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Would You Wear These Shoes?!

My shoes look a lot like this:  brown, basic, sensible, sturdy.  No heel.  
 

Are you surprised?  I’m the same woman who wore flip-flops to a fancy Manhattan party.  No matter how hard I try, I could never wear shoes like this:  Pink, Satin, 10 inch heel.  Strappy.  

Put me in shoes like these, and I’d entangle the heel in my clothing; I’d fall into the street; I’d look like a fool.  But every once in a while, I think that I’m supposed to wear high heels.  And they have to be satin and pink and absolutely adorable. 

Once I asked my friend (she wears 10 inch heels regularly, with jeans even) if her shoes were comfortable. 

“Of course not!  I’m in excruciating pain!” she hollers at me.  She has to walk back to the parking lot from our building. She’s barely making it.  I think I see blood. 

My shoes, in comparison, look beyond boring.  What happened to all my sass?

Many years ago, I chose to throw off the conventions that torture rather than free, that bind rather than release.   I’ve spent too much of my life entangled in fancy externals that masquerade as the good life.   In that life, the things that promise freedom actually oppress.  You know it because of the pain.  You know it because you’re following some rule about what’s supposed to make you happy.  And you can’t remember what you love anymore.  Instead, you’re living a cliche as scripted as pink satin 10 inch heels.

They aren’t me.  They were never me.  I love comfy shoes that I don’t have to think about.  

Release the buckle and strap, slip off the entanglement, and run free.

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When You Feel Unstable

I’ve been walking a lot lately.  This morning I woke up thinking about a quote from Oliver Wendall Holmes:   

Walking, then, is a perpetual falling with a perpetual selfrecovery. It is a most complex, violent, and perilous operation. . . 

When I walk, I deliberately destabilize myself, catch myself with the next foot, and repeat the process.  This is how I get places. 

I stroll all alone down my street and then up the big hill.  As I walk, I crunch the fallen and abandoned acorn tops with my shoes.  That crackle of flattened cupule (the lovely word for the acorn shell) delights me somehow.   My gait looks silly–Chaplinesque without the cane–wobbly and off-kilter as I seek out shells to flatten.

It’s a little dangerous and slippery.  The shells cover the walkway and make me aware of my steps.  I’m smiling with the game of it.  Here I am, falling and recovering, leaving a wake.  I’m unstable and then stable.  But I’m still in the game. 

Later, I arrive at the school doors and begin the walk home with two girls by my side.   We three crunch acorn shells, each in our own segment of sidewalk.  That microcosmic movement–walking–as a perpetual falling and recovery showcases the complexity of our whole journey.  We fall; we recover; we get to crunch acorns on the way. 

PS–I’m thankful for days of walking.  For those who cannot walk today, I honor your journey.   And for those in rehabilitation and physical therapy, I’ve learned from Holmes just how difficult that process is. Keep up the hard work!  May God quicken your recovery!   

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True Snapshot

School pictures never go well for us.  Over the years, they always return with faces that more resemble mug shots than happy school pictures.  One year, it actually looked my daughter was growling at the photographer.  Another year, the oldest daughter’s eyes were half shut, and she had a haunting smirk on her face.

That year, our photographer friend rescued us.  We met her at the studio in the mall, and for a comparable price, she created the most fabulous photo shoot for my daughters.  They could choose all sorts of fun backgrounds, use props, and relax while the camera clicked away.  Even better, this great photographer stopped and combed hair, adjusted clothing, and worked to capture the most authentic and vibrant smiles.  We left an hour later with a package of prints to send to grandparents and aunts and uncles.  And we could display two “school photos” in our living room that didn’t look terrifying.

Telling my daughter she wasn’t ordering school pictures this morning nearly sent her into a fit.  That’s when my husband said, “You’re right.  I want to make you miserable. I don’t love you at all.”

What she didn’t recall (and couldn’t know) was that his “no” meant a great “yes” and a trip to the mall later.  And instead of 3 dull backgrounds, she would choose from a wide array of whimsical ones. 

I throw fits in private to the Lord of the Universe about that cosmic “no” (whatever I’m not getting).  But that “no” always, always ends with a better, more authentic and more vibrant “yes.”  The things I want might just be bad set-ups–as torturing as school photos compared to glamorous photo shoots.   When I see it that way, and when I hear that voice chuckling, “You’re right. I want to make you miserable.  I don’t love you at all,” I realize how absurd my thinking is.

Do I really believe God withholds something to make me miserable?  Because I’m not loved at all?  Listening to my husband tease our daughter in the kitchen–and her delight in hearing the absurdity of it–made her actually beg for him to say it again.  Even my older daughter wanted a reprise.

I want to make you miserable.  I don’t love you at all.  We giggled.  We hugged.  We realized the truth.

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How to Get This Thing to Work

My friend just emailed a picture of my daughter swinging on a glider swing with her daughter.  On a glider swing, two friends sit back to back.  The rhythm required to get the swing moving involves taking turns pulling up against the bar in front of you.  If you both try to pump at the same time, you don’t move.  It’s fun to watch children figure this concept out.  You have to let the other person move, and then you move, and then it’s back to you, then back to them.

But it doesn’t work if you both pull in your own direction at the same time.

The irony of surrendering to your partner, of deferring to the other person, is that you end up swinging higher.  You get the benefit of all her hard work.  But it doesn’t seem fair.  You have to resist the urge to be first, to control the whole gig.  Those urges end up sabotaging you in the end.

The picture of my daughter on the glider swing reminds me to cooperate.  It’s embarrassing how much I resist cooperation.  I want to lead!  I want to start it all!  But you there at my back, with me the whole time, have a stake in this experience.  What would happen if I saw us as truly interdependent, laced up at our backs, so that when you lead, I go higher?  What if saw my labor as elevating you as well? 

I’m not the surrendering type.  I’m learning, when I look at this picture, to cooperate with what’s at my back (God, my husband, my dear neighborhood friend, my colleagues, and even my own daughters).

Let me work with you.  That’s the way the swing works. 

(beautiful photo courtesy of S. Velegol)

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Totally Out of Context

Today I tell my students we will work together to revise their essays.  

To revise means “to see again.” When we see our writing “again,” we gain a fresh look, from a new perspective, and recalibrate what’s not working.

One method of revision involves taking writing out of context and re-reading it in a completely different form.  Maybe the font has changed; maybe the paragraphs are separated by huge chunks of white space; maybe the text appears on a computer screen and not on a piece of paper.

We gain a new perspective by changing the context.  And we get somebody else to see it with us; new eyes add a new context.  Suddenly errors emerge so clearly we wonder why we could never see them ourselves. 

As I think about learning to revise my day–to find peace, beauty, happiness, and hope–I often need to find a new context.  I joke with my family (when I’m especially frazzled and moody) that there’s just got to be flair in this!  When I find a new context for interpreting what’s going on around me, I’m not as stuck as I think I am.  My circumstances don’t have to determine how I’m seeing this day.  Disappointment doesn’t own this day or my mood.

I’m going to take the disappointment, the fuss, the trouble out of context and see it all differently. 

What would my day look like from another person’s perspective–a person from another country, another economic situation, or a different political system?  Would they complain about what I complain about? Would they fret over what I fret about?  The error is exposed: I’m acting entitled, ungrateful, and self-centered. 

One person’s fuss is another person’s flair. 

If I’m dominated by negative emotions today, maybe I need to change the context, see with fresh eyes (with the help of God and others), and revise.  I pray that I can take my life out of its settled context and see clearly and honestly. 

Living with flair means I take my experiences totally out of context.

(photo by Jez’s flickr)

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Darning a Hole in Your Community

Last night, our neighborhood launched the second year of Monday Night Neighborhood Fitness Group in the parking lot.  We had children and adults jumping rope while others biked, skated, threw football and Frisbee, walked a circuit around the perimeter, flew the big turtle kite, or raced up the steep hill beside the parking lot.

From above, I wondered if we looked like one huge mass of criss-crossing elements filling in the space.  We wove in and out, passing one another.  

I thought of darning. 

Darning is the technique one uses to repair a hole in fabric or knitting.  I learned that a knitter makes a framework around the hole and then uses a crisscrossed pattern to fill the gap.  My friend alerted me to this concept two days ago when I mentioned that the beautiful socks she knit me last year were beyond repair with two gaping holes in the heels.  She says, matter-of-factly, “I’ll just darn them for you.”  

Darning reminds me of how scabs form on the body.  Platelets, fibrin, and plasma all work together to form a web around the wound–filling it in and sealing the hole. 

There’s something beautiful in the webbing and criss-crossing that must take place to repair a hole or a wound.  It happens when we repair fabric or our own bodies, but it also happens in our lives.

I thought about my community and all the ways we hold each other in place, all the ways we intersect, gather in, unite, and fill each others lives. We choose to deliberately criss-cross.  We are wound healers when we come together like this. 

Something was darned in my heart last night–some gaping hole I hadn’t remembered was there.  I only played for an hour.  The sun set upon us, shining gold through the trees in the distance, and there I was, jumping double dutch (making a fool of myself) with these folks I’m living life with. We aren’t related by blood.  We were strangers a few years ago–some a few days ago.  Now, we are something else.   I’ll gather on the asphalt every week with these people:   platelets, fibrin, and plasma that circle, web, and heal.

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Draw Out Your Inner Teacher

The Latin root of the verb educate means “to draw out” or “bring forth.” 

Teachers illuminate the subject matter, but they also bring something forth from the student.  They draw knowledge out, not dump it in.

It’s a different way of understanding the verb and a teacher’s role in the classroom. It changes everything: how I teach, what I expect, and what constitutes the goal of our interaction.  Drawing out means there’s some glorious and wonderful thing inside a mind that I want to bring to the light.

I’m on a treasure hunt; I’m on a deep sea dive;  I’m on a fishing expedition. 

“To draw out” a person–bring them to the surface–means I cast the line, linger patiently in those deep waters of the mind, and wait until the nibble comes.  It’s not a perfect analogy, but it reminds me of the work of drawing any person out.  Marriage, parenting, friendships, work relationships, and even encounters with strangers might be deep sea fishing and diving expeditions. 

Wouldn’t our dates, our dinner conversations, our seminars, and our book clubs be richer if we were all deep sea divers into the mind of another person?  What a privilege to learn from you!  What a privilege to draw something out of you!

I suppose that’s why I want to be a teacher, not just with students, but with every interaction.  I want to draw out and not dump in.

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A Message From God in my Vacuum

Yesterday, I vacuumed my entire house. 

We recently had the carpets cleaned, and the kind cleaner suggested we needed a new vacuum.  He said to get a “multi-cyclonic” system with a canister I empty out–not the bag kind. 

I like my old vacuum.  It’s been with me all these years.  To me, the carpets look great: clean and soft with little lines from where the vacuum travels.  We don’t need a new one. 

But late in the afternoon, my husband suggests we purchase the “multi-cyclonic” vacuum (it was on sale!) to help keep our carpets clean.  With his fall allergies, our three cats, and our Grand Central Station lifestyle of game nights, parties, and meetings in our home, I agree to see what the big deal with multi-cyclonic vacuuming was. 

So I test it.  I re-vacuum the entire house. 

Apparently, multi-cyclonic means “miracle” in Greek.  From the view of this different mechanism, the carpets I think are clean are actually filthy.  The new vacuum removes so much unseen debris from my carpets that I literally sit on the floor and admire it in the canister. 

I even call two friends to tell them about this vacuum. 

Today in church, I think about that different mechanism that could remove what the old one couldn’t.  I ask God to come in multi-cyclonic form into the depths of my being to lift the stain and invisible dirt that I can’t see.  God removes it thoroughly, and for me, that’s the beauty of the gospel. 

The unseen violations–pride, criticism, judgment, favoritism, self-focus–sink deep in my fibers.  Let me not just be clean on the surface.  Let me be multi-cyclonic clean. 

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What Were You Thinking?

Yesterday, a particularly thoughtful student said she wanted to start a blog.  She’s been thinking about this for a long time.  As we walked together, she said, “I wouldn’t have anything to say, though.  What would I write about?”

I wonder if what she really means is:  “What would I write about that anybody would care about?” 

The desire to make our internal thoughts external immediately comes under attack.  We often stay supremely private because we feel we have nothing worthwhile to say.  Our observations aren’t valuable contributions, so we stay quiet and unheard.

We think that nobody would care anyway.  

If only we would share!  If only we all could talk openly about our thoughts and have others honor them.  Not because they were clever or wise or funny.  Not because they were politically or socially popular or trendy.

Sometimes I ask my daughters to tell me what they are thinking about.  My oldest reveals she’s been wondering why in the world garlic wards off vampires.

When I ask students what they are thinking about, the weight of silence in the room unsettles me.  I ask them to write me something instead.  Just a paragraph.  Just a few sentences. 

That evening, I burst into tears at my desk as I read paragraph after paragraph of “what they were thinking.”  Such depth!  Such complexity!  Such unique viewpoints!  Why don’t they share these out loud?  Why don’t they proclaim these things?

Might I change the climate in that classroom (and in my home) to have them speak up?  I want to hear everything you are thinking about.

Even if it’s about garlic, I want to hear it.

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What You Have to Set Free

Pine Cone Maturity / esu.edu

Walking to my classroom today, I passed a cluster of pines.  Beneath their branches, a perfect circle of pine cones posed like ornaments shaken from a Christmas tree. 

I stopped to consider what it might mean that a tree would drop all of its pine cones.  It seemed like loss; I felt longing in my heart. 

I know that the cone is just the protective cover for hundreds of seeds housed within it.  Once a year, a pine tree drops its pine cones to the forest floor.  If you pick one up, you can gently shake it to release tiny seeds–black dots in thin paper–that might not have yet flown free. 

Normally, the pine cone stays on the branch, opens up when the weather is dry, and lets the wind disseminate all her seeds.  Then, she’ll drop to the forest floor.  The whole process takes about a year. 

Something about opening up, releasing those seeds, and then dropping to the ground like that made me wonder about the gifts we disperse, the creative acts we protect and then finally circulate, and the offspring or relationships we let loose.  It’s all part of the process–shaking our pine cones free–emancipating things that we need to release and no longer control.  A pine tree forest’s survival depends upon the ability to protect a seed and then send it out.  The remnant of that cone on the forest floor is proof that it let something go

If I were a pine tree, I’d want thousands of cones beneath my feet.  I’d gaze upon the cones to remind myself of what I released into the world and didn’t keep for myself.  And I know there’s something we lose with every release.  There will always be that vessel in our hearts–that tiny cone–to remember what we wanted to hold onto but knew we had to set free. 

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