I walk around the garden in the unusually warm afternoon. It feels like a summer day as the sun beats down. It feels like the kind of day I’d pick a bowl full of raspberries.
But it’s winter, no matter what it feels like. The raspberry canes tell the truth: it’s February, and nothing grows yet.
I’m glad to observe the empty, brittle arms that can offer nothing. It’s because I know what’s coming. This great season of rest and quiet inevitably gives way to growth.
I expect nothing from the berries, but I turn to see other gifts one can only see in winter on bare branches:
One of my daughters simply dislikes Friday at school. It’s not any fun. It’s boring. She doesn’t like the classes that day. There’s nothing good happening. She’s too tired. She just knows it’s going to be a disaster of a day. She’s looking forward to nothing.
We sip tea and consider the Morning Pep Talk in this case. I tread carefully as one must when approaching anyone in a bad mood. If I’m too cheerful, she’ll retreat. So I ask:
So you woke up today and wondered, “What fun will I have today?” I think that’s the wrong question, my sweet girl! First of all, you don’t have to worry about whether fun will come your way today because of this little gem of a Bible verse. In 1 Timothy 6:17, it says that God “richly provides all things for our enjoyment.” You don’t have to craft it or worry about it anymore. God will richly provide it. And He made you and knows you better than you know yourself, so He will design the thing you will enjoy, and you don’t even know yet that you will enjoy it.
That’s the first thing. Got it? God will provide for your joy today.
She’s sipping tea and crunching her toast. I see a flicker, the smallest little flicker of hope.
Secondly, don’t ask about your own fun anymore. I think you might ask, “Who can I bless today?” That takes your eyes off our yourself, and it puts you on a love mission all day long. Every day is a great day when you find people to love!
That’s the second thing. Got it? Bless others.
Now she’s thinking about her love mission. I can see her mind cataloguing people who need some encouragement. We actually write a few names down in the prayer journal we’re now keeping right by the toaster.
Thirdly, my little Beautiful Darling, it goes back to gratitude. Thank God for everything coming your way, and you will find some joy in hidden places. And write down those things! And lastly, you have not because you ask not. Write down what you need. Ask God for what you need! Do you not believe He will work on your behalf?
I test her on the Four Things:
- Believe God provides enjoyment today.
- Bless others instead of focusing on yourself
- Cultivate a grateful heart
- Ask God for what you need
And we’re off on the walk to school. It’s a new day, and it’s going to be a great one!
When students find me to tell me they want me to watch certain movies, listen to certain songs, read certain books, or view certain youtube videos, I beam all week. For me, this conversation marks something so special. It’s the connection between student and teacher that makes teaching so rewarding and inspiring.
And it doesn’t always happen.
I’m always telling them what to think about, so when they tell me what I should experience, I’m not just the distant lecturer up front; I’m a person they connect with. A learning community forms where we all share the joys of our discoveries. They say, “You have to see this! I totally thought of you when I read this! You will love it!” or “I have to show you this. This made me think of something you said in class.”
These days of teaching I treasure.
On the neighborhood walk today, I delight in the sun on my face, the soft breezes, and the sound of birds chirping. I even hear a woodpecker. I visit with neighbors, enjoy the morning light, and think that maybe spring will soon arrive.
But then–within what seems like mere seconds–I discern a dark shadow over my head. A cloak of strangely cold blackness falls around me. I look behind me to see a storm like a black claw. It chases me up the hill to my house. It thunders, but instead of rain, a deluge of icy snow begins to fall.
I’m running. It’s terrible: dark, haunting, and predatory. I feel hunted down by clouds, thunder, and snow. But it’s a sublime feeling; I’m both terrified and filled with wonder. And it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful because in a minute, I know I won’t be in it.
My home rises in view, and I calmly walk to the door, blinded by snow. I take refuge in the warm, safe kitchen. Now, I watch this terrible beauty from complete safety. It’s swirling about me, yes, but I’m not in it.
I’ve taken refuge here, and it’s beautiful. I think of taking refuge in God so that no matter where I am or what storm threatens, it’s a terrible beauty from a position of complete safety.
In writing workshop today, the students tell one another where they needed more as they read the stories. More setting? More characterization? More tension? More of a written voice with advanced grammar? More vivid verbs?
Where do you need more? What do you need more of? What needs to change?
I love the question in considering how to form both a beautiful written draft and a well-composed life. And I love that what we most need more of is God. It’s worth asking where in our lives we need Him more. I love, too, that God responds to this desire; He “gives the spirit without limit” (John 3).
What I most need is Him. Where do I most need Him? I think of the areas of parenting most of all today!
Today I remember that we don’t have to beg God to speak to us. We don’t have to implore God to love us and reveal Himself. This is what He wants to do; He is always attempting to showcase Himself to us.
We, therefore, stay spiritually perceptive (willing to notice and understand) and receptive (willing to receive). We might even pray and ask God to help us perceive and receive.
Isaiah 30:18 says, “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!”
We stay perceptive and receptive. He is eager to speak to and love us.
So much of my life lately involves moving forward and trusting God despite my emotions.
So much of my day involves suspending evaluation of writing and teaching and speaking to just keep going.
Sometimes, you know you’re doing great and being effective; other times, you don’t know. You’re not sure.
But you’re sure of Jesus. So you keep going.
I’m surveying the kitchen floor. I’m trying to decide if mopping will do, but then I see the extent of the week’s activities on the floor: food coloring in cracks, sprinkles there, muddy snow stains over here, and batter dried by the stove.
I fill the bucket with sudsy water, gather a scrubber, wash cloth, and towels, and I kneel down to clean.
I consider my life: some days, the mop seems to do, but most days, I need to get on my knees before Him and seek a cleaned, renewed heart. Most mornings are the On Your Knees Kind because of the extent of the damage and grime from the day before.
I pray and clean right there on my knees.
This morning, I remember how critical and judgmental I can easily become. I don’t love; I argue. For days, I think to myself: Does this attitude or activity help me love Jesus and others more? Does it divide or bring together?
I remember how, way back in graduate school, I experienced the overwhelming realization that finding what’s wrong came easily, like a default state of my heart, and something the culture around me cultivated. Every conversation began with complaint and criticism. So I wondered what it would mean to find the good, to cultivate what was right and working, and to seek out the best. This task didn’t come naturally; it felt like an optimism that went against my nature.
But then came marriage and the best advice from counselors:
Believe the best about your spouse. See the best.
I liked to find what was wrong and disappointing, what was failing and negative. But I took seriously the task of believing the best of him–and choosing to see the best. The environment of our marriage changed; it glowed bright in Holy Spirit joy and love.
But then came depression and anxiety and the best advice from counselors.
Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to live the life God was asking me to and find Him in every moment. But I began to take seriously what it meant to find the good thing, the beautiful thing, the thing that showcased Jesus every day. I learned to chase down love and hope every single day. The environment of my heart changed; the fruit of the Spirit danced inside me with love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, and self-control.
So for the Morning Pep Talk, just as my daughter’s words leak out the ordinary state of a disappointed heart and how she just knows how wrong this day will be, I tell her:
Oh, no! It’s not going to be this way. Not today! Girl! This day you can believe the best. You can see the best. It’s going to be hard, and it’s going to go against your nature, but I promise you that you will see the beauty of God at work. You will see the best in all people and in the teacher’s lessons. You will believe the best first. You will cultivate the best first. You will follow the best and see how it bears fruit. It’s easy to complain. It’s easy to fret. No! Not you! Not today. Today is the day you will believe the best is coming. You will believe it and see it!
God, who is abounding in love, can open our eyes to believe the best and see the best. I think of Philippians 2:14-16: “Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. Hold firmly to the word of life. . . “
Stand firm. Shine brightly. Believe and see the best. I think, when we cultivate the best first, we may find it overtakes the whole environment.