The Night Before

I’ve always said that a great day begins the night before. I take my own advice after a day of feeling rushed, tired, and overwhelmed again. I remember how to set up for a wonderful morning today by beginning last night.

You can do all sorts of activities to prepare for a great morning. You can empty the dishwasher the night before and set out what you’ll need for a great breakfast. You can tidy the whole house. You can do a load of laundry, set out an outfit, plan your meals, or anything else that makes the day feel planned and organized when you wake up. Try it! At least try the part about emptying the dishwasher and preparing the kitchen for your morning. See how you feel!

You can also pamper yourself the night before in ways that make you feel refreshed in the morning like creating a night time routine to tuck yourself in. This might include all the things my teen girls have taught me including face masks, serums, moisturizers, deep conditioning hair products, or anything that helps replenish how dried out your skin and hair might feel. In the morning, you’ll glisten.

Finally, you can do what scripture suggests about nighttime activities: You can read and meditate on God’s word (Psalm 1); you can “search your heart” (Psalm 4:4) to confess sin the Holy Spirit reveals; you can unburden your mind (1 Peter 5:7) and your can rejoice and thank the Lord for all that has happened in your day as a way of singing for joy “on your bed” (Psalm 149:5).

I think about chores, pampering, and spiritual practices that help usher in a great new morning. I tried these things last night, and this morning, I found myself in a lighter state–with room to breath–as I turned towards the morning practices that create a great day (another post!).

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“I give you yourselves.”

I keep going back to the same little line in The Magician’s Nephew, the first book in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. At creation, we read of a special gift given to the animals in Narnia. “’Creatures, I give you yourselves‘, said the strong, happy voice of Aslan.”

I give you yourselves.

There’s something about God giving the gift of selfhood, the gift of being 100% yourself. The creatures now have an authentic voice. The creatures in Narnia are free and more themselves than they have ever been.

Meanwhile, I’m listening to Donald Miller talk about how much he enjoys being himself and how he’s learned to like himself. And I thought about the number of people I know who love being themselves. I thought of how these friends call forth the real me, too. Then I remembered a quote I underlined about a character named Clare in Marisa de los Santos book Love Walked In. She describes the self-possession and confidence of this young girl like this: Clare belonged to herself. Clare liked being Clare.

This got me thinking: How do we help people learn to like themselves? I want to raise daughters that love their own company. I want to raise daughters that like themselves deeply and truly.

I give your yourselves.

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Online Teaching Update: The Easiest I Can Make It

It’s the last week of class at Penn State. What a journey it’s been to transition to online teaching! What a journey to grow alongside these students into a new way of living and learning! I will remember this time always.

I woke up thinking about how, normally, things should feel harder in a residential classroom when there’s not a pandemic happening. Semesters should normally rise to a crescendo towards difficulty. The peer workshops become more vital and directed and the expectations of complexity become higher. Hard. Hard. Hard.

But we’re in a COVID-19 world where students feel more drained, more confused, and more uncertain. Their job searches have fallen apart. Their secured internships have dissolved. Their study abroad plans have been canceled. And I feel as drained as ever. It’s not the time to add more work to their lives or mine. It’s a time to streamline, unburden, and focus on a few key writing skills. I’ve learned to ask what’s absolutely necessarily. I toss out the rest.

(For my own life, this: streamlined, unburdened, focused. I ask what’s necessary today. I can say no to everything else. I go back to my theme of Jesus teaching me the easy and light path.)

Easy doesn’t mean it’s not good. Easy doesn’t mean it’s not meaningful or rich. Easy doesn’t mean we’ve given up. Easy also doesn’t mean we aren’t still working hard. It means we are working better. Easy means we release some pressure. We let some air out of the balloon that’s our stressful lives.

So this week, we write. We don’t meet on Zoom and write that day instead. We come to online class to celebrate and cheer for our favorite writing we accomplished during the semester. It should feel easy. It should feel fun.

So I keep asking: How easy can I make this for you? Let me! Unburden yourself! And I feel like the Lord asks me the same thing each new day.

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Some Little Delights

Today I’ll offer some activities that currently bring some joy: rereading The Chronicles of Narnia (and then watching the movies), seeing minnows and trout swimming in the creek, and lastly, knowing where owls nest and raise their owlets (I’m visiting this evening for the first time–if the rain stops).

On this last point: my birding friends told me where to look to find the eagles nesting as well as owls in our town. I’m excited both to simply know they are there and to one day visit these spots.

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Joys in the Pennsylvania Woods

This week as I walked along Spring Creek, I learned about a native Pennsylvania wildflower–the red trillium. These don’t last long in the spring, and it’s illegal in some places to pick them. They die very quickly if you do. To me, they seem so beautiful but also rather fragile and almost unnoticeable unless you’re really looking. Sometimes the lights and shadows of all the surrounding trees make red trillium fade to the background.

I learned that the red trillium depend upon ants to disperse their seeds for more trillium to grow. Red trillium don’t smell the best; they don’t attract the more powerful or visible creatures like birds or larger animals. Instead, they live quietly and humbly, depending only upon largely unseen little ants for their continued growth on the forest floor.

I enjoyed gazing upon the red trillium and what she represents as her own kind of flower: nearly hidden and dependent on the smallest things for future growth. Sometimes our life and work won’t be loud and large and attractive to the masses. Sometimes, we stay quiet and humble alongside others.

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A Prayer God Answered: Easy and Light

On Sunday, I ask my praying neighbors to pray that my week could feel “easy and light.” I was so tired from online teaching and all the stress of future decisions related to teaching, launching a daughter into her freshman year of college, and caring for people. The days felt hard and heavy.

But on Monday morning–till this very moment–it’s like a fresh breeze blew through my weary soul. And I remember the rightness of that prayer for “easy and light” as I read Matthew 11: 28-30:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Don’t you just love Jesus? Don’t you just love how He says, “I will give you rest?” and how softly these words fall on our souls?

Oh, what a Savior!

Jesus’ words invited me to ask myself some questions that may help you today:

If it doesn’t feel easy and light, how am I depending on my own strength, and not the Holy Spirit’s?

If it doesn’t feel easy and light, how have I taken on a “yoke” of responsibility that God has not assigned to me? Where am I doing too much?

If it doesn’t feel easy and light, what does the Lord want me to change?

I love the easy and light life of walking with Jesus!

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If You Don’t Have Much Left to Give

This morning I found myself reading 2 Kings 4 and the very familiar story of The Widow’s Olive Oil. Read it as if you are the widow with almost nothing left to give emotionally or physically. Read it as a worn out leader, a depleted parent, or an exhausted teacher. The widow finds herself in a desperate situation–something hopeless, scary, and urgent. So she cries out to Elisha the prophet.

The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.” Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?” “Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a small jar of olive oil.” Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.” She left him and shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another one.” But he replied, “There is not a jar left.” Then the oil stopped flowing. She went and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.”

Don’t you just love Elisha’s question, as if the Lord Himself came to you today and asked, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?”

How can I help you? And what little thing do you have left to offer? Let me take that last little thing and multiply it.

Something about her statement–that she “has nothing there at all. . . except” made me remember the miracle of feeding the five thousand where a boy has only five loaves of bread and two fish (Matthew 14:16-18). She has just one small jar. And her one small jar is what she offers.

I love picturing her running around to the neighbors in this extraordinary act of faith. She needed more jars! She needed to expand her capacity to receive the blessing the Lord would pour out. And I love that it’s a private blessing, performed in secret, behind the closed doors that housed just her family.

Think about the little we have left today as a parent, teacher, and leader. Offer it up. By faith, we might expand our capacity to receive how God might multiply the thing we offer Him today to be used to nourish others and provide. It will not be a public demonstration, but a secret blessing behind closed doors.

And it might just sustain us for a lifetime.

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