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Present Blessings

Today we remember present blessings—right at this moment—that show God’s care and love.

We set our minds to discern, to see, to experience the fullness of Christ now. In a minivan, around a table, while making a bed—all provide rich opportunities to rest in His presence.

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Some Questions Around the Table

For the holidays, I’ve been thinking of some questions for times reconnecting with family. Enjoy this list!

  1. What question do you like people to ask you about yourself right now?
  2. What’s something funny or surprising that happened to you lately?
  3. When did you do something you thought you couldn’t do this year?
  4. What’s a song you want everyone to listen to?
  5. What are you most learning?
  6. What’s a current struggle?
  7. When was the last time you felt really good about yourself?
  8. Would you tell us about an encounter you had with a stranger, a strange place, or a strange animal?
  9. What’s something that made you experience wonder or awe this year?
  10. What’s something you experienced in childhood that children today don’t experience?

 

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Don’t Ask

Today I ask my students to tell me the question they love people to ask them about themselves. So many of them say the question they don’t want people to ask them.

Don’t ask about my career plans. Ask about books I’m reading, fascinating things I’m learning, or about my friends. But don’t ask me about my future. It stresses me out! 

Good to know.

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The Someplace, Something, or Someone New

This morning I take note of God’s process of restoration in Psalm 80: 8-11. Following great disappointment and destruction, the psalmist records how God worked in the past. He writes:

You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches. It sent out is boughs to the Sea, its shoots as far as the River. 

Something about those verbs resonates so deeply in terms of what God does to restore. He brings us out of where we were; He drives out enemies, plants us in the new thing, and we take root. I think of the trust it required of the Israelites to live in the awareness of God working even when it took time and especially even in the midst of opposition.

There’s a necessary coming out from where we are, a clearing, a planting, and a rooting. Whenever God calls us to some new place, new work, or even new people, we might consider the process of what it takes to flourish. And maybe when I do not see the results quickly, I consider how God is clearing ground for the new thing coming.

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Embracing All the Coziest Things

I love watching other people feel cozy.

Last night, I attend a college Bible study of girls reading Guarded by Christ. I arrive at the leader’s apartment, and I’m immediately impressed with the coziness of college girls in their flannel shirts, PSU sweatshirts, and fleece leggings. I notice the furry moccasins, the holiday socks, and the hairstyles pulled back for comfort. They lounge on bean bags or overstuffed couch pillows. They pull out their Bibles and their journals as they sit in a cozy circle.

It was all so cozy. 

I wished I had been in sweatpants and my own flannel shirt. Instead, I looked like my regular old professor self, and I wasn’t cozy at all.

So today, in a free moment between grading and picking up a daughter from school, I run into a store and find the same pants and sweatshirts I see all my students wearing. I run my hands over the warm, soft interior.

And now I’m at home, cozy as can be in clothes more fit for younger girls. But who cares? I’m home in every sense of the word.

Once again, the teacher learns from the student.

 

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The Coast Is Clear

Today I hear someone announce that “the coast is clear” when ushering students into the classroom. I can’t remember the last time I used the expression. I was mostly like a child: Maybe I whispered it during a game of Man Hunt or Kick-the-Can or Hide & Seek. Maybe I cried it out to friends as we tried to cross a highway on our bikes. Maybe I heard it on a walkie-talkie.

It’s such a sneaky kind of phrase. It’s urgent and hopeful. Run now! The coast is clear! Do it now!

I thought of risk and danger, of boats coming ashore in hostile territory, and of arriving somewhere clear of enemies.

The coast is clear now, but danger lurks. Take caution, but move now. I think of clear coasts in life and that thrill of racing ahead and knowing you’ll make.

 

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“An Artist Is Never Poor”

Last night, I watch the 1987 Danish film, Babette’s Feast (it won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film that year). I hear the main character say this wonderful line: “An artist is never poor.”

I thought of the day I realized I was rich in poems, in birds, in friendship, and in beauty. I thought of the wealth of words I spend however I want. I think of the indulgence of it and this daily feast of wonders recorded in words.

An artist is never poor.

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Loving German Kühne Barrel Pickles

Every once in a while, I remember to pick up some barrel pickles if I see them at a grocery story that imports delicious pickles. I love German pickles, especially the Kühne brand.

I love having little things to love–like pickles. My daughter and I eat a few from the squatty jar, and I tell her how much I love pickles. It’s fun to think of all the personality quirks and ways someone might characterize you as if you were a character in a novel. I would arrive on the scene as a pickle-loving woman obsessed with vivid verbs and semicolons.

It’s strange, but at least you know me.

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My Favorite Assignment: A Wondering Essay

For the final assignment for my advanced writers at Penn State–after moving through signature stories, controversy and persuasion, opinion pieces, and professional materials for job applications, students attempt the classic humanities essay of writing to sift or understand what they think about some curious thing.

It’s a wondering essay.

It’s an essay rooted in fascination and marveling at something or someone till we arrive at new understanding or an epiphany. We read to see your mind at work. It’s a very old-fashioned kind of essay, one we once mastered in centuries past, now taken over by argument and debate.

Students begin by writing down what creates that sense of wonder in them. What fascinates them? What do they want to keep learning about?

We talk about the neuroscience of curiosity and wonder and just how much the brain loves this kind of thinking. We talk about asking the kinds of questions that lead to wonder: Why this? How can this be? Why do we care about this? What if? What now? 

We talk about strange and beautiful things: the mimic octopus, how squirrels know to bury acorns, why we love sunsets and the Northern Lights and whether they are intrinsically beautiful or if they would cease to fascinate us if we experienced them every day. We talk about if the Grand Canyon is always grand or if living near it would make it ordinary. We consider the supernatural, celebrity obsession, romantic gestures, and conspiracy theories.

We talk about sound waves, gravity, and prophecy. We talk about the construct of time and how we experience it. We talk about how some people experience numbers and sounds as colors.

And we wonder. We marvel. We stay fascinated.

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