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A Strange Lesson from My Mother’s Day Candle

My mother was the first to teach me that candles have “memory.”  When you light a jar or pillar candle the first time, you must let it burn for a few hours until the wax pools all the way to the edges.

You see, the candle remembers how far the wax pooled that first time, and it will only burn to that boundary every time you light it.  A small wax pool means your candle will tunnel as it burns.  It will waste the majority of the wax.  It can’t break free of that early pattern.  It remembers.

This morning my family comes into my bedroom with presents for Mother’s Day. Two scented jar candles, wrapped in tissue, roll out on the bedspread. My oldest daughter has breakfast on a tray for me, and as I look at this little family around me and light my candles, I think about candle memory

Will I ever break free from old patterns?  Am I doomed to candle memory in my own soul?  

Sometimes life feels so limited by our destructive patterns–set deep in stone–that we cannot change.  But I don’t want a narrow life!  I don’t want to tunnel down–bringing my children with me–because of old patterns set by the world, the flesh, and the devil (as Scripture teaches).  All morning in church, I think of the hopelessness of that candle memory and of a life that cannot ever break free from a set pattern or false belief.

I need to recover from the patterns of thought–lies I believe–about where my hope and security originate.  
 
In church, I look and see rows and rows of folks in recovery from drugs and alcohol.  A few minutes before, I shake hands with a woman who tells me (in the same breath) her name and her reality:  I’m in recovery.  She’s been clean two weeks. 

What can break the old pattern?  Who can erase the narrow boundaries and set us free?  That new friend knows her name and her reality.  She’s in recovery.  Day by day, she embraces a new reality, a new pattern.  It’s Jesus in her–the only One who can set us free from the prison of ourselves.  

That’s what I think about when I light this Mother’s Day candle.  Candle memory may seem final, but there’s a Light that knows no boundaries and can expose any false pattern.   I invite Jesus in–all the way to the far edges–and let my heart melt and pool deep and wide. 

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Journal:  Do you ever feel trapped by an old pattern?  

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Mothers are Beanstalks

This afternoon, the children run outside and design a bean garden for themselves.  They want a beanstalk.  

I discover that we need a structure in that bean garden around which the bean plants can twine.

I love that verb, first of all.  To twine means to interlock tightly, twisting up and coiling about.

Beans are twining plants, and this means they cannot support their own weight.  For vertical growth, they circle around a support in order to grow.  They exert continuous pressure against this support so they can rise tall and strong.

They will not survive without interlocking tightly, twisting up and coiling about a supporting structure.   

I needed that truth today as I think about motherhood and this life of faith.  I cannot do this on my own.  I lean hard against the Lord as that internal structure around which I cling.  I interlock.  Every tendril of thought and action encircles one singular support. 

If I’m exhausted, shriveled on the vine, and incapable of doing this alone, I remember I wasn’t meant to.  I’m supposed to twine

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Journal:  What does interlocking with God mean when I’m exhausted?

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Darkness Turned to Light

I don’t know much about photography.  I’ve never taken a class, and I don’t use a fancy camera.  All I know is that taking pictures has become a source of joy and flair.  Just yesterday, I realize that what photographers do best is capture the light.   We have a whole day to observe the light. 

Morning Sky and Cherry Blossoms

When I look at the light all day, I see the world differently. 

Purple Flowers in Afternoon

Tiny Spider Web at 3:00 PM

Hello, Late Afternoon Little Bug

Cherry Blossoms as Sun Sets

Twilight

There’s a gift to receive because the light shines.  Even when dim and hard to discern, there’s a gift.  As I think about the radiance of God today, I remember that a life of faith means I’m a photographer setting out to capture the light.  I open my eyes and see His radiance.  That light reveals truth and guides us to beauty, to hope, and to salvation.   The prophet Isaiah writes: 

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
   along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
   and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
   I will not forsake them. 

With camera in hand, living with flair means I set out in faith that God can turn any darkness into light.  I look through that lens and see it today.  We are not forsaken, and any rough places will be smoothed.  The result?  Radiance!  Beauty!  We are not forsaken. 


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Journal:  Is there a darkness today that God will turn to light? 

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What My Daughter Brought to Show and Tell

This morning, my daughter puts a copy of How to Write with Flair in her backpack.  It’s her show-and-tell day. 

I want to cry.  

I think that motherhood is all about celebrating children, but sometimes, they celebrate us.  

“I’m proud of you, Mom.”   

I’m going to go cry now.  

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Journal:  I want to do things that make my children proud.  I haven’t thought of it this way before.  Am I living a life that my children will continue to celebrate?

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Why Not? (The Story of the Green Apple Cupcakes)

This year, I’ve learned to be a little gourmet.  My children taught me that with the hamburger cupcakes.  I’m learning to try things that fall way outside of my natural gifts and abilities.

Take green apple cupcakes, for example.  My youngest can’t wait to bring in cupcakes to kindergarten this week for her birthday.  She wants gourmet cupcakes, just like her sister’s hamburgers.  We search the internet together and find a lovely cupcake blog that features green apple cupcakes. 

I’m nervous about this.  We get the ingredients for cupcakes, and then I’m told I just need green sprinkles, a pretzel stick stem, a mint leaf, and some brown sprinkles to resemble apple seeds.  I’m supposed to take a little spoonful of sprinkles away to make it look like somebody took a bite out of the apple!  I have to admit that, in theory, this whole thing has the potential to be adorable. 

Slow and steady.  I follow the directions, and voila! 

I’m so happy I could burst.  It’s the same way I felt when I followed the directions to thread my old sewing machine.  I sewed doll pillows with my daughter just by following directions.

Slow and steady.


Living with flair means we do things we wouldn’t normally do.  We enter unusual worlds (like sewing and baking) and find pleasure when we simply follow directions.

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Journal:  Is there a project I should try?

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Come See This!

At Fitness Group, the children huddle around me and tug on my sleeve because they have things to show me.

One boy has drawn a dragon out of chalk that spans the length of 3 cars.  He drags me over to his drawing, insisting that I observe the scales, the teeth, the wings, the claws.  With precise detail, he explains his work.  “You have to see this!” he cries and points to the “primary set of claws.”    

Others alert the parents to ducks that have landed in the far corner of the parking lot.  “Watch me chase them!” I hear.  Still another displays a kite in the shape of an owl.  “Come see this!” she calls out.

Others jump rope and tell me I have to watch them

I consider how beautiful this insistence to come see this! is.

It won’t always be this way.

At some point, they’ll stop showing themselves–and their discoveries–off.  They’ll become self-conscious and internal, hidden away and private.  The world becomes a critical judge, and they’ll hide. They’ll become embarrassed and worried about the crowd.

They’ll produce things that deserve our attention, but we won’t know about them because they won’t dare tell anyone.

I know because I teach college seniors.  Dragon drawings will stay hidden in notebooks.  Nobody admits to chasing ducks or wanting to fly an owl kite.

I wish we all did. 

Living with flair means we build communities where it’s right and good to cry out, “Come see this!”  We build communities where we invite others to show us what they’ve made, where they tell us what they’re thinking, and where we watch and listen intently.  That’s why I love Saturday Morning Pancakes and Creative Projects Night Out with the Ladies (what we did for my birthday in autumn).

In these spaces, we celebrate one another and rediscover that child within that once drew dragons, chased ducks across a parking lot, and told everyone about it.  Come see this! 

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Journal:  What have you made or been doing that you can tell others about?

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Making Us Suitable

Do you remember my huge gardening mistake?

This morning, I look out the window and remember how difficult it was for me to remove all the blossoms and young fruit from my blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries that first season.  I didn’t understand it!  I didn’t want to wait!  But I learned this:  

This counter-intuitive and destructive move would make my plants thrive.  If I take away the fruit, the plant directs the energy and nutrients to the most important part of the plant: the root system.  A new berry plant needs a few years to make an indestructible foundation of roots. 

I walk out to the garden and notice the morning dew on the strawberries.



The berry patch has tripled–maybe quadrupled– in size.  My deliberate attempts to diminish these plants by removing the fruit worked.  

Even the raspberries come back larger and more abundant.  This bush was one shoot last summer. 
 

I’ll never forget this.  What looks like a fruitless season–cut short, wasteful, damaged, stolen–is preparation for abundance.  We are being made ready and suitable in advance.  My roots are being nourished and strengthened to support what’s coming next.  It may take a year or two (even three), but it’s God’s preparation for the fruit to come.

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Journal:  Do you feel like you are in a season of preparation? 

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Are You Confident?

Confidence.  I think about this word today because I read a story about a woman who changed her hair color.  She became so much more confident.  A silly thing–an external change–altered her perception of herself and influenced how she interacted with others.  

I look up the word.  Confidence means you have assurance about yourself and your abilities.  But where does it come from?  Why are some folks so confident?  They move forward with a security–a trust–that they can launch out into new frontiers with sure success.

Others have ideas that flicker out like snuffed flames because they can’t imagine themselves ever really doing what they want so badly to do. They cower under the reality of potential criticism, inexperience, and insecurity. 

As I imagine a picture of confidence, I realize that confidence comes from the deeply held belief that we’re unconditionally accepted, equipped, and commissioned by God to do things.  If we fail, it doesn’t matter: we’re accepted (and even in failure, God works out a favorable outcome).  If we feel inadequate: we remember God equips (and in our limitations, God shines).  If we feel uncertain: we recall that God has set apart the good works for us to accomplish. We’re commissioned.   

When my writing book showed up on amazon, I had a moment of sheer terror.  It was public.  I was going to be mocked!  I was going to fail and forever go down in history as the poor woman who tried to write a book (in reality, nobody really thinks about us as much as we imagine).  But when I picture the confident me–the one whose confidence rests in God who does not fail us–I took a deep breath and remembered the truth. 

Living with flair means we cultivate a picture of confidence.  What do we want to do that a simple lack of confidence hinders? 

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Journal:  What takes our confidence away?

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The You They Want

The last little girl just left my house after a small birthday party for my youngest daughter.

With a tight budget, we hosted a “garden party” theme.  This garden party included making greenhouses, taking swings at a butterfly pinata, and letting my extremely cool teenage neighbor come and do face-painting of butterflies, ladybugs, and anything the girls wanted.  Still, all the old insecurities rise up:  Is this fun enough?  Is it OK that it’s not expensive? 

Just then, my daughter asks me to make the fruit platter.  Can I make it in the shape of a butterfly for the garden party?  If you remember the legendary Boo Platter (and my most memorable act), you know that I’m not crafty or skilled in these areas.  But we come up with this: 

It just so happens that this little platter steals the show.  And the greenhouses and the face-painting were exactly what these little girls wanted. 

When I’m tempted to compare myself to other mothers, I remember that God gave me these children.  He gives me ideas that are perfect for them.  And when the old insecurities rise up, I remember the fruit platter. 

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Journal:  Do you realize you’re the perfect person for the task God assigns?  It’s you

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Why Searching Should Be Part of This Day

Baby Squirrels

Do you know how hard it is to take a photograph of a baby squirrel?

Hard.  Very hard.  Baby squirrels are fast.

This week, we discover a nest of baby squirrels high up in the front yard tree.  I find myself looking out the window constantly just to catch a single glimpse of them.  They venture from the nest and explore the limbs, but when I approach the tree with a camera, they scurry back into their nest.

Can you just stay still for a second, Little Squirrel?

Baby Squirrel

I decide to bring a telescope to the side yard to spy on them from afar.  Yes, a telescope.  I realize the neighbors think I am crazy.  I wave my arms and point up to the tree.  “Baby squirrels!” I shout.     

Searching with the greatest intent and the greatest care, I finally see them.

All morning, I think about the search to see an unusual and wonderful sight in nature.   To search means to look thoroughly with the intent of finding.  That’s how I study this nest in a tree, and that’s how I want to approach this day.  That’s the way I want to investigate my lingering questions, read scripture, and converse with someone else.  I’m searching–looking thoroughly–for that wonderful and unusual thing in store today. 

If I turn my eyes away, I might miss it.  

Living with flair means I’m a thorough searcher. 

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Journal:  What activities today deserve my looking thoroughly

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