4 Questions to Protect Yourself

Our family has been on a mission ever since Monday.  Monday afternoon at precisely 2:20 PM, I look out at my beautiful garden and smile at the huge squash, the cauliflower, the tomatoes, the cucumbers, the eggplant, the herbs.

Then, I see him.  He’s literally looking up at me with a smirk on his face, holding a juicy cucumber between his paws.  I start screaming and waving my arms in front of the window.  I run like a mad woman down the stairs and out into the yard.  The groundhog merely saunters off and finds refuge under our back porch.  He’s huge.  He must look like this groundhog by now.  He’s eaten all my cauliflower, stripped the green beans, destroyed the squash, and decimated the cucumber.

We gather the family together and set up garden surveillance. My children watch from the window and begin making a list of questions like:

1. How does the thief enter?
2. When does he come?
3. What attracts him to the garden?
4. What will keep him out?

My dear, dear husband puts up a beautiful fence that very night.  But the thief knows how to tear through the wooden fence.  He can also dig underneath it.  So my dear, dear husband returns from the store with chicken wire that buries deep into the ground and ascends up high around the garden.

Finally, we can sleep easy.  What’s left of the garden can grown in peace and produce a bountiful crop.

All day, I’ve been considering the vigilance of our family against this intruder.  It was silly.  But what isn’t silly is real threats against the garden of my own heart and the hearts of my family members.  Scripture teaches us that there’s an enemy of our souls, and my daughters’ list of questions sparked a new awareness of ways I protect myself from “anything that contaminates body and spirit.”  That groundhog contaminated our garden, and we found a way to protect it.  We learned to recognize the how, the when, and the why of harmful intruders.  When things intrude and contaminate my own heart, might I ask myself that list of questions and devise a plan to ensure safe growth and a bountiful crop in my life?  What must go deep and ascend high about my life to ward off spiritual, physical, and emotional contaminates?

Living with flair means I protect and defend against contamination when I need to.


The Secret Community You Might Want to Join

This morning, at 5:30 AM, I discovered the secret community of Those Who Rise Early.

I can’t believe this world exists.  There I am, alarm going off, pulling on work-out clothes and stumbling to the driveway, when all of a sudden, I look around.  At the unnatural hour of 5:30 AM, there are actual people walking about.  Happy people.  People with dogs and friends and strollers and. . . energy.

What coffee do these people drink?

I pass folks out in their yard and folks driving places.  I see three runners, several walkers, and some gardeners. Why in the world are they so happy?  Do they know it’s 5:30 AM?

It’s a secret community.  Those Who Rise Early do things like work out, drink a quiet cup of coffee, stroll in their gardens, take leisurely showers, fix their hair, empty the dishwasher, prepare breakfast, and then, they greet Those Who Rise Late with a smile, ready.   

I’ve been in the later group my whole life.  I’m the one in the bad mood, dragging myself around, begging for coffee, griping at everybody and wanting my soft bed back.  Let me sleep!  I need my sleep!  I’m fighting the DNA of generations upon generations of Those Who Sleep Late.  I need to sleep until that last possible minute.   So stop bothering me and hand me that cup of coffee.  I need to sleep late

Do I?  I decided to interview Those Who Rise Early.  This club chooses to greet the day differently, and it’s supremely amazing to join them.  They usually delight in 2 hours of solitude and productivity before children rise, before traffic surges, before the onslaught of the day.  Of the men and women I’ve talked to, this 5:30 wake up has changed their lives.  They wake that early for a variety of reasons:  personal prayer or meditation times, exercise, solitude, meal preparation and house organization, reading or writing.  Those people seem to live with with flair because their early rising prepares them for the day. 

My early morning wake up is part of living with flair.  I’ve taken a nose-dive off that plateau.  I’m hoping to change this part of my life and join the secret community of 5:30 AM.  Day by day, day by day.


A Little Garden Magic

Early this morning my daughter picks a cucumber from our garden.  It is shaped exactly like a “C.”   The wonder of this!  A vegetable shaped like its first letter!  She holds it up and shows me, eyes wide.  Would our eggplant come out like an “E” or the pepper in a big, plump “P”?  It is fun to think of it until we realize that it’s entirely normal for cucumbers to turn into long “C” shapes.  The youngest knows this already, and my gardener husband confirms the truth.

There was no magic in the garden.

No zucchini coming in “Z” shapes or squash in long yellow “S’s.”  No enchanted alphabet vegetables. 

The disillusionment lasts only a millisecond.  My daughter, still in pajamas, decides to pick the basil for pesto.  Then she turns around and whispers:  “I’m picking some parsley for us too.  It’s the secret ingredient.”

Her eyes sparkle to think of the secret ingredient from the garden.

The wonder returns.  Tonight we are having enchanted pasta with pesto. 

Living with flair is finding a secret ingredient when you’ve reasoned the wonder away.


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.