When Everything Aligns

I’m driving to work, and I pull up beside a yellow school bus.  The children inside wave and giggle.  I motion back with an exaggerated wave.

I notice one cute little girl in the backseat.  Her ponytail bobs and her head tilts back as she laughs.  I look again.  It’s my own daughter on her way to a field trip at the marsh.  She doesn’t know that I can see her.  I watch her for a few seconds and then have to exit.  As I pull away from that school bus, something rises up in my heart.  It’s the strangest and deepest kind of joy.

I can’t explain it other than to say watching a group of laughing school children is good for the soul.

I’m so happy for the warmth and safety of a little yellow school bus that takes children to a marsh. I’m so happy for my daughter as she rides on that bus, laughing with all her friends. God bless that bus.  God bless that teacher.  God bless the whole elementary school, this whole great state of Pennsylvania, and the whole wide world for that matter.

For at least a few minutes, something aligns.  Everything, at least right here, is just as it should be.

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Journal:  Can you remember when everything felt “just right” for a moment?

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My Encounter with a Turkey Vulture

My minivan nearly runs over a turkey vulture today.  A turkey vulture.  On my street!  I take a picture and watch this bold bird swoop from tree to tree.

Turkey Vulture in a Tree in the Neighborhood

 I learn that turkey vultures can smell a dead creature from miles away.

Turkey Vulture

These birds detect death by smelling the special gas released once something begins to decay. I pull over to the side of the road and approach this turkey vulture.  He’s surprisingly calm, and I figure it’s because turkey vultures have no natural predators; why should he fear me?   

I watch him feeding on roadkill.  Rarely will they kill their own food (that’s good because what if he wanted to feast on me?) Instead, they seek out what’s already dead and rotting and stinking.

I don’t like this bird.  I don’t like him at all.  He’s not very attractive, and he can’t even sing.  He just grunts and hisses. I also learn that turkey vultures cool off by urinating all over themselves.  And if I make him mad, he’ll spew semi-digested meat into my eyes. Finally, if I would have happened to harm this bird (by running him over, which I nearly did), I would have to pay $15,000 dollars and go to prison for 6 months. 

I do not like this bird. 

Why would this bird appear in my lovely blog?  Apparently, whether I like this bird or not, he plays a vital role in the ecosystem.  He cleans up rotting things and prevents disease.  We need him.   

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Journal:  What thing don’t I like that I might actually need? 

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Confessions of a Type-A Mother

I have a serious problem.  I love productivity.  I really do.  I don’t like to sit down during the day because I just love to get things accomplished.  I love schedules, lists, and organization.  I love doing things in advance.  I was the girl in the front row who had the essay ready a week before the due date.  I arrive 10 minutes early everywhere I go.  I’m thinking about my big plans until the very last minute before closing my eyes to sleep.

The problem is that I think everyone else likes to (or should) live like this.  

My oldest daughter is, let’s just say, relaxed about her life.  She likes to create, dream, and just be.  She can sit and hold a cat for an hour and think about daisies.  Nothing feels urgent in her world.  This drives me absolutely crazy.

Lately, I’ve been a lunatic mother when it comes to her.  From the moment she arrives home from school, I have her life planned out:  music practice, homework, reading, exercise, Bible verses for church, cleaning her room.  Every minute is planned and productive, just the way I like it.

Just the way I like it.  Type A mothers might need to learn from my confession.  Not everyone likes to live like we do.  I’m seriously beginning to consider the notion that some people live differently.  They are patient, relaxed, and refuse to live under a sense of urgency.  Who are these strange creatures under my roof who feel no urgency? 

Everything is urgent to me. 

What would it look like to honor and embrace different personality types, especially within my own family?

She walks in from school, and I keep my mouth shut.  No orders, no plan, and no directing.  This is her life, not mine.  I begin my own writing work and live out my type-A urgent insanity privately.  In a parallel universe over there, I find my daughter has decided to play her flute and then put on an elaborate fashion show with her sister.  Then she sets up an imaginary school.  I’m pretty sure she’s doing homework inside the imaginary school.  

She’s just herself. And I’m myself.  I’m praying I learn how to celebrate her personality.  Any advice?

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Journal:  How can a mother let her children live their own lives?  Is it wrong to constantly urge children to do their homework and accomplish more and more each day?

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Can You Make This Unfamiliar?

I’m teaching my students how to de-familiarize themselves from their own writing in order to find errors.  It’s a strange phenomenon of writing:  when you write a paragraph and then reread it, it’s as if the brain knows how it should read and somehow blinds us to mistakes.

We need to make the text unfamiliar again.

I invite them to read their paragraphs in reverse order; I encourage them to change the font; I have them read words on paper instead of on a screen; I challenge them to give the writing a 48 hour break.  I knew a man in graduate school who placed a ruler under every line of text in order to detach it from its context.  He could find errors every time.

All day, I remember the beauty and power of the unfamiliar.  I remember why I need to detach from the old familiar contexts.  In familiar settings, coping mechanisms, dysfunctional relational patterns, and spiritual blind spots set in.  But remove me from my settings and get me away from the familiar?  Suddenly I have clear focus.  I can see all the junk.  I think this explains the importance of weekend retreats, marriage date nights, travel opportunities, and simple changes in routine.  This explains why I need to get on my knees, away from my life patterns, to listen to God. 

We makes things unfamiliar in order to see again. 

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Journal:  How can we make our lives a little unfamiliar today?

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When You Must Improvise

When fruit flies start swarming in the kitchen, I know it’s time to make peach cobbler.  So ripe they nearly burst in my hand, the peaches ooze and fragrance the whole counter top.  I peel and slice them, and then I toss in a few cups of fresh raspberries, garden ripe and falling off their stalks, just because.

The thing about cobbler is that you just kinda throw it all together.  Melt some butter; mix up some sugar, flour, and milk; slice up your fruit; sprinkle some cinnamon on top; bake for a bit–and there you go. 

I think about other woman in centuries past who made cobbler from their late summer harvest.  I feel connected to them when I pull out these old pioneer recipes.  They had to innovate, imagine, and improvise and thus:  cobbler.

Living with flair means you take what you have and build a beautiful cobbler.  Warm, sweet, and delicious–what a beautiful life!  Cobbler reminds me that the best often comes when we’re forced to improvise.

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Journal:  Do you have a great cobbler recipe you can share?

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Would You Give Like This?

I’m speaking with a lovely woman at a dinner party.  I just love her flair; right down to her shoes, this woman has style.  I find myself complimenting her beautiful jewelry and wondering what it feels like to be that put together.

She’s from Texas. (The rest of us can try, but we won’t ever be as stylish as a Texan woman.) 

I look down at my drab clothing:  black, professional, and profoundly boring.  Nevertheless, I enjoy myself and take great delight in the company of my new friend.  As the evening comes to an end, I’m talking to another group of people, and I feel something cool and heavy close against my shoulders from behind me.  Before I can turn around, my Texan friend has clasped her necklace around my neck. 

“It’s for you!  I have so many baubles, and these are perfect for you!”

“Oh, I can’t accept these,” I say, absolutely astonished that anyone would remove their own necklace and put it around my neck.

“Oh yes, they are just baubles, and they are for you!”  (I now know one never argues with a Texan woman with baubles.)

I’m still stunned by the gesture.  Have you ever heard of such a thing? Later, I tell my daughters that a lovely woman at a dinner party gave me her necklace and insisted I keep it.

“That’s the nicest thing,” my oldest says.  I can see her mind wondering if she could part with her own jewelry.  

I want to be the kind of woman that removes her own necklace because another woman might enjoy it.  Might I see my possessions as just baubles to pass around?

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Journal:  Would you ever do something like this at a party?  Could you graciously either give or receive such a gesture?

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An Unsafe Life

Anticipating rain, I wear my enormous rain boots out onto the Gettysburg battlefields.  I won’t dread the rain or flooding today!  But it doesn’t rain; it’s sunny and hot, and I find myself disappointed

I’m actually looking for deep puddles, sloshy ruts of mud, and soupy earth I might sink my boots into.

I march across a field with impenetrable protection.  There’s nothing to fear with boots like these.  As I think about returning home and marching onward into any uncertain or dangerous territory, I recall God’s protection:  impenetrable and so strong we find ourselves disappointed when life seems too safe to need it.  

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Journal:  Do you worry that life seems too safe sometimes?   

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In Great Deeds Something Abides

I’m walking on the battlefields today.  I’m deeply moved by Chamberlain’s words spoken at the dedication of the Monument to the 20th Maine on October 3, 1889, Gettysburg, PA.

He says,  “In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear, but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls. And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field to ponder and dream; And lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.”

Something abides.  Something stays.  Certain places–thin places–where the boundary between flesh and spirit disappears and we can peer into eternity, realign me to great ideals.  Gettysburg does this.   

We ponder and dream here. 

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Journal:  Do you know of other places that are “vision-places” for souls? 

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What Not to Ask Your College Professor

I’m sitting in office hours, and a student stops in to discuss his philosophy class.  We lean back in our chairs, pondering whether or not greed is inherent to our nature or acquired, and another student enters and offers her own opinion. Then she asks me whether or not a photograph of an object diminishes the beauty of that object since it’s not real

An hour passes and the first student leaves in a rush because he’s late for an economics class.  The other student remains and we meditate on the meaning of friendship, fame, and the world of dance.

Nobody asks me that one question I just can’t stand:  “How do I get an A?”

Living with flair means loving to learn, loving to discuss, and loving to ask philosophical questions.  The grade will take care of itself.

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Journal:  What will you discuss today?

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A Lesson from the Wise Big Sister

Today, my Wise Big Sister offers another bit of wisdom.  This is the Wise Big Sister who wrote me letters in college with Bible verses in them (when I was very far from God).  This is the Wise Big Sister who prayed for me through every break-up, every bad haircut, and every rejection.  When I didn’t get invited from the sorority sisters to pledge their sorority as a freshman, she sent me flowers with a card that said, “From Your Real Big Sister.”

My Wise Big Sister continues to mentor me: 

In March, she instructed me to do the thing I don’t want to do.
In June, she reminded me that when you’re having a bad day, there’s always the hope of flair. 
In July, she taught me that to get a great thing, you have to lose a great thing
In August, she sent me a message in a bottle to remind me of wonder.  
In October, she encouraged me to go to the gym.  
In November, she challenged me to be my own competition. 
Later that November, she explained that one can be spiritual and stylish at the same time.

So I text her that I feel burnt-out.  She simply says, “Train hard.  Rest harder.”  She calls to explain my situation using a running analogy.  She repeats: “Every good runner trains hard but rests harder.”  She explains that when you’re resting, you really have to rest.  “No running.  You can cross-train, but you can’t run.”

She diagnoses my burnout as a metaphorical stress fracture.  “You ran when you should have been cross-training.  You didn’t rest completely.”  Cross-training means you engage in completely different and even opposite activities. Runners will swim instead, for example, when they rest but still keep active. In my life this means solitude instead of company; a movie instead of writing; a walk in nature instead of being plugged into technology; or being taught by a mentor instead of being the teacher. 

Different and opposite activities. 

We have to train hard and rest harder.

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Journal:  What would it look like to “rest hard?” What opposite and different activities will we do to rest completely?

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