Offering a Blank Page

Just now, my printer chokes and halts.  An orange warning light flickers.  A message alert flashes on my computer screen:  No paper. 

I find the stack of new paper, bend down to fill the printer, and suddenly realize something.  Looking at that new blank page warns me somehow.  It becomes a spiritual moment right here by the old printer.

I consider how only a blank page will produce a clear document.

I know this because I’ve accidentally put used paper in my printer that bore the marks of old essays, chapters from novels, or random printouts from various websites.  When you try to print on paper that’s already filled, the printer spits out gobbledygook.

You just can’t read words overlying other words or paragraphs imprinted atop other paragraphs.  (Gobbledygook really is a word.  It means meaningless, unintelligible, nonsense language.)

Only a blank page will do.  I realize I have a script for my life–words on the page I want–butI long for the willingness to hand God a blank page.  Trying to merge my own narrative onto the one He’s writing produces a kind of gobbledygook:  stress, meaninglessness, and chaos.  If only I might offer the blank page and let another Writer compose!

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Journal:  Offering up a blank page seems very freeing, but also terrifying.  What script or story line do I need to clear from my life?

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I Didn’t Intend to Make a Fool of Myself

By now you know my weakness:  Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.”  I’m at the school picnic, and the DJ plays the song.  It’s like I’m on autopilot; I’m gathering children to my side and announcing to the whole crowd that I know the choreography.

Who is this crazy woman?

It’s me.  I’m sorry.  It’s just me.  I can’t help it.  I’m too old and too tired to be self-conscious anymore.

Besides, later that evening, a random father finds me and gives me a high-five.  “I wish I would have joined you out there,” he says.  “I love that song.”  Maybe at next year’s picnic, he won’t be wishing because he’ll actually be doing it.

Living with flair means actually doing it.  You will make a fool of yourself, and that’s just how it is.

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Journal:   What silly thing will you actually do today? 

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Things That Make Us Humble

I’m learning to give thanks for things that make me humble.  What a blessing in disguise when we experience failure, sickness, less-than-perfect children, a rebuke from a boss or superior, moods we can’t manage, laundry we can never finish, schedules we can’t control, or any host of things that cry out:  You are not capable–in your own strength–of living your life!  You are not as great as you think you are! 

I’m sitting in church, upset about all the hard things happening.  I’m skimming the first chapters of the book of Isaiah, thinking about my own proud heart.  I find the most unusual verb: whistle.  God whistles twice in the book of Isaiah.   The prophet Isaiah says God whistles for us–getting our attention–so we’ll turn to Him.  I start chuckling in my seat.  I picture myself running off into the distance, into all my own plans and in all my own prideful independence. 

Then, I hear that long, sweet whistle calling me home. 

That’s what these disappointments mean.  I need God.  He’s calling me home. 

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Journal:  Is God whistling for you through this situation you’re in?

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“Turning Over a New Leaf ” This Fall

Today, I learn the etymology of the phrase, “turning over a new leaf.”  It dates back to the 16th century and literally means to turn the page.

I’m ready to turn the page.  I’m ready to move on in my story.  Aren’t you?

As the air turns crisp and the leaves begin to fall around my Pennsylvania home, I notice one little tree in the woods has turned bright red.  She’s transforming–dropping the old–and preparing for the new.   No other tree feels the need to yet, but she does. 

One Tree Changing Colors

What confidence and courage it takes to transform!   

I’m moving into this new season with my heart open to change. 

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Journal:  What changes will I make this fall season?

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First Grade, iPads, and the New Language of Six-Year-Olds

We’re driving across town, and my six-year-old and I have the following conversation:

“Mom, I uploaded two new apps to the iPad they gave me in computer time today.”

 (Note: I don’t have an iPad.  I don’t even have a phone that connects to the internet.)

“Really?  What apps?” 

“Well, one is for learning words, and the other is a game you play with another person. And the other person is really a computer program!”

“That sounds fun,” I say, but I’m still wondering why my daughter uses an iPad and I don’t.  She’s uploading apps, and I’m not sure I would know how. 

I remember my first grade year.  This language of apps and uploading didn’t exist in my vocabulary.  Many words my six-year-old knows didn’t exist when I was a first grader:  Google, Facebook, MP3’s, DVR’s, DVD’s, Internet, and even words like microwave and cell phones never came out of my mouth.  In fact, we didn’t have a home computer until after I was in college.  Even more shocking is that I dated my husband without the use of cell phones or texting.  We didn’t own mobile phones back then.

My college students always ask me how that worked.  “How did you find each other during the day?  How did anybody know where you were?”  They stare at me, mouths agape, breathing rapidly in terror as they imagine a world without texting.  

“Well, a person might leave a message on an answering machine on a ground line phone or write a note with an actual pencil and post it to the dorm room door.”

It’s inconceivable to them.

I wonder–in forty years–what someone might ask my daughter about life in 2011.  You used iPads?  How old-fashioned!  How did you ever manage?

What words will a future generation speak that have not yet come into existence? 

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Journal:  Does it shock you that first-graders use iPads and upload apps as part of a school day?

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Do What They Do For a Day

I find a pair of rain boots, and I dig out a fall raincoat.  We’re walking to school in the pouring rain today. 

Everyone’s excited about the puddles.  Suddenly, I recall those deep memories of childhood: stomping in puddles, twirling your umbrella, tasting the rain. 

So here I am, bringing up the rear of a group of school children, and I’m stomping in the puddles with all my might. 

“That felt exactly like I thought it would,” I say to one father as water and mud splash up around my boots.   “It’s just how I remembered it.” 

What else will my children do today that I might do right along with them? 

Living with flair means you do what they do sometimes. 

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Journal:  Can you recall some rainy day memories? 

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It’s Not Just About Us

My oldest wants to learn flute, and she nods her head and glances at me when the director says, “When you practice your instrument, it’s not just about you.  It’s about your community of musicians.  You don’t just let yourself down when you don’t practice.  You let down the whole orchestra.” 

He’s talking about citizenship.  He’s talking about personal and community excellence. 

The Italian Mama tells me about her son’s marching band debut at the football game.  The band director said to the band, “When you put on your uniform, you aren’t just representing yourself.  You represent this school, this town, and the whole community of musicians.”

I like thinking about our obligation to ourselves and our communities.  It’s never just about me

Living with flair means I know that I’m responsible to a community.  I want my children to leave my home and represent themselves, our family, and our community well. 

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Journal:  What would change if we walked out of the house and thought about representing ourselves, our families, and our communities well? 

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Fame Often Comes When We No Longer Need It

My one-eyed cat, Jack, knows he’s a blog celebrity.  He tolerates us.  By now, he can pick the perfect lighting and the perfect tilt of the head whenever I have my camera near him.  He endures it all for the sake of others who need encouragement.  You can read his whole journey here. 

Jack’s Photo Shoot 

He stays still and waits for the click of the lens.  He extends a paw for a creative shot and displays some claw to remind us of his power. 

Claws

Then, he lounges and signifies his photo shoot is over.   

He lets me know he’s had enough.  I now have to fit into his schedule. 

This cat’s journey reminds me that we move from wounded and abandoned to rescued and redeemed.  We stop begging for attention and clamoring for love.  It’s because we already have all we need–in abundance–so much so that when somebody blogs about us, it’s not important anymore.  We gain fame at the exact moment when we want it the least.

Jack just does his thing.  He loves his healed cat life.

Living with flair means we just do our thing–healed, rescued, and redeemed.  We don’t seek fame or even need it.  If it comes, we’ll tolerate it, but we’re finally free from needing it.

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Journal:  Have you struggled with the desire for fame?

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What Our Elementary School Principal Calls Herself

Our elementary school principal manages extraordinary tasks like learning the first and last names of all 495 students in the school.

That’s nearly 500 students.  Last September, I wrote about observing her in action in the hallway.

Last week at Back-to-School night, she introduces herself, not as the principal, but as the Lead Learner.  She signs all her correspondence this way as well.  

The Lead Learner!

For some reason, I want to cry right then and there.  No wonder she’s been at this school for over 20 years and has the best reputation of any school principal I’ve ever known or heard of.  No wonder the students at this school love learning so much.  The leader of this school is a learner.  How could we not follow her with that attitude of curiosity, humility, and reverence for this sacred act of learning? 

I recall Parker Palmer’s quote, “We teach what we most need to learn.”  I want that truth to shape my teaching philosophy and the ways I interact with other instructors, my students, and the material I teach.

I’m not the teacher, I’m the Lead Learner.

I’ll think about this tonight at Neighborhood Fitness Group.  The children will learn to jump in and out of the double dutch ropes, and I will too.   I’ll try to get a picture of me in action (Lord, help me!). 

Living with flair means being the Lead Learner.  

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Journal:  Did you have a teacher (or principal) that acted more like the Lead Learner?

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My September 11th Memory

I woke up this morning, remembering.

Last night, my husband and I remembered together.  We recalled how my phone rang because my friend in Chicago was watching the morning news.  I couldn’t understand her because of the crying. 

We recalled how I called my husband at work and how he came home that morning from his office in Ann Arbor.

We recalled how we thought my dad was en route to the Pentagon, and we didn’t know–for at least an hour–whether or not he was in the Pentagon or still in Alexandria, Virginia.  He wasn’t there that morning, but we didn’t know that yet.

We recalled how we stared at the TV–standing up mostly, not sitting–for nearly 9 hours straight.   We recalled how we had to do something, so we went to buy an American flag to fly.  When we arrived at the store, everyone else in our community was thinking the same thing.  I drove around town, pregnant with my first daughter, and asked God if the world was really coming to an end.  Was I ready?

I went to a campus chapel and cried with complete strangers for a few hours.  

Everyone has their story to tell.  One way to honor this day is to allow people in your life to tell it. 

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Journal:  Can you remember that day as clearly as I can?

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