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The Interrupting Chicken

I’m told I need to pick my children up in the sanctuary after their first day of Vacation Bible School.  It’s a ranch theme, and I’m already smiling at the teenage helpers dressed in overalls, bandanas, and cowboy boots.  I’m a little early, so I sneak in to see the skit that one group performs on the stage.

I can hardly hear them speaking because of the chickens. 

Yes, chickens.

On the corner of the stage–as decoration in a nice cage–three chickens squawk as loud as they can.  Somebody thought that chickens would be a nice touch, I’m sure.  Somebody had to pull some serious strings to get live chickens in the sanctuary.

The chickens sit on that stage and squawk so loudly at the exact moment anybody tries to speak.

I start laughing.  The other parents coming in behind me start laughing.  Then, all the children are laughing.  They call the chickens the “interrupting chickens,” and it’s obvious who steals the spotlight.  

It’s never a good idea to use creatures as decoration, and apparently, you can cage their bodies but not their voices.  Those chickens took down a room full of humans.  I imagine some disgruntled volunteer went and released them.

Meanwhile, I’m asking my children about God, what they learned about the Bible, and what sort of ways they might have developed good character this morning.  They stare at me, wide-eyed, and announce that they actually witnessed interrupting chickens.

Chicken in a cage flair.   If only I could be so confident in the power of my own voice.

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Google Street View and Happiness

Sometimes when I’m missing certain places, I’ll visit them using Google Street View.  I can walk down childhood roads, visit old neighborhoods, observe favorite restaurants or city streets, or spy on my own house–all thanks to Google’s Street View.

And sometimes, when I’m imagining what life must be like in a different city, I’ll visit University of Melbourne in Australia, cruise a street in Beijing, or explore Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood or 5th Avenue in New York.  Yesterday, I even drove down US 25 towards my favorite summer spot in the mountains of North Carolina–all clicking my mouse on Google’s arrows that lead in whatever direction I choose.    

It’s always tempting to believe that a better life exists in another location.

I want to believe that my location is what makes life good.  If only I were in this place or that place or here or there.  But the deeper into the life of faith I travel, the more I realize the truth behind the writer’s statement in Psalm 90 that “the Lord himself is our dwelling place.”  And this morning before church, I read in the book of John where God says that “he makes his home” within us. 

How curious:  I dwell in God, and God dwells in me. Sometimes I think God lets me leave certain places and arrive at others just to learn this truth.  If God is my dwelling place, it doesn’t matter where I am; I’m home.  It’s the Spirit of God that makes any location marvelous.  Can this be true?  I want it so badly to be. 

Visiting locations from my desk reminds me that my happiness isn’t found in a place.  It’s within me– where God dwells.

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2 Reasons to Look Harder

This morning we find a Tomato Hornworm on our tomato plants.  These bugs are huge and yet so difficult to see.  They almost perfectly resemble the background leaves and stalks.

I’m staring at the plants, and all I see are leaves and tomatoes.  But when my entomologist friend comes by, she spots the camouflaged creature immediately.

I can’t see anything.

I look harder, burying myself in tomato leaves.  Finally, I see another one. I almost have to cross my eyes and squint to distinguish the bug from the plant.  It feels like I’m in some Magic Eye book. 

I had this 3D Magic Eye poster in college.  In 1993, you could go to shopping malls and look at these posters to find the hidden pictures within them.  There were stereograms, or more specifically, autostereograms. 

 A stereogram is an optical illusion of depth created from a flat, two-dimensional image.  The point is that another image exists buried deep within the other.  This poster, for example, hides glasses within it.  I would stare until my eyes ached as I tried to get that image to pop out of the poster.  It drove me nearly crazy to think that something was really there, but I couldn’t perceive it.  It infuriates me like those Tomato Hornworms that are really there–devouring my plants–and escaping my perception.  My eyes fail me over and over again. 

How many things hide within my reality that I don’t perceive?  And how many things do I discount as real simply because they dwell outside of the realm of visual perception?  Tomato Hornworms and autostereograms are two reasons why I’m willing to believe in what I cannot always see.

I’m sure that living with flair has something to do with stereograms and seeing beneath the surface of things.  

(Tomato Hornworn, courtesy of Whitney Cranshaw, CSU, bugwood.org)

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“The Lincoln”

There’s a new challenge at the pool.  It’s more like a dare, and for teenage boys, it’s hard to resist.

It’s called “the Lincoln.”

I’m watching teenagers take running leaps off the diving board and land flat on their stomachs or backs.  But every once in a while, a boy will complete the impossible trick dive called the Lincoln.

You run, you dive, and mid-air, you turn to the side and do a side flip.

The Lincoln.

“What makes it so hard,” one teenager explains, “is physics.  You’re going one direction, and you have to tell yourself to turn to your side and do a flip in a perpendicular direction.”

I nod, wondering why it’s called the Lincoln.  Then I remember that gravity experiment when a penny falls straight down after you push the round tube it’s sitting on to the left or right.

All the older boys line up and try to do the trick.  Of the group, only one can do it.  The lifeguards cheer.  This is the stuff of summer legend.  Somebody can do “the Lincoln!” 

Then, a little boy, maybe 6 or 7, gets up on the board.  He runs, he dives, and, smooth as butter, turns to his right and flips in the air.  The Lincoln.  Collective silence all around.  The lifeguard stops twirling her whistle.

“No way,” the guy who knows the physics and how hard this dive is says.

The little boy, the one who hasn’t had physics yet and only knows gravity by experience–and not theory–, surfaces, smiles, and says: “That wasn’t hard.  I didn’t even have to think about it.”

Changing direction and form, mid-flight, is hard for anyone.  I hate change.  I hate everything about it.  But watching that little boy just get some speed and do it, without over-thinking the difficulty, inspired me.

Yeah it’s hard to do whatever it is I’ve got to do.  But today, I want to pick up some speed and do it.

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Sucking all the Marrow Out

The day stretches out before us.  I can let it happen to me, or I can seek out the complexity in common moments.  Complexity refers to many parts in an intricate arrangement.  If you can find this particular arrangement, you can suddenly understand something differently and more deeply.  There’s complexity in this piece of toast, this cup of coffee, this orange.

People have said I think too much.  

A fellow faculty member and I commiserated yesterday that students like to say:  “But why does it have to mean anything?  It ruins our enjoyment when we have to analyze stuff.  Can’t we just enjoy the story?”   I think we confuse complexity with unnecessary complication or confusion.  We think complexity means we shroud something in difficulty.  But this isn’t the case.  Finding patterns, connections, and symbols unlocks this whole other world–this whole other subtext–that makes a text (or a life) so rich and beautiful.

Examining life for all its complexity pours a warm syrup over our day that makes it good.  We begin to see spiritual truth in the tiny, mundane thing.  We see God reaching out to us from the confines of a bedroom or a minivan or a rocking chair.  There’s a message inside of everything confronting us.

Why not live a complex life?  Socrates cries out:  “The unexamined life is not worth living,” just as Thoreau fears that “he would come to die and find that [he] had not lived.”  He famously commands himself to “live deep and suck all the marrow out of life.” 

Marrow, after all, is the choicest, inmost, essential part of a thing.  There’s marrow in this day, and for me, it’s whatever trace of God’s beauty and goodness I can find and suck out. 

(Special thanks to Charity G.and Gigi M. for inspiring this post.)

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The Everyday Apprentice

I want to enter the various cultures around me with a curious mind and a willing heart.  In the past few days, I’ve been invited to experience various “cultures” whether it’s joining the swim team community, learning about the various spiritual cultures of my neighbors, or entering the college culture by watching movies students love, listening to music they download, and attending the places they go downtown.

As I thought about what it means to love people and be a good friend, this concept of entering different cultures seemed suddenly so important.

Right at that moment, my husband was leaving to go to his workshop.  On his days off, he apprentices with a carpenter to learn the skills of woodworking and carpentry.  (Note:  Apprentice is a fantastic verb.  It means to study under a master to learn the skills of a trade.  Apprenticing represents a whole cultural system by which a new generation trains for a trade.  I wish I could apprentice under certain mothers, teachers, and wives.)

He’s asked the family before if we want to visit his workshop.  We’ve always said, “no.”  We don’t have time!  We aren’t interested!  What would we do in a workshop?  Well, not today.  I want to enter that culture with a curious mind and a willing heart.    

So we go.

It feels like a foreign country.  He shows us big, scary machines with names like planer, jointer, miter saw, and band saw.  I start asking questions.  Soon, I learn that my husband can take material like these split logs:

And turn them into this.   

I start feeling some flair happening.  I start looking around me with new eyes.  I notice some order and beauty in this place.

And I notice my children are captivated by what their father is doing.  He puts safety gear on them and shows them what he can do on the machines.  He takes a scrap of wood and transforms it into something smooth and square. 

Right now, we are back home, and the girls are playing with their block of wood–imagining all sorts of things with it.  We entered the culture of woodworking with a curious mind and a willing heart, and we had more fun than I could have ever thought possible.  Living with flair means I enter the various cultures around me by being curious and willing.  I apprentice and learn.  I want to do it everyday.

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Small Flair in Hidden Places

I wake up with a horrible cold or horrible allergies–funny how the body responds the same to real or imagined threats against it–and dread the morning.  I can’t find one box of tissues anywhere.

Then, I realize I’ve lost my cell phone.

Sniffling and pitiful, I wander to the basement just in case my cell phone is lost amid the scatter of assignment sheets and lesson plans.  Still sniffling, I spy it innocently positioned in the most curious of places.

Right next to a box of tissues.

Flair came early and reminded me that what I lose sometimes brings me to what needs to be found.

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Reinvent the Course

I’ve been thinking about what it means to instruct, to offer suggestions, and to speak in the imperative mood.  My love of verbs means I know they sometimes take the form of commands–imperative forms–that we use to express suggestions or advice.   This morning, I used the imperative on myself.  Here’s what I said:

Reinvent the Course

It’s like I’m running, and potholes and roadblocks stop me in my tracks.  I think to myself that it’s all over.  My dreams, my goals, my projects all fall apart with the slightest bit of discouragement.  Sewn together in particular ways, my life dreams must take shape exactly as I form them.  But pull one thread, and the whole thing unravels.

At that moment with a heap of disaster uncoiled around my ankles, I’m learning to reinvent the course I was on and recalibrate till I’m aligned with what always turns out to be better and a much purer form of what I really wanted all along.

For example, nothing in my life has ever come about in the right place, at the right time, and in the right form.  But it always ends up being. . . just right.  I met my husband in the wrong place (he was supposed to be in the South), at the wrong time (finishing a Ph.D.–who has time?), and in the wrong form (where was his little poet pony tail and John Lennon spectacles?).  But he was just right.  Exactly right.

And children?  Born in Michigan when my whole family was in Virginia, during my dissertation writing, and a girl instead of boy.  But she’s just right.  Exactly right.

Or moving here in a mad rush to a house I never imagined in any dream.  Or to a teaching career that came in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and in the wrong form.  It was supposed to be a tenure track job at some Ivy League school.  But teaching was the goal and God put it in the right place, at the right time, in the right form.

Finally, my publishing dreams.  No book contract, no bestseller.  And yet, I learned to reinvent the course.  Blogging? And look! 11,000 visitors from 77 different countries or territories.  I didn’t even know how to make a blog 125 days ago.  I wanted to write, and maybe this new course would let me.  It seems just right.  Exactly right.


I think of life as a maze with only one path to my dreams.  But it’s not a maze.  It’s a beautiful landscape with trails we haven’t even imagined.  I’m just so thankful we have a Faithful Guide.

Living with flair means I’m not afraid or discouraged when I have to reinvent the course.  

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The Best Hand Gesture

This morning during Sunday School, a mom found me to tell me that her daughter didn’t want to be left alone in the room with the other children.  But when mother and daughter entered the room, another little girl looked at her daughter and patted the empty seat beside her.

Problem solved.

Who wouldn’t want to walk into a room, have someone catch your eye, and see that person’s hand pat the empty seat beside her?  It might be the greatest hand gesture in the world.  It communicates this:

Be with me!  I like you!  You belong here!  There’s a spot just for you! 

I want to live in such a way that I’m patting a million seats for everyone I see.

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The Red Spotted Newt and Marriage Truth

Hiking along a trail this morning, I force my own plans:  when to stop to pick blackberries, when to leave the trail and see what’s down the canyon, when to turn back.  I have my own things to do. 

My Eagle Scout husband (who surely knows more) is patient with me when I’m bossy.  He calls out to me and says, “Come look at this!”

Together, we observe a fast little red spotted newt.  It’s tiny and racing across the moss almost too quickly to catch on film.  I’m amazed he could see it.

Later, I want to go home, and he says, “We’ll just walk a little further down this trail.”

All of a sudden, the forest opens to this gorgeous lake–so peaceful, so tucked away in a deeply shaded forest.  Nobody’s here but us, the geese, and the frogs that let out a yelp as they dive like synchronized swimmers off the lily pads. 

It’s so beautiful.  I sit and rest.  It was my husband who brought me here to the still water’s edge.  It was my husband who said, “look at this,” and stopped me in my frantic race towards…what?  We celebrate 10 years of marriage this week.  This anniversary hike without the children reminded me of what’s so precious about marriage:  You have a companion that walks the trail with you and knows how to guide your attention to what you can’t yet see.

Later, we talked about marriage as oneness.  You have to fight the urge to be separate, to do your own thing, to race ahead.  Being–and staying–in love means I cultivate the oneness.  Cultivating oneness has something to do with pulling the other aside and saying, “Look at this!”  And if one of us has to rest by the water alone, the other one will at least capture it on film for later.

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