Just Start

I attempt to motivate students to write all week long. It requires high energy.

I sweat.

I sip iced coffee to sustain me as I defend the semicolon. I stretch out and cool down in between lessons on sentence variation and mood.

I push my hair out of my face, catch my breath, and make wild gestures to remind them to eliminate weak verbs.

I detest weak verbs. They waste my time, people.

Finally, after I’ve left it all on the field that is the classroom, I offer my last piece of inspiration:

Just start.

None of this matters unless you start. You have to start. 

Isn’t that how anything ever happens? You start? You just start?

So just start.

I don’t care if it’s one single measly word (but not a weak verb), just write.

I applied my motivational speech to myself as I stood before my bathroom with my cleaning bucket in hand. You just have to start, and soon, you’ve cleaned your bathroom. Spring is a great time to start.


You Already Have It

My friend sends me a quote from Jon Acuff: “In your own chase to figure out your life, make sure you haven’t already caught what it is you’re looking for.”

I stop and ask myself what it is I really, really want

I realize I have it already. In Ephesians 3, we read how we have the “fullness of God” in us. Is there more? 

Is there?

I love thinking about this. What do we really want?


We’re Made to Marvel: Photos of the Secret Vernal Pond

Once the snow melts in the forest, we return to search for the secret vernal pond. We’re not certain of its appearance, but we travel quickly, snapping sticks and maneuvering around the thorny vines. Last time we checked, nothing but frozen peaks of muddy wetland, hidden by ice and snow, greeted us.

The woods feel enchanted as we balance atop fallen trees and sink into moss.  It smells earthy and warm as we shuffle through leaves.

Then, we see it. We don’t know how or when, but it’s here now. We hear the calls of nesting ducks and the sharp cries of various species of frogs.

Vernal Pond, April

We peer deeply into the water to see all the eggs. Giant masses of salamander and frog eggs fill the pond, protected by enormous jelly-like pouches.

My youngest cannot wait to return. Day by day, the eggs change. They hatch, and life grows up, just in time for the pond to evaporate back into the forest.

I can’t explain so many things to her. I don’t know how the pond knows when to emerge. I don’t know how generations and generations of frogs and salamanders know to come right back here to lay eggs.

It’s at least one magical thing in our lives this Spring; the wonderful, unexplained, beautiful vernal pond reminds me that we’re made for wonder. We’re made to marvel.

I love the forest in springtime! I love the mystery of the vernal pond!


The Return of the Extravagant Omelet: Artichoke and Crab

I’ve rediscovered my love of omelets.

The whole concept of folding in all my favorite veggies or cheeses into a nice little pocket of protein yumminess just makes me happy. Plus, you can cut up everything the night before and make little baggies of chopped onion, pepper, and mushrooms to pour over your cooking eggs.

I’ve been inventive before church this morning.  I match artichoke hearts and crab meat (my husband expresses his disdain), a dash of hot sauce, and all my breakfast hopes and dreams with the whisked eggs.

It’s delicious.

In case you’ve never ventured into the realm of omelets, here you go:

Whisk together one egg and one egg white.
Pour into a small pan and let cook over medium heat for a minute.
Gently pour in 1/4 cup of chopped artichoke hearts and 1/3 cup crab meat (fresh or canned).
Add two drops of hot sauce, and a dash of salt and pepper.

Cook until edges are firm (another minute). Gently fold the omelet in half. Continue cooking and flip over.

Living with flair means inventive extravagance. Why not? I feel like I’m dining in some exotic seaside resort that dares to make artichoke and crab omelets.

Do you have a favorite omelet combination? I love swiss cheese and peppers!


Before You Ask

This morning, I read in Matthew 6:8 where Jesus insists that “your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” A chapter later, Jesus talks about the things we worry over, and he claims, “your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”

He already knows. He knows before we know.

I consider the simple truth that God already knows what I need before I ask. It occurs to me that–instead of spouting off my list of what I think I need today–I might instead seek God’s foreknowledge. I might ask the Holy Spirit to fill that list. I might ask what God thinks I need first.

I realize that I actually don’t often know what I need. I think I do, but I don’t.

Like the child screaming in the high chair who tosses her head about and bangs her fists in frustration, I don’t know what I need. I can’t even articulate it if I did know. The loving parent swoops in, discerns the real need, and responds.

What do I need? I ask before I cry out.

Isn’t it such a comfort to know that God already knows?


I’ll Just Stand Here

I’m talking with my friend, and she reminds me of what it means to just stand by your friends. You quietly, faithfully, and prayerfully carry her burdens. You can’t solve anything or say the right thing.

So you just stand there with her. Sometimes, you hug her.

As I’m talking, my dramatic kitty rolls over and covers her face with one paw. Woe is me! I cannot face the world!

As if on cue, Jack arrives and stands by her. Every once in a while, he offers a little nudge.

It’s a perfect reminder. The One-Eyed Cat stands by the Despairing Cat. He can’t offer much, but he can stand by her.

Is there a friend who just needs you to stand with her or him?


It’s Happening If You Look Closely

Despite all evidence to the contrary (snow, bitter cold mornings, and gloomy skies), a new season is arriving.

It is.

I can tell. I see the green buds among the tangled vines that border the forest.

I find a robin, and I even spy a new nest forming deep in the bushes.

That’s the whole project, really. It’s looking closely enough to discern that things are happening when it looks like nothing is happening. Spiritually, emotionally, physically, and even relationally, we do, in fact, grow.

Nearly imperceptibly and ever-so-slowly, we transform into the people we’re becoming and were always meant to be. We catch up to the dream being dreamed for us.

I cannot wait for the Northern Cardinals to build their nest in the Winterberry bush!


My Favorite Love Letter: Keep Writing or Become the Poem

I often quote Lilian Sandburg to encourage student writing. I remember exactly where I was standing in Carl Sandburg’s home in Flat Rock when I read Lilian’s words on a postcard to her discouraged husband. The National Park Service captures the exchange in these words:

“Once, during the early years of their marriage, when he was off on a business trip and wrote to her, worried over their lack of funds, she told him, The poems are great, Carl. It would be all wrong to give them up. We must give the Poet every chance! If we can only assure ourselves enuff leisure for this—you will arrive. You’ve got it in you. The only question is can we get enuff time to get it out of you! You are great and great and great! Greater poems than some of yours have absolutely never been written! It’s only a question of time till we come to our own. . . It’s all coming, dear—coming sure!” 
Later, Lilian laments that she “shall never write for print. . .” He replies to her, What. . . do I care whether you go in for literary work or not? Don’t we each give the other free loose for anything & everything? . . . All I know is you are a great woman, a splendid girl. In some way you will express yourself. You decide on the way . . . Great you are—great, beautiful, inclusive, daring, quick, orginial. . . I would rather be a poem like you than write poems. I would rather embody the big things as you do than carve or paint or write them. You inspire art–& that’s living.

I love looking at a student and saying with absolute certainty, “You’ve got it in you. The only question is can we get enough time to get it out of you.” And when they decide they simply do not want to write–because it’s not joyful for them; it’s not their calling,–I want to tell them to go ahead and express themselves in another way. “You decide the way. Just be the poem. Embody the big things. Inspire art, then.” 
I also love tucking these letters away as a reminder of great marriages. We can be Sandburg and Lilian to one another when we feel discouraged. 
Have you read the poetry of Carl Sandburg? If you haven’t, do! And if you want to read the whole collection of love letters between Sandburg and his wife, you can find them in A Great and Glorious Romance: The Story of Carl Sandburg and Lilian Steichen. 
Text from “Carl Sandburg Home,” National Park Service, Public Domain


When Your Favorite Memory Actually Never Happened

I’m teaching memoir writing to my students, and I instruct them to choose a “tiny moment” to recount for the class. Just a few nights before, I share with my friend about my memoir lessons, and he says, “My favorite memory actually never happened.”

He explains what he means. I encourage him to write the story, and to my great delight, he does.

He writes, “I’m not delusional about this memory–I know it never happened, but it feels as real as if it had. In fact, it seems more real than some memories which actually happened. Brains are so funny sometimes.”

I’m fascinated.

He recounts a memory he wished he had with his grandfather. He wished it so deeply that it became real to his mind. The writing shimmers, so go ahead and enjoy this “tiny moment” memoir (just 800 words) over at his blog.

Here’s the memory that never happened. 

Meanwhile, I love hearing various tiny moments from students today. It turns out that the tiny moments have the biggest impact. We go around the room and simply finish the sentence, “One time I. . . “.  I tell them to recount the moment that first comes to mind.  
For me, it was nearly falling through the ice on a river. 
Now, I have to figure out why I remember it first and what it means to me. 
What if you wrote your “tiny moment” today? 

I Couldn’t Stop Eating It (So I Made More)

I’m on a mission to gain health. As I stood before a table of food choices at our Easter potluck, I noted the quinoa and mushroom salad.

I haven’t eaten quinoa in years (pronounced KEEN-wah). It’s a grain-like Superfood (it’s a complete protein, high in iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and calcium) that cooks like rice or cous-cous.

My friend tells me she simply cooked half an onion, a pack of mushrooms, and some garlic and then added that to some quinoa she cooked in vegetable broth.

I find that this recipe is perfect for Weight Watchers fans (or at least those of us trying to get healthy for Spring). So I went and made my own dish this afternoon.

Quinoa Mushroom Dish

1/2 chopped yellow onion
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 cups mushrooms

Cook onion and mushrooms in a teaspoon of olive oil until tender. Add in garlic and cook a minute longer. Remove everything from pan. Add 2 cups vegetable broth to pan, and add in 1 cup quinoa. Cook according to directions (bring to boil, cover and cook on low for 15 minutes). Let stand 5 minutes, fluff with a fork, and toss with onions, mushrooms, and garlic.

De-lish! (My friend’s looked much fluffier and nicer, but hey, it’s my first time making quinoa!)

Do you have a favorite quinoa recipe?