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Flossing and Jesus

Sometime this year, I fell out of the habit of flossing.  I’m not sure when it happened.  Maybe it was when I ran out and forgot to put it on the grocery shopping list.   Maybe it was when I decided I was too tired one night and just chose not to floss.  It was easier to “forget” the next night and the next. 

This morning, I realize I really need to floss.  I find the floss, saw it down between my teeth, and feel surprisingly good about this activity. 

It feels like I’m living with flair when I floss. 

I learn that bacteria in the mouth starts to harden into plaque within only 48 hours.  In just 10 days the plaque becomes tartar–rock hard and incredibly difficult to remove.  Tartar leads to gingivitis which leads to periodontal disease (not fun). 

I think about my week and how hardened my heart often feels.  I wake up some days and feel the weight of my own selfishness.  In just 48 hours (or less), I can turn from a spirit-controlled, loving wife and mother into a narcissistic she-devil demanding her own way.  Left unchecked, in less than 10 days, I’m off in the pursuit of false dreams and false gods.  I’m in a rage: complaining, entitled, tearing apart my family.  Who is this woman?

How do these attitudes and behaviors lodge and harden?  What could I have done to break up that bacteria and stay fresh and clean before God? I remember the Psalmist who wrote,

“Search me, God, and know my heart;
   test me and know my anxious thoughts.
 See if there is any offensive way in me,
   and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Living with flair means I floss.   I apply, on a daily basis, the truth of God’s word against every surface and root out even tiny–seemingly harmless–bacteria that overtakes and hardens in just hours.  

I ask God to reveal “any offensive way in me.”  And when he does, I confess and know that, as 1 John 1:9 claims, “God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

I can’t forget this habit, this flossing.  
  

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Journal:  How can I build in the practice of confession on a daily basis? 

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What Children Remember About Spring Break

This morning on the walk to school, a little boy tells us his plans for Spring Break. 

All week, we’ve been hearing what other families will enjoy. Between discussions about Disney World and indoor water parks, I’m jealous and sad.  I think about everything my children will miss out on. 

I think about “the good life” and how deprived we are with this tight budget.   I pray for a way out of this bad mood. 

Last year, we drove to New Jersey and then spent a day in New York City.  I took pictures of all the wonderful things my daughters experienced.  Every American family knows, after all, that you’re not really a good parent of daughters unless you visit the American Girl store. 

Back then, I believed the myth that children need fancy in order to feel loved and enjoy their lives. 

Feeding Birds in New York City

So this morning a little boy tells us that he’s going to New York City.  My youngest daughter turns to him and says, “I went last year!  You will not believe how amazing the birds are!” 

The birds?  What about the restaurants, the museums, the shopping?  What about the doll hair salon and the toy stores? 

She doesn’t mention any of it.  What she remembers is sitting on the steps of a building and feeding the pigeons with me.  That lasting memory–the one she cherishes and talks about–cost nothing.  She goes on and on and on about feeding birds

Living with flair doesn’t mean fancy or expensive.   Sometimes I just think it does. 

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Journal:  When I’m tempted to think happy memories mean fancy, how can I remember that the best memories often cost nothing? 

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“Do Everything, Even the Insignificant Things, in a Significant Way”

Early this morning, before the chatter and patter of little girls and the swish and push of backpacks and coats, I read this quote:

“Do everything, even the insignificant things, in a significant way.”  I’m reading an ancient little devotional by E. Stanley Jones, and his words hit me stronger than the aroma of the Dunkin’ Donuts coffee I have brewing behind my back as I write. 

As I ask God to show me how to do this–how to make each moment truly significant–I’m interrupted by the purrs and meows of hungry kitties.  I stoop down to feed them, and as they swirl about my feet like I’m within some tornado of fur, I pause and thank God for these furry friends.  I thank Him for One-Eyed Jack and all I’ve learned.  I thank him for the companionship these faithful cats provide as a refuge for little girls. 

It becomes a simple moment of worship right there by the cat food bowls. 

I turn back to my question, and I already know the answer. 

I infuse each moment with a thankful heart and invite the glory of God in.  I want to amplify each moment like that.  I want to fold laundry and worship.  I want to empty this dishwasher and encounter God’s glory.

I want those moments to be as powerful and symbolic as when I put my American flag out each day.  I stand on the porch as the sun rises, and I tell the girls how thankful we are to be citizens of a great nation.  I remember my friend Charity’s brother who died in Iraq.  I ask God to protect our soldiers and to help my family honor their sacrifice.  I make a ridiculous bugle call sound with my mouth as if I’m raising a flag (I really do this, and it’s completely ridiculous, but it’s how I sanctify the moment). 

I’m moving forward today into a thousand insignificant tasks that now have monumental meaning.  I’m sanctifying mundane moments. 

Living with flair means I do everything in a significant way.

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Journal:  How can I empty my dishwasher in a significant way? 

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A New Approach to Serving Others

Today, I hear my husband explain a new way to care for folks in our community.  He says that we do things “with” people and not “for” them.  As a scholar obsessed with the nuances of language, I find myself baffled by how a simple change in a preposition revolutionizes how we act.

Prepositions reveal relationship.  Am I doing things “with” my community or just “for” my community?  For years, my husband and I followed the model of doing things “for” other people.  But two years ago, we wanted to belong to our community and not stand outside of it.

We had recently heard a Navajo Indian speaking about various groups that would visit his reservation.  They’d bring help or aid and quickly leave.  Yet what the Navajo truly wanted, more than anything else, was to be known, understood, and valued.  They wanted the organizations to be “with them” and not just come do things “for them.”

In our community, I have learned (finally) to be with people.  The walk-to-school campaigns, the Monday Night Fitness Groups, and the Saturday Pancakes are all about being with my community.  We mutually encourage, mutually support, mutually serve.

In my parenting, I have learned (finally) to do things with my children and not just for them.  I’m learning to say, “I would like to do this with you and not just for you.”  That philosophy seems to honor their dignity and mine as well.

It’s the same with teaching.  It’s the same with blogging.  There’s a “withness” about this work that transforms it.  We are with each other. 

My husband reminds me that the incarnation is God “with us.”  Immanuel–God with us–represents a prepositional phrase that’s changed my life.

Living with flair means I learn the meaning of with. 

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Journal:  How can I change my “for you” to “with you?”

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A Disaster Waiting to Happen

This morning, fog cloaks the neighborhood. I pull out of my driveway and cannot even see the house next door.

Every instinct I have makes the situation worse:  High beams?  No! Their light reflects off the fog and blinds me.  Brake and swerve?  No!  Sudden movements mean cars pile up behind me or I hit the thing beside me.  Drive up close to the car in front?  No!  No, no, no!

I read later about a “visibility expert” at Virginia Tech (Ron Gibbons) who devotes his life to the study of how to ensure visibility in fog, snow, or rain.  Most every instinct we have when we experience low visibility endangers us.  Instead, we must use low beams, tap our breaks as we ease off the accelerator, make no sudden movements, and pull over if we need to. 

And, perhaps most importantly, choose not to drive at all.

All day, I think about things in my future I cannot yet discern.  With that horrible visibility, I’m tempted to trust my instincts and react on impulse.  I’m tempted to engineer my circumstances (swerving, braking) and stay in charge of my life.  Really, I’m just a disaster waiting to happen.

What if I slowed down, pulled over, left the car and trusted a Visibility Expert?  When God obscures my path, I need not worry.  I just trust something deeper than instinct, deeper than my own control.

I pull over.  I rest.  I resist my frantic instincts.    

(photo by National Weather Service: Jackson, KY)

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Journal:  What can’t I see that I need to trust God for?

PS:  A woman in the English Department commented today that this bad weather wasn’t gloomy, rainy, or foggy.  “I like to say that it’s just juicy outside,” she says and smiles.  I love that!

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A Very Public Failure for My Daughter

Yesterday, Barnes and Noble slates my daughter to perform a piano piece as part of a fundraiser for the Music Academy.  Neighbors come, cameras focus, and parents beam.

But when it is her turn to perform, my daughter bursts into tears and freezes.  She cannot even approach the piano.

Instead of forcing her onto the piano bench, we gather up her blue puffy coat and the sheet music in her red tote bag and travel home as fast as we can.  

She slumps into the house and says over and over again, “I couldn’t do it!”  She cries and falls onto the couch.  She writes apology notes to the neighbors and her piano teacher. 

And then something beautiful happens.  The neighbors send messages that they went to the event to support her, and it didn’t matter whether she performed or not.  She could turn away from a thousand stages, and they’d still come every time.  My daughter, not her performance, mattered. 

Her piano teacher calls to tell her that learning the piano isn’t about performance.  She tells my daughter that she can choose when, if, and why she wants to perform at all.  Learning the piano has intrinsic value as an end in itself.  The goal was never public applause, flashing camera bulbs, and bragging parents.

Nobody is disappointed. 

My daughter nods with understanding.  She wipes her face and remembers that she loves to make music.   And I remember the gospel truth with every comforting phone call:  it was never about performance.  God’s love and favor are never dependent on my good performances.  The sooner children learn this, the more they might relax into the freedom that comes with being unconditionally loved, accepted, and valued.

I ask my daughter for permission to tell her story.  She says, “Sure, Mom!”  It doesn’t bother her anymore.  She knows now that it’s never about performance.  And it isn’t a public failure after all. 

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Journal:  Am I tempted to believe my worth is in my performance?

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Keeping Hope Alive

Yesterday, this little girl (the one who lost her first tooth) brings home a homemade bird feeder.  She announces that the bagel was “a rotten one, leftover from her teacher’s kitchen,” and the birdseed and spread cannot be eaten by humans. 

Noted.  

We hang the bird feeder on the winterberry bush.  And we wait.

And we wait. 

We wait, wait, and wait some more. 

I read somewhere that it takes backyard birds a few days to find a new feeder. 

All day today, we stop every few minutes and glance out the kitchen window just in case a bird has arrived.  We talk about who might be the first to catch sight of that first little bird. 

No birds yet.  But the desiring of them, the wait, delights us. 

We remember another wait, last April, for a hibernating turtle to emerge from underneath our deck.  It feels just like that, this waiting, and we love it.

It feels like the wait for a first loose tooth. 

I want to construct more apparatuses designed to teach me the beauty of hope.  A backyard bird feeder reminds me to hope today.  I wait patiently with my daughters, peer into the landscape ahead, and keep our longing alive.  Tomorrow might be the day! 

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Journal:  What am I hoping for, and how do I keep my hope alive? 
 

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My Whole House Smells Like This

Frying Donuts

Last night, at the weekly game night we host for graduate students, a friend of ours makes homemade donuts.  Give this man some flour, and he can make anything.  Last month, he invented the most amazing pizza crusts, and before that, he offered everyone crêpes that we dusted with powdered sugar and lemon.

While everyone else plays, he works diligently in my kitchen, telling jokes and commenting on the day’s news.  I observe, discussing everything from photography to physics.  When the donuts finish frying in oil, he plates them and walks around like a waiter to deliver the treats to folks in the basement, in the living room, or anywhere they happen to be hanging out.

Stack of Crepes

My husband and I wake up to the lingering smell of fried food.  That deep frying permeates even the bedspread, even the pillows.  When the coffee’s made, I feel like I’m in a southern grandma’s warm kitchen.

The donuts are long-gone, but the kitchen still remembers.  

The donuts were simple pleasure, a blessing from a friend.  All morning, I think about what it means to be a blessing to someone.  I think about what I can offer to nourish another person–physically, emotionally, spiritually.  What simple pleasures might I bring?  May that blessing permeate deeply, leaving a pleasing aroma.   

 
(photo of crepes by David.Monniaux / Frying donuts: Wikimedia Commons)

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Journal:  What can I offer today?

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Every Problem We Have Is Related to Our View of God

Today, I remember this quote that I read almost 15 years ago in a little book called, Disciples are Made not Born, by Walter Henrichsen and Howard Hendricks.  The authors claim that “every problem we have is related to our view of God.”  It was the kind of sentence a person underlines and then rewrites in her favorite journal by her bed.

It’s the kind of quote to repeat to yourself when you’re thinking about everything that’s going wrong in your life.

I remember it because I have received multiple emails from the English Department entitled:  EMERGENCY MEETING! to “update us on the financial situation.”  The budge crisis affects all of our jobs, and I have no doubt that the purpose of this meeting will confirm our fears.  

I look at these emails and ponder the meaning of the words “emergency” and “crisis.”  Then, I restate the truth:  Every problem I have is related to my view of God. 

Can this really be true? The quote argues that if we have a big God, we have small problems.  If we have a small God, we have big problems.

What kind of God do I have?

Do I view God in such a way that what the world sees as an “emergency” or a “crisis,” I now see dissolving into a peaceful opportunity to see the work of God displayed?  What do I need to believe about God to live with the kind of flair that smiles in the face of bad news?   The Psalmist in Psalm 112 (a wonderful acrostic poem) proclaims that those who know God will “never be shaken.”  He writes, “They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord. Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear.”

Living with flair means our hearts stay steadfast, trusting, unshaken, and fearless.  We have a very big God. 

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Journal:  If I have a problem today, how does my view of God change this problem into a possibility?

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