My new neighbor calls me over to come see the birthday cupcakes she’s made for her husband.
I start laughing out loud when I see them.
She and her children have made little grills with kabobs, steaks, hotdogs, and even hamburgers with cheese on top–all made out of candy. If you look closely, you’ll even see the glowing embers of flames (red sprinkles!). You’ll even see the fine grill marks on the caramel cream steak.
I love these cupcakes! I’m adding them to my list of whimsical things that make life a little lighter. Right beside my green apple and hamburger cupcakes, I’m listing one more: On the Grill.
Late last night, she invites our family over for this “Grill Out.” My children sneak across the street in pajamas, and we follow behind as lightening streaks the sky over the mountains. We share cupcakes and ice-cream and celebrate a dad’s birthday.
I remember–especially this 9/11 weekend–how thankful I am for this great nation and the simplicity of family, neighbors, and sharing cupcakes. I learned that horrible day that we can’t take a single moment for granted. Something about eating whimsical cupcakes puts me in that state of thankfulness. What a privilege to sit around a table with friends, eating cupcakes and sharing our lives!
Living with flair means you Grill Out with cupcakes.
Journal: What little thing are you thankful for this 9-11 weekend?
After our project on how advertisers persuade us to purchase a whole array of non-essential items, I ask my students to name one thing they’ll keep forever.
Baby blankets (some brought them to college)
Military dog tags
Jewelry given from parents or grandparents
Not one student mentions anything related to trendy clothing or technology. Nobody claims any attachment to their phones (we’re addicted, not attached!), their laptops, their purses, or their toys.
I realize that most things I’m tempted to purchase for my children have no lasting value. What does? Simple fabric objects of attachment, emblems of service to our nation, symbols of love passed down from generations before, musical instruments, and experiences captured on film.
If we pare down and trim off the excess of our lives, we’ll find what really matters. As I raise my daughters in a world saturated with stuff, I might ask myself before I buy it, “Will they keep this forever? What would this purchase symbolize? Can it be an emblem? An experience? A musical object?”
My students’ answers remind me of what I love and value.
Journal: What do you own that you’ll keep forever?
I’m out in the rain in over-sized rain boots to dig around in the garden. I glance at the raspberry stalks.
But then–because hope dies slowly–I venture deep inside the raspberry patch and stick my head underneath the wet stalks. Tiny barbs on the stalks scratch my fingers, but I keep going.
A hidden harvest greets me!
|Ripe Raspberries Deep Within
Afraid they might disappear like some desert mirage, I frantically start gathering berries. There’s too many to carry in my hands. Hidden on the underside of every stalk, I find more and more.
I return with a bowl and finish the work. I’m amazed at this hidden harvest. We feast until we’ve had our fill.
The whole time, I’m wondering about this hidden harvest. What harvest awaits, hidden from public view–from public consumption–because it’s a deeper, internal sort of fruit? I think about all the quiet, hidden things I harvest from the Lord’s work in my life. I think of character traits like perseverance, humility, courage. The world might not immediately see it, and it might not be obvious to anyone else.
But I know I’m changing.
Living with flair means thanking God that He produces fruit in our lives of good character. When there’s no obvious fruit on the vine, it just means the harvest might be internal–deep within–on the underside.
Journal: Has your character changed this year?
Remember in May when I believed that my children would destroy a wedding ceremony? Remember how I doubted them and judged them? I refused to believe the best.
I learned the power of believing the best that day. Lately, we’ve been teaching our children to believe the best about their friends. Instead of criticism, suspicion, or judgement, believe the best about them.
Years ago, a wise mentor told me that this was the secret to a great marriage. “Always believe the best about each other,” she cautioned, “and speak about the great things you believe about each other.”
So we do. Sometimes I forget, so I call my husband and tell him. Sometimes I forget with my own children, so I find them and tell them. Sometimes, I forget with myself, so I remind myself of all the things God says are true about me.
I’m learning that folks respond to our feelings about them. They rise up and meet the standard of beauty, wisdom, kindness, and intelligence we believe for them. They likewise sink down under the weight of our lack of confidence in them, our criticism, our doubt, and our judgment.
I’m believing the best today.
Journal: Who needs to know that you believe the best about them today?
Soaked with rain and shivering in the 50 degree weather, I realize I’m under-dressed for this kind of day. Autumn’s coming early. I’m shivering and wondering where I’ve stored my mittens from last winter. It’s so wet and gloomy out here that I’m imagining my warm bed and a cup of hot cocoa.
Hot cocoa? I haven’t thought about hot cocoa for months.
But that’s exactly what this day needs.
I stop by the grocery store and stock up on ingredients (and marshmallows) for after-school hot chocolate. Who cares that it’s September? I’m cold.
Later, I’m cleaning afternoon dishes, and I start imagining steaming mashed potatoes with gravy. This gloomy cold day needs something, and it keeps making suggestions. I’m listening.
Living with flair means asking yourself what this day needs. Maybe it’s just a cup of hot cocoa and mashed potatoes with dinner.
Journal: What does this day need?
My six year old whimpers beside me, “Mommy, today was a small day.”
“What made it small?”
“There were not enough play dates or friends. This was not a big day. I need big days.”
Already, I think about what kind of big life this little girl will lead. She’s challenging me to wake up to big days. I don’t want to ever have a day that’s too small.
I’ll never have this day again. Lord, let it be a big day.
Living with flair means we don’t have small days.
Journal: What would make today a big day?
I apologize to the cauliflower plants that I’ve ignored them all summer. They kept growing and growing, but I grew impatient. I’d never once seen anything representing a cauliflower, and I gingerly pulled back the leaves all season. Now, it just seems silly to check, especially since the whole garden is dried up and overgrown.
My husband reminds me that the peppers are just now turning red.
I obviously have timing issues.
I decide to give the cauliflower another chance. Deep within the shaded leaves of the plant, a haven of cool, moist air surrounds something I’ve never seen growing before: a real cauliflower in a garden and not a grocery aisle. I show my daughter, and we wonder when (and how) in the world you pick a cauliflower.
I realize this: sometimes when you leave something alone, it flourishes. When you least expect it, and when you’re just about to give up, you’ll pull back those leaves and find your dream needed that quiet, uninterrupted place to germinate.
Journal: Do you have a dream you need to leave alone for awhile?
I’m fixing my hair because I’m headed to a funeral.
At a funeral, you’re forced (finally) to “trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understanding.” I’m a girl who loves to know the narrative. I love to know what’s going on: the why, the how, the when, the where. I’m probably too controlling. What happens when the narrative breaks apart and you have no idea what’s going on?
In reading, we love these moments of confusion; we’re delighted to read on to make sense of an unraveling plot. In life, though, we stagger and despair.
A friend calls and reminds me that God knows the big picture. It was a simple phrase–the Big Picture–but I know it’s true. He sees what I do not see.
There’s a bigger story, a larger picture, and these moments on the page–death, birth, joy, pain, confusion and every form of suffering and beauty–fold into it.
It’s a marvelous story if I just read on a little further.
Journal: When life unravels, what keeps me pushing ahead?
This morning, a boy turns to me and asks, “Can you give me any tips on how to wait for something?”
I’m stumped. I’m floored. I’m overcome with how sweet (but so important) this question is and how many years of his life he’ll be waiting for something. Here he is–just a boy–already waiting and needing to know how to survive the wait.
I’m overcome with how much of life is about waiting. I think every person I know has something they are waiting for. My own waiting–for the dreams of my children, for the plans I’ve made with my husband, for my own novelist longings–are equal parts delight and despair. Waiting is the not yet. It’s a yes and a no at the same time. It’s the impossible focus on two dimensions: hope and the reality of now.
It’s the grand universal Maybe.
I tell the little boy (he’s not so little now–we’re on our 4th year of walking to school together) that all I can offer is this: Focus on the great things right in front of you today. But then I correct myself. I remember the beauty of longing, the joy of waiting because something is coming. I run up beside him and tell him that it’s a great thing to wait. It’s the best thing in the world.
Something is coming. It’s just around the corner. Living with flair means we delight in the Maybe.
Journal: What would you have said to this boy?
My daughter climbs high into the pine trees and returns to me covered in tree sap. It’s everywhere: hands, feet (she climbs barefoot!), arms, and all over her new white shorts. They’re ruined.
The next day, she climbs again. More sap. More ruinous results. What can I do? Do I ban tree climbing? I imagine her high within those limbs, smelling the sweet pine oil, and enjoying the wind on her face. Once, I climbed so high into a pine tree that I could see the top of my own house. Something about that vantage point gave me confidence as a little girl. Marked by sap, I returned to the earth happier.
That horrible sap! But I know this: Just because there’s sap doesn’t mean she shouldn’t climb. And the higher you want to go, she tells me, the more sap there is. Perhaps every truly great pleasure brings its own form of darkness–its own trouble and cost–and we learn to account for it and manage it. We learn to battle it because the higher we go, the more trouble comes. I find this true spiritually and emotionally especially. The more we embrace God, the more the enemy pursues. The more we love, the more we risk.
But we’re ready. We are willing because the vantage point we gain delivers a certain joy. What’s a little sap in light of this joy?
Besides, we discover that Pine Sol cleaner really does remove tree sap from white shorts.
Journal: Have you found that the higher you go, the more sap (trouble!) you experience?