I’m racing about, scrubbing floors and making beds, and my cell phone rings and rings. Who has time to chat at a time like this?
Besides, it’s storming outside and my beautifully raked lawn is now a tangle of leaves and branches. Everything was supposed to be perfect as my family arrives for Thanksgiving.
Nothing is going to be perfect. I know this.
I check the voice mail and a neighbor chirps: “Go outside! There’s a rainbow sitting on top of your house!”
The phone rings again. It’s my husband. “Go outside! There’s a rainbow! Show the girls!”
We stop everything and observe this glorious display. It doesn’t matter how anything else looks right now because there’s a rainbow over me. And it’s now a double rainbow, barely visible, but there.
I marvel at that sign of God’s goodness and love, that sign of peace. It’s over me, barely visible, but there.
There’s a rainbow over you right now.
A double serving of Thanksgiving peace.
When you carefully manage your mental health like I do, a change of routine can get everything out of balance. An older, wiser mother I know offered her best advice for enjoying the holidays–despite any stress or change of routine.
She said, “Keep your wits about you.”
In other words, do whatever it takes to keep yourself in balance. Even in the most rushed of days, I want to take time to exercise, sleep enough, eat healthy foods, and spend time in reflection and prayer. My doctor says that these activities recalibrate the brain to keep me from being “reactive.”
Imagine a snake that whips her head around and attacks with speed and ferocious power. When I’m reactive, I snap at family members and let the venom of a bad mood dominate my speech and actions.
Instead of reactive living, I want responsive living. I want to be at peace in my heart and gentle in my speech. I want to respond, not react. I want to be like a butterfly, carrying sweet nectar–not venom–within me.
So when I excuse myself from the holiday rush for a brisk walk, an early bedtime, or a moment to reflect and write a blog, I’m investing in my own balance.
I want to enter a room full of friends and family and be a blessing–alighting as a butterfly upon each dear soul. Let me offer beauty, let me delight you. But first, let me take a moment to keep my wits about me.
(Photos, “Indian Cobra,” courtesy of Kamalmv, Wikipedia, and “Monarch in May,” courtesy of Creative Commons)
This weekend, I could not help my fascination with winterberry holly. I love how vibrant the berries appear against a drab late-autumn landscape. Those berries challenge their depressing surroundings with a hallelujah of red.
They rise out of treacherous, thorny cages of leaves.
They nourish entire populations of birds–over 48 species. Even small mammals depend on these luscious berries to sustain them through the bitter winter.
Let me rise out of thorns, answer with joy whatever dark background hovers about, and nourish those around me.
A high school student in my town had a problem. She didn’t know what she wanted to do for a career.
So she polled everyone. She texted all her friends and family–the ones who knew her the best–and asked them for their opinion on the matter. She even inquired of her teachers. She asked people what they could imagine her doing because she figured that those who know her best might have noticed some of her strengths and talents she couldn’t necessarily see.
A high percentage of texts came back suggesting she pursue a career she had never imagined for herself. Her friends and family saw a direction that she couldn’t see: a teacher. Text after text explained to her why she would be a perfect teacher. The texts even came back with a specific grade in mind with clear reasoning why. This overwhelming response made her deeply consider a new direction and think through what she had forgotten: a childhood passion for teaching others.
This is career planning with flair.
It takes a brave person to send out the question: “What should I do with my life?” At that moment of humble confusion and uncertainty, an entire network answers the call to help. In this student’s case, the community arrived at a quick consensus. All of those loving and insightful texts remind me that career planning (or any future planning) doesn’t have to happen alone. We can poll our friends and teachers, gather wise opinions, and move forward with new insight.
The subtext of those texts? We love you, we care about your future, and you are not alone.
Driving through central Pennsylvania, I gaze with wonder at the work of Amish families on their farms. Through the warmth and convenience of my car, equipped with music and movies, I watch the dance of their laundry on lines between trees; the long pants kick up in the wind, and the crisp white shirts wave as we pass.
A farmer works his field by hand, tilling the soil with pleasure. Barn cats leap up around a little girl’s feet as she pushes her wheelbarrow through the family’s garden. A mother collects sticks for her fire. We have to slow our pace to give a horse and buggy room on the road.
How inconvenient this all is. How strange this work.
As I think about the labor of living in my own very convenient and very comfortable life, I’m suddenly aware of my stubborn heart. I want ease and comfort. I want the smoothest way out of work. But when I look back at my happiest days, the ones full of joy and peace, I realize those were days when I surrendered to the work.
I had a willing spirit. I submitted to tasks, to people, and to my circumstances with joy. I got up and worked the way a farmer works a field and wipes a brow. I worked the kind of work that makes you so hungry you eat with a different pleasure and so tired you relish sleep like it’s a precious gift.
Will my children know this kind of work in my culture?
The convenient and the comfortable, the lazy and the entertained life, may seem like pleasure, but it doesn’t satisfy the way work does.
Lord, give me a willing spirit to do this work. Let me labor hard and enjoy the tasks before me. Living with flair means I sweat and wipe my brow. I meet the tasks assigned with pleasure.
I want to be willing for my whole life. As the psalmist writes, “Lord grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.”
I’m frantic about my meatballs.
Extended family will dine next week on spaghetti and meatballs the day before Thanksgiving. I can’t remember what to do, and I want to do it right.
The Italian Mama advises me that I have choices. I can brown the meatballs in olive oil and then cook them in the sauce all day, or I can throw them directly in the sauce. The browning gives a little crunch, but it doesn’t ultimately matter. In her words, we’ll still reach the “goodness inside.”
I can throw them. I can relax and still reach the goodness inside.
My morning begins by watching children race down the street so the speed limit monitor sign records their speed. I still haven’t had enough coffee to move properly, and these kids are racing. They know how to walk to school with flair. I secretly want to record my own speed. I still might, but I’m too busy trying to contain the activity.
Then, I volunteer in the kindergarten classroom. The teacher puts me in charge of the Turkey Masks for the feast the class will have next week. I’m the monitor, and I can’t contain this project; the children smear glue everywhere, and feathers are in their hair, on their shirts, and attached to their jeans.
Eventually, we produce these fine specimens.
Apparently, this makes the feast more fun and uncontrollable.
Meanwhile, I monitor the purple glue sticks and question how in the world they go on purple but dry clear. The chemistry behind this phenomenon has me stumped.
Something dries out, and the purple disappears. Who invented this great item? Maybe the same person who, as a kid, would have raced towards the speed limit monitor sign.
Lord, let me monitor my own joy today. Let me race down streets, wear turkey masks even when I can’t see a thing, and stay vibrant purple. Let me not be contained. Let me have turkey feathers even on my jeans.
I’m on my way to run in front of the speed monitor.
Right now I’m launching into my official Thanksgiving preparations. Imagine all the family driving in. Imagine the rooms to arrange, the week of activities to plan, the house to clean, the meals to prepare.
There’s a way to go about this with flair.
Lately, I’ve been reading and hearing a lot about how to handle Thanksgiving stress. At the same time, I’m reading article after article about how to “Have a Thanksgiving to Impress!”
Does Thanksgiving stress come from what I stress? If I emphasize wanting to impress my guests, my Thanksgiving becomes a performance to evaluate rather than a holiday to enjoy.
I don’t want family members to remember how impressive I was; I want them to remember how loved they felt.
So I’m cleaning my home to make others feel comfortable, not impressed. We’re planning a menu to nourish and celebrate, not impress.
Living with flair means I make preparations in order to love–not impress–those around my table. Suddenly, it doesn’t matter about this old rented house, this tight budget, this simple meal. We’ll hold hands around a thrift-store table and thank God for all we have. You will feel loved, not impressed.
And that will impress you.
Last night for Neighborhood Fitness Group, we dance our normal dances and crawl around like wild animals. But then, the children beg for “The Jump Rope Challenge.” Turning jump rope in a basement is a challenge in itself, but we figure out a way to make it work.
“The Jump Rope Challenge” isn’t a normal competition. It’s a battle against your own best record. Before each child begins jumping, he or she announces a personal goal. Sometimes, this number is 10 jumps. Sometimes, it’s 110 jumps . There’s a scorekeeper, cheerleaders, and rope turners, so everybody has a role to play.
A little girl jumps. We cheer when she surpasses 10 jumps and reaches 39. The next one exceeds 100 and achieves 102 jumps. The next one beats his record of 18 and goes for 21 jumps. High-fives! Loud cheering!
The fun of the challenge is that you beat yourself.
I’m amazed because the children don’t compare their record to other records. The moment jumping rope is about their personal best–unique to them, in their stage of life, set right at their fitness level. My sister has told me for years about the running world and “personal records.” It’s not important who finishes ahead of or behind you. You have your own time to beat.
I keep turning the jump rope, and my arm feels like it’s going to give out. I tell myself to keep turning so that a little boy can reach his personal best. Somewhere deep inside of him, he musters up the strength. I see his face, and I try to imagine what’s going on inside of his head. He wants to quit; I see that. But he doesn’t.
The scorekeeper records the personal win. We tape the evidence to the wall. Maybe I’ll keep these charts in my basement for 20 more years. Maybe I’ll show them at their high school graduation and remind them of these nights in my basement when they accomplished a personal best and the neighborhood cheered.
They wanted to quit, but they didn’t.