“In You They Trusted and Were Not Disappointed”

In Psalm 22:5, I read: “They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.” The truth resounds from the mouth of a king who feels forlorn, rejected, alone, and ignored. He must remind himself that even when feeling downcast, the truth stands that those who trust in God will not be disappointed. 

I’m walking down the street, crunching acorns under my sneakers, and I thank God that I won’t be disappointed when I trust in God. I can’t be.

I look up, and I see the things I’m supposed to see today: the astonishing tree on fire with color and the white fluff of pampas grass against the blue noon day sky.

Even walking–seeing what I’m supposed to see–I feel no disappointment. I don’t want to be anywhere else because I’m right here on this walk with God (right where I’m supposed to be, seeing what I’m supposed to see). I want to know this truth everyday.

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I love the fall colors! There’s a tree with purple leaves in the background if you look carefully. 

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A Little Cattywampus

Today, I surprised my students with doughnuts.

Today, I surprised myself by treating myself to a fancy coffee for no good reason. And I wore cowboy boots with yellow tights that in no way matched my camel colored corduroy skirt. Apparently, this counts as hipster. 

And I ate a doughnut during my office hours as I talked with three wonderful students. I haven’t eaten a doughnut in a year.

The whole day has been out of the ordinary–right down to my tights– and, as an older Southern lady might say, “It’s cattywampus.” 

Cattywampus: not centered, out-of-sorts, a little chaotic. 

I think that for someone like me, a little cattywampus is a good thing. Too much order can stifle. Living with flair means you delight in a little chaos, a little break in routine, and a little out-of-the-ordinary.

So here’s to a cattywampus Wednesday!

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Did you surprise yourself today?

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The Beauty of Disintegrating Things

I’m walking through the autumn leaves, and I realize how much I absolutely love the smell of dead leaves. That warm smell brings such longing with it; I think of fall school days as a child and jumping into leaf piles. That unmistakable leafy smell just makes me happy. 

Then I realize I’m actually delighting in decomposition (rot, if you will). I’m loving the smell of a disintegrating, dead thing.

Yes, yes I am. There’s a particular beauty to what dies in this season. I celebrate it by jumping about, crunching into it, smelling it deeply.

I wish I could approach my own life that way. When things naturally and rightfully have to fade away because a new season is coming, I want to embrace it as eagerly as a child jumping into a leaf pile. New things always come about from old things falling away. I love the disintegrating leaves of Autumn. I pray I can welcome whatever disintegrating work God wants to do in my own life.  Let the leaves fall and nourish whatever comes next.

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Don’t you love those bright blue skies in the fall? It’s smells just like a leaf pile everywhere I go.

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The Blessing of Work

I thought of another secret I want to pass on to my children. It’s a simple thing, but one that has shaped how I think about my days.

The secret is that work–hard work–is a privilege and a joy. Accomplishing a task and applying effort to achieve a goal brings a certain satisfaction.

Each day has its own work, and work is a blessing. Working hard on any task (whether homework, baking, cleaning, writing, grading, leading, building) can be so enjoyable! We fight a narrative that tells us that work isn’t fun, that work is drudgery, that work isn’t exciting or joyful, and that work is the thing you get through in order to do the thing you really want to do.

But what if the hard work is the thing you really want to do? What if the work itself is its own reward?

I truly enjoy the work that each hour brings. I want my children to love to work. Living with flair means we embrace the joyful work before us today. No matter what the task, we can consecrate it to the Lord.

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Do you love to work? Why?

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My Best Advice for an Admissions Essay

Special note: I’m not a college admissions counselor. I’m not even part of an admissions committee (although I have been part of various admissions committees before). What I am, however, is a college writing teacher who has read my share of personal statements and essays for college, graduate and professional schools, and job applications.

And I’ll tell you this: They all sound exactly the same to me.

Even the essays that boast of amazing international travel experience in orphanages or refugee camps have unfortunately become cliché. I read all about community service, leadership, and hardship. All of these experiences are real and valuable, but every other person applying has a similar story.

There’s a solution! 

I tell students to make it memorable by replacing every overused, generic expression with a vivid and sensory experience for the reader. I tell students to make the narrative so uniquely them that it couldn’t possibly be interchanged for any other person.

Make it memorable! 

Make it so memorable that even after reading two thousand essays, a person will say, “Remember that one about. . .”

I still remember an essay I read ten years ago about a woman watching a bullfight. I remember the essay I read five years ago about a person’s job driving vintage cars in an annual parade. Something about the setting–the colors, the smells, and the sounds–stuck with me all these years.

So as I consult with students at this time of year (application season!), I tell them to make it memorable. It doesn’t have to be bullfights and parades, either. Take the most boring thing–maybe eating breakfast or cleaning a toilet–and show us something we need to know.

Besides, living with flair means we don’t live in cliches. We make everything unique and memorable (even cleaning toilets).

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Have you read a great admissions essay this year?

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Really Listening and Nothing Else

Today I take my youngest on a 3 mile loop walk around the neighborhood.

It’s a 45 minute walk, so I tell her that she’s going to have to tell me everything she’s thinking about.

“What do you want to talk about? What have you been thinking about?” 

I’m listening. That’s all I’m doing on this walk. I’m not correcting, training, or suggesting. It’s actually hard to just listen and not offer all my insight.

Nothing extraordinary happens in our conversation. It’s all about birthday parties, dolls, caterpillars, costumes, leaves, and dogs.

That’s it. Nothing deep or profound. Somehow, though, I know these are the kinds of conversations we need. These conversations are extraordinary.

I wonder what happens in the heart of a child when someone listens for a very long time to everything they have to say. I want to listen longer, harder, and more often.

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Did you feel listened to as a child? What helps adults really listen to children?

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A Super Cool and Easy Autumn Craft (Even I Loved It)

My youngest wants to collect acorns and decorate them.

“With what?” I ask, remembering in horror the glitter and glue and shreds of various materials involved in that unknown territory called “Crafts.”

“We’ll use all our nail polish!”

“OK,” I say. This might not be such a bad idea. This might actually be a great idea.

As I begin, I realize that these little painted acorns are beautiful. All my old nail polish bottles–the ones I nearly tossed in the garbage–make for a fun craft that will keep for years. My daughter picks out a glass bowl to display her acorns in, and I must admit, they add some whimsy to the room.

We hold them by their caps to paint them. Then we dry them on wax paper. 

As I paint acorns, I realize I’m more relaxed than I have been all week. We’re talking and listening to music. We’re complimenting one another for our color choices and just being together.

I’m slowly starting to change my mind about crafts. There’s nothing better than just sitting, talking, and creating something beautiful just because it’s fun.

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I think I want a bowl of painted acorns in my office. I love them!

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An Autumn Recipe You’ll Love: Butternut Squash and Hazelnut Lasagne

Two friends tell me that this recipe for Butternut Squash and Hazelnut Lasagne is their favorite to share, so I thought I’d try it. (I love epicurious.com for finding delicious recipes, so enjoy this website!)

It’s expensive by the time you purchase the cheeses and the hazelnuts, but it served our family for two nights with leftovers for lunch.

I love the beautiful orange squash. I love the smell of hazelnuts roasting.
 

I love the fresh sage and the parsley mixed into the squash and onion. Yum!

The mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses make this so good.

We loved it! Enjoy!

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Do you have a recipe for an Autumn Lasagne?

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Just Ask for the Story

I’m teaching my favorite kind of essay in class: rebuttal. I invite students to write essays to change our minds by arguing against one position in favor of another.

It’s tricky.

We talk all morning about changing the communication climate in order to connect and care for the opposition. The goal isn’t winning. The goal isn’t to be right. The goal is persuasion. We learn that first, we need to foster connection with our audience in order to truly dialogue.

To connect best with those with whom we disagree, we must understand their story. When did they adopt that particular viewpoint? What’s the story behind their belief? What was it like for them to experience these things?

Capturing stories means we work to ask the right questions, and then we lean back and say, “Tell me more.”

When a person feels truly understood and loved, only then can fruitful debate happen.

In a college classroom, folks get angry so quickly. If you bring up words like abortion, homosexuality, religion, or even simply Democrat or Republican, everyone bristles for different reasons. But if you take a deep breath and ask for the story behind someone’s viewpoint, you find students actually dialoguing in genuine, civil ways.

I’m learning not to bristle and instead ask the right questions.

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Don’t you love a great conversation? 

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A Victory for Mom

I have permission to share this story about my daughter:

My daughter’s crying at the kitchen table because she doesn’t understand her algebra homework. Her math genius dad is traveling, so I’m all alone with this terrible algebra problem.

I’m horrible at math. I’m missing math brain cells. Plus, I can’t remember how to do the problem.

I feel myself freaking out (just like I did at her age, just like she’s doing right now).

“We can do this,” I calmly tell her.

“But I don’t understand! I don’t understand!”

“We have to learn it. We have to teach our brain this new thing that it doesn’t know. We don’t need to feel bad, ashamed, worried, or sad. We just need to start fresh.” I realize we’re both in reactive–not responsive–brain states, so we need to calm down and come back later. We need a snack. We need a game. We need rest. We need to get rid of all the negative emotions that thwart learning.

We also need prayer. I actually cry out to Jesus to help us understand. I’m desperate.  

Meanwhile, I call a Ph.D. student (a great teacher) and ask her to teach me the math.(Thank you, Devon.)

It’s embarrassing. But then I think to myself that it’s not embarrassing. Who cares? If I never admit when I don’t know something, how can I learn? I’m finished with pretending. I’m finished with living out of shame for no reason at all.

By the time I’m off the phone, I secretly work through the math problems to teach myself. Yes, it’s 5th grade math. Laugh if you want to.

Then, I find my daughter buried under her covers in despair.

“We can do this,” I say.

We start again, and I realize I know how to teach her because I’m a student myself. I help her set up the first problem , and all of a sudden, she grabs the pencil, smiles, and says, “I totally get this now.”

And she’s off finishing all her math.

Sometimes it’s hard to learn because we’re ashamed of what we do not know. That’s ridiculous. Living with flair means we love to learn and have no problem admitting what we don’t know.

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I love algebra after all!

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