They See What You Don’t See

I’m sending a novel pitch out to agents, and one responds with interest.  This means it’s time to send a full proposal:  synopsis, character sketches, sample chapters, author bio.

Years ago, I forged ahead with confidence and zeal, believing I was hot stuff.  I didn’t need anyone to tell me how to revise or improve my writing.  I was young and smart and perfect and error-free.  Now, after a decade of rejection after rejection, I’ve realized the beauty of humble living.   I’ve realized the danger of an independent spirit that–when left alone and unchecked–makes a person believe they are better and more important than they are.

This time (older, wiser, realistic), I send my chapters to neighbors who respond with the most insightful and clear revision suggestions.  The Local Artist, for example, sees what I don’t see:  unclear sentences, confusing details, unrealistic scenes, clichés.  Her commentary rids the prose of excess and turns each sentence towards its best position.

I want her to now edit my life.  Living with flair means abandoning my independent spirit so others can suggest and revise.  They see what I don’t see. 

It’s hard to let others see your work and your life, offering it up for revision and commentary.  Have you had good experiences when you allow others to “edit” you? 


A Beautiful Answer to Prayer

My daughter gives permission to share the following true story that just delights me:

I’m tucking my daughter in bed, and she opens up and starts crying about how nobody plays with her at recess.  She spends the time walking alone around the school track with her head buried in her coat.

She’s not athletic and still enjoys imagination games, and unfortunately, she can’t find friends her age in those categories.  And when she tries to join a group of girls, they are gossiping and using bad language.  They don’t let her in their circle.  

“What can I do, Mom?”  She feels so lonely and so rejected.

“How should we pray about it?  What do you want to ask God for?”  My heart aches, and I fight tears. 

“Just one friend.  Just one little girl who wants to be friends with me tomorrow.”  So we bow our heads and ask God to send a friend.

The next morning, I pray for my daughter. The Bible verse in Hebrews 1:9 comes to mind each time I start to ask God for help:

You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
   therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
   by anointing you with the oil of joy.

I pray the whole morning that God would simply anoint my precious daughter with the oil of joy.  Bring her joy.  Bring her joy.  Bring her joy.

That afternoon, she bursts out of the school doors and reports that a new little girl came to find her at recess.  “She wants to become my friend, and we played the whole time!”

“What is her name?” I ask.

“Her name is Joy.”

The Lord brought Joy indeed. 

Do you have a great answer to prayer to share today?


This Will Hurt

These past few days, I’ve been talking to students and my daughters about what it means to do the right thing.   We decide this:

It hurts.

This generation, I’m told, avoids pain at all costs.  We’ve become experts in pleasure and experts in denying and avoiding suffering.  

Doing the right thing hurts.  When you do what’s right, you often risk your reputation.   You risk losing relationships.  You risk your own comfort.  It’s painful to choose what you know is right–what you know God wants–especially when everything in you desires the path of least discomfort.

Why should I go against my nature?  It feels so very wrong!  I think about Proverbs 14:12 where the wise man states: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”  It seems right because it feels right–or makes sense–for profit, self-promotion, comfort, security, or pleasure.

But God lays out this whole other way of living, and I’m realizing that it’s not always comfortable.  When I obey God, it usually hurts somewhere.  That kind of pain, however, produces this overwhelming, incomprehensible, sublime peace and joy.

Nothing compares to the peace of doing the right thing.

I don’t want to be surprised by, fearful of, or repelled by the pain of obedience.  I anticipate it.

It hurts, but it’s good. 

Can you remember milestone moments in your faith journey when obedience was painful?


What We’re Meant For

Today I notice the Weeping Cherry, and the beautiful intricacy of the ice on her limbs captures my attention.

Ice on the Weeping Cherry

A swirling scaffolding of crystal sparkles in the late afternoon sun.   It’s so beautiful that I almost forget how terrible this weight is for my Weeping Cherry’s fragile branches.  She’s not meant for it. 

When I think about what I’m meant for, and when I start to desire that shimmer of fame or importance to capture attention,  I remember this:  God made the Weeping Cherry for its own unique kind of blossom and rich green foliage.  Let everything else melt off and free her to be what she was meant to be.  She’ll bloom in time. 

Why do you think this generation desires fame so very much?


It Begins When it Ends: Saying Farewell to Students

As the semester ends at Penn State, I face these students one last time.  We’ll never be together like this–in this way–again.  These freshman will move on, and I’ll remain to greet the next class in January.

I never know what to say on the last day.   It never comes out right.  

Sometimes I just say good-bye and shoo them all away like they’re magnificent interruptions to my important schedule. They walk past my desk, and I pretend not to miss them already. 

I remember a seminary professor who told me this:  “A good course is never finished;  it just begins when it ends.”

We aren’t ending.  We’re beginning.   That helps me walk away.  I might not ever see them again, but I hope that something began in them this semester. 

Great teachers begin something beautiful.  Lord, let me be that teacher.

What was your best teacher–or best course– like?   


Everything You Need

My neighbor tells me that a little mouse is wintering in the sandbox by her woodpile.  Her daughter discovered him yesterday when she lifted the sandbox lid to play.

Little Mouse in his Winter House

The little mouse (who looks just like Mousekin from Mousekin’s Golden House) has built himself a cozy nest of leaves and twigs to prepare for winter.

A Mouse’s Winter Nest

All of a sudden, I’m brought back to the wonder of that childhood story:  the tiny mouse survives the harsh winter by building the warmest nest.  The snow and ice come, but Mousekin snuggles deep inside his winter home.

As a child, I loved the comfort of it all.   I thought about being that small against the enormity of winter.  With warmth, protection, and the feast of decaying pumpkin (or seeds and bark in this case), the mouse has more than enough. 

My neighbor invites us all over to peek in on our own Mousekin.   Winter doesn’t discourage the little mouse.  He’s plump, glossy, bright-eyed, and busy.   Something about that little mouse just delights me.  With such fine accommodations, this mouse will enjoy the winter.   He has everything he needs.

And for the moment, so do I.

As winter comes, I’m so thankful for the basic gifts of warmth, shelter, and food.  Who in my community needs more of these things? 


What Not to Say While Holiday Shopping

I’m standing in line at the store, and the salespeople rush around, trying to relieve the long lines waiting at each check-out station.  Every intercom announcement sounds off the code red.  People are waiting!  Lots of people are waiting!  Hurry, hurry!

A traffic jam of shopping carts blocks everyone’s path as people maneuver for the best possible position.  When a new line opens up, ladies fight for that precious spot at a free register.  Somebody is going to get hurt. 

What’s happened to our manners?

I’m yawning in my line and feeling awfully cozy in my winter coat.  I’m still sick and in no mood to rush around. 

The shopper in front of me decides to sign up for some special program. The cashier turns to me, nearly in tears, and says, “I’m just so sorry.  You can find another cashier if you need to.  This is going to take time, and I’m just so sorry.” 

“That’s OK,” I say.  “I really have nowhere to be.  I’m not in any hurry.”  I shove my hands in my pockets, look up to the ceiling, and wonder what I might blog about today.

Silence.  People glance over at me like I’ve just said a bad word out loud.  Someone frowns at me.  How dare I hinder this holiday rush? How dare I support the one slow-poke in everyone’s way?  

“Take all the time you need,” I insist to the slow-poke. Those six words wrap the two of us in a warm holiday embrace.  The cashier smiles and looks as if she might actually hug me. 

Living with flair means–especially in December–we let people take all the time they need.  What’s so important in my shopping cart anyway?  What makes my day more important than another person’s?

Are you the rushing one or the slow-poke?  I’m both!


Easy Does It (How to Survive the Holidays)

Tonight, we host a Christmas party for graduate students.  We’ve learned, after all these years and all sorts of gatherings in our home, that easy does it

Nobody cares if my cabinets have hand prints on them.

Nobody cares if I forget to dust the top of the refrigerator.

Nobody cares if I don’t have the kind of Christmas centerpieces you see in glossy magazines. 

We’re here to be together, so everybody can just relax, put their feet up, drink some holiday punch, and sing carols around the freshly tuned piano.

I decide to create some holiday cheer for guests with one of the easiest recipes I know:  Peppermint Bark.

We melt some white chocolate, add some peppermint extract, crush up some candy canes, sprinkle them on top with with chunks of white chocolate, smear it on a pan, let it cool in the fridge, break it up, and serve it.

Children love things that involve verbs like crush, smear, sprinkle, and break.  It’s so easy and fun, that we think of ways to embellish the recipe.

What if we make coconut bark?  Imagine!  Coconut, dark chocolate, and white chocolate:  

Bring on the season!  Living with flair means you can celebrate with easy and fun.

What’s your easiest and most fun holiday treat?


Unlikely Sucess

Today, Jack alerts me to a beautiful bird in the Weeping Cherry.

He talks to the bird with that strange broken meowing sound, moving his jaw rapidly.  I’ve wondered for years why cats make this sound when they look at birds. 

My husband tells me that cats imagine eating the bird and therefore make munching sounds with their mouths.

Jack’s on the hunt, imagining success.  Would a cat ever capture a bird like this?  Unlikely.  Would a cat with one eye, indoors, catch a bird like this?  Never.

Still, the cat munches.  Still, he visualizes success.

Maybe one day.  The confidence of my One-Eyed Cat inspires me.  The bird flies from the tree, uncaught, and Jack, undaunted, settles under the lights of the Christmas tree.  Maybe, in his mind, he simply let the bird go. 

Oh, Jack, you crazy cat, living with flair, in lights for all to see.  You don’t give up.  We won’t either.      
Happy Saturday!  Are you inspired to persevere today? 


Small Deposit, Big Return

Frost covers the clover this morning.

Frost Melts on the Clover

The children bend down, astonished by these small deposits of tiny white ice crystals.  Children teach me that the smallest thing often holds the most wonder.

I stand above the clover, and then I bow down to observe it.  I marvel at the conditions that frost this clover; that unseen hand requires air saturated with water vapor on surfaces cooler than the dew point.

I don’t understand it.  It fades within the hour from the warmth of the rising sun.  Frost, when I really observe it well, astonishes indeed. 

It’s not even noon, and I’ve already marveled.  Living with flair means marveling–being absolutely filled with wonder and astonishment–today.  I want to live my life greatly impressed.  Instead of cynicism or complaint, I want to marvel. 

What has astonished you today?