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What We Think and Do Not Say

Yesterday, I write an unusual email to a friend who lives in a different part of the country.  We rarely talk on the phone.  We haven’t seen each other for years.  But this week, I think about her several times for interesting reasons.  So I write a numbered list of all the times her face came to mind. 

She’s the friend who introduced me to the joy of cooking on a baking stone, and whenever I bring it out, I think about her.

I think of her when I order elaborate coffee drinks because we did that together years ago.

I think about her when I see pistachios because she once told me about a delicious recipe involving a pistachio crust.

Random things.  Fleeting things.

But I was thinking about her.  And it occurs to me to tell her this.   How would she know otherwise? 

Later, she emails me back to tell me she printed out my list and put it in her journal.   I think about that little list–baking stones, coffee, pistachios–that seems silly and unimportant. 

It matters so much.

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Does Happiness Have a Sound?

Lately, I’ve been amazed at how loud the autumn leaves are.  They crunch underfoot, and those left in the trees chatter as the wind blows.  And then there’s the haunting whisper of a leaf as it descends–barely audible–but still vibrating whether I perceive it or not.

I stop everything and gaze at that leaf.  It arrives on the ground soft and silent.  

What beautiful sounds never reach my ears?  If I stop and think about it, I’m hearing so many things at this exact moment I’m surprised I’m not crashing from auditory overload.

I know I’m growing older.  Movie soundtracks seem too loud and assaulting.  I can barely handle the frenzied circus beat of a video game.  I’ve been known to scream out, “Can’t we just have some quiet?

I want enough quiet so I can hear beautiful sounds:  the purr of a cat, the clink of ice in a tall glass of water served to guests, the hush of wool socks on the hardwood floor.  I want to hear the gurgle of homemade sauce simmering and the teasing fingers of the first drops of rain on the roof.  

And the measured sigh a page of a book exhales when I turn it. 

I take my hearing for granted.  One day, I might lose it all together.

I want a beautiful soundtrack to accompany this day.  I want to be still enough–aware enough–to hear it.  Living with flair means I manage the auditory track.  Might I be a gatekeeper for my ears and my living space?   Might I create a culture of beautiful sounds in my home–the kind of sounds that delight and don’t disturb?

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Something Strange at the Voting Booth

In my neighborhood, we all gather at the small Baptist church to vote.  We come and line up, all of us representing different party affiliations.  I love this moment, and sometimes I’ve even been known to cry right there in the line. 

I’m one very tiny voice in a very large democracy.  My ballot represents my voice in this system, and I come out of dutyHere we are–all of us together–participating in this supreme right of citizenship. 

I’m in line, and I notice that nothing is happening.  We aren’t moving along.  I look ahead, and I see an elderly woman so hunched over with age that nobody can see her face.  She’s propped up by a helper on her left and a cane in her right hand.  Her movements are painfully slow.  The folks working the polls stop everything to assist her.  A chorus of helpers ask:  Can she make it over to her booth?  Is the booth too high?  Can she hold the pen and cast her vote? 

It’s like slow motion.  When we observe her, we all start rooting for her.  Volunteers call her by name to make sure she can reach the booth.  We are all participating in this moment now.  This woman needs to cast her vote.  Nothing will thwart her.  The moment takes on a weight I wasn’t prepared to experience. 

It’s a beautiful moment.  I feel suddenly aware of my own lack of interest in this particular election.  I’m aware of how inconvenient it felt for me to drive over to the church and stand in line.  I’m saddened by the fact that I had to print out a voter’s guide because I didn’t recognize half the names of the candidates on the ballot. 

The woman who nobody could stop from voting has a name and a story.  She has an opinion and a voice that shapes our nation.  Her presence makes me realize another way I want to live with flair.  I need to show up and participate as a citizen.  And I need to help others do the same.  You have a name, an opinion, and a story we need to hear to help make our nation great. 

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Love is a Tornado

This morning, my daughter hands me a little card that says her love for me is like a tornado.  She drew a picture of a tornado and wrote, “It’s like this.” 

I turn to her and say, “You mean it’s powerful and destructive?”

She smiles and pretends she’s punching me.  She tries to explain the comparison:  “It gets stronger each day like a tornado gets stronger with each spin.” 

Her tornado is a giant mess of scribble that looks terrifying.  

Love is a tornado? 

That can’t be right.   

My husband adds at breakfast that a tornado is like love because you “never know where it’s coming from.” It can take you by surprise (like how I met him when I least expected it).  

I look at this little family.  I think of the kind of love that breaks the heart and repairs it simultaneously.  I think of the terrifying surrender of it, the giant mess of living lives intertwined. I think of the powerful destruction that love’s wake leaves on the landscape of a heart.  It’s a tornado that rips you apart.

But it’s the kind of devastation you endure because there’s no other way to have it.  It’s the most beautiful storm you’ll ever experience. 

I hug my children–these little tornadoes in my heart–and think about the kind of love I want in my life.  Let it be giant and powerful.  Let it get stronger each day. 

Let it destroy what in me needs to be leveled and remake a pure landscape.  

(Photo:  Public Domain. Credit: OAR/ERL/National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) via [pingnews])

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Why I’m Making a Rite of Passage Ceremony Today

Today, we celebrate my daughter by a rite of passage ceremony that we’ve been thinking about for a long time. 

We are getting her ears pierced. 

As I think about rites of passage, I realize that precious few exist in our culture to celebrate girlhood–not adolescence or graduation or marriage–but just being a young girl.  I wanted the ear piercing to have ceremonial, symbolic importance that she might remember for her whole life.

We will have friends and family there to witness the event.  

I wrote a letter to my daughter for her to read about what her ear piercing symbolizes.  I wrote that whenever she sees her earrings, she will remember God’s love for her, her family’s love for her, and her realization of her own worth–far more precious than any jewel.   We are making a rite of passage to initiate her into the next stage of her growth.  These next few years will mean so much in terms of identity formation, and I realize the role that ritual, symbol, and community will play in that secure sense of self.

I turn 35 years old this week.  I wanted my daughter’s ear piercing to coincide with my own rite of passage.  She has five years until high school, and I have 5 years until I turn 40.  What will we make, together, of these next years?  When I look at my daughter’s earrings, it will symbolize my own journey as a woman and a wife and a mother. 

And I need friends and family to witness this.  

Symbols and rituals help build a meaningful life.  We can pass them on, weave together a beautiful history, and mark our lives by them.  When I look at my daughter’s earrings, I will remember what they mean. 

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You Weren’t Alone Today

Do you remember when I cried while mopping my kitchen floor because I was thankful for the filth?  Well, today I bring out my mop to clean the floor once again, but this time, I think of a different narrative.

I imagine who else in the world is mopping a kitchen floor at this exact moment.  Of the 6 billion folks living on the planet today, chances are good that somebody is also mopping a floor.  Maybe thousands of us are.

And then, I start imagining you fellow moppers:  your countries, your lives, your particular sorrows.  I can’t help what comes next:  I start praying for unnamed, unknown people. I pray that you would find joy in the work; I pray that whatever happens on your floor today would be a good thing.

Then I go about my morning.  But something has changed in me.

I wash dishes, and I imagine other people who are scrubbing breakfast dishes at this exact moment.  Next I fold laundry and wonder who else of the 6 billion of us are folding underwear right now.  I smile and giggle to think of this community of underwear-folders.  And then I say a prayer for the people folding underwear out there. 

I’m not alone in these tasks.  I’m never alone at all.  We are all in this together–you, me, and people all over the world–mopping floors, scrubbing dishes, and folding underwear.  We did it together today.  So if you felt alone, you weren’t.

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Would We Have Done This?

Down the big hill and towards the school, some new neighbors moved in last Spring.  I met them once, and since then, our paths have not crossed.  Nobody on my street really knows them. 

Our community holds Trick-or-Treating on Thursday night, and as we approach this new family’s house last night, we are already freezing in the darkness as wind whips underneath our costumes.  Then, I see a sign in the yard.  It says: “Wecome!  Come in for Hot Chocolate, Cider, Coffee, Tea, and Donuts.”  Like a beacon of warmth and cheer, that house glows from the sidewalk.

We can’t resist.  We swarm the place.  We stay awhile.   

The family nobody knows cleaned out their garage and turned it into a little barn with tables and chairs for neighbors to rest during Trick-or Treating.  The couple dressed up as farmers, and as they pour cider and pass out donuts to us–strangers–they laugh and smile and introduce themselves.

The family none of us knows is now the family that everybody knows.

This family models how to enter a community with flair.   The next time I feel lonely, left out, or unknown because I’m the new kid on the block, I’m not going to wait around for the Welcome Wagon.  I’m going to make a sign, clear a space, and offer the kind of hospitality that folks can’t resist.  The kind of hospitality that makes people stay awhile. 

I love my neighborhood.

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Your Most Memorable Act

Last year, my daughter’s teacher asked me to provide some healthy Halloween treats for the 2nd grade party.  Everyone knows how terrible I am at anything involving baking, crafts, or decorating.  I try, but when it comes right down to it, I’m just not good at these things.

Halloween Boo Platter

I am good at words, though.  And I recalled the wisdom of my friend in Texas who says firmly, “Heather, God gave these children to you.  You are the perfect parent for them.  Your gifts are perfectly matched to their needs.”  So this time last year, I arrange some vegetables in the shape of the word, “Boo.”  I have no idea what I am doing.  I take some foil, make a pattern, and fill it in with vegetables.  That’s about as crafty as I get.

The Boo Platter

Despite my anxiety about this platter (was it cute? would the children love it?), I bring it to the school party.  My daughter beams.  Children come over to read the word, and they laugh and eat vegetables because they are in the shape of a word.   It isn’t even that beautiful as you can see by this photo. (Feel free to comment to make me feel better about this). 

Story over.  A year goes by.

This week, my daughter bursts from the school doors and calls out, “Mom, I signed you up to make treats for the Halloween party.  Everyone wants the Boo Platter!  Let’s make another Boo Platter!”  She’s holding my hand, staring up into my face, and talking about this Boo Platter like it’s become a public school legend.  

I wake up this morning and arrange the foil in the shape of a word.  It might be the most important thing I do today, the thing that matters as the years go by.  God made me a certain way, and when I act out of that authentic self, I leave a beautiful mark.  A simple embellishment–in my style–to a platter created a memory–a tradition–that children remembered and needed.   These small acts that I think make no mark, that make no difference, that seem silly and awkward and out of place, actually embed themselves in neighborhood memory. 

Living with flair means pressing on in small embellishments that flow from my personality that help shape a family and a community. Sure, some other parents made more creative and impressive things, but what my children remembered and love was a word.  Because that’s me. 

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Be Impressively Vulnerable

Yesterday, I admit to my dear friend that I’m not good at being vulnerable.  I’m better at listening and giving advice and pretending I have it all together.  I’m better at being cheery and funny than admitting when I’m not feeling well.  Maybe, deep down, I think that folks won’t love me as much if I admit my struggles and my weaknesses.

I spent five years studying the emotion of shame.  One would think I could see through my tactics!  We hide away and protect ourselves from feeling vulnerable.  We preempt the mere possibility of feeling inferior, exposed, or judged by tucking ourselves away in protective spaces of various forms.  But my research regarding shame proves this:  when we make ourselves vulnerable, we create pathways for intimacy.  Our capacity for intimacy directly correlates to how vulnerable we are.

My cats perform dramatic displays of vulnerability.  When they roll flat on their backs and expose their tummies, they welcome affection.  Dogs enact even more impressive acts.  With incredible submission, a dog will lay down, roll over, and endanger himself by revealing an unprotected belly and throat.

In the animal world, showing the belly and offering submissive gestures signals love and trust.  What submissive gestures might I enact to signal to my friends that same love and trust?  A willingness to expose my underbelly–those weak and unpleasant things about me–might seem dangerous and shameful. But these impressive acts of vulnerability are what make friendship happen. 

Who wants a friend who can’t be vulnerable?  Who wants a life shackled by the fear of shame?  Roll over, show your belly, and just see what love you find.

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This Doesn’t Happen Every Day

As we walk to school, we find a cell phone and keys tucked away into the hollow of a tree.  These treasures arrive some days and leave by afternoon.   It’s so. . . intriguing.  I imagine the tree in To Kill a Mockingbird and the gifts the children discover as they walk to school. 

Our walk to school, once mundane, now offers a complicated plot twist.  Who owns these things?  Why are they here? 

The crossing guard announces that she hides these items in the tree as she goes about her work.  She retrieves them after her shift. We slump down, the intrigue gone.   For a moment, we had a real riddle on our hands.

And we loved it.  We need intrigue.  I’m in the presence of the intriguing when I can’t help but be curious, when I can’t help but ask questions.  Intrigue, according to my neighbors, drives us to read novels, to absorb ourselves in television and movie plots, and to abandon everything to learn more and unravel the complicated twist.

I’ve got to see the intrigue, even in a town like this, on a day like today.  

As we approach the school, we gaze up to the morning sky and the tall trees surrounding the building.  A deafening crack interrupts our chatter.  One of the tallest trees, bare and majestic, splinters and falls.  As it falls, it takes another enormous tree down with it.  Children, parents, and school administrators stand there, paralyzed by the power of it.   Is this really happening? 

How intriguing this whole scene is!  We’re delighted by it, entranced and curious.  We search and discover the ground crew, blocked by school buses, who orchestrate the event.

These things don’t happen every day.  Intriguing trees have taken over my morning. 

What else can I find about today that truly intrigues?  If I lift my eyes, I might just see something.

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