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Our Uncommon Uses

While cleaning my home today, I notice two of my favorite objects: a flowerpot and a serving dish.   We received them as wedding gifts over ten years ago, and they were both too beautiful not to use.  
But I don’t grow flowers inside in pots, and I rarely transfer our dinner onto serving platters (and this one seemed too small for my family).  I couldn’t keep these things hidden away!  Instead, I found uncommon uses for both the pot and the platter.

The pot became my cooking utensil holder.

The platter became our key tray. 

I realized that the pot can hold more than soil; the platter can carry more than a meal.

As I think about all my specific plans and dreams–the things I know I was made for–I have to pause and ask about the uncommon uses for my skills.   

Over the years, I have been so busy telling the Potter what I am really made for, and He’s already using me for broader, more interesting and more useful things. Things I hadn’t imagined.  Immeasurably more! 

Sometimes we emerge into the world on usual paths, using our gifts and talents in uncommon but wonderful ways.  Living with flair means I allow it.  We are too beautiful–too loved–to be kept hidden away. 

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Journal:  Our wedding theme verse was from Ephesians 3:20:  “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us. . . “  As I look at my wedding objects today, I think about the unsual paths our lives take.  How have I seen God do “immeasurably more” with the plans and dreams of my heart?

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How to Increase Your Capacity

Today, I read this quote:  “An organism expends as much as it receives and no more; therefore, receptivity is the first law of life.”

Receptivity:  the willingness and readiness to receive.  

I wonder how we might receive from God, draw life and energy, and then expend.   Otherwise, we find ourselves in unnatural and impossible deficits, exhausted by our lives. 

All day long, I think about how much we expend as we go about our days.   I’ve mastered the art of expending, but I want to learn the art of receptivity.   I receive from God through prayer and the scriptures, and I receive from others as I let them care for me when I’m in need.  What makes this so hard every day? 

My husband reminds me that, in terms of biochemistry, certain drugs block the receptor sites of a cell so they cannot receive.  In our lives, what would block our receptor sites so we cannot truly receive from God?

We both know the answer as soon as we ask the question.  It’s pride–our own self-sufficiency and our belief that we can control and direct our own lives.  My supreme busyness reflects that deeply embedded pride.  I must go and go and not ever sit and receive.

Not today.  I need to receive. 

As I position my heart to receive, I find that God sends strange offers my way:  a ride home, a friend delivering a meal, a moment alone to read my Bible, an unexpected treatment offered by a doctor.  I relax into this day and open every receptor site I have.  I find peace soothing my soul.  I let God fill me, and then, I have the capacity to expend. 

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Journal:  How do I receive from God?

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The Only Way to Make It

The driveway and sidewalks–every path we try–stretches out black and shiny, smooth as glass, and treacherous.  Ten of us set out for school, and by the time we reach the corner, we’ve fallen down six times (some of us twice). 

The danger is real, and I’m nervous.  

“Hold on to me!” I cry to the little ones.  We find another mitten to grab or another arm to link through, and we suddenly stabilize.  When one starts to slide and fall, the others catch him, find a new balance, and press on.

Instead of falling on our backs, our sliding on ice resembles smooth acrobatics:  our legs shoot out from under us, but then someone has our back and we bend forward and backward.  Arms flail and clutch, yet we do not fall

Every child laughs.  Even I can’t help but enjoy this treachery.  It’s now an adventure, a pleasure.  

I think about the strength in numbers.  I think about finding others to balance us as we flail and clutch the air.  Holding hands and shoulders, we approach the crossing guard who warns us of an upcoming stretch of ice to avoid.  We walk a wide circle around it, arm in arm. 

Safe at school, I recall what it takes to get here.  The danger was real, but we overcame together.   Nobody can make it alone. 

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Journal:  With whom do I lock arms on my journey?  What dangers am I facing that friends can help me battle? 

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What You Alone Can See

Walking to school, we notice how everything drips.  It’s nearly 35 degrees (a warm day!), and we’re jubilant as we slosh along the sidewalk. 

I observe the water droplets on the branches and winter berries, and it suddenly occurs to me that not one other living creature sees what I see at this exact moment.

The droplets fall to the earth, and I know that never again–not even once in a million years–will that exact configuration of molecules exist on this limb.

I observe them, behold their passing, and consider the sublime fact that I took note of what nobody else could see.   In this enormous earth, filled with billions of people, no one–not even one!–saw that droplet reflecting the neighbor’s pine tree in its orb. 

My day bursts with wonder.  I’m seeing what no one else sees.  I’m documenting a beauty that would be otherwise lost.  

You see things in your world that I do not see and will never see.  You notice what a billion people will not ever behold.

Living with flair means we erupt with wonder–with worship–at these things around us.  No other creature looks at what we are seeing, in the way we are seeing it.  We experience beauty that God places before us, and living with flair means we proclaim it. 

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Journal:  What moment of beauty did I observe today that no other creature saw?

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Have You Made Oobleck?

We squish our arms elbow-deep into oobleck.  Amazed, we play all morning in this mixture of cornstarch and water. 

Mixing Oobleck

The children invite me to make oobleck, but I’ve never even heard the word.

“You know–it’s oobleck!  1 cup cornstarch and 1/2 cup water!”  These little girls know their science: mixing cornstarch with water creates a bowl of joy with unusual physical properties.  Oobleck functions both as a solid and as a liquid.  When you apply pressure to the mixture (mixing it with your hands, slapping it around), you get a nice ball of dough.  When you let it rest in your hands, that otherwise solid shape melts and oozes like a milkshake.

Little Girls and Science

It’s bizarre.  It’s addictive.  I find myself manipulating the oobleck with these friends for an hour.  Nevermind that white goop covers the counters and the floors (just let it dry and it sweeps right up).  Nevermind that I have work to do.

It’s just so fascinating, this stuff. 

I’m fascinated by objects or places that possess in-between sorts of qualities.  I like transitional states, borderland locations, and things that are both one thing and another at the same time.  I think of my froglet or that estuary.   I think of caterpillars turning into butterflies, autumn leaves changing and falling, and snowflakes forming above me.  Those things that are almost but not yet resonate so deeply with me.

Solid and Liquid Oobleck

It’s because I too am almost but not yet.  Half human, half spirit, we all dwell in that mystery of in-between living.  We are almost to heaven, almost to our true home.  In the meantime, I hold this day in my hand, sometimes feeling the hard pressure against it, sometimes feeling the smooth flow of peace in my heart.  Either way, I’m fascinated.

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Journal:  When life feels “almost but not yet,” how do I find peace right where I am? 

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Simple Moisture to Solve Winter Woes

I learn today the damaging results of winter.  This season, combined with the effects of drying heat in my home, makes us feel brittle and cracked.   There’s barely any moisture:  we shock each other every time our bodies meet, our hair stands on end, and we suffer from congestion and raw skin. 

I wake up with sinus pain and achy joints.   As I tell my pharmacist all my winter woes this morning, I’m simultaneously piling up medications for congestion and sinus headache.  He leans over the counter and tells me my problems will more likely be solved by simple moisture.   “Save your money,” he tells me.

That’s a pharmacist with flair. 

Humidify whatever space I’m in.  Boil water on the stove.  Pour the boiling water over a tray of vapor rub.  Drink liquids all day long.  All day long.  In a season like this, we don’t have the luxury of relaxing into our environment.  We assume a vigilance to make our indoor spaces suitable.

With these things in place–the liquids, the humidifier, the steam vapor–I then relax and breathe.  I drink deeply and breathe deeply to survive such a season as this.

The solution of simple moisture for what’s physically brittle and cracked reminds me of my journey towards spiritual health.  I drink deeply of truth and breathe deeply of spirit–setting things in place in my environment to do so–so I might experience the kind of health that goes deeper than this cracked skin and congestion.

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Journal:  How am I adjusting my physical and spiritual environment towards health? 

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Leaving a People Trail: A Guest Blog Post by Crystal Summers

A dear friend of mine, Crystal, has a high school football coach for a father.  On the afternoon of November 28th, her father was in a car accident that left him with multiple internal injuries, a fractured pelvis, and fractured ribs.  As I followed Crystal’s updates from the Intensive Care Unit and prayed for her family, I discovered her on-line journal entry that defined for me another way to live with flair.  With Crystal’s permission, I reprinted her “Lesson from ICU.”

Legacies with Legs

Wherever a football coach goes, he leaves a paper trail: wins and losses, 0-fers or championships–the numbers tell the story of a season.  Sometimes the paper trail makes him a hero, and sometimes it runs him out of town.  When others measure the quality of a football coach, his wins and losses lead the way. 

Over the past 6 weeks, we have had the privilege of seeing not the paper trail, but the people trail that my dad has left behind in 30 years of coaching.  Men and women that he has known and cared for at every stage of his career have called, visited, and left messages for my dad.  This is not the legacy that will be printed in the paper.  This is not the legacy that prompts a promotion.  But this is the only legacy that reaches beyond his lifetime.  This is the legacy that lasts.

Now don’t get me wrong, when the final buzzer sounds, my dad wants to win the game.  But the way he plays, he already has.

His legacies have legs.

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Journal:  When I think of my own legacy, do I think of leaving a people trail?

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Beyond Math and Music: Encouraging Excellence in Friendship

Last night, a friend arrives for a sleepover.  She has a green envelope that she presents to my daughter.  It’s a homemade “friendship award.”   She awards it to my daughter for “always understanding her.”  

I nearly burst into tears.  I run and get the tape and slap that thing to the wall where we will all look at it for as long as the tape holds.  Just last week, several girls at school received a friendship award as a trait of good citizenship.  My daughter wasn’t called up to receive that award, and she cried outside of the school.

The sleepover friend wanted to set the record straight. 

As I watch the two little girls celebrate their true friendship, I realize what I so strongly react to in all the articles circulating about parenting and the need to force math drills, excellence in piano, and various other versions of academic success.  The philosophy of parenting that prizes academic success above all else misses the one component of life that makes all that success worth it:  friendship

So I’ll continue to host slumber parties, play dates, dance parties, and spontaneous trips to the movie theater.  I’ll continue to put the homework aside for an afternoon so my daughter and her friends can go sledding, play dolls, and paint their fingernails.  I’ll display cupcakes instead of math flashcards.  I’ll let her blast music in the bedroom instead of shaming her into another piano drill.

If I raise a daughter who wins every prize in school, it won’t mean a thing without friends. 

I’m so thankful for my friends.  Happiness comes from sharing our lives with one another.   The day I defended my dissertation to earn my Ph.D., I felt profoundly empty.  I’ll never forget leaving that exam room, after 5 years of work, and wondering what it was all for. What mattered so much more were the friends waiting with flowers down the hall.

I had a friend who received the highest promotion in her job track at an Ivy League school.  She called me in tears because at the moment she received the news, she realized she had no one to tell. 

I don’t want my children to excel and have no one to tell.  It won’t be worth it.  They might become math geniuses, but if they don’t know the value of friendship and living in community, their intelligence might be directed towards selfish or even harmful ends.  Without friends, we lose our way.  Living with flair means I fill my wall with as many friendship awards as math scores.

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Journal:   How will I know I’m excelling in the art of friendship?  What are the marks of friendship excellence?

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A Great Verb for a Mission Statement

Today, I ask students to tell me what they will devote themselves to in their future careers.  In two sentences, they tell me 1) what they want to contribute to their field and 2) a few professional goals.

As we read aloud our statements, I’m suddenly aware of how self-focused and self-promoting such an assignment might become.  We listen to independent dreams and glorious self-actualization.  We build private kingdoms with our names on the highest building.

But one woman announces that her primary professional goal is collaboration.

Collaborate means to work together towards a common goal.  It’s a great verb to think about for a career and a life.  While many of us forge ahead with solitary tasks and private ambitions, we forget the power and importance of collaboration.   My student recognizes her dependence on other people and other organizations to reach mutually beneficial goals.

I start to wonder with whom I might collaborate in my life.   Is my personal goal really a communal one?  Is my self-focused personal dream really a much larger project involving a system so much bigger than myself?   How much more efficient might we become if we collaborate?

That verb challenges me to think about myself as a collaborator and not a solitary agent pushing my own agenda.  I know I’d often rather work alone, but surely there is strength, vision, and synergy when I collaborate.

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Journal:  Sometimes I think I’m too busy trying to make a name for myself to consider the value of collaboration towards shared goals.  What people or groups might I collaborate with in my parenting, teaching, writing, and ministry goals?

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The Worst Gift-Giver

I’m a horrible gift-giver.  It takes me forever to think about what would delight another person, and so I abandon the task altogether.   Other folks present beautiful, timely, unexpected gifts to their friends just because they saw something and thought to themselves, “My friend would love this.” 

I wish I were a better gift-giver!  I think of the kinds of “good gifts” God rains down–often beautiful, timely, and unexpected blessings.  I want to learn how to reflect that goodness to others. 

Yesterday, a former student of mine asks if I’ll meet her on campus because she has a little gift for me.  Nothing special, she tells me.

When she arrives with some other students, she pushes across the table a jar of Coconut Satin and Silk Lotion from a little company called Soaps and Such out in Auburn, New York.  Over her holiday break, she figured out how to find some for me. 

“It’s the smell you always commented on–the lotion smell you said you loved,” she says, smiling. “You can’t buy it anywhere but from this one place.  It’s homemade.”  

I open the jar and smell the coconut lotion that transports me to a tropical paradise. We all pass it around and lather our hands with it.

Last year, as I walked by this student’s desk to return her papers, I would linger and say, “What is that smell?  It smells just like coconut!  I wish I smelled like that all day.”

I’d be writing on the chalkboard, and I’d start craving coconut cake.   

It was her Coconut Satin and Silk Lotion.

That was six months ago.  

The student observes the tiniest detail and remembers.   It wasn’t a particularly expensive gift.  It wasn’t large or even wrapped.  But it changed my whole day. 

These sorts of gifts challenge me to observe and remember so I can bless others.  I don’t know what I loved more:  the gift or the fact that she remembered I like the smell of coconut.

Living with flair means I observe, remember, and bless others with tiny gifts. 

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Journal Question:   Sometimes I experience little blessings all day that show me God is watching and knows all the things I love.  As I learn to reflect God’s love, am I watching closely what tiny, simple things others love so I might give a gift to bless them?

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