Blog

When You Feel Like Burnt Toast

When you burn food, you apparently ruin it by overcooking.  Too much time, too much heat, and the thing burns.  This morning, I nearly incinerate the bread in the toaster oven as I attempt to make toast for my daughter.  I’m not paying attention, and before I know it, the bread loses that delicious browned toasty color and suddenly adopts the despair of burnt black waste.

But I’m standing by a grandmother who, among millions of other wise lessons, teaches me not to waste anything.  I pick up that toast and consider the truth that it’s only surface damage.  I can salvage something good from this disaster.

I scrape the charred landscape to reveal the real thing underneath: perfect toast.

It only looked like disaster.  It only seemed like despair.  

These things about my day, my life, that feel like something burnt beyond repair might be perceived differently.  Underneath the surface, the true good thing remains.  I ask God to run the butter knife over the landscape of my life, clear that surface damage, and let the real me shine through.

Living with flair means that when I feel like burnt toast, I remember what’s unseen beneath the surface. 

Share

Will Eating Snow Kill Me?

Holiday Snowfall

Traveling south, we emerge into a winter wonderland.  Every direction you turn, you see white fluffy frosting, pure enough to eat.

So we actually eat it.

I stand by a tree, lean in, and lick like I’m eating from a kind hand.  My children shovel snow into their mouths like it’s vanilla ice cream.

I imagine coconut or maybe white chocolate flakes. 

For a moment, I think about pollution, toxic things, and all the germs I’m taking in with every lick.  I’ve read the websites that tell me I’m eating more bacteria with every taste of snow than if I were actually eating dirt in the yard.  This was last year, when the girls wanted to flavor their snow with syrup to pretend they were pioneer girls like Mary and Laura Ingalls.  I let them, even though I read that you should limit your snow consumption to one cup every 5 years. These websites also claim that I am eating spores from outer space every time I eat a snowflake.

Just now, I think I ate 2 cups of snow.  I’m doomed! 

I couldn’t help it.  The sky made a beautiful gesture–an appetizer offered from the trees’ arms, like servers’ platters at a fancy party–and I bent down and received what nature made.  I am trusting my stomach acid to neutralize what I’ve just done to myself. 

Living with flair means I eat a little snow. Maybe just one lick.  I just had to.

Share

What We Most Want

Finally, at 6:00 AM, we agree to open presents.  This is only after the 2:00 AM squeal alert that presents had arrived under the tree.

My living room sparkles with shreds of wrapping paper, bows, and tissue paper.  By now, the little girls play happily with their new dolls, and I drink coffee–lots and lots of coffee.  

Amid the laughter, I hear my husband calling out, “Can you think of any other person’s birthday party where you get the presents?”

He turns to me and says, “Isn’t that the real meaning of gospel?  We celebrate Jesus, but we end up getting the gifts.” 

Bring on the gifts, the shimmering joy, the peace, and the love.   May we unwrap His gifts upon gifts, in obvious and hidden forms, today and all year.  May we have the hope and the faith to see them, despite every circumstance.

May we lift our eyes and be led to what we’ve been waiting for all our lives.  Can it be that what we most want, we find in that manger?

Merry Christmas from Live with Flair!

Share

Light in the Darkness

In the hustle and bustle of this Christmas Eve day, I pause to think about my electric candles set in every window of our home.  Within the core of these candles, the builder placed a photo sensor that automatically responds when the light grows dim outside.  As soon as it’s dark enough, the candles light up.  We never have to turn them on–the darkness does it for us.

The darkness makes the light shine.  As I think about this day, I know that many suffer in unimaginable ways.  Friends and family members have passed on, and this Christmas, we often think about who is missing from our gathering.  Instead of experiencing a joyful holiday, some of us feel the darkness of sorrow.

I love that Psalm 18 says “God turns my darkness to light,” and the promise of Christmas, recorded in Isaiah 9, is that “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned.”

The deep darkness (no matter what kind) doesn’t win this Christmas. Sometimes the Builder makes it so that we pass through a bit of darkness in order to discover that light.  My strange little candles remind me that living with flair means that when I sense the darkness coming, I know the light will shine.  I don’t have to manufacture it or flip some magic switch.  God dwells within, and in the core of my being, the light shines even in–and especially because of–darkness.  By faith, I embrace the truth of it.  I rest here, let the darkness fall, and let God shine

Share

A Christmas Gift to Yourself

I’m sitting around a table with other couples, all in their 30’s and 40’s.  As we talk about the different activities we’re encouraging our children to try–voice lessons, dance, musical instruments, acting–one mother suddenly announces how much she wishes she could take ballet lessons. 

“Why don’t you!?” we all exclaim just as another mother confesses her desire to learn ballet.  And then, the whole table erupts in a discussion of the classes we wish we were taking.  We go around the room and answer the question: “What class do you secretly wish you could take?” 

Painting, photography, guitar, voice, history, Spanish, piano. . . the list goes on as we share the things we still–even at our age–want to learn and do.  But is it too late?  I had just finished reading a chapter about neuroscience and the importance of novelty for brain health.  Novelty–fresh ideas, fresh experiences, fresh activities–strengthens the brain as it ages.

It’s not too late.  It’s never too late. 

We commit to it as a group, encouraging one another in our desires.  The gift we might give ourselves this Christmas for 2011 is novelty.  Then, by Christmas of next year, we’ll have another interest to pursue.

Living with flair means I give myself the gift of novelty.  Who cares if you’re the oldest ballerina in the room or if your arthritic fingers hesitate over the piano keys?   You’ll inspire the rest of us with your courage, your enthusiasm, and your flair.  Is there something you secretly wish you could learn?  I’d love to hear it! 

Share

Christmas Disorder (This Place is a Disaster!)

Gingerbread Disaster

I’m decorating gingerbread cookies with my 5 year old and her little friend.  A blanket of frosting and sprinkles covers the counter tops, and as I observe the smear upon the floors, the walls, and probably the ceiling, I exclaim: “This place is a disaster!” 

The small child before me, the one shaking bright red sprinkles upon everything but her gingerbread man, responds: “When it’s this messy, it just means we are working really hard.”

I consider the truth of her words.  The Christmas disaster all over my kitchen and living room–tissue paper in shreds, manger scenes all discombobulated, and crafts partially completed–I realize the beautiful work of Christmas and the mess we leave in our wake.  Our schedules are in chaos; our diets reconfigure to include ridiculous amounts of gooey treats; our family issues bubble up to the surface; our cats have scattered ornaments all over the house.  Messy, messy, messy. 

Sprinkles!

But something is happening in the mess.  Something beautiful and right.  When it’s this messy, something is working really hard. 

A lot of things about Christmas are messy–even Jesus arrives in the filth of a manger in the chaotic way that disorders a whole world back to order.

I’ll clean up in 2011.  Right now, I’m disordering the place into the kind of Christmas order we need.  When it’s this messy, something’s right.

Share

So I Will

Today, I had the privilege of writing a guest blog post for The Seed Company, an organization founded by Wycliffe Bible Translators to accelerate Bible translation all over the world.  The Seed Company blog asked me the question, “How does reading the Bible help you live with flair?”   Here’s my answer below, and check out The Seed Company to learn more about this great mission.

When I read God’s word, I learn how to see the world differently.
Suddenly, what’s boring becomes beautiful; what’s mundane becomes marvelous.  When I read the world through the lens of my Bible, I’m filled with wonder.  I’m on a treasure hunt to find the mysteries of God in acorns, injured cats, pancakes, or snowflakes. 
For the past 10 months, I’ve been blogging at “Live with Flair.”  It began with a challenge to find beauty, wonder, and spiritual truth every day.  Even in the most common thing, I could find God’s truth and reflect upon it. 
God’s word says I can, so I will. 
I have to take seriously the argument in Psalm 19 that the heavens “declare the glory of God,” and that the skies “proclaim the work of his hands.”  The psalmist claims that creation “pours forth speech” and can “reveal knowledge.” 
What speech?  What knowledge? 
Just this morning, I read a quote from E. Stanley Jones that “all things have the stamp of Christ upon them,” and that His will is “wrought into their very structure.”  As I turn to consider the book of Romans, I learn that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made. . .” 
Might I consider this pencil and think about the divine nature of the Creator?  Might I make a cheese sandwich and understand the invisible qualities of an Almighty God? 
Colossians tells me that “Christ is before all things and in Him all things hold together.”  All things: pencils, cheese sandwiches, injured cats, snowflakes.  I challenge myself to let God’s word interpret my environment.  I’m on a mission to see into the structure of common objects and find the glory of God. 
This process comes about through mystery.  I find an object and ask a question about it.  Why is it this way?  How did it become this way?  Soon, I’m in the presence of mystery, one step away from worship.  As I uncover the wonder, I then turn and praise the Living God—Jesus—who created all things, even cheese sandwiches. 
And that’s how I live with flair. 
Share

How You Know You’re Getting Better

Do you remember the story of my one-eyed cat, Jack?  We rescued this wounded kitty and brought him into our home.  He couldn’t even purr, he was that broken.  But we knew his purr was in there somewhere. 

We brushed him, fed him, bathed him, pet him, and loved and loved and loved him.  And one day, he found his purr. 

But he still had no voice; this kitty could not meow.  We stuck with this messed up cat–despite the one eye, the injured mouth, and the tail that wouldn’t hang right.  We kept loving him. 

And a year later, he stood tall and proud in the kitchen and let out his first squeaky meow. That cat found his voice.  It took a year, but he learned to meow again.

A few months later, I discover that my wounded cat is serving another cat, holding her down and bathing her.  Jack couldn’t purr a year ago, and now he is taking care of others.  I couldn’t believe it. 

Well, it gets better. 

Last night, I’m reading books with my daughter in her bed, and Jack hops up on top of us and starts doing this strange dance.  He’d press his front paws in and then arch his back and press his back paws into the blanket.  He could hardly keep his balance, and he was tangling himself up in the sheets. 

“What is Jack trying to do?”  we laugh and ask each other.  We stay very still and observe him.  Then, we realize what is happening. 

Jack is attempting a behavior that all domestic cats do (but Jack never did).  He is kneading. 

All cats, when they feel content and safe, press their front paws in and out like they’re kneading bread.   Some say that when cats do this, they remember their kitten days of pressing against their mother to get milk.  Others claim that cats only enact this ritual when they feel at home.  They knead a space to mark it as their bed, usually right next to their mother. 

Jack never did this. It’s like he had no memory of even being a happy kitten or being at home.  Maybe because he wasn’t.   But last night, Jack tries to knead.  Kneading, however, represents a complex instinctual action.  Cats alternatively flex each paw, press in, and then retract their claws as they lift each paw.  Only the front paws knead. 

Jack has no idea how to do it, but some kitty instinct kicks in.  We watch Jack attempt to knead the bed.  He starts, falls over, and then tries again with his back paws (all wrong!).  Eventually, as he purrs loudly and rolls all over us, he gets it right.  He presses his front paws in, alternating between left and right, before he curls up and falls asleep beside my daughter.

He found his purr.  Then he found his voice.  Then he found a way to serve despite his wounds.  Then, then, he began to remember his true self–becoming fully alive and doing what he was meant to do.  Finally safe, finally at home, Jack starts to act like a real cat in every way. 

There’s hope for us all, no matter how wounded.  

Share

But We Didn’t

Last night, our doorbell rings at 10:00 PM.  On our front porch, a woman in a gray sweater, sweat pants, and flip flops stands shivering.  We open the door, and she immediately apologizes.

“I’m so sorry to bother you,” she says.  “I’m house sitting for my parents while they travel.  I went into the garage to get something and the door to the house closed and locked behind me!  I’m locked out of my house!”

We invite this stranger into the warm living room.  Sitting by our Christmas tree, we call the locksmith.  But the locksmith can’t verify her identity, so we have to call the police to meet this woman at her own parent’s house to unlock the doors.  She waits on the couch until all the right folks arrive in her driveway to help her.

Meanwhile, I have no choice but to offer a beverage and make conversation.  I’m in my pajamas, and I sit cross-legged on the couch. 

We sit there, staring at one another.  I start to ask questions.

I discover wonderful things.  I hear about a screenplay she’s writing, a novel she’s selling, and her life in New York.  I learn about her theories of dating.  I learn about her degree in linguistics.  I learn about her sister on the West Coast. 

This stranger in flip flops is funny, vibrant, and kind.  I start to really like her.  I start to want to be her life long friend.

When it’s all over, I give her a huge hug like we’ve been friends forever.

She’s coming back today to leave her card. 

Friendship can enter your life at any time.  A stranger locked out of her house, shivering on your doorstep, might just become a dear friend.  You never know. 

We could have turned her away.  We could have hidden in the bedroom and not even answered the door.

But we didn’t.

Share

Christmas Estuary

Estuary Mouth

Yesterday, I read a book that mentions the word estuary.  An estuary is the part of a river that nears the sea.  In an estuary, salt water and fresh water mix.  As one of the most curious habitats, estuaries house creatures that learn how to live in impossible contradiction; they must survive in overlapping environments–fresh and saline.

Salmon, for example.  Salmon start their lives in freshwater, but they were made for the ocean.  Something enables them to get there.  I read about how when salmon transition between freshwater and the sea, the cellular structure of their gills changes.  The gills learn to secrete salts (not absorb them) just like a normal salt water fish.  The process has a name:  osmoregulate.

A new verb!  Osmoregulate means to maintain that perfect balance–that harmony–necessary to live in environments that threaten to either dilute or saturate the body.  And in estuaries, salmon learn how.  They slowly adapt themselves for what’s ahead.  Then, they journey on towards their lives in the great ocean.

How confusing that place must seem.  

As I consider that journey, I can’t help but think about times of estuary–impossible contradictions–places where life does not feel right.  We’ve left but haven’t arrived.  We see the future but aren’t ready to embrace it.  It’s as if we are left alone to adapt for what’s ahead.  We are becoming something. 

Estuaries, because of their in-between status as both freshwater and saltwater, contain the best nutrients.  Scientists tell me that estuaries are among the most productive habitats in the world.  The swirl of confusion, as wild as the tide, ironically provides refuge and rest for marine life.  They strengthen their ability to adapt and regulate in that estuary.

Life feels like an estuary when I consider the miraculous Christmas claim that I’m meant for another world.  And, by design, I find myself here, becoming something for there

Living with flair means I don’t despair when I’m not at my destination.  I’m osmoregulating in my perfect estuary for what’s ahead.  

(Photo, “Estuary Mouth,” Public Domain, US government.)

Share