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My New Approach to Catastrophe

Driving home from preschool today, two bubbles floated across the street like they had somewhere to get to.  I couldn’t see any sign of someone blowing bubbles, or even any other bubbles, anywhere.   They must be mighty resilient, I thought.  One was bigger than the other, and it looked like a mama bubble and a baby bubble.  I imagined the wind, the buildings, the people, or even the animals they might have encountered before crossing my path.  And yet they remained intact, beautifully sparkling in the sun while floating just above my car.  Resilient. 

I said the word aloud, and my daughter repeated it.

“It’s a great word,” I told her.  I had actually looked the word up that very morning. My friend and I were talking about parenting, and she mentioned wanting to raise resilient children.  She advised me not to constantly rescue my children, to not be afraid to let them suffer, and to realize that adversity creates strong children. 

All week, I’ve been trying to rescue my older daughter from the bossy, mean girls who roll their eyes on the playground and insult her.  I’m the mom who calls the teacher and wants to be there, mediating, controlling the situation, and ensuring total peace and happiness for my child. 

Last night, I gave up the fight.  I’m lying on the bed with my daughter.  I’m listening to her talk and talk and talk about the mean girls, about the bullies, about the gossip and jealousy.  For once, I don’t try to solve it; I don’t go email the teacher again.  I’ve been doing that all year.  For the rest of my daughter’s life, there will be mean girls.  I can’t save her, no matter how hard I try.

“Look,” I said.  “You are just great.  I love everything about you.  You will figure out a way to handle those girls.  I believe in you.  God is with you.  You can figure this out.”

“I know,” she said, smiling with that one loose tooth hanging by a thread.  “I totally will.”  
 
The dictionary tells me that a resilient person possesses the ability to recover readily from adversity.  In science, resilience refers to the energy a thing can store up as it deforms or is put under stress that it releases as it reforms.  In organizations, resiliency is the ability to positively adapt to the consequences of a catastrophic failure.

I’m praying that she’s storing up energy from this, that she’ll learn that ready recovery skill, and that whatever catastrophic failures come, she can positively adapt. Tonight, I’m telling her I’m so proud of the resiliency she’s already shown in these enormous eight years.  

Resilient girls can handle anything.  Put that on her resume!  Put that in the cover letter!  I survived recess today.  What did you do?  

This way of living with flair is the only way I’ll survive parenting.  Living with flair means I value raising resilient children.  It means I embrace adversity myself for what it’s storing up in me. 

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My Huge Gardening Mistake

Last night I bragged all about my blueberries, my strawberries, and even my blackberries.  My dear friends, older, wiser, and experts in gardening asked if this was their first year in the ground. When I said, “yes,” they cried:

“You need to remove that fruit!  Pinch off the blossoms, too.  Do not let those plants produce!  Not this summer, and not next summer either.”

All week, we’d been so happy about those blueberries and those ripening strawberries.  I had imagined my blueberry pies, my strawberry smoothies, my blackberry jam.  There was no way I was going to destroy that young fruit and those beautiful blossoms.  Who were these people to suggest I would have to be patient for two more summers?  (I realize that most of my friends know this about berry plants.  I somehow missed the information.)

“You have to.  You just have to do it.  Make your husband do it,” my understanding friend said. “But it has to happen.”

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.  Then, we can enjoy the fruit.  It would take three summers. 

“I know it’s hard.  It killed me to do it to my own fruit plants,” another said.

So this morning, with my daughters (and me!) safely away from the garden, my husband prepared our plants for abundance by deliberately diminishing them.  All night I’d been thinking of what my friend said as I sat there with my mouth hanging open, refusing to believe the truth about my plants.  I had to figure out what spiritual process this represents, what truth about the universe this destructive act mirrors. The flair project depended upon my ability to find the right in the wrongness. 

She said, with such love and wisdom:  “You’ve lived here three years, right?  Weren’t the first two hard?  And now, in your third year, everything’s going so well.”  I thought about the principle of three years.  Maybe it was true.  Maybe God knows that I need seasons of total emptiness, no fruit, not even blossoms, in order to get my roots deep and strong.  I thought about marriage, of raising those babies to toddlers, of moving to new places and starting new jobs.  I thought about years waiting for manuscripts to be published, friendships to form, community to thrive.  It never all came together that first year, and maybe not even the second.  But the third year?  Fruit did come.

Maybe God feels like I do–the sadness, the loss–pruning away the obvious signs of productivity.  In those years when nothing seems to happen, where nothing seems to bloom in my life, I’m putting down these awesome roots.

Just wait.  It might not be this year, or even next year. In her book Anonymous , Alicia Britt Chole describes the spiritual process of our hidden years.  She writes,  “Abundance may make us feel more productive, but perhaps emptiness has greater power to strengthen our souls.”

Living with flair means I’m strengthening my soul when there’s no fruit in sight.

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One Good Prayer

This morning, I had a few minutes before the walk to school, so I took out my prayer journal. What did I need?  What did the neighbors need?   Many things came to mind, but one thought kept recurring.  I knew I might pray for prosperity, for health, for safety, for success, or for any host of material things. God says we can ask for anything.  But I knew to pray this:

“Jesus, help us see you today.” 

Jonathan Swift wrote that “vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”  When I look at this day, right now, I know that God is at work.  And he sees what I don’t see.  Through suffering, through disappointment, through fear, through loneliness, God sees what I don’t see.  I want vision to see, with God’s help, what is otherwise invisible.  That’s flair. 

I want to see what God sees.  I want to pierce through that layer of my circumstances to perceive that invisible script that God writes.  These marks of God’s intentions, of God’s goodness, of God’s love, are here.  I pray that God sharpens my vision so I can see them. 

My sleuthing for daily flair is really a prayer to see the invisible thing–that underlying beauty and goodness in any situation, no matter how bleak.  It’s a prayer to identify, in every circumstance, the marks of a spiritual process.  When I see that process, I’m suddenly released from fear.  I can find hope and love here, even in pain or confusion. 

Living with flair means seeing the invisible thing. It means offering up a prayer to find God in whatever situation I’m in because, surely, he is here.

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Lesson Two from the Italian Mama (in 100 Words or Less)

Today I studied meatballs.  You need to clothe the meatballs with breadcrumbs (from the ancient bread in the back of the fridge), brown them a little, and then let them cook all day in the sauce. 

This way, they won’t fall apart. 

Meanwhile, the little girls in our neighborhood worry about their clothes, their friendships, their popularity.  I think about clothing them generously with that ancient kitchen love–the kind passed down from generations upon generations of mothers who build families as they build recipes.

Keep these children strong, clothed in the ancient love, so they don’t fall apart.      

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The Bad Day Mantra

As far as bad days go for a five year old, this one ranks high.  While at her yearly check-up, she discovered she might need glasses, was told her spine might be slightly crooked, and, to make matters worse, endured two shots in both thighs.  My job was to “restrain” her arms and legs as the nurses jabbed the needles in.

Not flair.  No, this was not flair at all today.

We left the doctor’s office right at lunch time.  Dairy Queen was on the way home, so we pulled in.  The whole time, I’m trying to comfort her, but nothing’s working.

As we order food inside, I begin telling our server all about my daughter’s horrible day.  Hopefully, some ice cream will help matters.  A few minutes later, this same server came to our table.  Seeing my daughter still tear-stained and sniffling, I said, “We are just having a really bad day.” 

“Well,” she said as she handed us our food, “there’s a lot of day still left.”

My daughter looked at her and smiled.  The thought of “a lot of day still left,” worked.  The radical concept that the day wasn’t doomed just because of a bad morning transformed this little girl’s world.  There was still time–seconds, minutes, hours even–to redeem the day.  There was still time for flair. 

I wanted to kiss the server.  I told her that her comment would change the course of our whole day.  Once again, language well-timed and well-spoken can create a new reality.  The comment created anticipation.  Something good would come.  And by the time we’d finished lunch, ice-cream, and some laughs in our booth, it already had.

Living with flair means remembering “there’s a lot of day still left.”   Even if we’re down to seconds, there’s still time for flair.

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The Blessing We Need

A girl with a stuffed unicorn stood by the restrooms at church this morning. I’ve been seeing unicorns everywhere, and each time, I have a little flair moment. Here’s why.
I learned recently that a gathering of unicorns is called a blessing. I just love that. Animal groups have some strange names. Alligators are a congregation; barracudas are batteries (did you know that?); sea birds are called wrecks; bullfinches are a bellowing; zebras are a crossing; rhinos are a crash, and owls are a parliament.
But a group of unicorns is a blessing.
The gathering of beautiful creatures, more divine than earthly, isn’t just the stuff of lore and legend. As I left the bathroom, I walked into the worship gathering of our church. It suddenly occurred to me that I was in the presence of the divine, the holy–in the people.  
It suddenly stuck me how much I loved the people.  I knew all those people, and all those people knew me.  I could probably raise my hand and ask anybody for anything and the answer would be, “no problem.”   
One man had broken his ankle and, on crutches, rose to the applause of the rest of us as we cheered in hope of his full recovery.
 And those people–those creatures more divine than earthly–were my blessing.  They were my group and my joy both.  
People go crazy in isolation. People die in isolation; they can lose their vitality and their strength. But in groups, they thrive, they enhance one another, and they accomplish more together than they could alone.   They bring forth the glory of God.  
In the Scriptures, Satan drives people to solitary places. In fact, his best work is accomplished when we are alone.  For example, Jesus encounters a demon-possessed man who “drives the man into solitary places” (Luke 8: 29). And we learn in the book of Peter that the enemy of our souls “prowls around like a roaring lion waiting to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).   He must search for the loner.  When I watch nature shows, I’m always struck by the skill of the lion. He preys on the lone gazelle, the one that gets away from his group.  The isolated, the ones separate from their group, are the ones in the most danger. 
If only we could see that left-out person as part of ourselves.   If only we could boldly move forward, extend a hand, and invite a stranger into our blessing.  Our story has many more characters to include.   
If only we could see the divine calling to participate in each others’ lives. 
We are interdependent at our best, much like tiny streams that, when we link up, become mighty rivers that nourish entire landscapes.
I need to join my blessing. Whatever it takes, I need to. Living with flair means seeing my community as more divine than earthly and part of my own self. Within my blessing, I gather in the stray gazelles when I’m strong. And when I’m weak, I look to the others to circle around me and bring me to safety. 
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After the Limo: Before and After and the Flair of Going Home

Here’s the picture of my friend 2 years ago.

She told me I could use this picture (besides, it’s the front page of the paper today and in local news). Below, you’ll see the “after” shot.   Here she is after we exited the limo and transformed her for her big reveal.  You’ll see me looking hyper as usual. 

After all the glitter (literally we had glitter dust on us) and glam (think Movie Stars), my friend looked at me around 9:30 PM, and we both knew it was time to go home.  It was an amazing, enchanted night with cameras, crowds, dancing–the works.  But when it got late, we just wanted . . . home. 

We drove back in my old Honda, back to our old neighborhood, back to our regular lives.  For an entire day, we were movie stars, but this morning, I woke up thankful to just be home.  Today I knew I’d be making pancakes, transplanting those seeds my daughter planted in the windowsill, and going to visit that newborn foal this afternoon.  Monday, I’ll walk the kids to schools, and later, we’ll do double-dutch in the parking lot.

Living with flair means wiping the glitter off and enjoying the simple things.  I loved the moment my friend looked at me and said, “I’m ready to go home.”  And did I mention that when we got there, her entire house was sparkling clean?  A crew came and transformed her house while she was busy getting the makeover.  Going home does feel better when you walk into a crystal clean house.  Which reminds me:  Saturday is cleaning day in my house (after pancakes and before gardening), so I’m back to the mundane, the anonymous, and the ordinary.  I can’t wait to enjoy a day of regular flair.  

Photo courtesy of Centre Daily Times (Craig Houtz)

                                         
 
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You Never Know When a Limousine Will Show Up

You’ll never guess where I am.  Just a minute ago, I arrived here by limousine to a full day makeover. But it’s not for me; I’m just accompanying the winner of an extreme makeover contest in our town.

A few months ago, I wrote a little essay about a local mom who inspires me.  The winner of this contest would receive a full makeover (wardrobe, jewelry, massage, nails, hair, gym membership, new smile, makeup, housecleaning, a Wii Fit, photo shoot, and tons of other prizes).  When I heard about the contest, I had to nominate this mom.   She’s lost 100 pounds this year, but that’s not even the most important thing.  She’s totally transformed her whole life.  She’s been on a journey to find emotional and spiritual health.  I just love this girl!  I love sitting next to her in church, worshiping God and seeing her write down every word the pastor says.  I love seeing her choose hope and optimism even in hard circumstances.  She fights for happiness, and I just admire her so much. 

So all day, she gets to enjoy an incredible makeover.  Not only that, but at 6:00 PM she arrives (by limo) to her huge reveal party–just like you see on TV!  The press will be there: local news and ABC, magazines, photographers.  It’s the coolest thing to be a part of.

The real story here is that change is possible.  This friend has had an impossibly hard childhood.  She’s taught me that the past does not determine your future, and you can change your life.  Right before we got in the limo, I shared two  Bible verses with my friend.  I said, that “those who look to God will be radiant” (she is totally radiant right now), and that “anyone who is in Christ is a new creation.  The old has gone, the new has come ” (The new woman is here!).  In fact, I have to sign off; she’s nearly finished with her massage, and we are moving on to the hair salon.  More later (with pics I hope).

Living with flair is getting into a limo with someone who deserves a makeover.   It means going on the journey with friends who want to change their lives and being ready to celebrate.

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The Best Definition of Courage

My daughter and I were talking about taking her training wheels off and learning to ride a bike.  She became very quiet and said, “You know, Mom, little hills mean little boo-boos.  And big hills mean big boo-boos.”

I said, “So I guess you want to avoid the big hills on your bike.” 

She paused and said, “Oh, no.  It just means we need a bigger first aid kit.”

There you have it:  Courage means I ride full speed ahead, anticipate the wounds, and prepare with a great first aid kit.  For my daughter it means Hello Kitty band aids.  For the rest of us, it might mean we fill our kits with authentic friendships, strong ties to a community, a vibrant relationship to God, and the kind of space to heal.  It’s not the height of the hill that matters.  It’s not the danger, the risk, or the potential for failure.  Wounds are likely.   So I build the best first aid kit I can.  That’s some 5 year old flair.

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2 Lessons from an Italian Mama in 100 Words or Less

1.  The mistake people make with their sauce is not letting it simmer long enough.  No rush here with my sauce or my life.  

2.  As I listed ingredients learned from my first Italian cooking lesson, my Italian Mama neighbor leaned over my shoulder and said:  “Don’t forget the most important ingredient.” She paused, closed her eyes, put her hand over her heart, and said:
“You must put on your Bruce Springsteen music.”
Italian Mamas have soundtracks–undercurrents– of passion, good hearts, and kitchen talent.  What soundtrack, what undercurrent, flows beneath my life? 
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