Arriving home, we immediately check on the blackberries. Deep black berries burst on the vine; we gobble them up and leave the red ones to ripen. We’re home!
Our minivan’s contents now spill across the living room, and everyone feels out-of-sorts (especially the mother). I leave everything and run barefoot to the vegetable garden.
|Neck Deep in Tomatoes
With the exhaustion and disorder of arriving home after a summer of travel, I find myself returning to the garden. It’s overgrown with weeds, and nothing stayed quite in place. But I’m out here, neck deep in green tomatoes.
Something about growing things, something about the smell of the earth, the berries, and the vegetables reassures me. We’ll settle in, find order and rhythm, and harvest the fruit of a long, hot summer.
Journal: What’s so good about coming home?
On our journey home from Colorado, an older and wiser couple drive one hour ahead of us. They warn us of traffic or storms. They select the best hotel option. They research and find great local restaurants.
As we arrive behind them, we receive the reconnaissance report. How easy to travel this way! They even make dinner reservations for us so we just walk right to our table.
It feels like we are not alone. As I thank God for them, I realize they visually represent God’s presence and provision all along.
I recall the verse in Deuteronomy where the author reports that God “went ahead of you on your journey, in fire by night and in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and to show you the way you should go.”
I love that God shows us the way we should go.
Journal: Has it been obvious that God has gone ahead of you to show you the way you should go?
I’m teaching my daughters elevator etiquette.
1. When the doors open, stand aside to let others exit before you enter.
2. Allow those with heavy loads to enter first. Assist them if they need help.
3. Once inside, offer to hold the door so others can enter, and then politely ask which floor they want.
4. If a child is on the elevator, ask if he or she would like to push the button for the floor. They will want to.
5. Give people space.
6. Don’t make unnecessary noise or movement when inside out of respect to others.
7. If a group travels together, offer to wait for the next elevator so that group can have room in the elevator.
Basically, defer to others. Defer means to submit humbly to another person’s desires or needs. I want our family to say, “I defer to you,” in as many situations as possible.
Living with flair means I remember my elevator etiquette.
Journal: Good manners have a lot to do with deferring to others. Which elevator rule did I forget?
As we approach Burlington, Colorado, my daughter notices the Kit Carson County Carousel on the atlas. We spontaneously decide to follow the signs off the interstate to find this carousel.
What’s happened to the scheduled, inflexible, impatient traveler I normally am?
For a quarter, you can ride on the back of a seahorse, a camel, a zebra, or even a deer with enormous antlers. There we ride, in the middle of nowhere, going 12 miles per hour on a gorgeous carousel built in 1905.
Later, my daughter spreads the atlas across her lap. I see the spirit of adventure rising up in our old minivan. You can go anywhere and do anything! Why not follow the trail of Louis and Clark? Why not?
A few hours later, we stop in Kansas and find friends (the Newmans!) who recommend a local restaurant for dinner. Why not? We stay a night in this city and enjoy the unknown and the spontaneous.
My friend reminds me, “Spontaneous things are better.” I’m finally learning to relax, be flexible, and have adventures. What will we find on the atlas today? Suddenly, a day in the minivan doesn’t seem so difficult.
Journal: What spontaneous thing did I do recently?
The “father of air conditioning,” Willis Haviland Carrier, claims he had a flash of genius while waiting for a train. He began thinking about temperature and humidity, and within moments he had a scientific method to chill the air.
Back then, you couldn’t distract yourself from thinking so easily.
I remember Carrier all day as I walk around in the kind of blazing heat that makes it hard to breathe. I thank God for what I take for granted: air conditioning, ice, refrigeration, cold water from a fountain. Some one began thinking and something wonderful happened:
I tell my students that invention is the hardest stage of writing. They simply can’t come up with an idea. They can’t begin creative acts–making something from nothing–because they don’t know how to begin thinking.
Well. Let’s just sit for a bit, as if we were waiting for a train on a foggy night with absolutely nothing to distract us. Let’s just sit here and think.
It all began while a man waited for a train, thinking.
Journal: Do I schedule thinking time into my day?
I’m listening to the Director of Operations for the International Justice Mission in Southeast Asia. He makes three statements that can reshape my purpose in my community.
1. Believe that the strong have a duty to the weak.
2. Identify the one in need of rescue.
3. Respond with courage and compassion to confront oppressors (spiritual and physical) and set people free.
I’m not in Southeast Asia, but I am in a neighborhood. Do I believe I have a duty to help others? Can I ask, “Where are the weak among us–those suffering, those oppressed by various sources–who God might send me to help?” And will I have the Spirit-filled courage and compassion to move into lives that need freedom?
Living with flair means going on rescue missions. Today, the verbs confront and rescue enter my list of actions I want to animate my life. Lord, give me courage.
Journal: Who needs to be rescued in your community?
I’m watching a mother bring out her “fun box” for her children during a long meeting.
The “fun box” contains modeling clay, puzzles, interesting snacks, drawing supplies, costumes, or any variety of objects to delight children when they have to be where they don’t want to be (hospital waiting rooms, rainy days, situations requiring stillness and silence for long periods, bed confinement because of illness).
I thought about the “fun box” all evening because someone asked me what I like to do for relaxation and refreshment during difficult or stressful times. What would be in my fun box? I thought of a few things: novels, bubble bath, candles and journals, my camera and walking shoes, or a new magazine.
I want to have my fun box ready for the autumn season when the weather turns cold. I want to have relaxation ready for when stressful events come. Living with flair means the fun box isn’t only for children.
Journal: What else can folks do for pleasure and refreshment?
Yesterday, a wise man explains that while we often exhibit spiritual and intellectual maturity, we forget to develop emotionally.
An emotionally mature person isn’t controlled by circumstances. She can operate out of truth regarding God’s love for her, His sovereignty, and His perfect provision. But how? No matter how much I learn or how much I grow spiritually, I still let my emotions dominate.
Something isn’t clicking.
My wise friend suggests to begin by charting the day. I’m to make a list of everything that happens and my reaction to these events. I slow down, ask myself how I’m responding to my environment, why I’m doing this, and what lie I’m believing that generates the emotional instability. Then, uncover the truth about God I need to believe.
He remarks that most people behave inappropriately in reaction to their circumstances because there’s a deep wound of abandonment or neglect. They lash out like caged animals because they want so desperately to have their needs met.
But we don’t have to lash out or throw tantrums today. We can supply God’s truth to this very moment and respond with peace, patience, and joy. We are not neglected animals. We are deeply loved and cared for by a generous and powerful God who heals us.
Journal: How would you know if you were emotionally mature?
Yesterday, I examined the cattails by a beautiful pond. I’ve always studied cattails. As a child, I learned how the cattails hid the nests of mallards and geese. I discovered how you could walk between the stalks, nearly sinking into the marshy bank of the Potomac River, and find turtles as small as your thumbnail and bullfrogs the size of a dinner plate.
But I learned never to take a cattail inside the house. The seeds would disperse everywhere. So you left them alone–those tall soldiers guarding the ponds and rivers–and observed how, in late summer, great fluffy parachutes of seeds launched out over the water. They could overtake a whole habitat. Nothing could come against them.
I remember this, and I suddenly realize what the cattail represents: explosive, invasive, unmanageable, impenetrable growth.
You can’t stop a cattail. The roots go deep and store massive amounts of nutrients. The tip of the plant constitutes innumerable seeds carried far and wide by wind. Bad weather simply aids the dispersal. A flood only makes the roots stronger. A drought just means the seeds leave sooner.
You can’t stop a cattail. That’s what I’m thinking about as my time in Colorado comes to an end next week. It hasn’t been the summer I imagined. We’ve been more sick than healthy and more challenged than refreshed. But you can’t stop a cattail. Hardship can only aid our growth.
Journal: Do I believe I am as strong and fruitful as a cattail?
I’m listening to Vonette Bright speak about the days of co-founding a ministry in 1951 that now ranks as one of the largest missions organizations in the world. She mentions the moment she agreed to fully surrender to God. What would it require? What would it mean to submit to a calling?
I learned part of the answer I didn’t know before.
I didn’t realize that within an actual contract the Brights signed between themselves and God, the couple agreed not to accumulate wealth or seek fame.
I smiled when I heard her explain this. She knew something far greater and more satisfying than the world’s most seductive paths. She knew what mattered most in another economy in another kingdom.
Journal: Famous people are often annoyed by their fame. They don’t want it once they have it. Wealthy folks often die lonely and miserable. If we know these things, why are we still tempted by fame and money? What do they promise?