“Anything looked at closely becomes wonderful.” A.R. Ammons

I’m reading my favorite poet, A.R. Ammons, and I find this quote on close observation:

“Anything looked at closely becomes wonderful.”

It’s so simple and so precious. When I observe closely, I move into curiosity, wonder, and then worship of a God who designed this incredible thing I cannot begin to understand.

It’s late afternoon, and the setting sun beckons me once again to the kitchen window to catch the view. I think of that verb, beckon. How warm and beautiful it is!

Come nearer, come follow. There’s something down this path for you.

I leave the window to venture out back. It’s a warm day; the ice melted enough for me to ride my bike behind my daughter with the puddles splashing and the neighborhood black cat trailing us. Kate noted that the smell of melting snow and the bright sun made her want to run and skip in a dress. Yes. I know just what you mean. 

I go to the backyard to observe, and I see the bright red berries you can only see in winter.

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I notice this beautiful bush, and I remember all the seasons of her and what she offers us–the Northern Cardinals nesting in spring with blue spotted eggs; the thick foliage all summer that overtakes the porch and hides the hummingbirds that dart back and forth to the feeder; the bright red flamed leaves of autumn like she’s anointed, burning from within; and now the stark of winter with arms that hold icicles and snowflakes and bright little berries.

It’s wonderful to observe simple, distinct seasonal offerings. I’ve learned so much about my own soul from watching closely the patterns of nature: Every season distinct. Every season has its own offerings. And some things you can only see in certain seasons, like the bright red berries that only reveal themselves in winter. No matter what’s happening in my life, I remember the gifts from God that come only because of certain conditions of growth, abundance, diminishment, and emptiness. And each season is a beckoning from God to come nearer, to follow down the path where I’ll find more and more of Him.

 

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Another Great Parenting Question

My students turned in the most beautiful and complex “Where I’m From” poems as a prewriting assignment for their Signature Stories. The “Where I’m From” poem, first popularized by George Ella Lyon, follows a specific template you can find at the bottom of this post.

In one of the lines, students write down something they were told all the time as a childI read everything from “Be aware of your surroundings” to “Suck it up” to “I love you to the moon and back.” I read “You might lie to others but never lie to yourself,” “Money doesn’t grow on trees,” and “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.”

I begin to wonder what phrases I say most of all in my house that my children would carry with them into adulthood. What do they feel like I’m always telling them?

So I ask my teenager.

“What expressions do you hear me say most of all in this house?”

Without even a bit of hesitation, she listed out these:

“Do you have homework?”

“You’ll thank me later.”

“Every rejection is God’s protection.”

And, finally, “Everything has a home.”

I was glad God was in there somewhere, but I was sad that she didn’t say, “I love you,” or “I want to spend time with you,” or “You are the most incredible, beautiful daughter in the whole world.”

I’m glad I asked this question, and I’m making a few changes to the words I say around here.

 

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The WHERE I’M FROM Template

I am from _______ (specific ordinary item), from _______ (product name) and _______.

I am from the _______ (home description… adjective, adjective, sensory detail).

I am from the _______ (plant, flower, natural item), the _______ (plant, flower, natural detail)

I am from _______ (family tradition) and _______ (family trait), from _______ (name of family member) and _______ (another family name) and _______ (family name). 

I am from the _______ (description of family tendency) and _______ (another one).

From _______ (something you were told as a child) and _______ (another).

I am from (representation of religion, or lack of it). Further description.

I’m from _______ (place of birth and family ancestry), _______ (two food items representing your family).

From the _______ (specific family story about a specific person and detail), the _______ (another detail, and the _______ (another detail about another family member). 

I am from _______ (location of family pictures, mementos, archives and several more lines indicating their worth).

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An Artist’s Limits

For so long, I stomped around the boundaries of my ordinary life and repeated Psalm 16: “The boundary lines for me have fallen in pleasant places.”

But I didn’t believe it.

I wanted to believe that the limits around me–those boundary lines of all things physical, financial, relational, emotional–were beautiful and not boring, marvelous and not mundane, but instead I felt so limited.

Today I read a quote from Willa Cather who says, “An artist’s limits are quite as important as his powers. They are definite assets, not a deficiency, and go to form his flavor and personality.”

Limits important? Limits as assets? Limits form flavor? I love it!

What if I thought about every limiting thing in my life as an asset because it’s shaping artful things in my parenting, writing, and teaching? What if I saw the boundary lines as perfecting art in me?

I thought more about boundaries when my youngest daughter told me that cats feels at peace and safe inside a cardboard box, so we should put random boxes around for them to relax in. I saw the image I needed. I’m in the box, relaxing. I’m here, and it’s an asset today.

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Living Legato

My daughters teach me what legato means today as they play piano. It’s smooth, connected playing as opposed to staccato which is short and disconnected. Translated, legato means “bound or tied together” and “staccato” means detached.

I love thinking of living legato where everything feels smooth and connected. I want everything to flow together because it’s composed this way, organized around God’s love and purpose in each little thing.

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If He Were You

I’m struck by Dallas Willard’s quote about discipleship. He writes, “Discipleship is the process of becoming who Jesus would be if He were you.”

If He were you. 

Instead of thinking about me becoming a different person–“more like Christ”–as I’ve always been taught, it’s actually about allowing Jesus to operate within my God-given personality and God-given tendencies. I like thinking of it like this!

 

 

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Another Way to Understand the Goodness of God on Difficult Days

I’m explaining to my daughters why I have to sear the meat before I cook it in the oven or crockpot. “It seals in the juices,” I say. “The delicious juice will try to escape but can’t; the seared edges will drive the juice back toward the center of the meat and keep it so tender. Some people think this doesn’t work and the juice escapes, but every time I sear the meat, it changes something inside of it. It’s better and more flavorful. Anyway, I like to think that the juices are locked in, even though some people debate about it.”

I find tears in my eyes. Yes, I’m crying over meat. It’s because I see it so clearly. All the difficult days, the hard mornings, the sickness, the disappointment, the rejection, or the loss was a searing that drove me into my own soul. The edges of my life were charred to keep me going back to that center where Jesus is. It’s the only way to keep me tender and in step with the Holy Spirit.

I recalled the day I crushed the stem of the lilac and sliced decisive, deep cuts into that strong bark. It was the only way the lilac could get to the lifesaving water; it was the cutting and crushing that saved her.

I recalled how I’ve asked so many people what drives them to Jesus and keeps them centered on Him. What is it that drives them back towards their own soul and the indwelling Christ? Sometimes, it’s beauty and God’s grandeur in nature, but more often than not, it’s suffering. It’s hardship. It’s weakness, loss, and rejection.

This is the searing that saves us.

In the words of my friend’s daughter: “Everything is a blessing. Because if it’s a bad thing, it makes you depend on Jesus more.” Everything can be a blessing if we see it this way.

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“May I Take Control Now?”

I’ve had to call the Technology Help Desk for the English Department twice because of networked printer problems. Each time, the support person says in a calm voice over the phone, “May I take control of your computer now?”

I have no idea where the person actually is and what’s about to happen (and how do they do it!?), but I say, “Yes,” and then watch my computer do things I had no idea it could do. The kind professional has infiltrated and paralyzed me; I can’t do anything to my computer while she’s working. She is diagnosing problems, opening files, and doing all sorts of bizarre operations that I watch from my desk chair. It’s fun to see my computer doing things like this in response to an unseen hand.

I can’t do anything but sit back and watch, so I decide to eat lunch and organize some papers.

Of course I’m still present to answer questions and move some cables around when asked, but mostly, I’m letting someone else have all the control.

I think about how simple and easy the whole thing is and how, if I only let Him, God might have this kind of control over me. Infiltrate! Take over! Tell me what to do! Diagnose all my problems and connect everything that’s broken.

That’s what it’s like if I just let God have control. I learn from the technician that both users can’t have control at the same time. So I surrender more completely than ever.

Yes, take control! I’ll sit back and watch your power and wisdom at work.

 

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“I’m So Glad You’re Being Crafty With Us” And Other Things My Children Say

Today I did things I normally don’t do. I tried to read piano music alongside one daughter. I tried to harmonize alongside my other daughter in church. I tried to knit a winter hat on an easy knitting loom with both my daughters who sat there, knitting away, while they sang along to Frank Sinatra’s “You Make Me Feel So Young” with perfect harmonies.

I can’t read music! I’m probably tone deaf! And I cannot knit at all. And I don’t like Frank Sinatra, really. OK, maybe I do.

This is a strange life I’m living. The Good Lord gave me crafting, singing, piano playing children who like Frank Sinatra. And I’m failing in all categories, here: my music reading isn’t happening; my singing is still horrific; my hat has fallen apart.

But my oldest smiles with glee and says, “Mom, I’m so glad you’re being crafty with us!”

I’m here. I’m with you. I’m listening to Frank Sinatra right here with you. And I’ll try to cast on again even though I have no idea what that even means. And I’ll nod while you play and clap to the music when I cannot sing one note.

And that’s what motherhood means right now. I’m with you.

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It Is, But You Can’t Explain Why

My daughter tells me that hot water freezes faster than cold water. This cannot be! I’ve heard the idea before, but I’ve never researched it. Why would I? It doesn’t make any sense, so therefore, I used to refute the claim that hot water freezes faster than cold water.

But it does. Hot water freezes faster than cold water. It’s true!

Scientists disagree about why, but the most respected opinion (according to my non-scientific and novice kind of research) is because of convection. There’s more movement. In other words, in hotter water, convection currents spread the ice crystals around faster and therefore allow for faster freezing.

Who knew?

I no longer look at my daughter like she’s crazy when she tells me to spread a tarp in the backyard and pour hot water on it to make her an ice skating rink faster.

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When You’re Carrying So Much and Find the Door is Open for You

Today I lug myself to my campus office with my arms full of books, papers, my purse, my lunch, and a bag dangling from my exhausted arms. Every object sits carefully balanced so one wrong move would collapse my tower of work items into a heap on the floor. I’m also wrapped up in an enormous coat, gloves, and a hat that’s slipping down my forehead. I’m also stomping down the hall in huge snow boots.

How will I ever find my office keys? How will I  set even one of these things down?

I approach the office discouraged and then elated! I find my office mate has arrived before me. The door, wide open and cheerful, beckons me in with warmth and light and clear, easy access.

Such a simple thing, an open door when you weren’t expecting it and didn’t even know to hope for it!  Such a small pleasure to have someone there before you, making a way for your own wild, disorganized self!

I do nothing but waltz right in.

I remember the Open Door and the Someone There Ahead of Me. I enter and drop every burden. I’m welcomed to light and warmth and ease here.

 

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