A Message in the Clouds

It’s raining.

I look up into the clouds.  Rain falls because the water vapor becomes too heavy.  It leaks out. 

Yesterday, a friend remarks that when we are filled with God, He leaks out.  He overflows. 

It’s as natural as rain falling. 

You need upward motion (cooling the water vapor, making it heavier) and moisture (from various sources) to get that cloud so saturated that it leaks out rain.   

I want to be soaked with God today.  Moving upward, adding in moisture, I want to leak out radical love.  There’s nothing I have to do but fill up.  And the result can nourish whatever earth it falls upon. 

Living with flair means I soak up and leak out. 

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Journal:  What’s a favorite way to soak up God? 

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Even in the Rain: The Best Part of the Week

I didn’t think anybody would show up to Neighborhood Fitness Group.  It was raining and dreary; who wants to exercise in the rain?

But we can’t help ourselves.  We love it. 

By the time I get the double-dutch jump ropes out, a group of children is already rolling down a hillside.  Then I look and see that my daughter has tied a kite to the back of her bike, and she rides as fast as she can to keep that kite flying.

You can’t slow down.  That kite needs speed. 

Then, the best part of all, one of my college students shows up to teach the children how to play 4-Square.

I find myself right in the mix.  I play 4-Square.  I jump double-dutch.  I dance to the music from the car speakers.  It’s raining, and I don’t even notice. 

I realize that I need this.  I need to be part of my neighborhood.  I need to know folks by name, roll down a hill with them, and gather even in the rain.

On the walk to school this morning (in the pouring rain), two children announce how far they got in 4-Square.  “I was almost King!” they shout and pull on my sleeve.

Is this what they’ll remember in 20 years?  Is this what they’ll put into place in their own neighborhoods in another generation?

I’m starting to think that showing up at Monday Night Fitness Group is the best thing I do in a week.  Even in the rain, I’ll be there next Monday. 

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Journal:  What else can we do to build our neighborhood?

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Attention!

Cherry Blossom Buds

A weeping cherry tree sits outside my bedroom window.  This morning, my youngest daughter points out the bright pink buds.  Soon, we’ll have a whole explosion of pink fireworks upon this little tree. 

The blooms won’t last long.  The fleeting nature of cherry blossoms makes us that much more attentive to them.  We delight differently in a bloom like this.

We pay close attention.

It’s a reminder today that things change quickly, and I miss the beauty of so much by simply not paying attention.  

Why is it so hard to pay attention?  Why can I walk by a house for two years and just this morning notice the beautiful pattern in the roofing?   Lately, I’ve become aware of how much I’m missing.

I carry my camera everywhere now.  Just in case.  I’m training my eye to see, and I’m training my heart to pay attention to every gesture of God–every message and allegory–in this day.  Today, it’s a cherry blossom bud.  Pay attention, it cries out.  There’s something to notice today, and it might be gone tomorrow.

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Journal:  How can I train myself to pay attention? 
 

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Do You Get Territorial?

My One-Eyed cat, Jack, taught me something else last night.  You can read his whole journey of healing here: Jack’s Story

Are you ready to see something strange and wonderful about these little cats?  Well, they each choose a child to “protect” in the night.  Louie curls up by the oldest daughter, and Jack guards the youngest.  Every night at bedtime, they assume their posts in each respective bedroom.  It’s been this way all year. 

Last night, the girls want to have a sleepover in the oldest daughter’s bed.  Jack innocently follows the youngest wherever she happens to be sleeping.  But Louie is the alpha male cat, and this is his territory.  Normally, he’ll hiss and claw at Jack if he even dares to approach the bed.

Jack has an assignment, though.  He’s on a mission to guard the youngest, so he dutifully curls up at her feet right next to where Louie guards the oldest.

A staring contest ensues.  Jack’s one eye doesn’t even blink. 

Finally, Louie recognizes Jack’s purpose here.  No fighting, no clawing.

As I tuck the girls in for the night, I realize that Jack has a specific role now that everyone acknowledges and supports.  And in the midst of this service, enemies are brought together.

There’s something more important than our need to control or our need to be territorial. Jack knows this.  He risked the danger to do what he was supposed to do.  And Louie let him, risking his own position and power. 

And in case you’re wondering where Snowflake serves in the midst of all this, well, she’s recovering from a Bridal Shower where she sat peacefully on the couch in a bridal veil.

And then she came to sleep at my feet. 

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Journal:  Am I afraid to do certain things because it’s someone’s “territory?”  Do I need to let others serve even if I think they are in my “territory?”

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Loving the Thing You Hate

I walk outside, and hundreds of bees swarm around my ankles.  And I’m allergic!  I carry an epi-pen every day, and for me, these bees represent death.

I look closely, and I see dozens of nesting sites for bees.  They cover the side yard. I quickly call out for the girls to run inside to safety.

I phone my entomologist friend (everyone needs one of these) who comes over to help me.  Where did these bees come from?  Are they killer bees?

My friend examines the bees and proclaims how fortunate I am that they have chosen my yard.  Not only are these bees harmless and not aggressive, but in Pennsylvania, they are also considered the best early pollinators.

She picks one up, and she shows me how each female bee constructs an individual nest to lay eggs in.  I’m actually watching it happen right before my eyes.  Not one tries to sting, not one even flinches.  

I was ready to call the exterminator, and now I’m enamored with these harmless bees.   I lean down and see a mother in her little home, getting ready to lay her eggs. 

Far away, you can hardly see her, but close up, you can. 

I think about how much fear I had.  I think about how I was ready to exterminate.  But these little bees are gifts to my garden.  They are indispensable on the journey to produce fruit.

Living with flair means I stop and look more closely at the things in my life I want to exterminate.   This thing I hate, this thing that I’m running from, might be God’s gift to produce great fruit in me later.

And when you look deeper, you find yourself delighted by this terrible thing that actually looks really cute.   Look at that little bee!  I’m glad they came to my garden.

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Journal:  Might I rejoice in these pesky things that God sends to produce fruit?

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What to Do with Your Fear

Last night, my daughter can’t sleep because of nightmares.  She’s terrified.  I ask her to come beside me so we can pray for Jesus to take away all her fears.

“Don’t ask Him to take away all my fears,” she responds.  “I need some of them.” 

“Which ones do you need?” 

“The ones that keep me safe, you know, from bad places and dangerous things,” she explains. 

Some fear is good, I realize.

Just that afternoon at the pond, I find myself overcome by fear.  A snake slithers across my garden shoes, and I nearly run back home, leaving my children behind.  It moves into the water, and suddenly, the whole landscape changes.

Snake in the Pond

The beautiful pond turns ominous, deadly, haunted.  My beautiful secret pond has trees with claws and thorns set as traps for my arms and legs. 

I actually can’t breathe for a minute. 

The Trees Have Claws

Snakes!  They really are out here.  But then I find my camera, and I notice the way the late afternoon sun covers the whole place.  When I see what the sun reflects, I perceive beauty again.  It’s the kind of beauty that always lives alongside danger and fear. 

Put back in context, I realize that a little garden snake and an old tree don’t have any power here.  There’s something greater in these woods.  The fear is real, but there’s always something greater than our fear.  It’s the power of God.  It illuminates this path, covers everything, and lets us run with freedom. 

Running with Freedom

Some fear is good.  But when fear consumes and paralyzes us, we have to remember who is greater than our fear. 

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Journal:  What fears do I need to put in the right context today? 

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A Turning Point Statement

During the summer of 1994, a friend told me she thought I had the spiritual gift of encouragement.  She posted a little note by my bed.  It said, “You are an encourager.”  I remember exactly what it looked like–the handwriting, the color–and how it felt to have someone name something like that about me.  My friend saw what I couldn’t see. 

That single comment shaped the next 15 years of my life.  I wasn’t just an average girl; I was a hope giver, a courage finder, and an inspiration provider.  I wasn’t just a nobody.  God wanted to use me to point others towards a beautiful future. 

It took someone naming it to help me see it. 

I had a student who told me that of all my weeks and weeks of teaching, the most memorable thing from my class was a single comment I wrote on one of his many essays.

In the margin of his paper, I wrote:  “You sound like a great teacher right here.”   He was overwhelmed that I named that in him, and he later wrote about his dreams for graduate school to become a teacher.  As my husband and I discussed these turning point comments, he told me he remembered the exact words of a Scout leader who pointed out some unique gifts he saw in my husband.   Those were turning point words. 

Today, as I guide students through their memoir drafts, I realize that I’m not naming what I see enough.  I wonder what I need to name in my children, in my friends, and in my students.  I see this in you.  Maybe God will use it to shape a life.  Maybe those words will be a turning point for someone today.

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Journal:  Did someone speak “turning point words” to you when you were younger?  Can you speak a “turning point word” to someone in your life today? 

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Do You Need a Tickle Fight Today? I Do.

Tickling.  My youngest daughter loves to have tickle fights.

Being tickled drives me crazy.  Tickling is the last thing I need today.  I have laundry, dishes, lesson plans. . . There’s no time for this nonsense. 

But she absolutely loves it.  Last night, I’m reading to her in bed, and she leans over and starts tickling me.  She’s laughing so hard (and she’s not even the one being tickled).  She throws her head back and laughs with that open-mouth-can’t-catch-your-breath laughter.

I keep myself still as stone, and then, just when her laughter turns to concern that she’s somehow frozen her own mother, I pounce on her with tickles.

This morning, the two of us (now experts in guerrilla tickling), attack an unsuspecting father and older sister in the kitchen.  They’re too old for tickling, but somehow, they can’t resist the game.

Maybe we’re never too old for tickling.

Did God make tickling for any good and useful biological reason?  I love that it’s spontaneous and supremely useless in terms of productivity.  But we needed it today.  I suddenly remember how this big flair project began.  I did something else in my kitchen that changed the whole feeling of the day:  I danced in the kitchen.

Then I asked, “What is it about the spontaneous, the supremely useless, and the silly that lets the joy in?”

Tickling made this morning have flair.  It let some joy in.  

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Journal:  Who needs a tickle today?

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It’s Like Victoria Falls

Last night, I show my daughters the footage from Discovery Channel’s Human Planet of the fisherman in Zimbabwe who brave a waterfall to catch their supper.  As the greatest source of natural power, Victoria Falls cascades down for 360 feet.  We watch, fascinated at the beauty and power of it.  It’s a sublime encounter just to experience it in film:  I feel fear and wonder simultaneously.

Later, I’m reading a book about the power source of God within us.  The author compares knowing God to having power deep within that far surpasses even Victoria Falls.  I’m struck by the fact that I had just seen the footage of this waterfall two minutes before.

I think about that power.  It seems a little terrifying, a little dangerous.  But it also seems beautiful and wonderful.  It’s a visual reminder I can’t stop thinking about today.  Is the power of God like that in me?  And what do I need power for?

For everything.  I need God’s power for everything, especially that very thing I think I cannot do.

I send a message to a struggling mother to tell her about this power within her.  “It’s like Victoria Falls.  Remember that.”  

Living with flair means I tap into that power source today.

(photo, “Victoria Falls Zambezi,” Creative Commons, author Zest-pk)
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Journal:  Do I live like I have that power within me?  What would I dare try if I was certain of this power? 

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The Text Message I’m Waiting For

The text will arrive sometime today.  I don’t know when.

All it will ask is, “What do you see?”

Today marks the beginning of the “What Do You See?” campaign on campus.  Students in the graduate student campus ministry receive a random text message from my husband every day for two weeks.  When I receive the text question, I’m challenged to do three things:

1. Look up and see who is around me.

2. Pause and pray for a few moments, asking God to open my eyes and to show me how He sees those who are around me.

3. Think about what God shows me and contemplate how that is different from how I typically see that person/those people.

I’m also challenged to record what happens–who I see and what I do about it–when I get that text.   

The last time I agreed to this challenge, I received the texts at the most inconvenient times.  Every person in my path seemed angry and unapproachable.  But I’d look down at my phone and see the question, “What do you see?” and pray for God to show me what He sees instead.

I found courage to stop my minivan and ask my neighbor how she was doing.  I turned to complete strangers in elevators and perceived them in light of eternity.  I looked up and saw the office assistant as precious to God.

In John’s gospel account, I learn that Jesus tells the disciples to “open their eyes” and see the fields are ripe for harvest.  Jesus tells the disciples to “open their eyes” right after His encounter with the Samaritan woman (who everybody saw as an outcast).  Jesus saw her differently.

I pray my eyes are opened today to see people as God sees them.  I don’t know where I’ll be when that text comes, but I pray I have the courage to love the way God does.  Eventually, I won’t need a text message to remind me to see folks in my path differently, but for these two weeks, I’m training my heart to love. 

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Journal:  What do you see as you read this?

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