Every Season: An Invitation to Beauty

I look upon the snowy Pennsylvania landscape this morning. It delights me still! I note the Winter Berry bush and how her branches hold up six inches of snow. It’s a wedding gown of white.

I think of all the Winter Berry’s branches have carried over the years and all the ways she appears to me outside the kitchen window: her branches hold up the dark green foliage of summer, hiding anything inside; they display a fire of bright red leaves in autumn; they lift up the ice and snow in winter; they house the Northern Cardinals in spring.

Each season offers a unique invitation to carry tasks–some a public display, some a hidden work, some a heavy load, some a work of helping others grow. So different! Yet each season is still an invitation to beauty in all forms.


3 Mistakes in Public Speaking

I’m learning–by trial and error–what works best when you have a speaking event. Since I speak more and more to audiences both large and small, and since this speaking career began with my first oratory competition in 1987 and spanned the next thirty years, I’ve received feedback and training I can pass on to you. I’ve also been studying what it means to truly engage an audience.

I’ve learned these three mistakes:

Making more than a few simple points. When I speak on one or two major points, I’m fine. When the talk evolves into six or seven, the audience feels weighed down by content. They don’t remember much, and they can’t synthesize all the data. The problem? We often load our messages with everything we think an audience must know instead of paring down to essentials. Less is more in public speaking.

Forgetting why they came to see you specifically. This year, I became so structured and precise with wonderful illustrations, sound teaching, and memorable points in my memorized talks. So what? The audience could have read the talk in a blog or listened to a podcast. What does the speaker offer in person? Vital human connection and rapport building exist uniquely with a physically present speaker. Even if it takes ten minutes of my 30 minute talk, I’m remembering to talk about my life and what I have in common with the audience. Building connections with personal stories that the audience will enjoy comprises an essential part of public speaking–one I often forget in favor of organized content.

Not setting up a problem to solve, an unrealized ideal, or an unanswered question. The best public speakers set up scenarios that invite the audience to solve a problem, think about an ideal but unrealized self, or answer a genuinely puzzling question. Instead, I sometimes launch right into some kind of message where nobody feels that anything is truly at stake or worthwhile. I lack buy-in. I’m learning, in speaking, writing, and in teaching, that setting up the problem to solve makes the event worthwhile and challenging.

As you leave for another speaking event, think about the next book, or compose the next lesson plan, remember:

Make just a few points or even one big one.

They came for you, so bring yourself and a few personal stories.

Think about what question your speech, book, or class answers. If it’s not a clear or good question, you can revise to set up a problem to solve.

(In addition, I’m learning to accentuate teaching points with vivid stories! Don’t forget your stories!)

Enjoy your speaking, teaching, and writing!




15 Things to Do Instead of Fretting (A Look at Psalm 37)

This morning, I read Psalm 37 with fresh eyes. The command, do not fret, comes with powerful suggestions. Sometimes, when I’m overcome with worry, I just want to do something. Based on the 40 verses of this Psalm, I learn 15 things to do today instead of fret.

Instead of fretting, we trust in the Lord and do good.

Instead of fretting, we dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.

Instead of fretting, we commit afresh to the Lord.

We rest and wait patiently.

We cease from anger and wrath that leads to evil.

We humble ourselves.

We repent.

We look to the Lord to sustain us.

We live gracious, giving lives.

We depart from evil.

We utter wisdom when we speak.

We keep the law of the Lord on our hearts and lips.

We become people of peace.

We look to His strength and deliverance.

We take refuge in Him. 

The temptation to fret leaves me as I think of 15 other tasks today.


In Joyous Recognition

Let me tell you something delightful.

In church, an 86 year old woman has become my dear friend (and she knows I’m writing about her). She’s the type of friend who calls me if I miss church to find out if I’m OK. She’ll ask, “Where were you? I missed you! Are you OK? Do you still love our church?” And when I do come to church, she has books that she has personally selected for me to read because, in her words, her “favorite thing is seeing people grow and mature in the Lord.”

This time, she hands me The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer. In the first few moments of reading this morning, I note this sentence: “The moment the Spirit has quickened us to life. . . our whole being senses its kinship to God and leaps up in joyous recognition.”

I think of my heart leaping up in joyous recognition over the tiniest inkling of Jesus. That’s why I write as I do; that’s why I stay as alert as I can. My heart leaps up when I see Him or hear any whisper of His name. My heart leaps up over and over again each day. It already did as I watched a fiery sun rising over the blackened trees this morning. It already did as my daughter turned her face to mine for a kiss on the forehead before school. It already did as I sipped coffee and talked to God as I read Psalm 30. My heart leaps up like a weary traveler seeing her most longed-for companion after the longest journey of her life.

My 86 year old friend calls this morning, quoting scripture and talking about all she’s learning about Jesus. She asks whether or not I loved the church service yesterday (I did). She tells me how importance repentance is and how I need a daily fresh filling of God’s spirit because, in her words, “we leak, you know.” She wonders if I really have time to talk with my busy, young life. I tell her I have plenty of time to hear whatever she has to tell me about Jesus.

The whole time, my heart leaps up in joyous recognition.




Prayer First

After all this time, I still lean on my own understanding. I still devise plans, attempt to solve problems, and speak from my reason and knowledge. But today I remember to pray, to go to God first for wisdom, healing, power, and direction.

If my words and actions originate from myself, they bear no good, eternal fruit. But if they come from God, they bear the fruit for which they are designed. In my zeal to speak and just do something, I forget the God who knows everything and hold all things together by His wisdom and power.

The image I like to remember is one of the whole family scurrying around the house to find this one lost wallet. Finally, after nearly an hour, we remember to pray to God–the One who sees everything and knows everything. We ask for help, and in less than a minute, we find the missing thing.

I don’t want to scurry about aimlessly and fruitlessly. I want to sit and pray until I know just what to do.


I Brought Pickled Okra, She Brought Everything Else

Today I stop in to visit my new Romanian neighbor. We’re going to study the Bible together! I’m so excited. I bound down the snowy street, cradling a jar of pickled okra as a cute little gift. I’m sure she hasn’t had pickled okra, but I figured Romanian people might love pickles.

I hand over my pickled okra just as she presents me with a plate of salmon soaked in capers, vegetables, and some kind of sliced meat. Besides this, she has special chocolates and coffee for me. She eagerly opens the okra, delighted and happy to know of this strange southern pickle. But I keep staring at my plate heaped high with food. I keep thinking of the chocolates to come and the rich, dark coffee.

I know this feeling. This is the feeling I had the first time I visited the Italian Mama for a light lunch. It’s never light. It’s never just one thing. Just like I learned from the Italian Mama I now experience with my Romanian friend: I can bring one little thing; she’ll bring everything else. 

I think of her generous spirit, her flair with foods new to me, and her joyful conversation–as beautiful and vulnerable as my Italian Mamas. We read John 10:10, and I know it’s true: God came that we might have life and have it to the full. It’s now abundant in a whole new Romanian way.

With God, we bring our little hearts. He brings everything else.




What We Love, Too

Today in class, I teach students how to characterize themselves well in their Signature Stories. I talk about how we often know characters best by what they love or hate. I ask them to think about what they love–foods, clothing, certain experiences, people, even ideas–and I find them slow to respond when I prompt them to share.

But then I ask the same question about what they hate, and so many hands shoot into the air. I actually have to shut down the conversation in one class because so many people wish to report their list of grievances of what personally disgusts and offends them. We ran out of time.

All afternoon, I thought about how easy it was to produce lists of things they hate (and many of them had actual lists of what annoys them) and how difficult it was to have the same passion and eagerness to communicate what they love: the beautiful, the good, the worthy, and the nobel. 

I remembered Philippians 4:8 where Paul offers final words of wisdom. He says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

As I think about how they characterize themselves in their stories, I want to know not just what they hate so deeply, but also what they love. 


Clearing the Path

The flair moment arrived early this morning as my daughter and I clung on to one another on the walk to school. We stayed trapped on icy sidewalks. Beside us, the depth of the slushy snow in the yards repelled us from that safer path, and the cars rushing past on the road kept us from walking on the cleared street.

So we walk slowly and deliberately on this dangerous passage.

But then, we approach a house with dear neighbors who always shovel their sidewalks and salt down the path to force the ice to melt. We unlock arms, walk with confidence, and enjoy the strange feeling of gratitude for something as simple as walking on a clear path.

Then, we’re back to a sidewalk slick with black ice.

I think about that cleared section that stood out so starkly amid the treachery of ice on the downhill walk. I thought about how we could breathe easy, relax our shoulders, and continue our journey. We could look up and not down to our feet. We could look at each other and talk about the day. We could smile and hope and dream.

Something about clearing the path resonated deep within me as I considered what it means to be a mother and wife and neighbor. I thought about smoothing out a safe passage, of removing–as best as I know how–obstacles to the journeys we take in life. I thought of identifying and removing the traps of the enemy for others. What would it look like for me to shovel and salt and clear the way–of discouragement, hopelessness, doubt, cynicism, and fear? How can I act as an agent of blessing and healing everywhere I go?

I walked home on the ice, and I couldn’t wait for the relief of that one cleared patch of sidewalk. I want my whole life to feel like that for others; when they come near, it feels like a clear path on their journey with Jesus. Here, it’s a place to rest, breathe, and rejoice.


Noticing–and Thanking–Again

I go back to the beginning of Live with Flair and record all the things I loved in the span of a few moments. I loved, for example,

  1. the thankful face of a student who said a lesson was exactly what he needed right now in his life
  2. the way the snow fell in fluffy flakes all over my coat
  3. the stomping in slushy snow that, at first seemed hard and unforgiving, but then parted into high walls around my boots as I walked
  4. the way a library book arrived from far away because of interlibrary loan
  5. how I’ve never thought to be thankful for interlibrary loan before
  6. the sound of a daughter’s voice on the phone
  7. the feel of hot water on your skin after a bitter cold winter walk
  8. the sight of dinner already prepared, defrosting
  9. the feeling of a completed teaching assignment
  10. the sound of a husband shoveling snow for me

I remember the power of noticing, of thanking God, and of receiving the blessings right here that overflow.