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A Verb to Add to the List: Shuffle

Learning to shuffle a deck of cards marks an important rite of passage for certain children.  Me, being fascinated by certain words, start thinking about the verb “shuffle” as I’m playing cards with the neighborhood children.

I had completely forgotten about this verb; it’s not even on my list of 500 favorite verbs. (This is the list I tell students to put above their desks or by their beds so they can find options to replace state of being verbs like: is, are, was, were, seems, appears, exists.  Boring, bland.  I tell them a great verb can change their sentence and their lives.  I’m not kidding about this.  I want vivid! I want power!)

Shuffle has flair.  It’s a verb that, to some, denotes dragging the feet.  But in its best form, shuffle means to randomize in a way that creates the type of variation needed for fair play in a game.  In dance, a shuffle represents the backbone of tap and folk dancing.  My favorite meaning of shuffle comes from jazz music:  a shuffle note means I alternate the duration of notes to create amazing music.

As a woman of routine, I like order, stability, and predictability.  As I age, I realize that spontaneous variation disturbs me more than it delights me.  I used to love spontaneity–the more random and unpredictable, the better.

The flair blog began with a random and spontaneous act.  I danced in my kitchen with my neighbor.  That led to a local NPR radio spot, and well, the rest is history. 

Today, I want to shuffle.  I want to allow space for random and spontaneous.  When I shuffle my day, like a deck of cards, I can make music.

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A Solution to Insecurity

Today, I remembered something unique about God’s economy.  In Christianity, the move you give, the more you receive.  The times when you feel last, you are actually first.  The times you act as a servant, you become the leader.  I wonder about this upside down approach to living.  Some mornings, I feel the weight of various insecurities–mostly relational or financial.  I worry about all sorts of relationships: family, friends, co-workers.  And then I worry about financial things:  what I need, what my children will need, what our future might require of our resources.

What a debilitating way to conduct myself during the day!  Insecurity becomes a prison.  Insecurity keeps my focus on myself–what I need, what I’m getting, and what I’m not getting.  I feel insecure because of what I think I’m missing. 

What’s the solution to insecurity?  

Insecurity arises out of a heart that’s concerned with what it’s not getting.  When I turn the kaleidoscope and focus on what I can give, who I can love, and what I can provide for others, I see the day in a whole new way. I stop worrying so much about myself because I’m living abundantly according to spiritual and not material principles. 

I’m trying to teach my children that as long as they worry about who likes them and what they can accumulate, they will continue to live under the illusion of security.  Their souls won’t rest.  But when they choose to love and give generously to others, miraculously, they find the kind of relational and financial security they seek.  It’s the model that Jesus teaches, however confusing and however counter-intuitive.   I pray we can have the wisdom to live like that.

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What You Lose in the Rush

My oldest daughter has a horrible ear infection that’s so bad that the doctor actually looks inside her ear and says, “This is just a mess.”  We’ve already had two ear tube surgeries and countless rounds of antibiotics for infections.

What’s so hard is the sheer pain of it.  The doctor asks where my daughter was on the 1-10 pain scale, and she bravely reports, “An 8, except sometimes (meaning when she’s asleep).” 

We are driving away from the pharmacy with two different medications for her (and also the ear drops for after swimming now that the tubes fell out). She can’t swim all week, and she’ll have ear drops and oral antibiotics.  It’s all a waiting game for the ear to heal.  She’s counting the days until the pain recedes and until she can swim again. 

Out of the blue, she calls out from the back seat:  “Mom, did you know if the earth went any faster around the sun, we wouldn’t get to have so many days?  The year would be shorter.  That wouldn’t be good.  We’d miss stuff.”

She’s applying astrophysics to the time it will take for her ear to heal.  In her mind, she concludes that speeding things up actually results in loss for her.  Just this morning, I read about time and patience.  I have trouble waiting, even for a day, for things I hope for.

Do I really want to rush the cosmic process?  Whatever the speed of change in my life, it seems wise to fully live out the day and not wish so much for it all to be over–even if it’s uncomfortable.  Wishing for tomorrow means I have one less day. 

Even in pain, she doesn’t want to wish away the day because of what she’ll lose.   It’s ear infection flair!

(photo courtesy of Bruce Sterling )

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This Isn’t Normal

I’m standing in my clothes, waist high in water.  I’m baptizing, with my husband, a great friend.  I’m invited to join in this ancient ritual, this sacred symbol of the old person buried and rising to new life.  I suddenly realize how average I am, how mortal, as I participate in this divine act.  This isn’t normal. 

All morning, my concept of normal gets pushed aside, flicked far away.  First of all, I’m at a worship service in somebody’s front yard, overlooking the mountains.  I’m slapping my thighs to the beat of the Bluegrass band.  I’m drinking root beer.  There’s a banjo, even.  Can this be worship?  If not, then why am I overcome with the sense of God’s presence? How is this normal?

Then, the woman sharing a picnic blanket with me starts talking about her children.  A teenage girl lounges against her, and little girls play with her purse and makeup.    She tells me that she always wanted a big family. But these aren’t her biological children.  These girls have other mothers.  But ask her about the sleepover parties she hosts, the children she loves, and her dreams of running an orphanage and providing foster care.

“Right now, I have so many children, it’s ridiculous.  And I’ll have so many more,” she tells me. 

She’s a mother in the fullest sense of the word.  She has a divine calling to mother.  I look around the worship gathering.  I can’t even find my children.  Then, I see they are with another mother doing a craft.  And then, another mother’s daughter lies back into my lap and touches my face.  She gazes up at me, and I stroke her hair. 

My definitions are so narrow in scope.  When I broaden them, let out the hem, loosen the strings, and release the word, I find that what I think is divine, what I think constitutes worship, and what I believe motherhood means changes considerably.

What other words need broader definitions?  Living with flair means I don’t limit the meaning of the words that define my life.

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Why We Need Impossible Goals

 I remembered lines from Lewis Carroll’s characters this morning about “impossible things.”

Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said, “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why sometimes I believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!”

A few hours ago, someone tried to encourage me by telling me I should set a goal I think I can’t achieve.  What?!  That doesn’t make any sense!  A goal I think I can’t achieve?  Isn’t that a recipe for failure, hopelessness, and shame?

I thought about it more.  Something about setting an impossible goal, one I think I can’t accomplish, sets me up for an extraordinary challenge.  It’s not a great goal if I know I can reach it.  But if there’s doubt in my mind–if there’s potential for devastating failure–then that’s an honest goal.   That kind of goal-setting beckons a life of adventure, faith, and flair.  It lets God in. 

I remembered today that God specializes in impossible things.

I called one of my best writing friends during my late morning rest between dusting and vacuuming.  She said that she was going “to pray for three impossible things today.”  We talked about the impossible dreams we have for our children and for our own lives.

Why not dream big?  Why not set impossible goals and just see what we’re capable of and what God does in that moment of extraordinary belief?  I want to believe six impossible things before breakfast.  That seems a lot like living with flair.

What seems impossible might just not be.

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A Science Experiment About My Mood

Last night we picked wild Queen Anne’s Lace for a science experiment.  I wanted to show the girls how capillary action works.  The stem of the Queen Anne’s Lace in a cup of dyed water, will, within a few hours, suck the water up into the flower and turn it the same color as the dyed water.

We put our Queen Anne’s Lace in water dyed dark purple, neon blue, and pink. This morning, sure enough, the flowers were the same color as the water.
Amazing!  The color was striking, and it occurred to me how trusting the Queen Anne’s Lace is, how indiscriminate.  Whatever liquid environment you place the stems in, they draw it in deep within themselves and assume that color.

I imagine my living room as one big vase of water and my family as Queen Anne’s Lace.  I’m thinking about what they draw in from me, from my attitude, my hope, my flair. 

It’s just too easy for the stem to draw in whatever it’s near–no matter what shade.  Hopefully, that color is bright and joyful. 

(Photo courtesy of Lexington Gardener Examiner)

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What $5.00 Bought Me This Morning

My 10 year old neighbor has started a garden and pet care business.  His flyer says he’s “responsible, caring, and dependable. . . since 1999.”  This morning, I hired him.  He said he could groom my cats, empty litter boxes, and play with the cats for exercise.  He said he would charge me $2.50 for his work.

I’ve used this service before.  At the beginning of the summer, he came to my house as a garden consultant and advised me about the placement of my beds and compost. 

This morning, I paid him $5.00 because not only did he care for all the pets, but he decided he needed to vacuum the basement.  And then, he wanted to help me make cranberry bread.  He needed to wash his hands first, he told me, because every proper chef washes hands before he handles food.

He’s still here, occasionally checking his bread in the oven.

I told him he should run for President.

He said he probably will.

I told him I was going to blog about him today, and he wasn’t interested.  He’s not into fame or recognition.  Right now, he’s into dragging the yellow rope around the house to exercise my cats.   He wants to make sure he fully earns his pay.

I hope he never loses whatever it is he has right now.  It’s the kind of flair I want all the neighborhood kids to have.  When I asked him why he’s starting a business, he said he has stuff he can do, and he can earn money and not be bored.  He’s not watching TV or lounging around this summer, and he’s not exhausting his parents’ resources by begging for trips to Disney World or expensive summer camps.  No, he’s going to run a business to help neighbors with their gardens and pets.   I just love that.

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The Spiritual Principle from My Hair

Our hair is dry and completely damaged by all the chlorine we swim in.  I’ve tried special shampoos and various conditioners, but nothing seems to repair that absolutely stiff-as-straw, greenish hair adorning my daughters’ heads. 

I decided to do some research.  I found out that if you wet your hair in the shower first, you help prevent some of the chlorine damage.  According to one website:  “the water will saturate your hair and swell each strand, preventing it from thirstily soaking up the chlorine-laden water.”  

I like this writer (Sarah Tennant).  First of all, she uses some alliterative verbs like saturate, swell, and soak.  But she also makes thirst into an adverb:  thirstily.  As I was reading her, I kept thinking of the devotional literature I read in the morning.  I’ve been trying to saturate my mind with good things every morning.  I think about my heart swelling up with true, right, noble, and lovely things.

Soaked like this, I’m not thirsty in a way that will damage me.  I’m not thirsty in the way that lets whatever is nearest, most available, and most naturally compelling in.  Chlorine, for example, strips the hair of protective oils and dries everything out.  The hair thirstily takes in what actually dries it up.  That kind of quenching creates more thirst and damages.  

My hair is teaching me a spiritual principle that I want to remember:  Saturate and swell with the Good.  Then I’m not thirstily soaking up what damages. 

Living with flair means I saturate and swell and soak up the good. 

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The Eraser with Flair

We’ve moved past silly bands in my house.  Now, it’s Sugar Shack Erasers.  These little erasers come in the form of cheesecakes, donuts, ice-cream cones, and various pastries.

They break apart into their various components:  frosting, scoops of ice-cream, and toppings.  You can break your eraser apart into as many as 8 pieces, and then you put it together again.  But each piece remains fully functional as an eraser.

My children love this.   

There’s been a mad rush for Sugar Shack Erasers.  We are at Wal-Mart, and my daughters scan the aisles for these erasers.  My oldest approaches an employee, who stands in a cluster of other Wal-Mart employees.  She explains the importance of the Sugar Shack Eraser.  Eyebrows raise.  Apparently, this group of employees are managers and important members of some marketing team.

“We have to order those,” one man says.  The other women nod.  They recognize the urgency in my child’s face. 

Ask a child if you want to know what sells.   The Sugar Shack erasers are erasers for goodness sake.  They are school supplies.  But my children can’t resist an object that presents as one thing but actually transforms into something else.  An eraser cheesecake is actually 6 little erasers, so tiny you can’t imagine them.  It’s a puzzle and an eraser.  Who knew? 

“Mom, this is just awesome.  We need to get all of the Sugar Shacks.”  She’s thinking about a mistake she makes on her writing that she can erase with the little cherry from the top of her ice-cream cone eraser.

The Sugar Shack Erasers had me thinking as I wondered about what fascinates children.

Whatever is–the taking apart, the building back up, the secret you hold in your hand–it tells me something about living with flair.

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What We’ve Known For a Long Time

I read an article on the bus yesterday that recounts the results of a number of happiness studies.  Researchers want to know if happiness is something we experience or something we think

I love reading articles like this.  Once again, research proves that when we think about our experiences we can put the day in a certain framework to create meaning and joy.   Not surprisingly, this meaning and joy rarely depend on circumstances.  

I’m thinking about that article, and I run into one of the most vibrant and enthusiastic moms in my town.  She’s waving at me as I make my way through the self check-out line in the grocery store.  Within 30 seconds, she’s inviting me to her “Alphabet Summer” where everyday at her home celebrates a different letter of the alphabet.

It’s “J” day, so there’s jam, jello, and jumping in the pool.  I’m imagining jugglers and jellyfish and jackals.  I smell jasmine.

Her two little boys smile, and one of them says to me, “I just loved ‘F’ day.  ‘F’ day was the coolest!”

I’m living in the same town as this woman.  I’m raising my children on the same streets and we are going to the same grocery stores.  I’m making breakfast, doing laundry, cleaning and cooking, and yes, even going to the pool.  We both probably worked-out, had coffee, and will feel tired after lunch. 

But it’s “J” day at her house.

They will jump into the pool instead of easing in.  With this alphabet framework, her whole summer radiates with hidden meaning and wonder.

“Do we have a special letter today, Mom?”

Quickly, I think about the curry chicken I’ve planned for dinner.

“It’s ‘I’ day,” I say.  “For India.”

They are quiet and thinking of exotic lands.  

Same old day.  Same old dinner.  But now, we’ve got ourselves a happiness framework.

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