The Home You Take With You

This morning, I remember my daughter’s explanation of “The Warm Welcome” from October.  As I clear the breakfast dishes, refold the green blanket on the couch, plump the pillows, and reposition the bright yellow daffodils in a cobalt blue vase, I tell her I’m orchestrating my own Warm Welcome.

I want to come home to order and beauty. 

In church, I think about the inner landscape of home and the Warm Welcome I have when I respond to God.  As the poet writes in Psalm 90, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout the generations.”  I come home to that spiritual dwelling place within my own heart where the Holy Spirit waits for me, and I find the kind of peace and sanctuary I need.  I’m home. 

It’s not a location.  I carry it with me. 

That means it doesn’t matter where I am.  And it means I can offer others a dwelling place they can have with them always, even when they are very far from home. 

Journal:  What does it mean to be “home”? 


Live Video of Baby Eagles!

If you haven’t already seen the live video stream of the Decorah Eagles in their nest in Iowa, you might want to.  The nest rests 80 feet in the air, weighs 1 and 1/2 tons, and contains 3 fuzzy eaglets and two majestic parents.

I keep checking in on them.  My students, my neighbors, and my family visit the nest online and watch the eaglets.  I realize this morning that I’m observing in nature what no human eye could ever see before.  It’s amazing to think that right now, in Iowa, little eaglets grow. 

Just to know, just to peek in on it, brings wonder to our Saturday Morning Pancakes. 

Journal:  What makes these eagles so fascinating? 


When You Stop Resisting God

Last week, I was asked to write a piece on depression and Lent for The High Calling.  At my lowest point, I imagined God asking the question, “Will you live the life I ask you to live?”  I was humbled and so encouraged by the comments on this little essay called, The Best Question.  (Click the link and enjoy.)

Yesterday, I’m walking to the vernal pond and recalling that depression.  I remember how many years I resisted the reality of my life.  It didn’t look like it was supposed to.  But God knows what I don’t know; He sees what I don’t see.  But I wasn’t ready to surrender. 

Humbled again, I’m silenced as I walk in the woods.

We find our secret pond, and on the surface, I see the blue sky reflected. 

My daughters peer deeply, waiting patiently.  All of a sudden, we see the new frog and salamander eggs.  They might even be turtle eggs. 

Then, the water’s surface trembles:  little salamanders, spotted bright red and orange dart beneath the leaves.

Can you see that one hiding?  

I look out, and I see an entire pond filled with eggs, and tiny creatures move about everywhere. Those white cottony puffs are great big globs of frog eggs.  Next week, we’ll see unimaginable numbers of tadpoles.

As I think about my life (the one I resisted all those years), I hear another whisper of the Spirit.  I look deep into that pond, and I see how fertile, how bountiful, how rich and teeming this exact spot is.

This very spot where I find myself (no matter how wrong) will produce life in abundance as I cooperate with God.  And when nothing seems to be happening, I just have to look beneath the surface.  

Journal:  Will I live the life God asks me to live? 


What My Daughter Hid Behind the Piano

I’m sitting in my rocking chair, taking just a moment to catch my breath and talk to God, when I notice something sparkling in the corner of the room.  It’s actually sparkling from behind the piano.  Someone has hidden something back there. 

It’s my daughter’s diary–the one with the glitter cover–that she asked for last June.  Our piano sits in the corner of the living room, and if you squeeze behind it, you find yourself in a little dark alcove.  It’s the perfect hiding place for a child and her diary.  (I ask my daughter for her permission to blog about this secret, and she says, “Yes, and tell people it’s too hard to think when there’s a crowd around you. Sometimes you have to hide.”)

She hides back there, writing down her secret thoughts, and then she locks the diary and tucks it far back into the corner.  She says it’s important to think about the good and bad of each day–just to know it and work it all out

I imagine that dark behind-the-piano solitude, and I wish I could fit back there today.  That journal’s flashy cover catching my eye all day beckons me to go hide and think for a while. 

It reminds me to leave my children alone sometimes and just let them think about things

Living with flair means hiding away at some point today to think about things.  And it means letting others do the same.

Journal:  Do I have a hiding place to go and think about things? 


Your Fresh Start

This morning my daughter brings out her whiteboard easel and draws me a coconut palm.  She says, “Mom, you will love this.” My coconut obsession has infiltrated my daughter’s imagination. 

She carefully chooses the right dry erase markers.  A whiteboard offers the kind of freedom and mistake-proof activity just right for her age.  Permanent errors do not exist with whiteboards.  You just start fresh with a simple wipe of a cloth. 

“Let’s start fresh,” is a phrase we repeat in our family, not just with the whiteboard, but after disagreements, complaining, failures, or bad moods.  We give a hug and say again, “Let’s start fresh.”

Reading about whiteboards, we discover that the non-porous surface means the ink cannot sink in, and even if it could, the dry erase markers have a chemical compound that makes the ink dry too fast for staining.  So the color rests on top, and you can wipe it away, leaving no residue on the surface.

Living with flair means we work as a whiteboard.  No matter what happens today, we can start fresh right now.  This failure doesn’t sink in and doesn’t stain.  We don’t let it.  We start fresh. 

Journal:  Who needs a fresh start today?


Listen to This Story

Vernal Pond in PA

Today, I had time to listen to different folks tell me a story.

I ask a neighbor to tell me the story about how she moved from one county to another.

I ask a complete stranger to tell me the story of how she transferred from one college to another.

Both women said, “It’s a long story.”

I said, “I have time.”

I decide I want to have the time in my life to listen to long stories.

I’m teaching memoir writing this month for the college seniors. They have incredible and beautiful stories deep inside that nobody has yet asked them to tell.

I wonder how many people we encounter each day who have incredible and beautiful stories deep inside.

They are in there, hidden away like a secret vernal pond.

Living with flair means I encourage others to tell the story inside of them.  It’s been an amazing day because I’ve lived the adventure of listening.

And here’s the picture of me listening to the sound of snow falling on the vernal pond.  Thank you, Jennifer, for being part of my story.

(photo taken today by Jennifer Kelly and her fancy phone)
Journal:  What if I asked this person to tell me his or her story?


You Can’t Touch This

It’s finally warm enough to visit the vernal ponds in the woods behind our house. 

A  Vernal Pond

Last week, I didn’t know what a vernal pond was. 

It’s a temporary pool of water, normally full of rain or melted snow, that lasts through the spring.  What makes a vernal pond so special is the absence of predator fish. 

Without fish, a vernal pond allows all the toads, frogs, turtles, salamanders, and newts to develop and thrive without being devoured.  You can go to the vernal pond, examine all the eggs, spy on tadpoles and baby turtles, and pick up salamanders. 

I learn that in Pennsylvania, nobody knows how many vernal ponds exist or where they are.   These secret ponds evaporate and hide. The PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources sends researchers deep into the woods to locate, certify, and protect these wondrous locations.

What child (and her mother) can resist the mission to discover a secret habitat? 

And how can I not relish the symbolism of such a beautiful concept?  Just as the forest depends upon that temporary safe haven that cultivates what cannot develop elsewhere, I might form my own vernal ponds–deep within my soul, secret and safe from predators–where the things of God breed and develop.

This new season of birth and growth in nature reminds me to protect my own inner habitat from things that devour my hope and energy.  And I want to be the kind of wife, mother, and friend that protects the places deep within the heart where others are growing and changing.  I ask myself and others what we need to thrive.  I live with flair by developing habitats where what needs to grow in us can and will.  Untouched by predators, not threatened by what devours, we have a season to thrive. 

(photo from Wikimedia Commons, Werewombat) 

Journal:  What do I need to do to create a thriving habitat both internally and externally in myself and others? 


Loving by Faith

This morning, I remember the simplest of truths:  I love others by faith.  There’s a supernatural, unconditional, pure and deep love that God wants to produce in me for others (and myself).  But I cannot conjure it from my own flesh.  I cannot think or feel my way into loving folks that, for whatever reason, are difficult for me to love. 

And God commands I love others–especially enemies, especially the unlovable–with that pure and deep love.

Impossible!  Yes.  In my own strength, it is impossible. 

I pull a little booklet off of the dusty bookshelves.  It’s How You Can Love by Faith, by Bill Bright.  I flip through the pages, hungry for the truth there.  He writes:

“God has an unending supply of His divine, supernatural, agape love for you.  It is for you to claim, to grow on, to spread to others, and thus to reach hundreds and thousands with the love that counts, the love that will bring them to Jesus Christ. In order to experience and share this love, you must claim it by faith; that is, trust His promise that He will give you all that you need to do His will on the basis of His command and promise.”

Suddenly, I’m parenting my girls with the pure, deep love of God flowing through me.  I’m overwhelmed with divine love for my husband, my neighbors, my students, myself.

When God gives a command in scripture, He gives the power to fulfill it.  Living with flair means I enter, by faith, into that divine flow of agape love.  I love the unlovable.  I love the ones hardest to love.  I love in a way that counts. 

Journal:  Bill Bright suggests I make a list of folks in my life that are hard to love.  Then, I choose to love them by faith. I’m to ask the Holy Spirit “to fill [me] with Christ’s love for each of them”, then pray for them and think of ways to tangibly demonstrate love to them.   Will I love by faith this week?   


What Needs to Go?

I’m standing in my daughter’s room, and we touch every item and decide whether we need it anymore.

We are making space.  Saturday cleaning day means deep cleaning for Spring.  We pile up books we never read, clothes we never wear, and toys we don’t use into one big heap to donate.   Afterward, the room seems to open up into this beautiful expanse.  The older daughter can actually turn cartwheels all around the room with that kind of space.

With space like this, the girls create and imagine.  I can’t get them to leave that room.

We release objects from our grasp.  We let things go to make room, not just for more stuff, but for an emptiness we need in order to thrive.  For example, I learn that most folks only wear 1/3 of their wardrobe on a regular basis.   It’s true.  My youngest has four or five outfits that she wants to wear over and over again.  She chooses between those alone.  The rest?  We donate.

Her choices are now clearer and her decisions less stressful.  She thrives with less.

I look at my life today and think about reducing down to the important 1/3 of it.   What about this clutter in my mind?  All the worries, all the stress?

I wonder if 1/3 of what I think about actually matters for eternity.

I want spacious places.  When I get to those places in my heart and in my home, I barricade my life against the onslaught of more that we seem to suck in, like a vortex, as soon as space clears. 

1.  Find the 1/3 that matters.
2.  Give away the rest.
3.  Keep the spacious places open. 

That’s how I’m living with flair on this Saturday Cleaning Day. 

Journal:  What needs to go?


Hammering Against Your Life

I’m walking down the sidewalk in the freezing, dreary, and muddy slosh of an April snow.

It’s quiet and bleak.

Then, I hear a group of little children above me shrieking with laughter.  But it’s not little children–it can’t be.  I turn circles and look up into the trees as I follow the strange sounds.

Then, I see them–bright and vibrant, loud and swift–flying loops around the trees.  Set against the white snow, that bright red head makes me pause with wonder.  They can’t hide on such a stark day.  One of them lands.  I don’t have my camera, but I find this picture of what I saw:  Pileated woodpeckers darting and then landing right in front of me.  Their cheerful calls sound like giggling children. 

The funny thing about quiet, bleak days is that everything else, by contrast, is that much more vibrant.  I stand and watch them for what seems like hours.  Those woodpeckers persist in hammering against that hard surface until they find the sustenance they need.

I remember the own hard places of my circumstances.  I think about hammering against them, gripping tightly, until I find the good and beautiful thing that nourishes my soul for the day.

I love observing these woodpeckers.  And I know it required a snowstorm and a stark April day to allow it.

(first photo courtesy of Noel Lee, second photo courtesy of Rwdanielsnhncm, Creative Commons)

Journal:  What hard circumstance might I hammer down into to find beauty?