3 Words You Need to Find Flair: Stress, Corner, and Plumb

Today, 3 words reminded me of what it takes to find the flair.

1.  Stress:  A trainer at the gym (the same one that encouraged–er, forced–me to take that Body Combat class) told me that I’m stuck in a rut.  She said that I’ve been doing the same old exercises for a year, and my body was plateauing.  I needed to stress my body differently now.  What?  You want me to stress my body?  But I like the plateau.   Plateau signifies a long, stable period of stability!  It’s a leveling off, a resting place.  Plateaus are beautiful!  They let you rest and look off into the distance when you are climbing that horrible mountain. But I’m learning plateaus aren’t always good–especially if you want to change yourself.  That trainer told me to come back to the class and “take it to the next level” with my fitness.  I needed to get off that plateau.  I needed to deliberately stress my heart and muscles.  So I did.   And this new place of sore muscles and sweat isn’t at all stable.  But it’s good.  When I leave the plateau, and embrace the stress of it, I can get out of what’s really a rut and get to the next level of flair.

2.  Corner:   I have a yellow recliner I moved to the corner of my living room.  I sat it in this morning after Body Combat.  I have never enjoyed that chair because of where it was in the room.  But when I moved it to the corner, all of a sudden, it’s my little nook of joy.  I have my Bible beside it, a novel, a little table with a reading lamp, and a soft quilt.   A corner is a place off to the side, a place where two walls meet in a remote area.  I love that word.  I’m learning to put myself in a corner to let my life come together the way the walls do.  If I don’t find a remote place, even in my own home, I can’t recover from leaving the plateau.

3.  Plumb:  Plumb means “exactly” as in “the tree was plumb center in the yard.”  So after reclining in the yellow chair in the corner, choosing to leave the plateau, I went out with my children to the plumb tree down the street.  Our kind neighbors said we could climb and pick as many plumbs as we want.  So my daughter is up in that tree, feasting on juicy red plums, and I’m picking ripe ones within my reach.  I bite down into the fruit of that big tree that I pass every single day.  I hardly noticed it until this weekend.  And now I’m plumb in the midst of it.  I want to be plumb aware of that tree.  I want to be accurate and precise in my observations of all the good things in my life.

I’m plumb in the center of finding flair:  stressing myself off the plateau, resting in my corner, and letting plumb juice drip off my chin.  It’s a good day here.


Incomprehensible Flair

We are in the minivan (why is flair always happening in my minivan?) and my daughters are laughing hysterically about babies and their first words.  My youngest said “dog” first, and my oldest said “duck,” so they are trying to psychoanalyze what this must mean about them.  I tell them my friend’s first word was “daffodil” and that’s why she’s a writer.

Then the oldest asks:  “What’s a really long word that would be so weird to have as a first word?”

Out of the blue, I blurt out “incomprehensible.”

They are stunned by this 6 syllable word.  My daughter says, “I do not understand that word.”

“That’s what it means!” I say.  “It means it’s something not understood.”

They are shocked.  The feel that sublime moment where their experience of a word is what the word means. 

My children are fascinated with how people come into language.  They want to know more.  I’m thinking of Helen Keller’s encounter with the water and her ability to grasp “wet” by having water poured over her hands.

I talk more about what “incomprehensible” means.  I say stuff like:

“It’s like when you talk so fast and I can’t understand you.  It’s incomprehensible.”

“Not to me,” she says.

“Or when someone is speaking Chinese.  It’s incomprehensible.”

“Not to them.”   

I think about this.  Incomprehensible isn’t really a great word after all.  Just because I don’t understand it, doesn’t mean it’s not understandable to somebody else somewhere.   I suppose living with flair means I don’t settle for saying something is incomprehensible.  If I get another perspective, I just might find the meaning. 

“Yeah, Mom.  You have to be careful when you explain words to us.”

I really do. 


The Beauty in Sorrow

To know sorrow is to know loss.  Sorrow represents one of the most complex human emotions because it’s a sadness tinged with beauty and joy.  We are sorrowful because we miss what was once, or could have been wonderful.  We remember the joy but are simultaneously aware of its absence. 

I think of Eve, leaving the Garden, unable to ever return.

I’m driving in my car, remembering lost things, people, lost experiences, places.  I’m trying desperately to get out of the sorrow.  Maybe I could exercise or distract myself somehow.  Besides, the day was nearly over, and I hadn’t had one moment of flair. 

This sorrow was overtaking any chance of flair. 

And then I wondered:  What if the sorrow is the flair? 

Just because it’s a negative emotion doesn’t mean it’s not extraordinary and full of the presence of God.  There’s a theology behind sorrow that tells me something about myself.  I inherit sorrow as part of the Fall.  I’m that figure looking back at the East Gate of Eden.  And isn’t that curse accompanied by hope?  Doesn’t God promise a way to rejoice in sorrow?  Isn’t he called the Comforter in Sorrow?  Aren’t Christians described as “sorrowful yet always rejoicing?”  How can this be? 

Is our coming joy dependent upon our present sorrow? 

When I’m sorrowful, I let my heart break apart so God can enter and heal.  Sorrow accompanies me–a true companion–that reminds me what I have lost but also what will one day be restored–in God’s way and in God’s time.  It’s a beautiful reminder of an usual form of flair.


A Boat Ride in the Rain

It’s a dreary, rainy day on the last day of our lake visit.  My daughters climb into the boat. My youngest giggles:   “It’s raining, Mom!  It’s water above us and below us!  The water is everywhere!”  The boat speeds up. 
“Mom, stick your hand out of the boat.  The waves will give you a high-five.”  I stick my hand out into the wave the boat makes, and sure enough, I’m slapped right back with a wet high-five.  She thinks of the water as having hands.  And with those hands it celebrates with high-fives.

Who cares if it’s raining?


Celebrating 100 Days of Flair with. . . Fire Ants

Here I am, at the grand celebration of my 100th day of the “Live with Flair” blog, and the flair moment is. . . fire ants.  I was secretly hoping for fanfare. Something big!  Something extraordinary!  Maybe I’d wake up to an elephant in my front yard or I’d find buried treasure.   

But it’s fire ants.  I suppose that’s rather true to the project:  I want to find the extraordinary meaning in the common things.  Well, here goes. 

I’m walking in an area where fire ants bite us as we travel from the front porch to where our cars are parked.  A fire ant bite can be extremely painful and, for those of us with allergies to bites and stings, potentially deadly.

A family member calls out:  “Just keep movin’!  They won’t get ya if you just keep movin’!  It’s when you stop that those fire ants get into your shoes!”

It becomes a family joke whenever we leave the car.  “Just keep movin!” we repeat, laughing but also running to the porch as fast as we can.   

Something about that phrase made the flair bells ring.  To avoid those ants, it’s absolutely critical that I don’t stay in one place.  I have to move.  I can’t be stagnant or else trouble comes. 

If you look up the word “stagnant” you’ll find it means this:  Lacking freshness, motion, flow, progress, or change; stale.

I want a life that moves.  I want motion, flow, progress, and change.  I want fresh.

As I age, I realize I have to create motion.  I have to choose progress and flow.  Maybe it means I read a new book or find a new friend.   Or it means I learn a new skill.  Or I learn a new dance. 

Left to themselves, things do stagnate.  Without thinking, I could stay right here, doing nothing.  And in that place of stale, unwanted things invade and take over–like fire ants.  Friendships, marriage, parent-child relationships, spiritual growth, my relationship to myself, my relationship to the natural world, my teaching, my writing–it can all stagnate unless I develop a plan for fresh flow.

Living with flair means creating fresh flow.  It means running like crazy so the fire ants don’t get into my shoes.  Whatever it takes, I want to avoid that sting of stale.


Feeling Homesick at Home

Sometimes I feel homesick.  But it’s not for any particular home or family.  It’s the weirdest feeling.  I’ll be sitting there, doing the dishes or folding laundry, and I’ll feel that something is horribly wrong.  I’m in the wrong place, and everything feels sad, and I just need to take my husband and children and get home.   

I feel like the wild daisy in A.R. Ammons’s poem, “Loss.”  He describes a wild daisy “half-wild with loss” who turns “any way the wind does” and lifts up her petals to float off her stem and go.  It’s an image of terrible longing. 

What must it feel like to be rooted nowhere, to belong nowhere, and move like that with the chaos of the wind?  Some of us live that way simply because we don’t know where to put down roots.  We can’t find a sure place to land.  On those days, we are wanderers, and even if we have the strongest physical sense of home and place, we still feel lost at sea. 

There’s a homesickness in our soul, even on our best days. 

So I’m doing the dishes, longing for home, and I recall Frederick Beuchner’s book by the same title.  Beuchner’s writing soothes my soul because he says we are all longing for a spiritual home. The sense of belonging and rightness comes when we put down deep spiritual, not just physical, roots.  

Maybe there’s hope for me.  

Beuchner’s book, The Longing for Home, reminds me how narrow my ideas of home are.  My home is not my house.  That homesick feeling is a cry for heaven.  

But what do I do with today?  Is there a way to find a home in this day, even though I’m made for another Home? 

Beuchner says this:  

“In the entire history of the universe, let alone in your own history, there has never been another day just like today, and there will never be another just like it again. Today is the point to which all your yesterdays have been leading since the hour of your birth. It is the point from which all your tomorrows will proceed until the hour of your death. If you were aware of how precious today is, you could hardly live through it. Unless you are aware of how precious it is, you can hardly be said to be living at all.”  

Today is precious.  So precious I can hardly live through it.   I can find my home in this very day, with God, and belong somewhere while I long for Home.  Living with flair has something to do with finding what’s precious even when I’m wandering. 


Swimming Beneath the Geese

I’m swimming in a lake with my daughters, and another family nearby starts feeding the geese.  Within seconds, a gaggle surrounds us.  They come from every direction, leaving the shore and their organized formations across the lake.  Our heads bob along in the water right against their soft, wild feathers.  I’m so close that I can look into those deep black eyes and touch the fuzzy heads of the goslings.

It doesn’t seem right how close we are. It seems other-worldly. We aren’t separate from the wild; we’re swimming along with it. 

The family with the goose food offers me a handful.  If I’m still enough, someone tells me, the geese will eat from my hand.

And so I am.  And so they do.

I’m told we can swim under the geese and even touch their webbed feet.  Because the geese are used to floating logs and debris, they don’t mind when you hold their feet.  My daughter tightens her goggles and dives under the surface to swim beneath the geese.

My five year old has pink goggles that sit on the pier.  My husband tosses them out to me, and I dive deep under the gaggle, turn myself over, and look up towards the heavens.  It’s all feathers, little webbed feet, and the jeweled water swirling above my head as the sun shines down.

I stored that experience away, like I hope my daughters did, in that place in my imagination reserved for the magical, the heavenly, and the purely happy.  Maybe one day, when life bears down on my children with that weight of sadness that comes to us all eventually, in its own way, they would recall this morning swim beneath the geese.  They could live again in that moment when something rare and beautiful happened.  And they’d catch it–all feathered, webbed, and jeweled–in their hands.

It could be their flair for that day.


Can You Remember Your 8th Grade English Teacher?

I’m chopping romaine lettuce this morning, and all of a sudden, I’m back in 8th grade.  It’s 1988.  My teacher, Mrs. Guiles, tells the class:  “You know you are in a nice restaurant when you don’t have to use a knife to eat your salad.  You want to eat at restaurants that bother to make each piece of salad bite size.”  We nod, imagining fine dining and the lives we would lead as adults.

I cut the romaine leaf down the spine lengthwise and then cut each side into small pieces.  Mrs. Guiles has been gone for several years.  But as I methodically cut the lettuce, I can hear her voice and see her pacing around my English class like it happened that morning.

It was English.  We were supposed to be reading books and writing–not learning what makes a good salad.  

It wasn’t just salad.   She taught us many random tidbits that were supposed to help us live well.  For example, she made us stand up when an adult walked into the room.  What did that have to do with writing?

“It shows respect.  You will honor your elders.  It’s the right thing to do.”  Every time anybody walked in the room–a secretary, another teacher, someone’s parent–we rose from out seats, quickly and quietly. 

Salads?  Rising from our seats? 

“And you must learn the art of the beautifully composed thank-you note.”  She set the scene:  We had just returned from a visit to New England.  A fine family had invited us to dinner, and we dined (on perfectly sized lettuce).  Now, we must write a thank-you note.   It had to radiate.  It had to merit framing.  I imagined that one day, I’d visit some family far away and write the sort of thank-you notes she described.  

“Include something so very specific, so very vivid.  Tell what you loved about your hostess and the accommodations!  Mention a lovely dish!”  She’d prance around the room.  She was a tiny woman who made flourishes in the air with her hands. 

And that thank-you note?  It had to be perfect.  She was impossible! 

We had no excuse.  All year, we had to recite, from memory, lists of linking verbs and prepositions.  She was mean and horrible.  We all talked about how much we resented her.  We didn’t sign up for that kind of torture.

How dare she insist we know everything about grammar as explained in a dusty red textbook more suited for college students?   Who or whom?  She or her?  Comma or semi-colon?  We could punctuate any sentence she wrote on the board, while, mid-punctuation, we rose to greet an elder who walked into the room. And then we’d return to our seats to engage in the lost art of sentence diagramming. 

Orderly sentences mingled with orderly living.  It was infrastructure–those commas, those little symbols we used to designate types of conjunctions, those ways we talked about verbs–to build our lives upon.  And while things were falling apart in 1988–AIDS, Missile Defense, the Iran-Contra scandal, the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the war on drugs–I felt fear that a child shouldn’t. 

But I didn’t feel that way in English class.  Everything was manageable, predictable, and right when contained within those commas and parentheses.

Try me; I knew what to do with that sentence.  Everything else was up in the air, but I knew in the depths of my soul that the comma would make the meaning right. 

I’m chopping lettuce, thanking God for that woman who set my life on a trajectory it hasn’t since left:  grammar, writing, and living with flair.


Flair with Introverts

I’m learning that flair assumes many forms. Many introverted forms. Forms like puzzles and card games. If you hang out with my husband and his family, you learn these things.
So I’m sitting at a card table. The children are playing Go Fish and War and probably some mysterious game called Solitaire. (My husband still laughs at me when I tell people I don’t know the rules of Solitaire. I’m an extrovert to the extreme–not much alone time)
There’s a 1000 piece puzzle before me (an old Milton Bradley, not a Springbok—apparently there are standards for good puzzles and Springbok is the best). Anyway, the puzzle. The puzzle is called, “ By a Canal, Holland.” I’ve been patiently assembling the sky when my husband announces that I’m doing it wrong. He says there are rules to puzzling like:
  1. Find all the edge pieces.
  2. Group them kindly by color.
  3. Claim your puzzle region.
  4. Begin assembling.
  5. Do not stop until the wee hours of the night.
  6. Start trash-talking about how you are “puzzle master” and “this puzzle is no match for me.”
  7. Reminisce about other puzzles you have put together in your lifetime: the 3D Notre Dame, the impossible Globe one, the historical puzzles, the Coca-Cola Memorabilia puzzle that’s framed in your basement, the fluffy kittens, the Wizard of Oz.
  8. Decide who gets to put the last piece in (the one who has worked the longest).
  9. Rebuke the person who swoops down at the last minute and tries to put in the last piece.
    So I’m doing the puzzle. And I start thinking about what region of my brain is being activated.  This puzzle is good for my brain!  It’s good for my marriage!  It’s good for my family!  I need to hang out with introverts more! 
Living with flair means joining the introverts for a night. It’s puzzling, that world, but good for my brain, my marriage, my family, and my flair.

Why Bother with Christianity?

If you can be happy without Jesus, why bother?  I’ve been thinking about this lately.  I’ve been thinking about all the happiness blogs people have sent my way.  It seems that all over the world, folks find legitimate forms of happiness apart from knowing God.  I know what this feels like.  I know that when I exercise, eat right, blog about my flair, and do any other host of mood-modifying activities, I can be happy.

I used to think that people went to church and read their Bible because they were unhappy.  They become Christians because of the promise of happiness.  While I do think that going to church and reading the Bible dramatically increase the likelihood of happiness, I don’t think that Christianity is a religion that promises happiness.  Happy Christians tend to do other things that boost their mood like, for example, engaging in vibrant church communities.  But happiness, in this case, is a byproduct of lifestyle.  Jesus doesn’t promise happiness. 

However, Jesus does promise one very important thing.

He promises. . . peace. 

Jesus said this:  “In me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  Jesus says that he leaves us “peace.”  I thought back to the blessing God commanded to be spoken over the nation of Israel.  Simply this:  that God would turn his face towards them and give them peace.  Later, Jesus is prophetically described in the book of Isaiah as our “Prince of Peace.” 

This morning I skimmed my Bible for passages that describe the peace of Jesus.  Romans 5, it turns out, defines the peace of a believer.  Here, the writer tells us 3 reasons Christians have peace:

1.  They find favor with God by faith alone, not by anything they do or fail to do.  They are completely reconciled to a Holy God because of faith in Jesus.  This point alone astounds me.  I can talk to the God of the Universe, and He loves me.  Unbelievable! 
2.  Because of Jesus, they have hope in the glory of God (his power and presence) in every situation.
3.  They can rejoice in suffering because of what it produces in them (perseverance, character, hope).  When God directs a person’s life, suffering has meaning and will produce good

Curiously, New Testament writers claim that Jesus himself is our peace.  Paul writes:   “He himself is our peace” since in his very body he reconciles sinful mankind with the holiness of God.  By his very body, he grants access to God.  Christianity, after all, is a religion about God’s body:   the incarnation–that little baby come to earth as a God-man– the crucifixion–God hanging on a cross to die, and the resurrection–the literal body of Jesus conquering death.  And in the ascension, Jesus returns to the Father but leaves the promised Holy Spirit who indwells believers at the moment they believe.

Is peace better than happiness?  Absolutely.  The assurance of God’s peace which, according to scripture, transcends understanding, is deeper and more profound than mere mood.  So while happiness is something I can moderate, my peace comes from Jesus alone.

Living with flair means I depend upon the sure peace of God even when flair fluctuates.