Encounter with a Writing Spider

This morning, we see an enormous brown and yellow spider on the walk to school.

I learn that this garden spider commonly holds the name “Writing Spider.”

Argiope aurantia and Her Writing

She constructs and deconstructs this web daily. She builds a fresh web every new day with that distinctive zig-zag through the center of her web. Nobody knows for certain why she creates the series of X’s in her web. Called stabilimenta, this silk structure inside a web confuses arachnologists. It seems to serve no purpose at all other than decoration. It doesn’t necessarily stabilize or reflect light a certain way. It doesn’t serve to attract prey or warn birds.

It’s just writing in the web.  It makes it beautiful; it’s artful.

The arachnologists want it to serve a great purpose and to aid survival. But it doesn’t. I remember C.S. Lewis commenting on that which has no particular survival value. He writes in The Four Loves,

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”

Perhaps even the spider writes just because it’s beautiful. 


I’m going to check on this spider tomorrow and see if I might photograph in better light! 


Analyzing Media: What’s Missing from a Report (Did Jesus Have a Wife?)

This week, as we teach media analysis–in particular, bias–I wonder about every piece of news I read. I find myself so curious when reading reports about Jesus’s alleged wife.

Something’s missing, and it makes me so frustrated. I want context. I want to know what question Jesus was asked before he answered “my wife.”

Here’s why: Do you remember when the disciples asked Jesus in John 4 if someone had brought him food? He responds, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work.”

So of course, I’m wondering if someone said, “Jesus, do you have a wife?” To which he might respond in similar fashion, “My wife. . . ” (essentially debunking the idea that he was thinking about a wife at all–like the food).

That’s all. I just want to know the context. I want to know the whole conversation.

I tell my students to get the larger story. What comes before and after the quote?

Context matters. It might just change everything.

What do you think?


It’s Not a Constraint; It’s “Creative Pressure”

I read last night in InGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity, by Stanford neuroscience professor Tina Seelig, about the importance of pressure in the creative process.

She talks about “building up creative pressure” that motivates us to produce. Without pressure, creativity actually wanes.

High pressure leads to high creativity, especially when there’s a mission. Seelig cites numerous examples of how constraints (time, resources, support, energy) fuel genius acts of creativity. She explores the Apollo 13 crisis, eBay’s Auction for America, Twitter, the Six Word Memoir project, and others.

The tighter the restrictions, the more creative people became.

What if we saw daily constraints as creative pressure? We don’t have the time to write a novel. We don’t have the space to design this new thing. We don’t have the energy. We don’t have the money. We don’t have the support of others.

Maybe these things aren’t the end of the world if we saw them as building our creative pressure.

Maybe our creativity requires these restrictions.

I like thinking of it this way.

Can you create under pressure? Who knew you might actually be more creative?


“This Is Where We’re Going.”

Every few weeks, I stop in the middle of class and remind students of the whole narrative of the course.

“This is where we’re going. This is what we’re doing. This is why we are doing it.” I reiterate the whole thing again.

We’ll have the same conversation in a few weeks (then again a few weeks after that).

If we don’t pause to remember where we’re going–what it’s all for–we lose the narrative of the course. If we lose that narrative, students choke upon the details. They don’t move forward.

Often, I find myself assuring students that it doesn’t make sense now, but it will.

It will. One day soon, this will all come together, and you’ll see.  

Since I’ve been teaching so long, I can make this promise. I know what they don’t know. I see what they can’t see. All the pieces will fit beautifully because I designed this course. 

Suddenly, I remember the importance of connecting to that Larger Narrative–the one true story–that guides my life. If God designed it, then I’m pausing to consider the narrative: Where are we going, God? What are we doing? Why?

If I lose these answers, I lose everything. I choke upon details because I forget where we’re going.

Do you take time to remember the big picture? 


Easy After Church Salad

Instead of my traditional fancy bag salad from the grocery store, I decide to make a chopped salad. Yes, even I did that.

Folks love it. They want more. I think I saw someone actually lick the bowl afterwards.

Just rinse and chop three romaine hearts. Add one chopped avocado (drizzled with lemon juice), four garden tomatoes, a bag of those crispy red pepper croutons, and 4 tablespoons creamy Italian dressing. I added some salt and pepper just for fun.


The crispy red peppers give the salad a little spicy punch, and the lemony avocado balances it perfectly. My daughters love the creamy dressing and the tomatoes.

Anyway, I’m moving beyond the bag salad, and I think that’s a sign I’m living with flair.

Do you have an easy salad recipe?


Imagine If

I’ve been talking to my oldest daughter about what would happen if people were kind and included everyone.

Can you imagine? 

I’m starting to realize that everything from our shoes to our titles works to divide us and put us into certain groups. We’re taught to exclude others in order to form an identity for ourselves.  We begin to know ourselves by who we push out of our groups. 

But. . . what if? What if we didn’t do this?

I’m praying for it. I’m praying that we’re the kind of people who demonstrate kindness and simply include people. “Go find the little girl that nobody is playing with, and invite her into your group! Who cares what she’s wearing, who her parents are, or whether or not she picks her nose!”

But this doesn’t happen all the time. We’re driven by competition and deep insecurity most of the day. Oh, if only we were secure enough in God’s love to be kind and inclusive at all times! If only we were secure enough to build radical communities where every one contributed and felt valuable and loved! If only we were strong enough not to gossip, insult, or reject!

I’m praying for it.

Raising daughters is hard. 


How to Avoid Heart Rot

My youngest and I examine a tree trunk by our home. Once, it stood tall over the neighborhood, but experts knew something wasn’t right.

The tree suffered from heart rot and had to be cut down.

The entire inside of this externally beautiful tree rotted. (And yes, the heart rot possesses the shape of an actual heart. I feel like Someone’s trying to get my attention.)

How did this happen? Why? When? How could such an enormous and wonderful tree actually reveal nothing but hollow decay?

Both my daughter and I need to know. (I’m really asking about myself and my own heart. I’m really asking about my own internal states.)

We research a bit and discover how heart rot results from decay caused by fungi that enters from wounds cause by storms, improper pruning, and insects or animals. These wounds will come, but we learn how to prevent or minimize the rot.

Yes, tell me! Teach me how to minimize heart rot when the wounds come!

Apparently, you want to make sure you have deep root feeding and properly sealed wounds. You have to make sure toxins cannot continue to enter. You also need to remove–by pruning–those parts of you that allow the harmful things in. I learn about clean breaks. I learn that if, in fact, heart rot begins, a tree knows how to compartmentalize. The tree knows how to grow around the decay and form a border so it can’t harm the rest of the tree.

In my own spiritual life, I consider deep-root feeding on God, clean breaks from toxic things, and creating boundaries against decay. I think deeply about the “root of bitterness” that can defile our core. I think about love and forgiveness and unity and acceptance.

I don’t want heart rot. Living with flair means we’re beautiful and strong, inside and out.

Don’t you find so many spiritual lessons in trees?


Your Enchanted Healing Hands

This morning, the Dragon Boy falls down and scrapes his hands. He comes to me and presses his wounded palms against mine and closes his eyes.

We stand there for a moment, palm to palm, right in the middle of the morning rush to the school building. 

“You have enchanted healing hands,” he says.

He believes it. I’m standing right there, healing him. It makes perfect sense because I learn–according to his precise genealogical record of the two of us–that we both came from the same enchanted forest. He’s sure of it. We arrived in the same manner, and thus, we possess healing properties in our hands for one another.

Suddenly, the day turns into legend and myth. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and Dragon Boy all mix in my mind.  Anything can happen. That wardrobe might just take us all to Narnia this afternoon (or maybe we’re already there).

Living with flair means we think about our enchanted healing hands. We possess healing properties. I’m starting to believe it.

I miss my own imagination sometimes, don’t you?