I’m studying the art of telling a good story. It’s helping me live with flair.
Today, I read that every great novel needs mystery and conflict. Otherwise, the reader won’t turn the page. As readers, we love and expect a good mystery and a grand conflict. We want each chapter–maybe even each page–to have a lingering question.
But what about in real life?
I think that every great life needs mystery and conflict. There’s something beautiful and full of flair about the unresolved. There’s joy in the lingering questions. Is it possible that mystery and conflict are written into our own stories on purpose to drive us onward? All morning, I think about what it means to trust the Author within the mystery and conflict (internal and external) of my own life’s journey. Do these lingering life questions have a purpose?
Mystery and conflict provide great motivation to continue on with hope and expectancy. I’m actually thanking God for writing these elements into my own story.
Journal: What are my great life mysteries? What internal and external conflicts do I need to resolve in my story?
|Tree Leaking Sap
I think about sap today. I’m standing outside the apartment, waiting for my fitness friend to accompany me to the gym. I see the sap weeping out of the tips of the pine tree beside me. I know sap. It’s the vital circulating fluid in the tree. A tree’s sap carries all the nutrients to every part of the tree, much like our own vascular system.
The sap must circulate and deliver the nutrients in a closed system. I learn that this pine tree isn’t supposed to leak sap. A tree leaks sap when it experiences a wound or when excess pressure builds up in the tree.
When we use the word sap as a verb, it means to drain vitality (as in, I was sapped of my strength). I think about the reasons why we become sapped. I think about ways we become wounded and what sources of pressure cause our “vital circulating fluid” to drain out.
A woman asks me today how I stay in balance. She wonders how I find energy and how I refresh. I think about sap. You have to attend to where your wounds are. You have to manage sources of pressure before you’re sapped of strength. I’m learning to circulate and deliver God’s truth to every wound and every stress.
Living with flair means we know how to circulate and deliver what our mind and body need before we’re sapped.
I’m ordering a smoothie (raspberry and peach), and the young woman making it asks me what I’m doing for the rest of my day.
“I’m writing,” I tell her. “I have this idea for a novel, and I want to start it today.”
She leans over the counter top and looks to her left and then her right. “Do you have ten minutes?”
“I have a good story for you. You’ll never believe it, but it’s true. It’s my life. Maybe afterwards you will write my story.”
I sit there drinking my smoothie while she recounts her childhood in Venezuela, her failed marriage at just eighteen years old, her dreams to become an artist, and what she’s learning in therapy.
“I tend to become everybody’s mother,” she says. “I’m not doing that anymore.”
I thank her for her story, and she adds, “You can use all of this in your novel. That’s how it works, right? You meet someone and they inspire a great story. But I want to look good in it, you know. Not like a crazy woman or anything.”
I tell her I’ll return for another smoothie on another day. Maybe I will write down her story. I’d like to know more about this Venezuelan young woman, wouldn’t you?
Journal: Who needs to tell you their story? Do you have a life story that people might not believe?
This morning, my new friend walks me to the gym (it takes us 25 minutes). Then, she pushes the elliptical machine time so that we exercise for 30 minutes. Then, she drags me up the stairs to do arm weights (she shows me how). Then, just when I’m about to suggest that we stop and get very fattening and delicious coffee drinks, she says, “Now we do push-ups.”
Then we walk home for another 25 minutes.
It feels like five minutes because I’m with my new friend. We talk about everything.
She’s getting me out of bed tomorrow.
Living with flair means if you don’t want to do something, you find an enthusiastic friend to do it with you. Enthusiastic friends make everything better. Even exercise. I’ll report my fitness achievements at the end of the summer!
Journal: What enthusiastic contribution can I make to a friend’s life? What would my friends say I’m enthusiastic about?
We hike in the dry heat.
I notice this: The cactus finds a way to bloom in this parched land.
|Cactus Blooming Yellow
I’ve never in my life seen a cactus blooming up in the mountains. Surely, this plant stores up what it can. It adapts to its environment to avoid water loss and immediately sends out roots wherever and whenever a water source arrives.
I’m amazed at everything I see, but then I hear something just as amazing. A waterfall roars somewhere up ahead. Just the sound of it begins to refresh me.
The mountain rocks yield to a glorious sight in the blazing sun. A waterfall!
A clear, icy pool of water collects at the base.
We wade in, even in our shoes, even in our clothing. We are cacti sending out roots.
All day, I think about sending out roots–wading in–to those things that refresh the soul. A cactus can bloom in the desert if she knows when and where to send out roots.
I pray I know when and where to best wade in.
Journal: Besides spiritual practices that connect us deeply to God, what projects, friendships, or habits might we wade in to find refreshment?
I’m at an indoor pool that features a climbing wall with a waterfall. All the children climb up the wall and then jump off into the water.
“You have to do this, Mom,” my oldest insists.
I’m too old and out of shape for this sort of thing. Besides, I would look like a fool.
And that’s exactly why I did it.
(I only made it halfway up the wall, but I still did it!)
Journal: What activity does someone want me to try that I’m using all the old excuses to avoid?
|Cottonwood Seeds on the Lawn
I walk outside and great puffs of white float about me. It’s not snow; it’s cottonwood seed.
The seeds pile up on driveways, on the sides of streets, and on lawns and gardens. I’ve never seen anything like it.
All through lunch, I think about cottonwood trees. I wonder where all these seeds end up and why millions of cottonwood aren’t somehow sprouting all over Colorado with this kind of onslaught of seeds.
Could I stuff a pillow with cottonwood seeds? Might I make a great comforter for my bed? In the midst of these questions, I realize something: Being curious about the world makes me very happy. Living with flair means you take a look around and ask a question. You develop that lost art of curiosity so natural in children.
I’m traveling with a group of professors, and we talk about the strange things we are curious about on this day alone. Surprisingly, I’m not the only one who feels curious about random things. Today, some wonder:
1. Where did the concept of “family pews” originate?
2. What really is sorbet?
3. Is diving into a pool of cold water or wading in slowly better for acclimation?
I laughed out loud and smiled about the kinds of things we think about. I want to stay curious for my whole life.
Journal: What did you wonder about today?
Today my youngest cries out, “Mom, please tell me that you have not written your blog for today!”
“I haven’t written my blog for today,” I tell her. “Why?”
“Well, I found the thing you are supposed to write about!”
“You did?” I ask.
“Yes! Come with me! There’s a little twig hanging from our balcony, and I just know it’s a bird’s nest.”
I go out onto the balcony, and there I see all sorts of tiny bird nests tucked into the gutters, the light posts, and even in the railings. I hadn’t noticed them before, but now, they were everywhere. The one by the neighbor’s light post has two blue eggs in it.
“What should I write in the blog?” I ask her.
“Tell everybody this: I traveled a very long way to Colorado. I found a bird’s nest, and now I have things to check on every morning like I did back in Pennsylvania.“
I realize how important–how wonderful–it is for children to observe something growing. A vegetable garden, a bird’s nest, their own bodies. . .
Adults take great delight in monitoring growth, but I think we forget the pleasure in it. Maybe that’s why I love listening to a professor teach me the book of Romans and help me look back over my own spiritual growth. Maybe that’s why I blog every single day. I’m monitoring my own ability to find the one good thing each day, no matter what.
Journal: What growing thing are you monitoring today?
Every time I feel lost in this new place, I just look up.
An enormous mountain rises so high that you can see it no matter where you are. When you observe it, you immediately reorient. You suddenly know which direction to go.
I find myself desperate for that mountain. With every turn in the car, I’m shifting in my seat, craning my neck to find it. And then I relax. “This is the right way,” I say. I don’t even need street names anymore. I just drive on with that mountain beside me, and I know I’ll make it home.
I’ll remember the simplicity of looking up to find a mountain as I continue in this journey of faith.
Journal: What in my life has been a fixed mountain for me?
I’m sitting in a lecture hall, listening to a seminary professor teach on the book of Romans. I bring a journal with me (the one the Italian Mama gave me before I left for Colorado). I reserve this journal’s pages for the most special things–ideas worth keeping–so I can remember my summer experiences.
I think I might record two, maybe three, pearls of wisdom.
I fill eight pages.
I go through the ink of two pens.
It’s because it occurs to me once again that this whole life of faith is miraculous. I’m listening to supernatural, impossibly beautiful things here. Apart from God, I have no choice but to embrace a self-centered existence, doomed to conflict and despair. If I did as I pleased, I would have probably destroyed myself long ago. But when I surrendered at last and bended my will, I found the kind of freedom that doesn’t make sense. It is a miracle how God interacts with us. I can’t figure it out.
Living with flair means I fill journal after journal with wisdom that never gets old. The miracle is new every morning.
Journal: What’s the last bit of wisdom you wrote down?