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Instantly Regained

Today I read something that reminds me of my research on shame all those years ago. Hannah Whitall Smith writes about sin and how, instead of collapsing under discouragement that “all is lost,” we come to God in repentance and start fresh again on the journey.

Yet so many of us live as if it’s “game over” when we make a mistake or find ourselves entangled in sin. We hide in shame. We don’t talk about it. We stop connecting with people because of our shame. I’ve seen this behavior in my own life and in the lives of so many students in my role in campus ministry.

Sin is, indeed, serious. I would never undermine its destruction and pain. It’s so great that Someone died for it, to bring us to God, to make us holy before Him. We stand condemned and guilty apart from Jesus. But in Christ, our guilt is gone.

But shame lingers. We keep punishing ourselves for our failures.

If you find yourself punishing yourself and believing you’ve destroyed everything by your sin, Smith helps us think of it as that which “momentarily disturbs” your journey on the path of sanctification. Smith says it like this: “We may for a moment turn aside from the path, but the path is not obliterated by our wandering and can be instantly regained.”

In parenting, we “start fresh” after arguments, disobedience, or bad attitudes. We repair any damage and get right back on the path. We don’t hold grudges or punish ourselves for our shortcomings.

We turn back to God, and we instantly regain the path. He makes everything right; He points the way back; He can turn our wandering into something beautiful. Day by day, we return to Him in confession and repentance. We don’t live in shame. We live in intimacy with a Savior who already forgave us and knows we are much worse than we can even imagine. Yet, He loves us!

He walks beside us on the path, and He’s never surprised by the fact that we’re human.

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Back in the Day

When I pick my daughters up from youth group, a girl in Dr. Martens boots and a Nirvana t-shirt and flannel shirt approaches me. She heard that once, I wore shoes like that and listened to the kind of music she loves.

I play it cool. I remember when Nirvana came on the scene and we all sang “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in our flannel shirts. She wants to know if I’ve heard of a band called Nirvana.

Have I ever heard of Nirvana? I play it cool. All she sees is the old and preppy teacher, the one in glasses who makes after school snacks and wears responsible shoes.

Now, she wants to know if I’ve ever heard of a band called The Cure or Depeche Mode or The Smiths.

Again, I play it cool while she tests my knowledge of albums and hit songs, and I answer smoothly. When I mention the song, “There Is a Light that Never Goes Out,” she comes closer.

I’m now in. I speak her language.

“What about Panic! at the Disco?” she asks, testing me again.

“No,” I say. “I don’t listen to that band.” She smiles. I let her have something original for herself.

“Cool,” she says.

“Cool,” I say. And 30 years ago, I was.

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Morning Pep Talk: Anything Can Happen Today

I wake up thinking about Mark Twain’s quote: “Apparently, there is nothing that cannot happen today.” It fills me with joy and expectation, with a shimmering hope that carries me through a tired morning.

As we sit together and fill out the Morning Prayer Journal, I tell my daughter about “waiting in expectation” of what God will do during this very day (Psalm 5:3). I tell her about how those who trust in the Lord, who put their hope in Him, “will not be disappointed” (Psalm 22:5). And why is this so? Because God’s presence goes out with us, and He is always working. He always positions us to worship and to experience His loving presence.

Anything can happen today! Go on out into this day! Wait in expectation and scan the day with joy and hope. God is with you. I cannot wait to hear about how you saw Him working today.  

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Morning Pep Talk: Finding Good in People Who Annoy You

I’m learning that everything and everyone annoys a pre-teen. Maybe it’s part of development; they differentiate by being annoyed. It’s almost comical.

This morning, I find myself praying that my daughters live in peace with people. I want them to fulfill the Biblical command to “live in harmony with one another” (1 Peter 3:8) and to spread blessing, not insult, as they interact with sympathy, love, compassion, and humility.

But what are we to do when people in our lives just annoy us? I tell my daughter to find the good thing, the strength, and the unique skills of that person who’s driving her crazy–especially her sister! I tell her that sometimes the very thing that bothers us about others hides a hidden blessing for us in friendship. The controlling friend often blesses us with her organization and planning. The confident friend that seems a little boastful blesses us with her joyful assurance and models security when we feel insecure. The one complaining all the time shows us how not everyone views life like we do; they push us to help improve our circumstances.

If that person that bothers us left our lives, imagine what we’d lose! Find the good in that girl. Consider how the thing that annoys you offers a strength that blesses. And now, go into your day and enjoy the gift of friendship! 

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The Curious Mind

Today I teach my last unit for my advanced writing classes. We begin studying the classic humanities essay.

Here, a writer begins with a curious observation–about anything at all ranging from the natural world to any kind of concept–and then uses the essay to move through increasingly complex questions about this observation in order to arrive at an epiphany.

The reader observes the mind at work. The writer cultivates wonder and carries the reader along on the journey. We study current research about curiosity, wonder, and the pleasure of epiphany.

We talk about what it means to orchestrate a moment of epiphany–both for the writer and the reader. As Mary Pipher explains, “epiphanies cannot be scheduled, but they can be invited.” We invite moments of insight, of new understanding, and of a reordered mind because we keep asking questions about our topic. Normally, the questions end when we arrive at knowledge that helps us see a connection to what it means to be human, to our sense of self, or to some category we care about like history, science, sociology, psychology, anthropology, philosophy / ethics, or theology. I find that it normally takes about 10 questions until we get at what we’re really after. When we feel satisfied with our exploration, we discover fields of study that truly matter to us.

For example: It’s snowed last night, and it’s nearly mid-April. Consider these questions:

  1. What causes it to snow in April? Is our planet in danger?
  2. What happens to spring? Is everything just pushed back, like when schools open on a two-hour delay?
  3. Will birds still make their nests, or are nests weather-dependent, as if a certain temperature cues the birds?
  4. Will bears keep hibernating in the woods behind the house?
  5. Has this happened before?
  6. What if we lived in perpetual winter?
  7. What bothers me so much about this?
  8. How dependent are we on seasons or a sense of cyclical time for well-being?
  9. What does spring symbolize to me that it worries me so much that it’s not here yet?
  10. Isn’t spring so marvelous? How does it even happen? Who designed it?

Students love the humanities essay because they explore their own minds working, they cultivate curiosity, and they realize the joy of wonder.

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Using the Word “Best” in Questions

Today I learned that people enjoy answering questions that contain the word “best.”

Especially when engaging with older folks who enjoy looking back over a lifetime of memories, the question, “What was the best. . . ?” draws out information for a great conversation. You might ask, “What did you enjoy best about raising children? About your work life? About your marriage? What are you enjoying best about your life now?”

With students, I might ask, “What was the best sentence you remember from the reading? or What was the best part of your paper? or even What’s the best thing you’ve learned in class so far?”

When someone asks me, “What was the best part of your day?” I always love talking about what I’m learning. It’s a telling answer; you’ll learn that I love to learn. You’ll find that when others answer this question, you’ll see what they value, what they care most deeply about, and what motivates them in life.

I cannot wait to try the “best” question out on my daughters:

(My youngest talks about the snow. She loves snow. It’s magical, Christmasy, and so bizarre in April.)

If you don’t know what to ask someone to draw them out into conversation, try using the language of “the best” about any category, and see what happens.

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Your Symbol for Order

Today I realize that I absolutely must scrub the kitchen floor.

If I don’t, I think about the stains of chocolate from Kate’s “Dipping Chocolate Cookies”; I think about the cilantro deep in the crevices from our shrimp taco night; I think about coffee grounds and cinnamon and stained tiles from dripping teabags.

I realize this is strange, but then I wonder if you have a symbol of order in your own life–that thing that, if clean and arranged, makes everything else feel manageable. And then I wonder if we were only self-aware enough to know what this thing was, and if we attended to it, we’d feel much better about our start-of-the-week.

I need a sign in my home that says, “If I’m out of sorts, remind me to clean the kitchen floor.”

I wonder if, when I’m snapping at my children or husband, they might whisper gently, “Mom, is this really about the kitchen floor? Might we clean it? You’ll feel so much better. There. There. Let’s clean it.”

The clean kitchen floor symbolizes order and that all is right and at peace again. My office might erupt with papers and spill over with books, but it won’t matter. It’s the kitchen floor that for some bizarre reason determines my mindset.

A made bed. Carefully folded blankets on a couch. Orderly bookshelves. An organized refrigerator. Tidy drawers. Whatever it is, do that thing that brings everything else to order.

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The Actual Plan

Today I learn how our good intentions do not mean the same thing as a plan of action.

Scheduling what we intend to do–exercise, write, meal plan, clean, or whatever it is you wish to accomplish–doesn’t just happen. But if we make a schedule or some kind of real, tangible plan, things happen. 

When I schedule the writing or the daily walk, it happens. When I don’t, but merely wish it to happen, it hardly happens.

So I’m reminded again about planning.

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Small Hospitality

Today, two friends arrive for afternoon tea and fruit.

That’s it: tea and orange slices.

I remember how, years ago–back in the days of toddlers, sleep-deprivation, and tighter budgets– hospitality meant I popped popcorn and filled a pitcher of ice water for friends who sat and talked with me as I folded laundry and apologized for the state of the home.

I always worried that small hospitality wasn’t enough.

I used to believe that hospitality only meant a lavish spread. After all, the Italian Mamas trained me well for those times I want to truly bless others with a feast prepared in love.

But then there’s small hospitality. A teacup. An orange slice. A candle lit. A listening ear. The guests themselves provide the decorations of laughter and good cheer. We feast instead on stories and prayer requests and sharing deeply from the heart.

Our capacity for only small hospitality shouldn’t prevent our gathering together. Sometimes, those small, singular items of refreshment bless as much as the feast. If you stock up on herbal teas and always have some oranges or apples on hand, you have enough for a wonderful afternoon.

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