Last night at a wedding reception, I tested out my new favorite question to ask people at any gathering. It’s this:
What question do you like people to ask you?
Around our table, I learned wonderful things I would have never thought to ask these people in my life I thought I knew well. Someone wanted us to ask about new hobbies. One person wanted us to ask about the books she’s reading. Another wanted to talk about her work in labor and delivery rooms. Someone requested we ask about a childhood on the farm; still another wanted us to ask about dreams for his future. Someone even wanted us to inquire about things he’s been thinking about lately.
I love it when people ask me what I’m learning in the Bible.
As people reported their answers, we indulged them. We learned all about chores on the farm, about the reality of delivering babies, about new books and new ideas. I shared what I’m learning in Deuteronomy.
(On a side note, someone offered his least favorite question: Have you stopped working out? Ha!)
I’m excited to ask people this question more and more. For my Thanksgiving gathering, I want to try this question to communicate love to those around me. Sometimes we think we imagine what people love to talk about, but we just don’t know.
I’m so glad I asked.
During our snow day, my oldest daughter and I attempt Autumn Cookies. She loves botany, so after she instructed me on proper leaf venation patterns, we set out on our artistic endeavor.
We baked the cookies using leaf cookie cutters we found at Wegmans. I used a basic sugar cookie recipe. Then we spread white icing (powdered sugar, almond milk, corn syrup, almond extract) on each cookie.
While the frosting was still wet, we dropped icing colored in autumn shades onto each iced cookie, and then we used paintbrushes to achieve fun effects.
What a fun afternoon! I’m learning that the crafts don’t end when your girls grow up; they just become more beautiful and complex.
My tightly wound pinecones–those closed cones open to no one–have opened beautifully. Once, on the cold and wet forest floor, these little pine cones kept everything inside a secret. Any seed they might offer the world, they held tight to the heart.
But once inside my home, after I washed and scented them with cinnamon and clove and set them near the warm heater, they open up. The dry conditions force a certain vulnerability, it seems, a readiness to surrender.
I consider those times when you feel a dryness in the soul, a heat you can’t explain. I remember how such conditions invite an opening, a vulnerability, and offering.
Our dishwasher recently broke. That day felt like a disaster. I couldn’t imagine life without the dishwasher.
And then I could.
As we learned we’ll wait a few weeks until the new dishwasher arrives, I settled into the reality that I’d wash dishes by hand. And I thought of others in the world also washing dishes by hand–by a creek, in a basin, in a steaming kitchen somewhere.
Here we are, washing dishes by hand, as it once was everywhere and still is in most places, before the dishwasher.
After each meal, the ancient ritual begins: the hot, soapy water, the gentle care of each dish and glass, the drying. How quickly I felt connected to something larger when a modern convenience dies.
Today I read the sentence, “She didn’t envenomate him.” I realize I’ve never used this verb that means “to inject with poison.”
I think of broader uses. Did my biting words or bitter attitude envenomate the atmosphere?
I love learning new verbs.
I’m learning to think differently about the day. I normally imagine every possible event that may come my way; I visualize everything–walking from the parking lot, meeting students for office hours, teaching classes, attending meetings, joining conference calls, making dinner. It’s just how my mind works. I also write things in my head as I walk places, so I’m always ahead of what’s actually happening.
Some people live in the past; I live mostly in the future.
Stress comes along when I cannot visualize what’s going to happen. If I know I’m going to some uncertain, unpredictable setting, my mind spins because it can’t rest in an image of what’s going to happen.
I’ve learned to train my mind to delight in not knowing what’s going to happen. Instead of imagining the whole day first, I think about taking the day as it comes, staying focused on what’s happening right now, and letting God surprise me with unforeseen happenings.
I take the day as it comes.
I love that God does “awesome things we did not expect” (Isaiah 64:3). This unchanging God performs in unexpected ways. It’s so mysterious, wonderful, and joyful to think of God working in ways we cannot expect. When I receive a gift or good news I wasn’t expecting, it’s so beautiful and fun. It turns the whole day around. I think of my daughter who prays in the morning that this day might be better than expected.
It will be! God is working! He works in awesome ways!
God is working. He’s working in a way you won’t know to expect.
I continue my reading in Isaiah only to find it gets even better. We learn this about God:
Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
He acts on your behalf in unexpected, beautiful, powerful ways. I cannot wait to see this day unfold, can you?
Sometime over the weekend, usually on Sunday, we’ve been in a routine of making pasta salad for school lunches for the week and popping popcorn for lunchbox snacks.
It feels so good–so orderly and prepared–to open a refrigerator full of prepped lunches or see the neat pile of bagged popcorn ready for the lunchbox.
I love the time of preparation for the week. Sunday might include a final load of laundry folded for school clothes, the shopping and menu plan finished for the week, the supplies for any projects purchased, or even the prayer journal filled with concerns as we head into Monday.
There’s the physical preparation, yes, but also the mental, emotional, and spiritual work of getting ready for Monday. This might mean a long afternoon walk in the brisk autumn air or a time of resting quietly with a book.
Whatever preparation we might make, we ready ourselves for Monday.
We wake to an unexpected first snow that makes the Winterberry bush stand out, red and eager, against the landscape. Soon, the Northern Cardinals will return to backyard from wherever they’ve traveled. My husband will place fresh seed in the feeders for all our winter backyard birds.
I walk around the neighborhood as I navigate slick, icy streets. It’s too cold for snowmelt, so I gingerly make my way through snow-capped leaf piles. It’s windy and so cold I burrow into my puffy jacket and pull my hat down around my face. I think about all the lotion and chapstick I’ve learned to use as the seasons change.
The wind nearly blows me over.
I like the sting of it. It’s a fresh, clear, cold autumn wind that announces winter’s approach.
It’s a day for chili in the crockpot, cozy slippers, and blankets that we pull tightly around us as the wind howls outside. The cats curl close to gather all the heat they can.
With so much confusion in my heart and sadness over our nation and more terrible news—mass shootings, wildfires, political controversies—I read the book of Isaiah for perspective. I read these simple words under the section called, “Invitation to the Thirsty” (Isaiah 55:6-7).
Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
I pray that the whole world seeks the Lord, calls on Him, forsakes sin, and turns to the Lord.
That’s what I pray we do: we seek, call, forsake, and turn.
What greater verbs apply to our lives? What better things might we do than these simple behaviors that mean everything?
And God? What action will He take?
God allows Himself to be found. He shows us mercy and freely pardons us. This is a God who removed the punishment for our sin in a single day through Jesus. And now, this promise stands true for all who receive Jesus as their Savior:
The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest (Isaiah 32:17-18).
Oh, that we would experience God’s mercy and pardon in widespread ways across our whole planet.