Becoming a People Gatherer

Lately, my community has been reflecting on how we came together.  We’ve been in the news twice because others folks take notice of this strange phenomenon. 

In the last few years, we learned the art of gathering.  To gather means to cause to come together. 

We figure out a reason to come together, and each neighbor brings his or her own flair.  In the midst of ladies lunches, the play date for Dads, Saturday pancakes, Monday Night Fitness (which grew from 4 people to 50!), community service projects, walking to school, potluck dinners, birthday celebrations, living room singer-songwriter concerts, or whatever else might happen in a week, we consciously decide to do it together. 

We resist the temptation towards isolation.   And we gather, even if the invitation puts us into unusual situations with folks we aren’t used to.  Whatever we are doing, we ask ourselves, “Which family can I invite along?” 

Living with flair means finding a reason to bring the neighbors together.  You have to pick up your phone or go door-to-door.  Whatever it takes, you fight isolation and gather people into community.  And once everybody has a place to belong, we all flourish and discover this is how it was meant to be. 

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Journal:  What families do I need to gather into my community? 

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We Could Hardly Wait for This!

We could hardly wait.

No, it wasn’t anything electronic, expensive, or fashionable.  It wasn’t anything involving travel, tickets, or long lines for amusements.

It was a single red strawberry (our first one) in the strawberry patch.

First Ripe Strawberry

The squeals of laughter!  The bare feet running across the morning grass!  Living with flair has taught me that the whole family can take great delight in the profoundly simple.  This strawberry represents nearly two years of waiting.  Last year, we couldn’t let the plant produce in order to let the roots go deep.  Then, with the help of compost and netting to keep the birds and chipmunks away, we observed those green strawberries growing.

Every single morning we went out to check on the patch.

My youngest daughter just said, “This is the most awesomest day!  I can’t believe I picked a strawberry!”

It was delicious.  All of us had a bite in the kitchen.

Living with flair means simple, patient, ordinary living.  You don’t need any other life. 

And today especially, I’m so thankful for the men and women who fought and died to make these ordinary days possible. 

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Journal:  Tell us all something about your ordinary life.  What beautiful thing happens in your ordinary day?

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A Great Big Show-Off

This morning in the garden, I turn the corner towards my little peony plant.  Every time these buds fully bloom, I always think to myself, “Now that’s just showing off!”  A peony is just an over-the-top kind of flower.  What flair! 

Pink Peony in Full Bloom

I lean in to observe what seems just like all the popular ruching patterns I see all over skirts and shirts this season.  God indeed clothes nature in a kind of splendor we can only copy.  I look up that word, “splendor,” because I begin to recall how frequently it appears in Scripture.  It means magnificent, gorgeous, and brilliantly distinct.  I find references all over the Bible that we worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness and majesty.  I also learn that God says we are His “splendor” and that He displays His “splendor” in us

Peony Ruching

He shows off in us.  I even read that the splendor the Lord gives makes our beauty perfect.  

I finally recall when Jesus says, “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?”  


God is all splendor.  He displays that splendor in us.  When I look at peonies showing off, I remember a magnificent, gorgeous, and brilliantly distinct God who, in turn, clothes us with all we need to display that kind of splendor.  I want to open my eyes and see that splendor in every face I meet today. 

The Splendor of the Peony

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Journal:  What else do you observe that makes you laugh and say, “Now that’s just showing off”?

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Sally Smith Says, “You Can’t Fall Apart Over Things Like This.”

Last night I watch a woman, Sally Smith, standing in the rubble of her mother’s home in Joplin.  She turns to Anderson Cooper and says, “You can’t fall apart over things like this.”

I burst into tears.  Can you imagine your whole life crumbling around you and saying that?  What does she know that I don’t?  Sally Smith is firm in her resolve, smiling.  She picks up the pieces of dolls, trying to identify fragments.  Anderson asks her where you even start to build your life again after a tornado like this.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do, but it will work out.  It will.”

Anderson notices her t-shirt, and she says, “Life is good.  God does not give us anything we can’t handle.  I know His hand is in it; I’ve seen too many things.  We’ll be fine.  Saying good-bye to things is hard. . .

Anderson says, “You’re about the most optimistic person I’ve met in a long time.”

That’s when she says, “You cannot fall apart over things like this.”

Sally Smith has the faith, strength, and courage of a woman who lives with flair.  I just love her.  Will I ever be the kind of woman who can look in the face of disaster and proclaim the kind of truth that she can? 

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Journal:  When I’m complaining about any disappointment today, I’m going to remember Sally Smith in the rubble.  Where can you say, “You cannot fall apart over things like this”?

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Moving Ahead Despite Danger and Uncertainty

I wait for the Northern Cardinals to leave.   I lean in, snap the photograph, and then get out of there before I’m pecked to death or beaten with a mother bird’s wings.

Northern Cardinals Growing in the Nest

I don’t even check the photos until I’m safe inside.

Sleeping Northern Cardinals

It’s the same caution I take when I photograph a snake or a snapping turtle.  The best photographs involve an element of danger.

Living with flair sometimes includes danger.  We take risks; we move out of comfort zones; we endure the possibility of harm.  Why?  Because there’s beauty and joy right on the other side.  I wonder, too, if moving deeper into a life of faith requires confronting danger–seen and unseen–because that’s the only way to have a clear picture of the power and victory of knowing God.  That’s the only way to grow faith.

If I only move ahead in my life into safe and obvious directions, maybe I need to think more about choosing avenues that call for the kind of faith that I want to have.

So I face the danger, and I move out in faith.  There’s a beautiful picture waiting. 

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Journal:  Do I need to move ahead despite danger and uncertainty?

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I Forgot to Tell You. . .

I forgot to tell you that the lilacs are blooming.  That’s what we smell on the walk to school.  We bury our noses in lilacs.  When we get the mail?  Lilacs!  When we open the doors to our homes, it all lilacs–all the way down the road.

Lilacs Blooming

Lilac doesn’t even give you a choice about it; no matter what you’re thinking about or feeling, you’ll notice the rich smell, close your eyes and just enjoy it for a moment. 

Lilacs

The forced nature of that lilac scent–overpowering, insistent, saturated–made me think about how, sometimes, we need some forced pleasure because we’re too stubborn, too negative, too worried, or too sad to enjoy anything anymore.  The lilac cries out, “I’m here, and you’re breathing, so enjoy this, will ya?

Living with flair means receiving the joy today.

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Journal:  What is insisting that you enjoy it today?

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Do You Know a Mama Like This?

Do you remember the Italian Mama?  She taught me how to have a soundtrack to my life a year ago as I learned about sauce.  Then I studied meatballs and how to clothe both them and my own children.  In November, she instructed me in the fine art of relaxing and throwing those meatballs.  In December (during that awful cold) she brought enough baked ziti, turkey noodle soup, bread, and chocolate to feed a village.

Today, just when I needed it most, she hosted an Italian Mama’s Lunch.  Since I’m partly Italian (and studying how to be an Italian Mama), I skipped down the street like a little girl going to her first party.  I couldn’t wait!  I arrived to this: 

Roasted peppers, tomatoes, basil, four types of cheeses, meats, olives, artichokes, fresh bread, cannoli desserts, and freshly ground espresso comprised this lunch.  As we dined, I learned that Italian Mamas are always authentic, passionate, honest, generous, and so vibrant that they literally have to hug you, use hand gestures for every word, and talk about everything.  

Italian Mamas live with a particular kind of flair.  They can hold the whole neighborhood in their embrace.  Whatever suffering–whatever hunger–they can soothe it.  I know this:  Everyone needs an Italian Mama for a neighbor.  And even though I’m still learning how to be one, I know that I can also be that Italian Mama for someone else.  I want to live that passionately and generously.  I want to hug you and talk about everything.

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Journal:  Do you know a Mama like this?  Are you one of them? 

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Desperate and Dependent

The Northern Cardinal eggs hatched this morning!

Baby Northern Cardinals

Fresh from their shells, those little mouths open so wide!   Feed me!  Feed me!

I love the desperation in those little beaks (especially the baby bird on the left).   So dependent!   Those eyes cannot see yet.  Those wings don’t flap.  They contribute nothing.  I later learn that the father bird comes and feeds the baby birds.  There’s something precious about this as I consider the truth in Psalm 81, where another Father commands his people to do nothing except one thing:  “Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.” 

Might I lean back, open wide my life (even when I can’t see the path) and let God fill me?  Desperate and dependent characterizes another way to live with flair.  We’re baby Northern Cardinals, opening wide to the Father’s provision today. 

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Journal:  Have you found God’s provision when you are desperate and dependent on Him?

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Can You Guess What This Is?

It’s my daughter holding the remains of a turtle egg.

Turtle Egg

This weekend, I went for a walk along the Rappahannock River.  As I walked along, I started to hope–against the odds–that I might find a turtle.

On the Banks of the River

I always look for turtles.  I rarely find them.  (There was that one strange day when I tried to lure a turtle out from under my porch.) Turtles and I have a strange history.  I can remember every single one I’ve ever found.  When I think about turtles, they symbolize all the Good Things, all the Enchanted Wonder, all the Beautiful Hope of childhood.

Have you found a turtle and felt this way?

So I’m walking along the river, hoping for something as silly as a turtle.  

And lo and behold! 

Turtle Laying Eggs

 The whole landscape becomes a turtle heaven!

Turtle Eggs

The mountain laurel hides their nests. 

Hiking Through Mountain Laurel

I look down, and I find another one. 

Turtle Hiding in the Leaves
Mountain Laurel Blooming

 And then another. 

Another Turtle

 It was a great day.

Then, as if those turtles weren’t enough, I saw three more when I went on a walk with my sister in another part of the state.

Those turtles remind me of abundance and delight.  If I hunt, I will find. 

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Journal:  Do you remember finding turtles?

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Believing the Best

My daughters were flower girls in a wedding yesterday.   Their job was to follow the bride everywhere, keep their satin dresses clean, and smile.   I envisioned disaster the whole morning.  I could just see my youngest stepping on the bride’s train and sending her flying on her face.  I could just picture the oldest one stomping off in protest of having to stand still for the entire ceremony. 

I became a controlling, negative mother as I worried about their performance.  Those girls were going to ruin everything.

I imagined the worst.  I really did. 

But when the moment came, I turned and saw my girls walking perfectly down the aisle, casting rose petals left and right.  When I saw them standing still and smiling for 30 minutes, and when I saw how they gazed at the bride and floated around her like little angels, I felt ashamed at my own lack of faith in them. 

I’m a mom who imagines the worst instead of believing the best.  Something changed in my heart yesterday.  Instead of anticipating their failure, I learned to delight in those little girls.  I want to believe the best from now on.  Not just in parenting, but in marriage and in friendship.  And what about my relationship with God?  Do I believe the best instead of anticipating disaster? 

Living with flair means believing the best about people. 

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Journal:  Who needs you to believe the best about him or her? 

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