I Went to Meet a Tree

I learn from the Italian Mama about an oak tree in our neighborhood that’s over 200 years old.  It’s a ten minute stroll from my house, and I’ve never seen it.  This is why every neighborhood needs an Italian Mama who knows the secrets.  She’s the one who told me where to find the hidden vernal pond.  She’s the one who knows this land.

I’m thinking about the oak tree all morning.  I have to see it; I have to touch it; I have to thank it for being here all this time, witnessing lives lived right here.  My friend and I see the oak tree’s arms raised above the houses, and she takes off running.  “There it is!  It’s right here!” she cheers and points.  I run behind her, full of joy and awe. (Every neighborhood also needs the kind of friend who not only agrees to walk with you to meet a tree, but who also runs with joy at the sight of it.) 

We’re going to meet a tree! 

With those wide branches, it feels like the arms of God bestowing a blessing upon my head. 

Oak Tree over 200 years old

You have to dance around a bit when you stand next to something this big. You have to step way back to capture the whole thing.

But you also have to lean in close and run your fingers along the veins and wrinkles of its skin. 

I love ancient things.  I love the physical evidence that time passes and that new generations come and old ones die.  In 200 years, another woman and her friend will run and dance around this old oak tree.  I’m aware, suddenly, of my own mortality.  But I’m equally aware of one thing:

I’m here right now.

Psalm 90 requests, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”  As I touch the old oak, I know my days here are numbered.  The tree makes me step back

I number the days, anticipating and recording the wonder of God, as sturdy and expansive as the oldest oak in our town. I’m full of joy as I stand with my friend, and I can’t wait to tell the Italian Mama what it felt like to see the tree.

Once again, I learn that living with flair has nothing to do with fame, prestige, or wealth.  It has everything to do with beauty in community. 

Do you know the oldest thing in your town?  When you visit it, do you become aware of your own mortality?


If We Had a Mile

On the walk to school, a normally shy and withdrawn little girl comes to my side. 

“Guess what?” she asks, her eyes huge. She watches me with her mittens folded together and her boots kicking the ice. 

“What?  Tell me everything,” I respond (because I have a whole mile to listen and nothing to do but walk with her).  And then, I learn all about dolphins. 

Dolphins.  That was the door that let me into her heart.  I think about how–if only I had known–I might have asked about dolphins last year. 

If only I had known!  I realize that every person I meet today has a deeply held love of something.  Maybe it’s dolphins or coconuts or turtles or guitar.  I want to make the kind of time and space to hear about it. 

I want to give you a whole mile today. 

If you had a mile to talk, what would you want to talk about today? 


The Littlest of Treats

This morning after church, we visit the grocery store and let our daughters run to the very back where all the bins of “penny candy” sit.  For just a few coins, they can pick out chocolates or taffy or jelly beans of any flavor.  They fill a little bag, weigh it on the scale, and print out the price tag.

My daughter feels as if she’s hit the jackpot in chocolate.  She finds chocolate made to look exactly like smooth pebbles.  She holds up her bag of candy while I put the price sticker on it:  35 centsMy oldest has found green gumdrops, and for 19 cents, she’s happy for the entire afternoon.

How much does it take to add a treat to the day?  Something little–under a dollar–can make an ordinary Sunday seem different. 

Living with flair means we don’t forget the power of the littlest of treats. 

What’s something that brings you pleasure that costs less than 50 cents?


The Single Moment

This week, I find a quote from Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges.

Borges states, “Every destiny, however long and complicated, essentially boils down to a single moment — the moment when a man knows, once and for all, who he is.”

In a few weeks, I’ll begin to teach memoir writing again, and I’m asking myself and my students if the statement rings true. Can we remember falling upon our own identities in a single moment?

I know it sounds silly, but I remember the single moment when I looked out my front door and longed to be part of a neighborhood.   I remember calling people I didn’t really know to invite parents and their children to ride bikes and jump rope in the front yard.

In that moment, I felt a calling:  I was to devote myself to building a neighborhood.

It would mean walking to school with neighbors, Neighborhood Fitness Group, potlucks, Playdates for Dads, and Creative Women Nights.  It would mean not going anywhere but here, not leaving my street, not seeking all those things I’ve always wanted in my life that involved fame, wealth, and prestige.

It would mean putting down roots right here in Central Pennsylvania.  It would mean blogging about it.

It would mean realizing that community–real community–met a need in me I didn’t know I had.   

So my moment came in my own front yard in August of 2009. 

Do you have a single moment?


One Benefit of Imagining the Worst

This week, I learn that sometimes fear and imagining the worst motivates folks more than hope.  Instead of putting up photos of your dream life, viewing photos of terrible situations (the opposite of what you hope for) motivates more powerfully, especially in terms of fitness and weight loss.  Researchers wonder if the brain responds more rapidly and thoroughly to fear

Then, I read this morning how people who imagine how bad a situation could be tend to overflow with gratitude and love.

Is God trying to teach me something?  But I love positivity!  What about living with flair?

So I try it.  I’m in the shower, and I imagine–with all my heart and all my senses–a freezing cold flow against my shoulders.  Suddenly, the reality of that warm, steaming shower makes my heart so very thankful.  Thank you God for this shower!  Thank you for water in my city!  Thank you for warmth!  Thank you that I can even stand up unassisted in this shower!  Thank you that I’m thankful and not depressed right now.  Thank you that I can blog about it!  Thank you for the internet!  Thank you for blogging!  Thank you for readers!  Thank you for. . .

I find I cannot stop.  I imagine what’s worse, and indeed, it works today.  Living with flair means that negative thoughts–how bad it could be–fuel motivation and thankfulness.  Who knew?

Did it work for you?


What We Let Ourselves Near

This morning, the Local Artist and I confess our problems with proximity.  We’re on a health and weight loss journey together, and we realize we cannot let ourselves near the cupcakes and cookies without eating them all. 

“I’m just too weak,” she says. 

“Me too,” I say. 

“I have problems with proximity,” she says. 

“Exactly.  This is my problem exactly,” I agree.  

We can’t resist internally assimilating whatever we let ourselves near.  Sometimes, it’s right and good to flee the cupcake table at the school musical’s reception.  Sometimes, it’s right and good to flee situations that test your resolve whether emotionally or spiritually. 

The apostle Paul advises us to flee from anything taking us from God and “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” instead.  I love that verb flee!  It produces the kind of image I’m carrying around today:  A woman turns, arms flailing above her head, as she runs for her life from the pink frosted cupcake towards the gentle carrots.

Sometimes, you just have to flee. 

What’s one thing you’re fleeing from today? 


“Why are they wasting their time talking about me?” What Tom Bradley Thinks JoPa would Think of the Fuss

I’ve spent all day thinking about Joe Paterno.  I’ve navigated my way through media vans, through tears, through crowds, through countless twitter updates.  Even now, I’m watching the student-lined streets ready to erupt as the funeral procession begins. 

Then, I hear former coach Tom Bradley on the news say to a reporter that if Joe Paterno were watching this fuss about him, he would say, “Why are they wasting their time talking about me when there are so many things they could be doing to help other people?” 

Good point.  I think this is why we can’t stop talking about him. 

Are you thinking about Joe Paterno today? 


Places You Can’t Reach Alone

Today I observe the way cats bathe each other

Cats know that some places you just can’t reach alone: behind the neck, way down the back, the shoulder blades.  So one bathes the other.

I’m watching Jack and Snowflake, and I realize that some places in my own heart I just can’t reach alone.  I think about the beauty of good counselors, wise friends, skilled teachers, and discerning pastors.  I think about spouses and children.  I’m not meant to reach some places alone, and God sends understanding people to journey there with me.

One translation of Proverbs 20:4 reads, “A person’s thoughts are like water in a deep well, but someone with insight can draw them out.”  When I don’t know what I’m feeling, and when I don’t understand myself, I find someone with insight.  

Cats know that some places you can’t reach alone.  Living with flair means knowing we aren’t meant to.  We find people to journey with us to the deepest places in our own hearts. 

Have you found that some places you can’t reach alone?   


Another Delay!

I notice this morning the beauty of delay

When you live in Central Pennsylvania, you receive early morning phone calls alerting you to delayed school openings (normally two glorious hours) due to icy roads. With a delay, my daughters have the time and space to think about what they really want for breakfast.  With a delay, they reconsider outfit choices.  With nothing and no one to rush them, they relax as the morning passes.

Thank God for delay! 

I’m thankful for every delayed dream, every delayed plan, every delayed relationship.  That time and space allowed me to ask what I really want.  I could relax and reconsider. 

When I want something right now, I have to remember the beauty of delay.

Are you thankful for a time when your plans were delayed? 


I Don’t Mind

Today, I don’t mind the Pennsylvania landscape.

Our Little Sledding Hill

The Big Wide World

The wide space of it soothes the soul and brings you to the kind of simplicity you’ve wanted all your life.

You settle down into it.  

My Snow Angel

You find angels everywhere.

Just over your shoulder, even, a deer pays a visit.

The Deer Come Watch

Do you finally love right where God has you?