The Rich Club

Last night a dear neighbor and I were talking about our fascination with birds. I’m seriously thinking about joining a Pennsylvania birding club. In the woods behind my home, I can find snowy owls, barn owls, woodpeckers, and even eagles. By my kitchen window, the northern cardinals dance about all day.

I’d love a great camera with one of those zoom lenses. I want to take photographs like my friend over at Pollywog Creek (take a look at her flower photography today!) who takes photos of the most beautiful birds.

As my neighbor and I share a moment of wonder over birds, I remark that God didn’t have to make birds.

“And he didn’t have to make them sing, either,” she says. They seem placed here for such delight I can hardly bear it.

Then, my wise neighbor reminds me of the riches of it all. “You never have to worry about being rich,” she says. “You have the riches of nature always available to you.”


I think about the birding club and the riches of friendship. I think about my wonderful neighbor and the riches of wisdom. I think about my backyard feeder and the riches of cardinals robed in deep red. I think of the riches of family, laughter, vivid verbs (don’t laugh, it’s for real for me), and blogging friends like Mark and Stephanie or Elaine. I think of Judy Gordon Morrow who mailed me her wonderful book of devotions last month.

Today I’m rich in snowflakes, dark coffee, and fuzzy slippers. I’m rich in icy ponds and crackling icicles that make the houses seem swallowed in great jaws. I’m rich in poetry books, old dusty journals, bibles, new novels buried inside me, and Penn State students who write so honestly I sometimes cry when I grade their papers.

I’m rich in professors who have lunch with me even though we only have 45 minutes once a week. I’m rich in neighborhood moms and dads who are raising children alongside my awesome husband and me.

I’m rich in Italian Mamas.

God has poured out all these riches all over me as if knowing Him weren’t enough. He wasn’t lying when He said “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly”

(Now you try! Can you list the ten ways you are rich?)


Around the Glassy Sea

I love just thinking about Revelation 4. Last night, graduate students gather and sing the old hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy!”accompanied by guitars, piano, and even a mandolin. 

We sing the following, and I’m caught up in imagining it: 

Holy, Holy, Holy! all the saints adore Thee,

Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and Seraphim falling down before Thee,
Which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

I find the passage in Revelation 4 that describes the glassy sea:

After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter. And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald. And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold. And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind. And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. And when those beasts give glory and honor and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.

(Some scholars believe the “seven Spirits of God” comes from Isaiah 11:2 where we learn this about the savior:  “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him — the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.”)

I just love imagining this kind of beauty, this kind of throne, this kind of God. 


“Epiphanies cannot be scheduled, but they can be invited.”

I’m teaching from a chapter in Writing to Change the World that talks about “orchestrating moments” to experience awe and realize the hope and beauty of the world. At their root, I think of these moments as worship and connection to God where I’m growing as a person.

I begin to think of how I might invite epiphanies–those spiritual and emotional breakthroughs–that foster real change.

Last week, I watched the way my daughter sat outside alone in the snow as the sun set behind the trees. As I finished dinner preparations, I saw, out of the corner of my eye, how she fell back into the snow and just stared up into the sky. She stayed that way for a long time. She closed her eyes and the snowflakes fell on her cheeks. As the darkness settled onto the backyard, she remained there, just thinking.

Stillness in nature, solitude, and quiet allow for a special kind of reflection into the life of things. Most of my life-changing moments have come in natural settings, when I’m alone, and when I’m finally listening. Although I can’t schedule epiphanies, I can invite them.

I’m not sure what my daughter thought about in the snow, but I know that when I was a little girl staring up into a snow-filled sky, I began my education in wonder.


Because You Need To

Last night I ask a local artist why he creates art. He’s been making art for over forty years.

He’s patient with my question. He simply says, “I make art because I need to.”

He’s happy if someone likes it. He’s fine if no one likes it.

He does it because he needs to.

That’s why (to anyone reading this who struggles with their own art) you press on even against rejection, a lack of recognition, or limited resources. You do it because you must. That’s all.


New Light on the Same Old Thing

The snow sits like frosting on the fence and tree limbs. In the Winterberry Bush (which I’m not actually sure is a Winterberry anymore, but that’s its name now), snow offerings of white cotton candy fill up the branches. The Northern Cardinal and the Sparrow hide out there.

It’s the same view as always from the kitchen window and yet completely different with each new day. New light, new clouds, new snow, a new sky.

No matter how ordinary or regular, there’s new light on this same old day. I cannot wait to see what it illuminates.


“A state of perpetual recovery from falling…”

Trudging through the snow this morning, I recall the statement by American poet Oliver Wendell Holmes that “walking is a perpetual falling with a perpetual self-recovery.”

Here are his thoughts in full:

“Walking, then, is a perpetual falling with a perpetual self-recovery. It is a most complex, violent, and perilous operation, which we divest of its extreme danger only by continual practice from a very early period in life. We find how complex it is when we attempt to analyze it, and we see that we never understood it thoroughly until the time of the instantaneous photograph. We learn how violent it is, when we walk against a post or a door in the dark. We discover how dangerous it is, when we slip or trip and come down, perhaps breaking or dislocating our limbs, or overlook the last flight of stairs, and discover with what headlong violence we have been hurling ourselves forward.” ~~  Oliver Wendell Holmes, “The Physiology of Walking,” from Pages From an Old Volume of Life: A Collection of Essays, 1857-1881. Seventh Edition. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1887

When I discovered this quote in college, I took great comfort in it; I thought that even in my moving about–even at the level of my joints and tendons–I’m in a state of perpetual recovery from falling. Fall, recover. Fall, recover.

There’s no other way to get anywhere. I began to think of falling and failure differently that year.


A Different Kind of Living: A Little Voice Under a Great Wing

This morning I read something astonishing: David writes in Psalm 63 that he “sings in the shadow of [the Lord’s] wings.” Not in the spotlight, not on the stage, not on the bestseller’s list, not trending on twitter or shared a million times on Facebook, and not going viral on youtube. He sang from the shadow.

Nobody sees him because he’s in the shadow. They see the Lord and hear a little voice coming out from under a great wing.

I immediately recall Colossians and what it means to live a life “hidden in Christ.” I’ve been talking with a friend about the hidden, anonymous, seemingly unaccomplished life. What’s so wrong with this?  Wouldn’t it be lovely to stay hidden under those wings and sing out from there?

I remember the year a student shocked me when I asked the class, “What were you known for in high school?” Here’s his answer and my post about it below:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Embrace Mediocrity

Sometimes I go around the room and ask students to introduce themselves by telling me what they were known for in high school.  I learn so much about how students perceive themselves through the lens of other people.

Valedictorian.  Lead role in the school plays.  Class President.  Eagle Scout.  These students have been groomed from birth to be the best.  

A few days ago, one incredibly bright student said:

“I was known for being good and not great.  I was known for being mediocre.”

When I asked for more information, he said he played every sport but was never the star.  He did well in all his classes but was never the best.

He didn’t mind.   He didn’t have to be the best.

I couldn’t help but smile.  He was exceptionally mediocre.  We laughed and affectionately call him “Mediocre Man.”  Everybody likes this student.  He makes us all feel relaxed and lighthearted.  

I thought about the philosophy of life already governing this student’s attitude.  He wants to excel, but he knows his limits.  He rests in what he can do well, even if it won’t win a Nobel Prize or put him as quarterback on the team.  He’s thinking of who he can serve in his career, what he can contribute, and what he can change–even if he’s not the star of the show.  His identity has nothing to do with rising to the top.  He’s already outside of that paradigm.

He could have quit back then.  Why bother–some would argue–if you can’t be the best?

Not him.  He’s working at top capacity despite the odds.  Despite the label.

I like that.  I love that.

As I look at my life and the lives of my children, I know we’ll have days upon days of just being good and not great.  But we can be exceptional in that.  We can be the best at being who we are, within the boundaries of what God allows for our lives, and not despair when we aren’t winning the prize.  We can be exceptionally humble, exceptionally loving, exceptionally willing to serve and change our world.  A mediocre life may seem ordinary, average, or even inferior.  But to whom?  Who decides?

Let me be exceptionally mediocre today.  Let me excel in leaving the spotlight and embracing a humble life that wins the sorts of prizes God doles out at another time, in another economy, that values who I am and not what I produce.  In that land, the mediocre folks might just be the ones with the most flair.


2 Recipes You Need for the Valentine’s Party: Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies and Olympic Truffle Valentine Brownie Bites

My daughters both sign me up to bring brownies for the class Valentine’s Party. I decide to have a baking day and try some new spins on old brownies.

First, I find this gem: Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies.

Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies

Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies 

Then, I discover something fun: an “Inside Out Brownie.” You wrap brownie batter around a Hershey Kiss, bake it, and then dip it in white chocolate. The brownie batter is more like a tough dough, so you can mold it. I thought these looked rather Olympic–like a snowy mountain. Since you bite into a kiss (like a truffle filling), I called them Olympic Truffle Valentine Brownie Bites. (Click on the links for much better photograph and great instructions.)

Olympic Truffle Valentine Brownie Bites 

I doubled each recipe, and I found I had leftover brownie-wrapping dough. So I cut out little hearts and dipped them in the leftover chocolate.

I can’t wait for the party!


A Cure for Self-Consciousness

If you’re going to go public–through writing, speaking, or teaching–you’re going to battle self-consciousness. It’s a terrible state of being; self-consciousness is an acute (and often painful) preoccupation with self. You evaluate yourself based on how you think others perceive you.  You’re constantly worried about how you’re coming off to people. You feel judged and inferior.

You live in an imagined state of shame all day long.

You torment yourself with how everybody’s feeling about you.

So you most likely go back into hiding. Well, not anymore.

What if you could be free from self-consciousness and on this very day write the blog or book you’ve wanted to, give the speech you have boiling over inside of you, or teach that thing you want to pass on? What if you did this in front of other people–lots and lots of people–and you felt free from yourself?

I speak as one healed of shame.

The answer comes through one word: love.


When you love your audience and you love your subject matter, you don’t have room to think about yourself. You’re too busy loving. You’re too busy thinking of them to think about you.

If they reject you, it doesn’t matter. You didn’t do it for you.
If they mock you, it doesn’t matter. You didn’t do it to impress.
If they exclude you, it doesn’t matter. You didn’t do it to earn their love.

You did this public thing because you love them and you love the thing you want to write, speak, or teach about. Love of subject, love of student. That’s what a mentor from Yale told me the secret of great teaching was. He’s right.

I’ve been making a fool of myself in front of audiences for over twenty years. Just go out there and love them. Let love cover you, and you’ll stop thinking of yourself so much.

Let me know how it goes.


The Cat Says Relax

It’s very hard not to relax when a lazy cat lives with you. She stares you down until you curl up beside her on the bed. She makes you feel guilty for moving.

And when you tell her you have things to do, she looks away, exhausted by the mere mention of your activities.

So I’ll relax with the little purring cat who sleeps by the heater as the slow falls.