blooming the next).  Whatever the cause, that irritating sore throat signals something.  It’s a constant, annoying reminder to slow down, drink fluids, rest, and get better

I can’t ignore the feeling of it.  With every swallow and every word I speak, I experience that whisper of raw pain telling me:  slow down; get better.  When I want to push through and scurry about to clean this house, the throat says: slow down; get better.  When I want to schedule a million things for the family, that throat responds: slow down; get better.

So Saturday cleaning day isn’t happening.  Living with flair means you respond when something or Someone tells you to slow down and get better.   I just wish I didn’t have to wait until something painful happens to realize the benefit of slowing down.   

Cat vomit, bad parking, and sore throats can teach me something about living rightly, and so far, Year Two of Live with Flair challenges me to learn from whatever negative, inconvenient, or painful thing comes my way. 
 
Thank you for inspiring me to live this way.  

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What in my life is telling me to slow down? 

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Finding the Worst Parking Spot Ever

There’s some convention in town, and the campus swarms with people in every direction.  I turn into my usual parking lot to find that there’s no parking on any of the lower levels.  I’m driving around and around the parking lot, whiplashed and frustrated. 

Finally, I’m spit out into the light of the uppermost deck of the lot (nobody wants these spots because everybody knows about the pigeons that assault your car with excremental gifts).

I pull into a spot far, far away, and as I walk through pigeon droppings, I look out over the valley (I’m that high up).

It’s gorgeous.  The sky is clear blue, and the wind whips across my face.  I take a deep breath and look out across the mountains in the distance. I actually stop right there in the pigeon droppings and gaze out.  I’m humbled and diminished by how small I am compared to this huge valley. 

I’m thankful for this particular inconvenience and this particular mess.  It’s beautiful up here, and I wouldn’t have seen it had I found a spot lower down.

Living with flair means I realize my missed opportunity might spit me out onto a higher level–the one that has the thing I’m supposed to see.

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Journal:  Is God in control of even inconvenience? 

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Stepping in Cat Vomit

I woke up this morning and landed in cat vomit.  Apparently, I overfed my cat.

This is no way to start year two of Live with Flair.

Then I remember my friend in Japan whose father sent word that we might send canned food items for him to distribute to the disaster areas.  I remember that in some places in the world at this very moment, a mother would give anything to rise from a warm bed, place her feet on the ground, and greet the day with two healthy little girls who can’t stop laughing at their mother’s foot covered in cat vomit.

In some places in the world (in most places), nobody talks about the luxury of overfed cats.  But here, even the animals gorge themselves.

There’s too much here.  There’s not enough there. 

Stepping in cat vomit was a great reminder today as I think about ways to send relief to the hungry.

Stepping in cat vomit sounded the alarm about ways to be thankful for the fact that I even have too much cat food. 

Living with flair means I cultivate a grateful and generous heart.  I have too much. 

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Journal:  When I’m tempted to complain about all the inconveniences and all the misfortunes of my day, what do I need to remember to cultivate a grateful and generous heart?  For me, it’s cat vomit.

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The Greatest Thing I Learned After Blogging Every Day for One Year

I woke up to an ice storm complete with power outages and school delays.  This cannot possibly be the kind of day to celebrate a Year of Blogging with Flair. 

But one thing I’ve learned after blogging every day for a year is that I can choose to find the flair in an ice storm. 

What’s it going to look like to embellish with wonder and deeply infuse the ordinary with some spiritual reality?   Can I do this again today in the midst of the humdrum and the common routines?

I’ve taken on the spiritual discipline of finding God’s truth reflected in the ordinary object:  acorns, a cat’s injured eye, a snowflake, a wandering albatross.   I find that bit of truth that shows me, by analogy, a kingdom reality.

The ordinary day shimmers with God’s radiance.  The mundane does indeed become marvelous, and we simply have to worship.

Even when the ice storm destroys the freshly bloomed daffodils.  All the fresh buds bend down.  There’s beauty in the ice.  There’s beauty in the bowed head of that daffodil.  The daffodil, after all, is a narcissus plant whose name derives from the Greek myth about Narcissus.  As you may know, Narcissus becomes obsessed with his own reflection at the water’s edge, falls into the water, and drowns.

Is it God’s loving hand that sends the thing into our lives that invites us to bow down in worship?  The thing that reminds us that He is God and we are not?  The thing that forces us (for once) to take our eyes off of ourselves and instead gaze upon the beauty of the Lord?

Send the ice storm if it means I bow down.

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Journal:  What bows me down when I tend towards narcissism?

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Give Your Life Away

My arms are sore from turning double-dutch jump ropes. 

From 6:30 PM-7:30 PM, 30 (yes, thirty!) parents and children came out to the parking lot for Monday Night Neighborhood Fitness.  Imagine a swarm of children riding bikes and scooters or playing football and Frisbee.  Imagine a car blaring music from an iPod so a group of children can dance.  Imagine moms and dads walking together and connecting in their own neighborhood. 

Imagine a little boy tugging on my sleeve to announce he rode ten times around the lot which I clocked for him as one mile.  Imagine another little girl finally learning to jump rope. 

I need more kites!  I need more cones for obstacle courses!  I want hula hoops and another set of ropes! 

Why am I so happy when I’m turning jump ropes?  It makes no sense that something like this would so deeply change my life. 

Over the weekend, I hear Larry Crabb (a Christian psychologist) talking about the goal of Christian therapy.  As someone who battled depression all those years and reads everything I can about finding happiness, I drop everything to listen. 

Crabb tells me that, typically, we think about counseling and our own happiness as answering the question, “How much can I get out of my life?”  But therapy in the truest, Biblical sense asks, “How much can I give of my life?”  In practice, I have found my own happiness bloom fully when I’m involved in tasks that serve others and let me forget myself.

I want to give my life away.  Turning jump ropes isn’t glamorous, and it doesn’t generate any revenue.  But something about this task has secured more happiness for me than anything else I’ve done this year. 

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Journal:  How is God asking me to give my life away? 

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