In the Swing of Things

I’m into the second week of teaching in a classroom at Penn State. By this week, it feels like we’re in the swing of things already. It’s a great feeling to know your schedule, your rhythms, and your weekly goals. There’s something so reassuring and normal about an academic calendar. In fact, when I asked one of my classes what they were most looking forward to this week, they talked about the order and routine of attending class, learning, studying, and writing.

I’m thankful for a good routine.

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5 Things We Haven’t Lost During Covid-19

This morning I woke up so discouraged and hopeless. Sometimes these feelings wash over me during the day as I stand at the kitchen sink and look out over the forest behind my house. Nothing feels normal. Every day I wait for news about which college or school is shutting down or what new data is now revised. We’re living in confusion. We’re living in anger over policies so many of us disagree with or misunderstand related to this virus that keeps us still living in fear, distrust, and sadness. And there’s no end in sight as I read conflicting news stories, research, and social media posts. And since people disagree, there’s tension everywhere–about the virus itself, about the upcoming election, about social justice issues, about church gatherings, and about masking in public. I’ve never lived in or heard of a time like this in history. It’s a weary, sad time for so many of us.

But I want to dwell in hope not despair.

I recall Romans 15:13 where Paul writes this: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

I ask God to fill me with hope by the Holy Spirit. I ask God to remind me what I haven’t lost in COVID-19 and what’s always available to us at all times. What came to mind is this simple list of 5 things that bring joy and true hope to my soul:

Supernatural peace. We haven’t lost the shalom peace that can fill our hearts in any circumstance. This peace passes understanding. It’s the peace I pray from 2 Thessalonians 5:17: “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.” Peace brings a steadiness inside that we know God is in control, that God is working for His good eternal purposes, and that God will give us everything we need to endure what He is asking us to endure. 2 Peter 1:13 promises that “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

Love. We haven’t lost the ability to experience God’s abounding love and the ability to love others. We know from Romans 5:5 that “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” In this amazing love, we can now love one another, serve one another, and care for one another. Nothing can take away our ability to experience God’s love and then love others.

Purpose. If we’re still here on earth, God has prepared “good works in advance” for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). If we’re still here, we live a sent life to bless others and lead them to Jesus.

The Ability to Worship. We worship God in spirit and truth no matter where we are. And we know from Romans 12 that you can “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” I also recall the command from 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Growth. We haven’t lost our ability to learn and grow and mature. We haven’t lost our ability to self-reflect, listen to the Holy Spirit, read the Bible, and pray. We haven’t lost our ability to trust God to teach us how to live in this new world. We haven’t lost our ability to become more and more like Jesus every day. I remember that God has “given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Peter 2:14).

I move on into the day knowing that whatever I’m losing right now doesn’t compare to what I still have and will continue to gather into my soul no matter what happens today or tomorrow. I step into peace, love, purpose, worship, and growth today.

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Abundant Goodness

I’m struck by Psalm 145 and how we learn about God’s abundant goodness. In case His goodness isn’t enough, we learn it’s abundant. David writes about the Lord this: “They will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.”

I remember that God is good. He is abundantly good to us. It’s His very nature. He cannot help it.

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What’s Going Well For You?

Today, my Name Game question was simply, “What’s going well for you?” You’ll find that people begin celebrating small victories, reporting good news, or talking about personal breakthroughs. Soon, the room feels happy.

What’s going well for you? It’s a great question to get students primed to learn, to open their minds to possibility, and to move them from any hopeless, discouraging thoughts to a more learning-conducive brain state. It’s true! You can read the research about the connection between happiness and learning.

You can try this question with your children or in your own learning environments. Try it before your business seminars or meetings. You can revise the question for younger audiences by asking “What’s something that’s currently making you happy or recently made you giggle?” See the effect it has! Technically speaking, the activity raises serotonin and dopamine levels that help the brain build complex connections, remember information, and foster creativity.

You can also play cheerful music, watch a comedic video clip, or tell a funny story in your educational settings before you begin class, but I find that this question raises the mood best.

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The Return of the After School Snack Platter

With one daughter still home and starting in-person school today, it’s that time of year to bring back the after school Snack Platter. It’s all part of the Warm Welcome that you’ve heard about for the last 10 years at Live with Flair. You welcome a family member home with a peaceful, joyful atmosphere. It could include music, a lit candle, a tidy environment, and–perhaps most importantly–the snack platter.

It’s a little rest stop before homework or activities. It’s a little moment to connect with a child as you munch on a special treat. Today’s platter? Blackberries and edamame with maybe some crackers and cheese. And I’ll add in some icy water since it’s a hot day!

The Warm Welcome with the Snack Platter is also about celebrating the day and connecting with some great questions like these: When did you feel best about yourself today? What funny thing happened? What was the hardest class? The easiest? But it’s also about silence, especially with teens. You can easily overwhelm people if you pepper them with questions when they walk through the door. So you can sit with the Snack Platter, munch on the delights, and see what happens.

Ideas for Your Snack Platter

Yes, Older Children Still Want Snacks

The History of the Snack Platter

They’ll Eat What You Put Out!

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All the Ways You Adapt

This morning during class, I noticed I didn’t notice my mask.

At all.

It’s like I forgot I was wearing it.

The experience made me so happy! In just a few days of teaching in a mask, it became normal. It became a regular part of teaching, just like how I hold the chalk in my hand or pace around the room to make a point. The mask not only didn’t bother me, but it also didn’t demand any attention. It’s just now part of the day.

In psychology, we’d call this habituation. We simply adapt to our surroundings, becoming habituated or accustomed to something. I felt so encouraged by how quickly it felt normal to wear a mask, sanitize my space, use hand sanitizer, and stay six feet away from people. I felt so encouraged because I realized we can indeed continue to live in a COVID-19 world with these kinds of safety precautions.

It’s the same way I feel about how I’ve adapted to a daughter being away at college. It’s only been a week, but I’ve adapted to the new patterns of life with her away from home. It doesn’t feel “normal,” but it feels like the “new normal.”

I’m thankful today for the way God built us to habituate when necessary in order to survive and even thrive. Things we thought we’d never be able to handle become easier over time. Day by day, we habituate.

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What It Was Like To Teach In-Person at Penn State This Morning

I just returned from teaching in-person at Penn State. I teach two small sections of an honors advanced writing course. I was so nervous that it would feel wrong and disconnected and awkward. I was nervous it would feel unsafe.

But guess what? Everyone felt safe. Everyone felt thankful to be present with one another. I’m amazed at how natural and easy it felt and how connected we felt even in masks and when socially distanced. I included some photos from the morning. Even though students gave permission to share, I blurred out their faces just in case.

First, I completed my symptom checker.

A mostly empty campus this morning.
A writing classroom during COVID-19, Penn State, Fall 2020.

Then, I arrived to a mostly empty campus and secured my PPE from the English department’s (also empty) mailroom. Then, I arrived to my classroom, wiped down the computer, microphone, and surfaces, and then welcomed students into their socially-distanced seat. They could take a disinfectant wipe and wipe down their own desks if they wished. Everyone wore masks. Everyone could hear one another. Everyone participated joyfully. Then, everyone filed out in an orderly way, sanitized their hands, and went on with their day.

I’m more at peace with my decision to teach an in-person class after today!

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Strong and Courageous

This morning I consider what we’re doing in life that requires strength and courage. I’m reading the book of Joshua, and again I’m struck by the three-time command to Joshua to “be strong and courageous” (1:6, 7, 9). It’s also curious to note how the Lord adds in “very courageous“ in verse 7.

I wonder what He’s asking of us today. Maybe it’s to move forward against the crowd; maybe it’s to assume the responsibility that frightens us; maybe it’s to obey Him in an area that unsettles us. Maybe a reader sits in actual danger by fire, storm, or attack. God says He “is with you wherever you go.”

So we press onward.

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