Who Cares About Your Blog?

This morning, I spy two different blue jays. I watch their behavior all morning. I recall the day in May 2010 when I saw other blue jays in my yard.

It’s been over three years, and that blog springs to life in my memory today. I loved reading it again, and I hope you will as well.

Living with flair means we reap the benefits of blogging; I have a searchable record of every single day of my life (except for that one day in Kansas) for the past three years plus.

If you wonder who cares about your blog today, my answer is that you do. You do! One day–maybe three years from now–you’ll be so glad you recorded a moment that might have been lost forever.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

When it Looks Like Chaos and Abandonment

My sassiest daughter was playing school with her big sister this morning before church.  Apparently, they’d set up a whole imaginary classroom with imaginary students. All of sudden, the little one starts stomping around with her hands on her hips.
“I can’t do imaginary anymore!” she yelled. 
I laughed out loud. Watching her with her hands on her hips, saying in exasperation, “I can’t do imaginary anymore,” gave me the same feeling as when I hear her singing that Sugarland song about not settling. There I am, driving down the road, minding my own thoughts, and this little girl will belt out:
I ain’t settlin’
for just getting’ by
I’ve had enough so-so
for the rest of my life. . .
It’s the kind of sass I like in a girl. She doesn’t want so-so or imaginary, and neither do I.  We want to fully inhabit the lives God gives us.  We are learning that ordinary is extraordinary when you figure out what you can learn from it.  We aren’t settlin’ if we can help it.  We aren’t letting one moment go by without finding out what it means. 
We are getting better at it.  This morning, in the cool breeze of 9:00 AM, something caught my eye as we pulled out of the driveway.
Blue and wispy like the tip of some fairy’s wing, leaves danced across the base of the oak tree by my house. I stared harder, confused about the blue leaves tumbling around on the lawn.  My husband stopped the van, and I got out. There, like tiny crumbled scraps of blue construction paper, balls of feathers unfolded to show little beaks. Obviously abandoned, obviously fallen from a high nest, these bluebirds strained their heads and wings hopelessly. They seemed cold, sure to die, and starving. I looked up through the branches of the oak tree. High up, higher than the rooftop, the tangle of sticks and leaves sat.
The whole family gathered solemnly around the oak tree. Believing we were seeing dying birds, the girls shouted: “We need to call the pet store! We need to call animal rescue! Help!” We all ran inside, frantic as we tried to find the phone book. My husband, calm and sure, went to the internet to find out what to do.
And we prayed.
A moment later, my husband spread the good news: These weren’t dying birds. They were fledgling birds. There’s a big difference.
Fledgling is a great word. It describes a young bird (or person) who is new to the scene. This person has just left the nest and is almost ready to fly. They still need help, but as they flop around, looking hopeless, they are actually building strength to fly. To the inexperienced observer, a fledgling looks like a dying bird. The feathers look all rumpled and broken, and the body is limp. What I saw, when I looked at those bluebirds, was chaos and disaster and, worse, abandonment.  
But it was actually a highly controlled, intentional situation.
Later, I sat in church, so thankful for the truth about my fledgling times. What I see as chaos, disaster, and abandonment (by God or others) is actually a highly controlled, intentional situation. God knows I need some time to strengthen my character and my resolve. He knows I need to flop around a bit first.
And I was thankful that my daughter who can’t do imaginary didn’t have to this morning.  She could sit and look right out at the real world in her front yard.   And this girl who won’t settle for so-so learned that rescuing birds isn’t about removing them from their situation or creating better circumstances.  Sometimes it means keeping them right there in it because it’s where they are supposed to be.  
Living with flair means that I might reinterpret chaos, confusion, or even disaster as part of a highly controlled, intentional situation.  God, like the mother bird, knows exactly what’s going on.  Later today, I saw that mother bird seeking out each fledgling with a worm in her beak.  She found all six of them, no matter where they had tumbled, and nourished them fully.  They’ll fly by evening. 

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The Greatest Temptation in the Christian Life

I’ve been a Christian a long time–since 1985–and I find that one thing tempts me more than anything else.

It’s the temptation to live a life of self-effort rather than one of spirit-filled dependence.

I rely on myself. I do it in my own strength. I am filled with anxiety with all my micro-managing. I work harder in all my power. I attempt my spiritual disciplines with all my energy.

Aren’t you tired just reading that sentence? I am. It gives me a headache.

I remember the day in 1997 when a woman shared with me about spirit-filled living. It seemed too good to be true. We looked at the scriptures together (mostly Romans 8 and Ephesians 5), and I learned that I can ask the Holy Spirit to control, direct, and empower my life.

I turn from self-effort. I do this by faith.

I can surrender control of my life and invite God’s spirit to live a supernatural life through me. Otherwise, the Christian life isn’t just hard; it’s really impossible. It’s really not good news at all if I have to work harder, in my own power, to do anything.

With God’s power in me, I’m increasingly filled with the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5) and have a mind “governed by life and peace” (Romans 8).

Really? Is it that simple?

Yes. The good news of Jesus is really good news. But I find that every few months, I’m tempted away from this reality back into the drudgery and enslavement of working harder in my own power.

So today I remember this simple and joyous truth.

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It Looms

This morning, my youngest receives an invitation to loom. Yes, the boys and girls gather to loom.

They bring their Rainbow Looms and their tackle boxes of little rubber bands, and they weave all sorts of designs. They make bracelets, necklaces, rings, and anklets. They weave the fishtail, the triple single, the hexafish, the rose, the tulip, the starburst, the zipper, the waterfall, the bridge, and more.

It’s a little crazy. I love it because nobody asks to watch television or play video games. They do ask to watch instructional youtube videos.

I love the Rainbow Loom for how it gathers boys and girls together for hours to weave. It reminds me of something ancient and something communal. It’s a kind of pleasure with no negative consequences.

So let’s loom.

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I’ve Gone to Seed

Today, I consider things that go to seed. The expression, “go to seed,” normally refers to loss; things that deteriorate, worsen, devitalize, or fall apart have “gone to seed.” 
It’s a funny expression, especially when you think about gardening. 
In gardening, allowing plants to “go to seed” means you let them enter into a new phase: seed production. The plants direct all their energy into a new generation. The resulting seeds will scatter and take root. Some gardeners claim that these seeds create the strongest, most durable plants. Going to seed, in this case, isn’t terrible; it’s wonderful and necessary. What looks like loss for the plant is really multiplying (too many to count!) growth. 
I think about John 12:24 and how the seed that falls and dies produces many seeds. If it doesn’t fall, it just remains a single seed. 
If we seem to the world that we’re deteriorating, falling apart, and losing our productivity–especially in these tasks of parenting, community care, and teaching young people–we think of it as going to seed. We’re directing energy into a new generation. 
As we should. 

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A Simple Way to Improve Your Teaching

No, it’s not more name games (although they help)!

It’s one thing I often forget. During every class, teachers neglect the need to assess for understanding
Regularly. Two or three times per concept! 
But how? Some ways include asking students to summarize verbally or in writing; to demonstrate the concept; to teach the concept to a partner; or to apply the concept in a different context. 
Sometimes it’s asking students for immediate application in a real-world scenario. 
Normally I think of assessment in terms of big exams or papers, but really, great teachers assess as they go–in small ways–that allow the student to learn, not just prove themselves in some final moment.
I think this makes for great parenting, too.  It’s less stressful! It’s more joyful! 
I’m thankful for teachers who checked for my understanding along the way.
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4 Things I Learned from Camping with the Youth Group

Well, I survived! I actually slept in a tent (sort of), roasted my dinner over a fire, and endured a torrential downpour on the way to the bathroom.

All in all, I loved it. I learned some amazing things, too.

1. It’s emotional. I forgot how full of zeal and joy young people are. I forgot how raw their emotions are–both good and bad. I forgot how deeply they experience God. For example, during one my first conversations, a girl shared about a hard situation in her life. I said, “That must be so hard.”
She said, “It was until I met Jesus.” I listened to some high school volunteers talk about their devotional lives and how they study the Bible together before school. They love to talk about their love for Jesus in such passionate ways. No cynicism! Such hope!

2. I’m the adult. Sometimes I don’t actually feel very adult. When you work with young people, however, you are the adult. I found myself responsible for driving, getting gas, tending to emergencies like a shampoo bottle that exploded inside someone’s duffle bag, answering all the questions, cleaning, providing food, etc. It’s so good to be in a situation that has nothing to do with me; in fact, you surrender your rights to sleep and good coffee on trips like this. You can’t insist on your own way. Camping with the youth group exposes any selfish tendency and invites me to die to myself. I grew up a little last weekend.

3. I won’t avoid hard things in the name of comfort.  I’ll be honest: it wasn’t pure bliss the whole time. I entered right into it, though. I let God provide what I needed in the midst of it. When I returned home, I threw myself on my bed and said, “I’m never doing that again! I’m so tired!”

But I didn’t mean it. I will do it again.

4. Youth pastors are the most amazing people in the world for what they do. That’s all.

I loved loving those young people, listening to them, and learning from them. My daughter enjoyed having me with her, and for that, I’m perhaps the most thankful.

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How to Stop Comparing Yourself: You’re Appointed for That

I’m learning another path to freedom from comparison, jealousy, insecurity, and even fear. Two Bible verses inoculate me against these kinds of temptations: 1 Corinthians 3:6 tells me that “the Lord has assigned to each his task.” Ephesians 2:10 reminds me that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

I realize that some of us are simply appointed for certain externally beautiful, prosperous, joyous things, while others seem appointed for suffering, disappointment, loss, or failure. Is God not still in charge? Is God not still assigning–with great care, specificity, love, and purpose–our task (whether pleasant or challenging)? Is our prepared “good work” suddenly less meaningful because it looks different from another’s?

I’m reminded that we’re sovereignly appointed for our tasks and our good works. No one has the same tasks. Externally, we compare and measure ourselves against one another and end up in places of jealousy, insecurity, and sometimes fear. But the way out (at least for me) is to always remember what I’m appointed for.

It might be harvesting raspberries, walking with my neighbor, writing, cooking dinner, leading a quiet Bible study, helping my daughters with their homework, making snacks, grading, and teaching. I’m filled with peace when I realize this is what I’m appointed for today.

And I pray that I enter into the path of freedom where I receive my specific tasks with joy and confidence.

I’m appointed for this.

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Bringing Back the Best Autumn Craft

It’s acorn season! My youngest gathers a bowl of them, and she brings out her old nail polish for our Super Cool and Easy Autumn Craft . She loves this activity. She remembered it from last year!

I store her painted acorns (from this year and last) to display in a little bowl as part of our table centerpiece.

This year, she’s adding some flair in the form of glitter hearts and polka-dots. Go for it!

I note that the crafts you think they won’t remember are the very ones they bring back year after year as family traditions. What I thought was just one fun afternoon last year now marks the beginning of a new season. Painting acorns with our old nail polish just might become a generational tradition.

You never know what children latch on to and make meaning and memories from. I like to remember that living with flair means memory-making and traditions from simple little things: acorns and nail polish.

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By the Time You Read This, I’ll Be Exhausted

I’m writing this on Friday for tomorrow’s post because I’ll be camping with the youth group! I’m a parent volunteer on their camping trip. Yes, you may laugh. No, I didn’t wear my pearls (well, I did wear my pearl earrings, just no necklaces). Yes, I agreed to stay in an actual tent. Yes, I brought coffee.

Yes, I’m afraid, and I have many friends praying I will survive the night.

I’ll report back Sunday, but meanwhile, please pray for High-Maintenance Me.

As I write this, I remember with joy and thanksgiving every youth group leader / parent that drove me in a church van, talked to me about God, listened to my incessant talking, answered my questions, played messy and ridiculous games with me, introduced me to great music, showed me a different way to live, and loved me exactly how I was.

I think about all those youth group leaders who spent time with me when nobody else would, who lost sleep for me, slept in strange places for me, fed me, drove me, paid my way, and endured the rain for me.

They did it once for me. I’m praying God gives me the strength to be just like them.

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