God “Richly Provides All Things for Our Enjoyment”

Years ago, I took very seriously Paul’s promise to Timothy that God “richly provides all things for our enjoyment.”

The first part of that promise to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:17 is about not putting hope in wealth that is so uncertain. God, not money, brings the pleasure and joy. At the time, I was nervous about my income. Could I really believe I didn’t need wealth to have enjoyment in my life?

Would God “richly provide all things” for my enjoyment? Even without wealth? Even without fancy things?

He has! He is!

I’m thinking about this Bible verse, and I notice a mother robin building a nest.  She’s just two feet away, right outside my window. She’s tucked into my weeping cherry, and I don’t think she can discern me through the window screen.

But I can see her perfectly.

My youngest shrieks with joy to see her. We press our faces against the window and marvel how she does it. The cats join us. It’s a hilarious scene: three cats (one missing an eye), two daughters, and a mother who feels like she’s won the lottery.

“She twisting and twisting the sticks!” “Look at her eyes!” “Look at her!”

We’re amazed at the technique. We’re captivated as if in front row seats at some expensive Broadway musical. We keep coming back to see her progress. We learn that tomorrow morning (after she’s feasted on as many worms as possible), she’ll lay eggs until around noon.

Then she’ll sit on her eggs for 12 days or so. Then, the chicks will hatch, and about 9 days later, they’ll fly from the nest. (Pictures coming! I didn’t want to disturb her yet!)

That’s what we do in May: we find nests and we observe. We love robins, northern cardinals, and blue jays. We especially love pileated woodpeckers. This is what we talk to the neighbors about.

It costs nothing, and we skip about the yard and nearby woods in glorious pleasure.

Thank you, God.
_____________________
Have you found great pleasure in what costs nothing?

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You Might Not Feel It Till Later

Last night, we say good-bye to some graduating doctoral and masters students. We’ve known them a long time–long enough to see some get engaged, find a different career path, and generally do very brave and impossible things.

It’s emotional. It’s like a string in my heart’s been cut and they fly loose from me like a kite. I don’t realize I feel this way until, well, I do.

For years, you layer up encounters. You build community in a million subtle ways. You don’t even know you’re doing it. You’re just sharing tea or coffee and talking about your life.

And one day, you finally feel it. You’re in community. You belong to each other. You’re singing around the piano in your living room or holding hands in prayer, and you finally get it.

Sometimes you just don’t feel it right away. I thought about this as a boy I’ve walked to school with for 5 years now asked me what I was thinking about. Going up the hill, we talk about philosophy, nature, and why he’s over Minecraft. His sister shares about a doctor’s appointment.

I look around at all the children and parents on this walk to school, and my heart feels so full.

We’re all telling jokes and then celebrating art or woodworking or music. Day after day, we do this. It doesn’t seem like anything’s happening, but it is.

Oh, it is.

One day, we’ll finally feel it.

It’s worth it–this uphill daily climb to connect, to share life, and to make a radical commitment to people.

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Do you have a great community? Did it take time to build?

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If Stung

As I walk around this spring, I’m acutely aware that alongside all the beauty of spring lurks danger.

Bees! I have to carry my epi-pen everywhere. I’m deathly allergic to bees.

It’s amazing to consider that all that power to kill me exists in a tiny little insect body. I stand so huge against them, and yet one little sting can take me down.

But I’m protected. I pat my pocket where I hold the epi-pen. I’m ready to inject it at any time, in any place, to counter the stings.

With the epinephrine, I neutralize whatever comes against me. I wish I could use such a marvelous instrument against other kinds of attacks. Criticism? I’d just jam the medicine in and dissolve the threat. Disappointment? I’d have it covered. Loss? I’d sooth it with one injection. Failure? No problem.

I know people who can do this. They walk about with such security because they know the truth about God and themselves. They infuse their heart with Bible verses as they move about the day. They let the Holy Spirit dissolve, cover, and soothe, and they maintain perfect peace.

They’re sting-ready through God’s word and prayer. They never forget that danger indeed lurks, and they weaponize themselves. Even if stung by criticism or disappointment, they press the truth against their heart and walk on.

I want to be more like this.

(Yes, I used weapon as a verb. Weaponize. I like it.)

____________________
How do you weaponize?

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At Least One Reason Why

Unmodified, not enhanced, unsharpened, and taken from a phone’s camera, the blooms tell the lens to focus here and blur the background.

Focus here. Let everything else blur in the background.

This makes for great photography and living.

A very real narrative exists behind the scenes, but there’s another story being told that’s brighter, better, and so glorious that you realize this:

The background exists only to enhance the foreground. It makes the real thing pop.

So I focus in, thankful for that hazy, ominous backstory in my life that makes this moment happen.

_________________
Have you photographed blooms lately? Feel free to link to your blog to show us!

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The Best Parenting Advice: Ask This Question

Two years ago, I asked a wise, older mother for her best parenting advice. I marveled at the way her grown children loved to talk with her and spend time with her. I marveled at how not one of them went through silent, rebellious years. I marveled at how open the children were about their own lives.

Her best advice? She told me to sit on the end of my daughter’s bed every week and ask her if there’s anything I’ve done to hurt her.

That’s it. That’s the simple question.

“Ask her if there’s anything you need to apologize for and see what happens. Do this regularly.”

The mother said that children close down when they’re hurt.

They stop talking.

They don’t want to be touched. They don’t like to look at you.

The relationship suffers, and the hurt feelings just pile up until there’s a huge wall between family members.

The wise mother says, “Parents often don’t realize that they’ve hurt their children. To prevent a communication breakdown, simply ask if you’ve hurt them and seek their forgiveness.”

In my mind, I’m thinking this: “Surely no. Me? Hurting my own daughter’s heart? No. We’re fine! All is well here.”

But I promised to try it.

The first time I asked one daughter that question, she paused, looked up at me, and said, “Well, yes, actually. Remember this, this, this, and that? Remember when you said this and that and how you embarrassed me here and here?”

The list was long.

I apologized for each and every thing. I’ve been asking my daughters if I’ve hurt them in any way every few weeks, and each time, there’s something I’ve done that that I didn’t perceive. When I apologize and make it right, suddenly, we’re talking, hugging, and gazing right into each other’s eyes. We want to be together again.

Asking my daughters this question might be the best parenting advice I’ve received in a long time.

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Don’t you think this is a great question to ask friends and spouses, too?

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“I Hope You’ll Make Them Sing”

Last night, we attend my daughter’s choir concert. At certain points, the amazing music teacher instructs the audience to sing along.

It was a packed house–standing room only–so when we weren’t quite loud enough, we had to sing again. We were timid, self-conscious, and unsure of ourselves.

Not for long.

At the end of the performance, the music teacher tells us of a conversation she had with her friend prior to the concert. He says about the audience, “Well, with that many people altogether, I hope you’ll make them sing.”

Of course! When a group of people gather, it’s only natural to invite them to sing. Why wouldn’t we? It suddenly seemed so obvious: we’re here, so let’s sing!

We loved it. Hundreds of parents, grandparents, siblings, community members, teachers, and our principal (who took a million photographs) sang a Beatles song at the top of their lungs, throwing their hands in the air.

It was so loud around me that I didn’t care that I was completely out of tune. With that many people singing, it just all blends together into one beautiful thing.

It made me consider another aspect of building community: singing.

We were singing together, and I wished for more.

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When was the last time, other than church or a birthday party, did you sing with a group of people?

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10 Things Your Writing Teacher Wishes for You

It’s the end. Saying good-bye to students is both awkward and sad for me. This semester, I decided to give them this send-off as my hope for their futures. 
      1.  That you will leave a legacy of beautiful words strung together from your unique and unparalleled mind to bless the world and a future generation.
2.       That you will live a brave life and take great risks—not just in writing—but in living. I wish that you would live by the strongest, most vivid verbs you can for the rest of your life. Yes, grapple with everything and fritter away the excess until you discover simplicity.
3.  That you will build authentic community wherever you go. That you would listen, really listen, find common ground, disagree gently, and work for the good of others.  You are more alike than different, and you are not alone.

4. That you would think deeply about the story your life is telling. If you don’t like it, then find a different narrative—the one you’re made for. That you would one day write it down for a parent, spouse, a child, or for a friend. There are things that you alone can say.

5.  That you would use words to heal and not harm. 

6.  That you would look for the spiritual realitiesbehind your words to the wonder and mystery that all great thoughts—when pressed—reveal.

7.  That you would find great joy in reading and writing, and in years to come, you’ll contact me to tell me about either the life-changing thing you’ve read or written.  Or both.

8.  That you would silence the voices of discouragement, despair, complaint, and cynicism and instead live lives of enthusiasm, hope, celebration, and radical faith. That you would then write down your hope to encourage the rest of us.

9.  That you would have a thousand conversations with a thousand different people who each hold a treasure inside. That you wouldn’t judge by appearance or status but treat everyone equally and find the treasure inside of them. Help others find a way to express that beautiful thing in them that you find and name.

10.  That you would push on—through any darkness, any pain, any confusion, and any loss—to find your true voice. Once you do, that you would speak and write from that true place forever. 

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The Question Most Asked: “How Do I Stay Out of Trouble?” and 100 Ways to Do So

This morning I learn the question people ask most frequently that leads them to my blog. Aren’t you curious? Is it about happiness? God? Teaching? Parenting?

No.

Here’s the top question folks ask online that directs them to my blog:

“How do I stay out of trouble?”

From that question, people all over the world are reading this one little post I wrote for college students during a big party weekend three years ago about how they might stay out of trouble. A young man had visited my office hours the day before and had asked me if I had any ideas for how he could stay out of trouble.

He’d been arrested; he’d had several underage drinking citations; his GPA had plummeted from a 4.0 to a 1.7. Feeling like he’d squandered the last four years of his life, he asked me what I did for fun that didn’t involve getting drunk or using drugs.

“What do you do for fun, Dr. H.? What kinds of things did you and your husband do in college instead of paryting?”

He actually found a pen and paper and took notes. 

Back then, I provided 50 alternatives to partying. In the past three years, I’ve doubled the list.  Since this is what people ask most, why not provide some more answers?

Enjoy the 100 Ways to Stay Out of Trouble Tonight


1.Learn the moves to Michael Jackson’s Thriller or Beat It

2.Cook a gourmet meal with your friend. 


3.Play improvisational games (Watch “Whose Line is it Anyway” or just play charades)


4.Organize your desk.


5.Do a movie marathon of 1980’s John Hughes movies. Or James Bond. Or Spielberg.

6.Visit every coffee shop downtown and evaluate each one.


7.Plant something in a pot from a seed and watch it grow.


8.Call your parents.


9.Call somebody from your childhood. 

10.Read a bestselling novel. Then go talk to people about it. Book clubs are cool. 


11.Go thrift store shopping.
 

12.Find neighborhood garage sales and buy unusual things.
 

13.Go to a local park and swing very high so you can jump out of the swing. 

14.Go for a long walk. See if you can walk for an entire hour.
15.Search for new music. Fall in love with a new band.
16.Get into a fascinating conversation with a complete stranger.
17.Go to church.
18.Plan some dreams for the next decade. Write out your personal mission statement.
19.Help somebody do something.
20.Watch people. Tell a story about their lives.
21.Learn a new sport.
22.Start a blog.
23.Get a great night’s sleep.
24.Go to a fancy grocery store and buy the most expensive chocolate just to try it.
25.Go to a pet store and hold all the new kittens and puppies.
26.Find a creek and sit by it.
27.Build your own kite and then fly it somewhere.
28.Start a collection of some really obscure thing.
29.Learn to draw something.
30.Make a flip book comic.
31.Go in search of the world’s most comfortable slippers.
32.Learn a different language. (I want to learn Chinese this summer)
33.Go to a toy store and play with the toys.
34.Hang out at a bookstore and read for an hour.
35.Volunteer to help at a shelter or a community center.
36.Join a club.
37.Drive down a country road. (Rt. 550 changed my life)
38.Learn double dutch jump rope.
39.Do something that gets your heart rate up for 40 minutes and see how good you feel.
40.Practice being alone for an entire evening.
41.Donate stuff you don’t need.
42.Read a chapter in a textbook because you want to learn something, not because it’s on the test.
43.Reread a book from your childhood.
44.Hike. Camp. Build a fire by rubbing sticks together.
45.Make a scrap book.
46.Invent a game to play involving flip flops and trees.
47.Create an ad campaign to motivate people to do something.
48.Teach somebody how to do something.
49.Watch an entire season of a show on DVD in one day.
50.Make water your beverage selection for the whole weekend. Hydration can change your life.
51. Climb a tree.


52. Explore new teas and have a tea ceremony.


53. Walk into a new place and introduce yourself to somebody.


54. Write a film script for a movie.


55. Plan your novel.


56. Offer to babysit for free.


57. Sing very loud in your living room like you’re auditioning for American Idol.


58. Think of one small thing to do every day that just might change the world.


59. Scrub your kitchen floor. Then go clean your toilet. Then wash your sheets.


60. Go to the community pool and go off the high dive.


61. Start a club based on your interests. Advertise and see who comes.


62. Invite your neighbors over for dessert.


63. Learn to make one incredibly fabulous and decadent dessert for these neighbors first.


64. Go to the symphony, the ballet, and the opera at least once.


65. Find the historic sites in your town and visit them.


66. Visit a graveyard and notice what’s written on the headstones.


67. Write down what you really want. Write down the steps to get there. Do step one.


68. Write an opinion piece for the New York Times.


69. Forgive that other person and release bitterness.Call them and tell them.


70. Plant a garden and make a salad exclusively from your harvest.


71. Let yourself fall in love.


72. Eat amazing breakfasts. Eat amazing breakfasts for dinner.


73. Make a craft.


74. Write a poem and actually show someone.


75. Write a thank you note to three people who won’t expect it.


76. Read the Bible.


77. Do one thing that terrifies you today.


78. Try a new food.


79. Go bird nest hunting.


80. Get a bike and ride it through town.


81. Get a camera and learn the art of photography


82. Go volunteer at a retirement center and listen to the elderly tell their stories.


83. Buy fresh cut flowers and deliver them to someone (or yourself).


84. Buy a journal and write in it every day.


85. Teach what you know to someone else.


86. Drive to the country on a clear night to see the stars.


87. Pick a fresh peach or apple right off the tree and eat it.


88. Start a campaign to change something you don’t like in your community.


89. Go bowling.


90. Go owling in the middle of the night and marvel at noctural animals. 


91. Go to a square dance in your town.


92. Pray. Write down your prayers.


93. Hold a baby.


94. Go to a comedy club and laugh.


95. Listen to live music.


96. Write a letter to your future self.


97. Smell the grass.


98. Go to a high school football game and drama production.


99. Make your own butter.


100. Eat cupcakes.



So there. Here’s to living with flair.

____________________________
Can you add three more?

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An Opportunity?

I take a moment to read another chapter in Paul Miller’s book, Love Walked Among Us: Learning to Love Like Jesus. I only have five minutes because I’m just so busy complaining about all my problems today:

My vacuum cleaner is broken and making strange noises. I have to clean for family coming. I am behind on my grading. I am already ready to go to bed, and it’s not even 2:00 PM. I have nothing in my kitchen to cook for dinner. Blah, blah, blah. I let myself feel all the negativity. Sometimes it feels good to complain. I do get that. I even rope my husband into one of my complaining sessions.

It’s one of those days when it’s all problems and not much joy. I’m embarrassed by my terrible attitude.

So I flounce down in my rocking chair–dramatically, huffing-and-puffing, and wasting away–and I read Miller’s words on “finding glory in unexpected places.” In particular, he discusses how, instead of problems, Jesus always saw opportunities for God to work.

It’s true: Every time someone came to Jesus with a problem, he only saw an opportunity.

In fact, maybe the problems exist today for the express purpose of seeing God’s power displayed.

I don’t have problems; I have opportunities for God to work. 

Yeah! Yes! That’s exactly right.

I feel so much better.

_______________________

Did God make a problem into an opportunity?

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Remember the Gamma Girls: A Must Read for Moms of Pre-Teen Daughters

I’m sitting at the kitchen table, doling out after-school snacks and casually talking to some preteen girls about their lives. I hear about the playground drama, the hurt feelings, and the popular girls who control the whole scene. (This is 5th grade, by the way.)

“You have to be gamma girls,” I tell them, remembering my friend Kellie’s advice about popularity and teen drama.

“What’s a gamma girl?” one girl asks, chomping on trail mix.

“Well, one sociologist wrote about how the popular girls you see on the playground in their tight circle are the ‘alpha girls.’ The girls jumping all around them and trying to get their attention all day long–those are the ‘beta girls’.”

The girls nod.

“Then you have the gamma girls. These girls are smart, confident, creative, funny, and just plain awesome. They’re out building forts in the woods, talking about literature and music, and enjoying their lives. These girls love their parents and God and don’t care one bit about being popular.”

It’s like I’ve shared some deep secret, some key to unlock the universe for them.

The girls don’t say a word, waiting for me to tell them more.

I pull up the “Meet the Gamma Girls” article from 2002, and I read some excerpts. I remind the young girls that certain teen girls don’t do drugs, get drunk, obsess over boys, or do poorly in school. They choose to be gamma girls. They have close friends, tons of ambition, and great relationships with their parents. And they are not popular.

That was it. End of conversation. The girls left and went to rescue that baby squirrel.

Four days later, a mom finds me and gives me a big hug. She tells me how her daughter was on the playground trying so hard to get the attention of the popular girls. The daughter said: “They kept abandoning me and walking away.”

I imagine the pointing and whispering. I imagine the gossip. I imagine the girl standing on the outside, wishing with all her heart to be popular.

“My daughter told me that she stood there, and all of a sudden she said to herself, ‘I’m not doing this anymore. I don’t have to be alpha or beta. I can be a gamma girl’.”

The mom tells me that then, her daughter looked around the playground to observe who was actually having fun. She ran to where some creative kids were building forts and talking about their spelling tests. She was warmly welcomed and spent the afternoon enjoying herself with girls who couldn’t care less what the popular girls were doing.

Besides, who has time for drama when you want to write a new song on your guitar, hang out with your family, make cupcakes with your friends, and play with your little sister?

There’s another way to be.

_____________________
Were you a gamma girl?

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