The First Word You Think of in the Morning

We live our lives through language. Lately I’ve been noticing the very first word that comes to my mind when I wake up in the morning. 

Sometimes, the words invoke despair. They bring about a world of doubt, hopelessness, and cynicism. They fill me with anxiety. 
But for the last several days, I’ve opened my eyes and immediately remember that I’m “seated in Christ in the heavenly realms” and that I’m invited to receive from God and replenish any empty places in me.
These mercies are new every morning. I wake up today and live in the words receive and replenish.
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The Question They Ask Most

As folks write about their blog’s year-in-review, I decide to look up the information about my blog’s traffic sources. How do readers find Live with Flair? What leads them here?

I discover that just like last year, the most-asked question people googled in 2013 that led them to my blog was this:

How do I stay out of trouble? This question leads readers to a blog I wrote in 2010 called 50 Ways to Stay Out of Trouble.

Does this question’s frequency surprise you? I’m surprised!

This same question haunts Paul as he writes Romans 7 about why he continues to do what he doesn’t want to do. He wants to be good. He wants to do the right thing, yet he finds that he cannot. Apart from Christ’s power in him, he finds himself enslaved to sin. How do I stay out of trouble? 

He can’t stay out of trouble. He’s powerless to do this.

While I hope the most-searched for list (provided below for your enjoyment) gives you ideas for how to stay out of trouble, it won’t solve the root of the issue. It won’t set you free from yourself or your desires. God can. God is the only one who can. Perhaps, then, the question isn’t, “How do I stay out of trouble?” The question is, “Who can save me from this body of death?”

And the answer, of course, is Jesus.

50 Ways to Stay Out of Trouble

It’s a big weekend in my town. It’s a big party weekend. This means I avoid campus and expect a really low attendance in my early classes on Monday. It’s always the same story: students act out this script of what it means to be a college student.

Last year, a man came to my office hours and 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, and 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. He wondered what a life looks like that doesn’t involve partying. As I talked about my own college years, he started to make a list for himself. He was writing a new script.

So, as a shout-out to my students who want a different script for their evening, I’m providing 50 ways to stay out of trouble. I once heard a speaker say that the definition of pleasure is: “having fun with no negative consequences.” Living with flair has something to do with experiencing pleasure in ways that don’t harm you or anybody else. Hence, my tried and true 50 ways to stay out of trouble.

1.Learn the moves to “Beat It” (or Thriller, or Single Ladies, or any dance)
2.Cook a gourmet meal with your friend. (Remember: good things happen with cutting boards)
3.Play improvizational games (Watch “Whose Line is it Anyway” or just play charades)
4.Organize your desk. (This will feel really good)
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. (I did this one Fall semester)
7.Plant something. (I’m doing this now)
8.Call your parents. (I should do this)
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 on iTunes. Fall in love with a new band.
16.Get into a fascinating conversation with a 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 “flair” blog and tell me about it.
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. You can google instructions.
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. (I reread To Kill A Mockingbird)
44.Hiking. Camping.
45.Make a scrap book.
46.Invent a game to play.
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. 24? Lost? The Office?
50.Make water your beverage selection for the whole weekend. Hydration can change your life.

So there. Here’s to living with flair.

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I’m Not the Only One

I’m amazed that when you share your deepest insecurities and struggles, someone always says, “You, too? You mean I’m not the only one?”

This morning, I share my thoughts on being “seated in Christ” with a crowd of folks. I’m confessing my current struggles with the 3 A’s: Appearance, Affluence, and Achievement. I wonder if I sound crazy or stupid or just irrelevant. 
Did anyone else feel the way I felt about their lives? Was anyone else battling for a seat at the table?
One by one, they come. Students approach, often with tears in their eyes, to confess how the felt the same way I had described. 
Come into the light, my friends. When you share the deepest, most hidden thing, one by one, others will come to say–with profound relief and gratitude–“I’m not the only one!”
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Nothing Hides Here

The cats alert me that something’s outside the window. They pace nervously, meowing and pawing at the glass.

It’s a little bird.

I peer outside and notice the tangle of branches against the morning sky. I’ve looked out this same window for seven years. I used to wait for the most glorious morning when the Weeping Cherry blooms for those precious few days in the spring. That’s the thing to see. But this morning, I love the skeletal branches, the deep shadows, the dim winter light, and the pale browns. I love that, like this, one can see the birds. They have no foliage in which to hide.

God reminds me that there’s something to experience and rejoice in no matter how bare the landscape appears. Nothing hides here.

I think of Psalm 65:

The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; 
where morning dawns, where evening fades
you call forth songs of joy. 

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A Final Thought on Christmas: Do You Hear?

I’m still listening to Christmas music in my home. I notice how many songs ask me to “hear.” Many Christmas carols, in fact, ask the listener to stop and “hear the angels sing.” Oh hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing. 

As I think about 2014 fast approaching, I decide to add “hear” to my list of resolutions. I want to hush the noise and hear the angels sing.


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If You’re Comparing Your Christmas

This morning, I remember a statement from July 2011. Back then, I thought that everyone else was having so much more fun than I was in a different location, with different friends, and with different experiences.

It was painful to think like this.

This Christmas, the thought didn’t cross my mind as I saw all the beautiful pictures on social media. In fact, I was so happy for everyone else. I was truly thankful for all the joy I saw on Facebook and Twitter. Part of this transformation in my heart was my new understanding of Ephesians 2:6 (being seated in Christ in the heavenly realms) and this little quote from the Hayden Planetarium. Read below, and enjoy:

All Seats Provide Equal Viewing of the Universe

I discovered this quote at the public library yesterday.  It’s from the Museum Guide from Hayden Planetarium inside a novel by Lorrie Moore.  I read it out loud and it seemed to catch in my throat.  All week I’ve wanted to go home to Pennsylvania.  All week I’ve imagined a different life.  It seemed, as I read it again, that some great voice of wisdom gently whispered in my ear. 

I turned to my daughter and read it to her.

“Do you know what that means?”  I asked.  “It means that no matter where you are, you have an equal chance to perceive the beauty of God.”

When I want to trade seats to find a better view, I’m going to sit tight and realize my equal chance to see–right where I am–the beautiful things God wants to show me.  

______________________
Journal:  What do I see today that proves I have an equal chance to see the beauty of God?

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The Loneliest and Best Christmas Eve

A few Christmas Eve’s ago, our family didn’t know what to do after the Christmas Eve church service. We were far from family and friends and a little lonely. 

Out of the blue, my husband suggested we go out to dinner at a Japanese restaurant for hibachi (where they cook the food at your table). 

When we arrived, another family had just come from a Christmas Eve service at another church in town. They, too, were starting a new and strange tradition of hibachi on Christmas Eve. We had a lovely evening talking to these complete strangers
We laughed at the end of the evening and said, “We’ll see you next year–same time, same place.”
A year passes. 
This year, we go to the same restaurant. We wonder if that family would remember. It seems like a long-shot. As we enter the restaurant, the family stands right there! They were waiting for us after a whole year. In fact, they actually had other plans but remembered our hibachi night. They changed plans in order to find us at the restaurant. 
We didn’t even recall names; we just knew faces. Immediately, however, we reconnect, laugh, share stories of pets and vacations and even favorite Christmas morning breakfast recipes (baked French toast!) We exchange business cards this time. We say it again, “We’ll see you next year–same time, same place.” 
Another family actually joined us this time–complete strangers who wanted to start a strange and wonderful Christmas Eve hibachi tradition. 
Three families now don’t feel alone on Christmas Eve. 
I suppose I’m learning how connected we are to one another. We don’t ever have to feel alone. Complete strangers are waiting to join you for dinner on Christmas Eve.
They’ll be there next year, too. 
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In a Single Night

When I was in 6th grade, my teacher, Mrs. Kaiser, told the class what Christmas was like for her as a child. She went to her grandparents’ farmhouse out in the country. All the aunts and uncles and cousins gathered for Christmas Eve. What was strange was that nobody decorated for Christmas. No lights, no tree, no sweets, no presents. Christmas had not arrived.

That Christmas Eve, all the children slept in the basement. They went to bed in a normal farmhouse that had no evidence of Christmas at all.

Sometime in the night, the entire house transformed. Every surface was covered with garlands of pine, lights, and Christmas decorations. In the night, an enormous Christmas tree somehow arrived, decorated with the most beautiful ornaments. Presents burst from under the tree and went up the stairs of that farmhouse. Kitchen counters magically filled with cookies and pies. The table erupted with food.

In this family, Christmas came all at once, in a single night. My teacher explained that the magical transformation–so thorough and complete–brought so much wonder and joy to her heart. In a single night, everything changed.

I thought about this story for years. I imagined the faces of those children as they crept up the basement stairs. I imagined the wonder, the disbelief, the awe, and the mystery. But how? When? Who? 

In a single night, everything changed.

That is Christmas: a little baby born one night. In a single night, the whole world was set free by something so wonderful and so mysterious as God coming down to us.

We creep up the basement stairs, open the door, and let the light of Christmas flood our hearts.

In a single night, everything changes.

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All the Christmas Goodies

For the Christmas holidays this year, we make traditional iced Christmas cookies to share, but we also attempt a Red Velvet Cake and various kinds of fudge. The endless supply of sweets is just part of the season around here. If you stop by, you won’t leave without a plate of something sweet to take with you.

Since we’re all too busy watching our favorite movies like Polar Express, Elf, Deck the Halls, Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, some version of A Christmas Carol, and of course, White Christmas, we have to think about food to eat on the days before the Christmas Feast.

This year, we make a pan of Beef and Bean Enchiladas and another huge casserole dish of Chicken Divan. You can pre-make both and then heat up servings whenever you want. Making these ahead of time means the cook can relax and watch movies, with a cookie in one hand and a warm beverage in the other, instead of working in the kitchen.

There’s still Gingerbread Houses to build tomorrow and apple pies to make. I’m not involved in either of these feats; my daughters are old enough to enact their own traditions.

I’ll be watching White Christmas in my pajamas.

Then, we’ll join our community at our Christmas Eve service.

I’m just so thankful.

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