“The Best Seat in the House” (A Guest Post and Chance to Win Books!)

I am honored to have written a guest post for Jennifer Dukes Lee (my writing friend from TheHighCalling.org)! My piece is about how I always wanted “the best seat in the house,” and what happened when I finally realized I was already there. You can enter for a chance to win Seated with Christ: Living Freely in a Culture of Comparison on her beautiful site. Click here for my post and the entry form.

I hope you enjoy Jennifer’s #TellHisStory Tuesday.

Have a wonderful afternoon!

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For Just Right Now

I’m finding new strength these days. Even on my hardest days (they don’t seem hard anymore), I know how to draw on some truths in scripture for this very moment. Right now, I’m guarded by God’s peace (Philippians 4:7), His righteousness (Romans 3:22), His hope (Romans 5:5), His power (Ephesians 1:19), and His presence that provides everything I need (2 Peter 1:3).

For just right now, I’m stronger than ever.

I’ll apply these truths again every hour if I must.

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Something New: Dehydrating Fruit

My neighbor has a food dehydrator (it just sits on the kitchen counter and makes this little humming noise while it’s working). I have never seen a dehydrator in my whole life, so obviously, I’m amazed at the trays of shriveled apple slices. She lifts the lid and lets me sample the most delicious, chewy, tart, dried apples. They have changed form into these strong, long-lasting things!

I’m addicted. It’s all I can think about.

Over the weekend, another set of neighbors (who have had to listen to my new obsession with dehydrated fruit on the walk to school) present me with an early 40th birthday present: It’s a food dehydrator!

I slice some apples, and six hours later, I have piles of apple candy. I decide to dehydrate the apple peel, and it makes apple chips that are so flavorful I can’t believe it.

Oh, the after school snacks we will have in the bitter cold winter when we long for the tart apples of October! Oh, the veggies and jerky and fruit roll ups I can make!

Then I read that one can store dehydrated fruit for 30 years on the shelf, and this fruit will retain its vitamins and minerals. I have no idea if this is true, but it seems promising.

I think of how that dehydrator works: the warm air just sucks the moisture out. For someone who values hydration, this seems so counter to a good thing. It seems terrible–the dried up, shriveled work of it. But this process cultivates a certain strength and longevity, a certain sweetness and tenacity.

With these long day of work and parenting, we feel shriveled and dried up. We’ve changed form into wrinkled, withered things.

 But oh, how sweet.

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Your Little Trace

My friend presents me with the most beautiful cobalt blue Cross fountain pen–the kind with the ink cartridges that you pop in (I love that sound!)–because she knows I’ll be signing books.

First of all, I love fountain pens. Oh! When I think of writing with flair, I think of fountain pens.

And I know what I’m talking about: I worked at Staples from 9th grade all the way through my 3rd year of college. I was the Fountain Pen Expert and stood behind the Service Desk and showcased the most extraordinary fountain pens to customers. I loved unpacking the shipments of pens boxed in velvet. I displayed Waterman, Mont Blanc, Pelican, Parker, Sheaffer, and of course, Cross. I knew ink filling mechanisms, inlays, nibs, and barrel composition. I kept them under lock and key because some pens sold for thousands of dollars.

I pop in the cartridge and use that nib for the first time. I pause and consider how smoothly it writes, how uniquely to my own hand, and how the words seem so connected to me as I write them. Nobody will use this pen but me; every fountain pen owner knows the nib conforms to only one hand.

I think about the journey of my own handwriting: the lessons in grade school from a precise military father; the i’s dotted with hearts in middle school; the backward slant of rebellion in high school; the tiny clipped letters of debate and college lecture notes. I realize that there’s something in the conversation about what it means to be human (and to know oneself) that involves our handwriting.

I consider the number of people who hand me my own book and ask for my signature. They want the trace from my hand–my unique script–because somehow the words I wrote and were typeset in that gorgeous font weren’t enough. They wanted me, my own signature, because they know that it’s a human trace of something authentic.

They want my signature self, so I write it gladly.

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Sisters Who Drive Long Distances To See You

I tell my daughters that, although they can’t stand each other now, one day, they’ll be the best of friends. I hear them bickering upstairs as I fix the guest room for my sister who is on her way through sleet and cold to see me.

I remind them that sisters are one of God’s greatest gifts.

It’s like this:

One day, your sister will pick you up from high school, take you to ice-cream, go shopping with you, and find a fun restaurant for dinner because you just need a break from everything and everyone. You fight now, but one day, you’ll want to be with her more than anyone in the world because she’s your sister and she just knows you. 

One day, your sister will drive hours to visit you at college and take you to coffee shops and listen to all your boyfriend drama. She will nod her head, refill your mug, and hold your hand. She will send you handwritten notes with Bible verses on them to encourage you to return to Jesus when you have wondered so far away that you do not know yourself.

One day, she’ll send you flowers on the day you don’t get the sorority bid. The card will say, “From your real big sister.”

One day, she’ll drive to find you when you’re depressed and losing your mind. She’ll tell you that you are just “stuck in a moment” and you’ll find your way out.

One day, your sister will drive even more hours for a wedding, new babies, and birthday parties. You’ll drive the same distance for her. It won’t matter if it’s snowing or nobody has the kind of money to spend on travel. You just do it because you’re sisters.

You’ll immensely love each other and immensely fight and then immensely apologize and start all over again.

One day, your sister will drive six hours one way to spend one night with you because you’re about to turn 40 years old. And she’ll spoil you rotten because you’re both professionals now and can splurge.

You can’t stand her now, girls, but one day, one day, you’ll love her so much you’ll cry just thinking about her.

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“God Was With Me.”

My youngest daughter (who gives permission for me to share this story) has been battling severe test taking anxiety. She can make herself sick with nerves about taking tests, especially math tests. We’ve spent so many days looking into therapeutic solutions, creating strategies, and talking through positive self-talk before going into the tests. In her mind, so much is at stake, and she is just afraid. 

Today, she had another math test, and last night, we all prayed for God’s guarding peace as promised in Philippians 4:6. You know the famous verse: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.”

We ask God to guard her with His peace, and we thank Him for allowing her to simply show what she has learned on this test.

(That’s all a test is: showing what you have learned. It’s OK to fail a test; this just means you have more to learn for next time.)

I drop her off, kiss that little forehead, and say, “I don’t know what else to tell you about all this test stress. I just know that God is with you. No matter what happens, Jesus is right there with you.”

At pick up time, she emerges from the school doors so full of joy. She reports, “It was easy! I finished the test first! I didn’t have any problem!”

I ask her: What made the difference? Was it the self-talk, the deep-breathing, the strategies (all good things)? What made the difference, and what could I tell others about what worked for you?

She says firmly and clearly: “God was with me. That’s it.”

Oh, what we can do when we know God is with us! It changes everything.

We will remember this day when she knew God was with her. Today it was a math test. Tomorrow it might be something else. I want her (and me) to store up a lifetime of days when we accomplished something we didn’t think we could do because God was with us, guarding us with His peace.

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Somewhere to Be

Today one of my students invites the entire class to get a burrito with him for lunch. Apparently, there’s a Thursday $4.00 Burrito Special on campus. I love it when a single student builds community and cares for other students in the class. And I love knowing random things that students know about campus life (like $4.00 Thursday Burritos).

I think about how much fun they will have at lunch together. I think of the apple I packed in my bag as I rushed out the door this morning and how nice a burrito sounded.

I end class, ready to sit alone on the bench outside of my next classroom. But as I’m packing up my things, he says to me, “Are you coming along?”

Me? Really?

I did! I went to get burritos with him and the few students who accepted his invitation. As it turns out, it was someone’s birthday, so we celebrated with burritos.

As we stood in line, the student who organized our outing kept a lookout for straggling students who decided to join him at the last minute. We found one, and we made sure to wait up for her. I noted that it was fun to have a group from class eat burritos together, even if just a few students came.

“Next time, more will come,” the student says. “I will make sure and invite everyone again next Thursday.”

I thought about his invitation all day. I thought about the student who had a birthday that nobody had celebrated. I thought of the girl who came late but sill wanted to join up; I wondered what changed her mind. I suddenly remember being a freshman and how important it was to have somewhere to be, with people who wanted me there, for something as simple as lunch.

I also thought about how I would have never thought to invite my professors out to lunch. But this student? He stood there and asked, “Are you coming along?”

I know I’m booked for burritos next Thursday.

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A Little Stroganoff

I love the word “stroganoff.” It sounds rather formal, royal even. I discovered that stroganoff simply refers to a dish where the central ingredient–whether chicken or beef–is cooked in a sauce containing sour cream.

Oh, deliciousness! Why did I suddenly remember the joys of cooking with sour cream? Well, yesterday (the same day I overemphasized the semicolon), I resorted to asking my students what in the world I might cook with chicken and some noodles for dinner. Several students cried out, “Chicken Stroganoff!” as if this were the best thing in the entire world.

My goodness: It is.

One student informs me of the following recipe which I find in various forms on the internet. Here is my own version of Chicken Stroganoff:

Season chopped chicken with onion powder, garlic powder, thyme, and parsley. Add in one chopped onion and 3 cloves minced garlic to a saucepan and cook the chicken along with it. Then, in another pan or even in the same pan, make a sauce with 1 can cream of chicken soup, 1/2 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup chicken broth, 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, and some salt and pepper. While this is all going on, cook some noodles.

When the chicken is fully cooked, mix it together with the cream sauce and the noodles, top it all with parsley and paprika, and then bake it for 15 minutes at 350 degrees.

Typically, one uses mushrooms in stroganoff, and I did not.

My children ask for two helpings, and tonight, they await the Chicken Stroganoff leftovers.

Here is Campbell’s Easy Stroganoff Recipe (with a lovely picture). Taste of Home has a great one, too.

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You’re Not the Only One Who Doesn’t Know How to Use a Semicolon

Today in class, I spend an unusual amount of time rationalizing and explaining the proper use of a semicolon. These are my older students in Advanced Writing who should know but do not. We all should know but do not. The semicolon is the most beautiful and misunderstood punctuation mark!

I explain it’s a romance; the second independent clause connects to the first, enhancing it, loving it.

That doesn’t work. Nobody imagines the semicolon romancing anything.

Then, I explain it this way:

I’m tired in class. I went to a party last night. 

The period shows no relationship between these thoughts. But the semicolon? Try this:

I’m tired in class; I went to a party last night. 

This sentence shows the relationship; you have a because.

A because? I have a new thought here! 

I never thought of explaining the semicolon as a replacement for the word “because.” I’m so excited! I’m jumping up and down; the semicolon replaces because! It does! It really does!

I’m off to try my hand at more semicolons; using them makes me strangely happy.

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A Way to Handle Nerves in Public

I’ve had a breakthrough! I’m learning to handle the nervousness of speaking in front of audiences and on the radio after nearly making myself sick. It’s terrifying! You shake and stutter and realize you’re going to make a fool of yourself, so you wonder why in the world you would do this.

Early on in the book publishing journey, I began to pray from Psalm 25:12 where we’re told the Lord “will instruct [you] in the way chosen for [you].” I needed instruction on how to do some of the things this new adventure would bring. Things like radio interviews. Things like speaking on stage to more and more people. Things like public appearances and book signings. Teach me, God! How do I handle the nerves?

Are you ready for the breakthrough? Well, as I asked God to teach me how to do this, I remembered that God had given me a great gift of teaching. I am confident and joyful as a teacher. I’m a teacher at heart; I’m a teacher through and through. When I’m with my students, I feel 100% like myself. No nerves, no shaking, no sickness. I just get up there and go, like a racehorse freed from the gate. So I began to reframe all of these activities back to God’s gifting. I had to remember teaching. 

What if I saw all this activity as teaching? It’s not a speaking event or an interview; it’s teaching. 

Teaching is always about something other than myself. It’s about the Subject Matter. Speaking and interviews put the attention on me instead of the subject matter. But when I’m teaching, I can shift all the attention to the subject at hand–God–and live without self-consciousness or anxiety.

I began to think of everything as teaching instead of public appearances or interviews.

Maybe reframing what you’re doing will benefit you as well. You’re not doing this public thing that terrifies you; you’re doing something else that you feel confident about.

The reframing has worked so far. It has helped me become more brave, more self-forgetful, and more focused on God instead of myself.

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