Are You Kidding Me?

Apparently, the chicken wire fence does not descend deep enough.  The groundhog has returned, and this time, within the boundaries of the carefully prepared soil of our vegetable garden.

Last year, I compared him to the Enemy of our Souls, and I provided 4 questions to keep him out. 

But today, he (or she) is already in

Planting season begins at the end of May here, so we have exactly 31 days to figure out how to remove a groundhog from within the vegetable garden. Most likely, this task will involve creating the illusion that a predator is near.  The groundhog will flee and relocate if threatened with predator urine (I know, delightful!).

We’ll send him running, deepen our fence, and secure the perimeter.  

I just can’t believe he got in before I even started planting.

It’s like he knows.   

Well, I’m not going to worry.  He actually made a huge mistake today, showing off as he did with this enormous hole that suggests he’s the size of a bear.  He alerted us to his schemes, and we can strike preemptively.  No plants were ever harmed.  No plants will be. 

Thank you, Groundhog, for your warning.

Sometimes that enemy attack alerts you to a scheme that educates you at just the right time.  PS.  Do you know how to get rid of a groundhog?  


In God Alone

This morning, I remember a great truth–the Greatest Truth–that sets everything right. 

In Psalm 62 King David writes, “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him.  He alone is my rock and salvation; He is my fortress, and I will never be shaken.” 

When it comes right down to it, all my coping mechanisms and all the wonderful things in my life (family, community, beauty, writing) do not provide true rest for the soul.  Even when everything’s in place and I’m doing all the right things for mental health, God reminds me that the rest I need comes from Him alone.  He alone is my rock and my salvation.  Not even family.  Not even amazing community.  Not even beauty that points to His glory.  These things reflect and remind.  But they aren’t Him. 

My soul finds rest in God alone. 

I pour coffee, sit in the morning sun, and read the ancient words.  I cry out to the one who alone gives rest. 

Do you keep coming back to this Great Truth again and again? 


That’s All

I’m talking about photography again and how you just have to stay alert all day long to the beauty the light illuminates.  You just never know what you’ll see when you’re really looking.

I’m telling my mother-in-law this as we drive through the neighborhood, and we just happen to pull over to visit with a neighbor who discovers a nest of baby bunnies in her yard.  We grab our cameras, of course, and marvel at the tiny bunny that’s no bigger than our hand.

I think of Peter Rabbit and smile. I just can’t get over the soft newness of him.  Those little ears!  That wriggling nose! 

Then, we take the little one to see the baby chicks down the road, and with camera in hand, I marvel again at the soft newness of this little chick that hasn’t even grown feathers yet.  Look at those bright orange feet and the big eyes! 

So that’s all.  You take your camera with you.  You stay alert.  You find delightful things right in your own neighborhood.  

That’s what I do now.  That’s all, and it’s so big I can hardly contain it.

Have you been able to marvel at things right in your own neighborhood? 


The Best Worst Thing

My husband and in-laws are driving with me to run errands, and my husband tells the story of the worst internship he ever had as a veterinarian’s assistant.  It involved losing a dog, being attacked by a cat, and other tales too graphic for my blog. 

“It was the best worst thing,” he claims.  That experience helped direct him to his true calling–far away from the vet–and towards another field. 

The best worst thing!  I just love the expression.  

We decide to ask one another for our “best worst thing” stories. 

“The military.  The worst experience of my life and the best thing that ever happened to me,” my father-in-law says.

I offer my battle with postpartum depression as my best worst thing.  I learned things I could only know through that darkness. 

I also laugh about nearly failing a biology course in college and realizing the medical field would have to do without me.  I think further back to particular heartbreaks that led me to a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus.  They were the best worst things. 

And just last week, I ask my sweet daughter why she was turning into such a confident young woman with so much joy and wisdom inside.  She says, “Being bullied and made fun of in the second grade.  That makes you so strong.”  

It’s her best worst thing so far. 

I love that our worst things become our best things.  I think that’s the whole point of living with flair, don’t you?

I would love to hear your best worst thing.  Do you have one? 


My Best Teaching Practice

Today, my professional development seminar on teaching practices concludes.  Participants have been asked to bring in their “best practice” to share with the others.

I’m sharing this quote from “The Life Model: Equipping People with Skills to Thrive” study I’m reading:

“The world is a fracturing place, and each of us is split to some degree by the evil in the world.  Yet within each of us is the drive to withstand the world’s assaults and to become the persons we were intended to be.  God created us with minds that automatically seek to be whole, and the quest for wholeness is wonderfully boosted by joy. . . “

In the classroom, I think about what I’m actually doing when I teach writing. I’m teaching how to analyze and make sense of things with every assignment.  When I talk about grammar and developing an authentic writing voice, I’m teaching wholeness and integrity.   

Why is it that I’m always aware of whether my classroom has joy or not?  Why is it that joy somehow ushers in those teachable moments? 

Over the last decade, I’ve considered the relationship between joy and learning.  Neuroscience tells us that in the right orbital prefrontal cortex of the brain, a “joy center” exists.   Psychologists often call this the seat of well-being and emotional regulation.  When a person operates out of joy, they come closer to their authentic selves.  They begin to learn with curiosity and wonder.  They begin to express themselves in community.  Fear and shame depart, and something happens when the pen hits the page. 
As I study this concept, I learn that it’s not as difficult as I thought to trigger and grow the joy in another person.  When we act glad to see others; when we smile and let our eyes light up when we talk to them; when we seek to delight others with gifts and acts of kindness; and when we create a sense of belonging, we feed the joy center.

With joy, classrooms, neighborhoods, and families change.  

I want to be a joy builder.  I have a lot to learn and articulate, but I will say this:

I’m beginning to think my best practice is joy. It leads us to Joy. 

How do you build joy in others?


Leaders Take the Long View

Last night my husband reminds me to “take the long view.”

When something goes wrong (a boring class, an argument with a friend, a dieting failure, a rejection from an agent, a poor parenting choice. . . I could go on and on), I tend to make catastrophic statements:

Everything is horrible!  I’m a disaster!  I’m the worst parent ever!  I’m quitting!  I’m never writing another book!  I’m the worst friend ever!  Things will never get better!

I could win an academy award for drama.

“Take the long view,” my husband says as I bury myself either in the pillow, in the bubbles in the bathtub, or in my own crossed arms.

The long view?  What’s the long view?  He reminds me that this is just one moment–one day–and that I have to think of my life in terms of months and years and even decades.

“Ride this wave out,” he advises while making big wave motions with his hand.  “Take the long view.”

It turns out that people who know how to take the long view succeed.  I read interviews of business leaders who knew how to take the long view and not seek short term profit.  I read about persistence, about vision, and about focus on the future.  Small failures and setbacks become part of a larger picture.

I read about families who take the long view with debt reduction and savings.  I think about everything from community organizing to weight loss.  I think about blogging and motherhood and even gardening.  I think about ministry.

When I take the long view, I’m not caught up in today’s catastrophe or short term win.  Instead, I lift my head up and remember my long term goal.  I’m growing into a beautiful thing that reflects the glory of a Creator.  Over time, my marriage, parenting, friendships, writing, teaching, and ministry get better and better.  Small bumps in the road are just that:  bumps in the road.  But I’m still on the road, and I can see a glorious destination.

Have you learned to “take the long view?”


The First 10 Minutes

Today, the neighbors and I discuss how the first ten minutes of the day set the tone for the whole day.

“It’s so true!” we all agree.  If we wake up and snuggle children, sip hot coffee, and enjoy the view from the bedroom window, the day unfolds differently–and better–than mornings started with a jolt and a scowl.

Some neighbors snuggle.  Some sing.  Some pray.  Some begin a gratitude list.  I pet a cat and listen to that gratifying purr.  I welcome the little ones into a new morning:  “Hello!  You’re awake!  Welcome to this beautiful day!”  (OK, that’s only on my very best mornings.) 

Maybe it’s true about the first ten minutes of every beginning:  phone conversations, classes, projects, dinner, bedtime routines, soccer games.  What if I began well and strong within the first ten minutes of each new thing? Perhaps, with that great momentum, I’d find myself carried into joy simply because I began well. 

I want to wake up well tomorrow.  The first ten minutes might just shape the whole day.

Do you agree? Do you  have tips for the first ten minutes of the morning?


When There’s No Time To Be Self-Conscious

I’m at my very first youth soccer game.

My husband–the reserved man who doesn’t want any attention–watches my youngest daughter play.   I’m sitting beside him, trying to fit in. I have some things this culture requires, including my minivan, my folding camping chair, and my beverage.  I still need the rolling cooler, a better camera, energy drinks, granola bars, the over-sized purse with things like band-aids, and a smart phone to really fit in. 

I feel self-conscious in this new culture. 

Normally, I’m not the self-conscious one.

So there I sit, watching this game. Right before half-time, the coach comes over to the sidelines and tells my husband that he has a scheduling conflict during the second half of the game. 

“You need to coach for me.  Thanks!”  He gives my husband a manly punch on the arm and runs off the field. 

With no time to object, my quiet and unassuming husband has been thrust into the fray of a dozen little six year olds. 

And then he transforms into the best coach (he’s never coached a game of soccer in his life) the world has ever seen.  After finding out the players’ names, he’s hustling down the field, organizing all the children, rotating players in, and shouting out encouragement. 

“You were awesome!” I tell him after the game. I’m amazed at the Inner Soccer Coach that just emerged on cue. 

“Well, I had no time to be self-conscious,” he says.  “I’m glad I had to just do it.” 

We’ve decided that sometimes you just have to do things and not give yourself time to think about being self-conscious.

I’m wondering what else resides in us that could come out if we let it.  I’m wondering what could happen today if we abandoned that self-consciousness that keeps us hidden.

Have you ever been forced to do something with no time to be self-conscious about it? 


Go Beyond the Obvious

I’m often asked to help teenagers prepare for their SAT or AP writing.  I immediately direct young writers to the two most important tasks:  choosing strong verbs and employing varied sentence patterns. (Of course, I also tell them to read How to Write with Flair!)  

Once they do this, I tell them that graders look for critical thinking skills.  What does this mean, and what does it look like?  For a young writer, it means moving beyond the obvious.  Obvious refers to easy, apparent, and predictable examples in writing.  When answering a question that requires a thesis and examples, go for the most complicated and most hidden. 

What you think of first normally represents the least complex and most predictable answer.  It often involves something self-referential.  Instead, move into examples from history, from current events, from philosophy, from psychology, from theology, and from science. 

Place your answer into a different context–beyond your immediate experience–and see what your mind does. Find answers from sources outside of your own limited viewpoint. 

It won’t stop with the SAT.  Critical thinking and moving beyond the obvious serves us for life.

Think beyond what’s right there and practice looking deeply into a problem. Do this every day for the rest of your life.  Take whatever happens to you and put it into a different framework.

For me, I’m learning to shine the light of God’s love and goodness on the problem to see what my mind does.

I have to move beyond the obvious to see the good inside.

How do you move beyond the obvious every day?


Who Does All the Work?

This morning, my husband announces that the Northern Cardinals have returned to the Winterberry bush to begin their nest.

“The male does all the work,” he claims.  “Look at him!”

I start laughing.  “That’s not the male.  The male is the bright red one up in the tree.”  The female is the one working hard to build the nest of twigs, vines, and bark.  She darts back and forth into the bush.  She’ll work for over a week to build a four story home:  twigs first, then leaves and moss, then bark, then grass. 

“Oh,” my husband says after watching the male. “Yeah, the male’s not doing anything.”

Well, actually, we learn he’s on high alert to protect and defend.   What looks like rest and relaxation in a nearby tree is actually guarding.  He also brings food to his mate the entire time and will continue to care for her while she lays eggs and incubates them.

I love learning about Northern Cardinals and how they make life work.  Both work so hard, but in completely different ways.

When I think I’m doing all the work, I realize I’m really not.   Living with flair means we acknowledge all the ways we work together.

(You don’t want to disturb these birds in their nest building phase, or they’ll abandon the site to find another.  I didn’t take photos for this reason!)  

Do you often wonder if you’re the one doing “all the work?”