Why We Need Impossible Goals

 I remembered lines from Lewis Carroll’s characters this morning about “impossible things.”

Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said, “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why sometimes I believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!”

A few hours ago, someone tried to encourage me by telling me I should set a goal I think I can’t achieve.  What?!  That doesn’t make any sense!  A goal I think I can’t achieve?  Isn’t that a recipe for failure, hopelessness, and shame?

I thought about it more.  Something about setting an impossible goal, one I think I can’t accomplish, sets me up for an extraordinary challenge.  It’s not a great goal if I know I can reach it.  But if there’s doubt in my mind–if there’s potential for devastating failure–then that’s an honest goal.   That kind of goal-setting beckons a life of adventure, faith, and flair.  It lets God in. 

I remembered today that God specializes in impossible things.

I called one of my best writing friends during my late morning rest between dusting and vacuuming.  She said that she was going “to pray for three impossible things today.”  We talked about the impossible dreams we have for our children and for our own lives.

Why not dream big?  Why not set impossible goals and just see what we’re capable of and what God does in that moment of extraordinary belief?  I want to believe six impossible things before breakfast.  That seems a lot like living with flair.

What seems impossible might just not be.


A Science Experiment About My Mood

Last night we picked wild Queen Anne’s Lace for a science experiment.  I wanted to show the girls how capillary action works.  The stem of the Queen Anne’s Lace in a cup of dyed water, will, within a few hours, suck the water up into the flower and turn it the same color as the dyed water.

We put our Queen Anne’s Lace in water dyed dark purple, neon blue, and pink. This morning, sure enough, the flowers were the same color as the water.
Amazing!  The color was striking, and it occurred to me how trusting the Queen Anne’s Lace is, how indiscriminate.  Whatever liquid environment you place the stems in, they draw it in deep within themselves and assume that color.

I imagine my living room as one big vase of water and my family as Queen Anne’s Lace.  I’m thinking about what they draw in from me, from my attitude, my hope, my flair. 

It’s just too easy for the stem to draw in whatever it’s near–no matter what shade.  Hopefully, that color is bright and joyful. 

(Photo courtesy of Lexington Gardener Examiner)


What $5.00 Bought Me This Morning

My 10 year old neighbor has started a garden and pet care business.  His flyer says he’s “responsible, caring, and dependable. . . since 1999.”  This morning, I hired him.  He said he could groom my cats, empty litter boxes, and play with the cats for exercise.  He said he would charge me $2.50 for his work.

I’ve used this service before.  At the beginning of the summer, he came to my house as a garden consultant and advised me about the placement of my beds and compost. 

This morning, I paid him $5.00 because not only did he care for all the pets, but he decided he needed to vacuum the basement.  And then, he wanted to help me make cranberry bread.  He needed to wash his hands first, he told me, because every proper chef washes hands before he handles food.

He’s still here, occasionally checking his bread in the oven.

I told him he should run for President.

He said he probably will.

I told him I was going to blog about him today, and he wasn’t interested.  He’s not into fame or recognition.  Right now, he’s into dragging the yellow rope around the house to exercise my cats.   He wants to make sure he fully earns his pay.

I hope he never loses whatever it is he has right now.  It’s the kind of flair I want all the neighborhood kids to have.  When I asked him why he’s starting a business, he said he has stuff he can do, and he can earn money and not be bored.  He’s not watching TV or lounging around this summer, and he’s not exhausting his parents’ resources by begging for trips to Disney World or expensive summer camps.  No, he’s going to run a business to help neighbors with their gardens and pets.   I just love that.


The Spiritual Principle from My Hair

Our hair is dry and completely damaged by all the chlorine we swim in.  I’ve tried special shampoos and various conditioners, but nothing seems to repair that absolutely stiff-as-straw, greenish hair adorning my daughters’ heads. 

I decided to do some research.  I found out that if you wet your hair in the shower first, you help prevent some of the chlorine damage.  According to one website:  “the water will saturate your hair and swell each strand, preventing it from thirstily soaking up the chlorine-laden water.”  

I like this writer (Sarah Tennant).  First of all, she uses some alliterative verbs like saturate, swell, and soak.  But she also makes thirst into an adverb:  thirstily.  As I was reading her, I kept thinking of the devotional literature I read in the morning.  I’ve been trying to saturate my mind with good things every morning.  I think about my heart swelling up with true, right, noble, and lovely things.

Soaked like this, I’m not thirsty in a way that will damage me.  I’m not thirsty in the way that lets whatever is nearest, most available, and most naturally compelling in.  Chlorine, for example, strips the hair of protective oils and dries everything out.  The hair thirstily takes in what actually dries it up.  That kind of quenching creates more thirst and damages.  

My hair is teaching me a spiritual principle that I want to remember:  Saturate and swell with the Good.  Then I’m not thirstily soaking up what damages. 

Living with flair means I saturate and swell and soak up the good. 


The Eraser with Flair

We’ve moved past silly bands in my house.  Now, it’s Sugar Shack Erasers.  These little erasers come in the form of cheesecakes, donuts, ice-cream cones, and various pastries.

They break apart into their various components:  frosting, scoops of ice-cream, and toppings.  You can break your eraser apart into as many as 8 pieces, and then you put it together again.  But each piece remains fully functional as an eraser.

My children love this.   

There’s been a mad rush for Sugar Shack Erasers.  We are at Wal-Mart, and my daughters scan the aisles for these erasers.  My oldest approaches an employee, who stands in a cluster of other Wal-Mart employees.  She explains the importance of the Sugar Shack Eraser.  Eyebrows raise.  Apparently, this group of employees are managers and important members of some marketing team.

“We have to order those,” one man says.  The other women nod.  They recognize the urgency in my child’s face. 

Ask a child if you want to know what sells.   The Sugar Shack erasers are erasers for goodness sake.  They are school supplies.  But my children can’t resist an object that presents as one thing but actually transforms into something else.  An eraser cheesecake is actually 6 little erasers, so tiny you can’t imagine them.  It’s a puzzle and an eraser.  Who knew? 

“Mom, this is just awesome.  We need to get all of the Sugar Shacks.”  She’s thinking about a mistake she makes on her writing that she can erase with the little cherry from the top of her ice-cream cone eraser.

The Sugar Shack Erasers had me thinking as I wondered about what fascinates children.

Whatever is–the taking apart, the building back up, the secret you hold in your hand–it tells me something about living with flair.


What We’ve Known For a Long Time

I read an article on the bus yesterday that recounts the results of a number of happiness studies.  Researchers want to know if happiness is something we experience or something we think

I love reading articles like this.  Once again, research proves that when we think about our experiences we can put the day in a certain framework to create meaning and joy.   Not surprisingly, this meaning and joy rarely depend on circumstances.  

I’m thinking about that article, and I run into one of the most vibrant and enthusiastic moms in my town.  She’s waving at me as I make my way through the self check-out line in the grocery store.  Within 30 seconds, she’s inviting me to her “Alphabet Summer” where everyday at her home celebrates a different letter of the alphabet.

It’s “J” day, so there’s jam, jello, and jumping in the pool.  I’m imagining jugglers and jellyfish and jackals.  I smell jasmine.

Her two little boys smile, and one of them says to me, “I just loved ‘F’ day.  ‘F’ day was the coolest!”

I’m living in the same town as this woman.  I’m raising my children on the same streets and we are going to the same grocery stores.  I’m making breakfast, doing laundry, cleaning and cooking, and yes, even going to the pool.  We both probably worked-out, had coffee, and will feel tired after lunch. 

But it’s “J” day at her house.

They will jump into the pool instead of easing in.  With this alphabet framework, her whole summer radiates with hidden meaning and wonder.

“Do we have a special letter today, Mom?”

Quickly, I think about the curry chicken I’ve planned for dinner.

“It’s ‘I’ day,” I say.  “For India.”

They are quiet and thinking of exotic lands.  

Same old day.  Same old dinner.  But now, we’ve got ourselves a happiness framework.


My Extraordinary Night Out

What happens when you don’t need to find the extraordinary moment in the common thing because, well, everything around you is already packaged and delivered as extraordinary?

I’m on 39th street, in a beautiful loft, mingling with writers, artists, literary agents, and ladies arranged in bouquets, with men in suits as stems, in various corners of the room.  Everyone I talk to has extraordinary news:  a new novel coming out in the winter; a non-fiction book about railroads nearly finished; screenplays coming soon; or grand moves to new cities.

And when I pause to catch my breath, girls surround me with neat little trays to offer hors d’oeuvres that need clarification.  Somebody brings me a drink in a deep purple glass.

Meanwhile, my friend signs my copy of her book.  Carey Wallace’s debut novel shimmers in my hands.  I’ve read it twice already, and the language itself makes me happy.   The story chronicles a woman’s journey as she goes blind and presents the fictionalized version of the historical love story surrounding the invention of the typewriter.  In many ways, for me, it’s a story of the relationship between sight and insight.

I’m now sitting in a corner, against a wall, on a stool.  Within an hour, two different people stop by and confess their similar but undoubtedly unique doubts about Christianity.  Both men have abandoned their faith because of serious concerns about the authenticity and authority of scripture.

One of them says:  “If only God had written a better Bible, maybe then I could believe.” 

I’m in a different sort of worship gathering here, and I don’t belong at all.  But then I notice my friend has exchanged her high heels for flats–a welcome symbol that as the party wanes, we are stripping down to our essentials.  It’s the feet I notice all of a sudden.  Flip-flops replace the spikes and glitter, and tightly pinned hairstyles come down. 

I’m just about to leave, and I haven’t accomplished something I should do:  I’m supposed to meet my agent face-to-face and pitch the idea for my nearly finished novel.  She’s over there, in a bright green dress, radiant and sure.  What do I say?

I deliver a few sentences as she shakes my hand.  She’s delighted, eager, and encouraging.   The man who wants a better Bible leans over my shoulder and says:  “Well done!  You were in and out, concise and clear.  You didn’t drool all over her, and you left an impression.  I’ll give that an 8 1/2.  That’s how you talk to an agent.”

There are rules to this game that I don’t know.  But at least my feet didn’t hurt.  I started out in flip-flops and never had to change.


Writing Atop a Double-Decker Bus with WiFi

I’m doing something I’ve never done before:  I’m riding atop a double-decker bus on the way to Manhattan. 

I’m with complete strangers.  But here’s what I know: 

The woman beside me was homecoming queen, and I know the whole story about the boy she met when she was 14 who visited, only in the summers, his grandparents who were her neighbors.  I know about their long distance relationship, the time they broke up after they already paid for airline tickets to visit Chicago, and how, even though they doubted the other would actually still go, they found each other in that city and fell in love again. 

I also watched a storm brew through the windows above my head with the older man next to me.  He has a hearing aid, and I’m not sure would speak if I engaged him, but when that storm barreled in, he glanced at me, looked back up at the dark clouds, again at me, and then back again.  We both saw it happening, and this was important. 

I had 15 minutes at a truckstop, and I was late because I was listening to a man describe his writing project.  The bus driver came in to find me.  He looked down at me, shook his head, and smiled. 

For the woman who hates to travel, I’m learning to find buried treasure in the people around me.  I’m having the time of my life, and we are just in New Jersey. 


How to Live in Luxury

Luxurious or lavish things do not need to be expensive.  I’m learning that luxury can be sought in the right mindset.  There’s something biblical about luxury properly applied.  But, by definition, luxurious implies indulgent, excessively expensive, and unnecessary. 

Even the word seems excessive.  The way it sounds seems. . . luxurious

The word connotes an entire world of very fine and very unobtainable things.

But in my house, we use the word to mean anything rich in goodness and superior in quality.  We can make luxurious fruit tarts and paint our toenails with luxurious colors.  We can lay out in the grass, luxuriously, and watch the lightening bugs.  We can swim in the public pool with luxurious backstrokes.

We won’t be on boats or eating fine chocolates today.  We won’t be vacationing on a far off island. 

And that’s fine. 

There’s something so uncertain about wealth and luxury.  Today, as I was painting my daughter’s fingernails with the cheapest bottle of bright pink, I remembered one of my favorite Bible verses from the book of Timothy.  

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”

Does God really richly provide everything for our enjoyment?  Not for our needs, but for our enjoyment?  How lavish!  How luxurious! This means I only have to wait and see what luxurious experience God might send my way today.

Maybe it’s the gorgeous deep purple blossoms on the eggplant I’m growing outside.  I’ve never grown eggplant before, and I’m amazed by how beautiful it is.  And the fruit hasn’t even come yet.  Eggplant is excessive and probably unnecessary (although I did learn how to make Eggplant Parmesan), but my goodness, I love those blossoms.

Thank you, God, for the luxury of purple eggplant blossoms.  They have flair indeed. 

(photo courtesy of Dilling / flickr)


To Get a Great Thing, You Have to Lose a Great Thing

Last night, I explained to my sister how my new 5:30 AM wake up routine meant that I have lost my night life.  I was snuggling up in bed at 8:30 PM before even my children were sleeping.  She quoted someone I can’t remember (can you? Maybe Tom Brokaw?) who said:

“Sometimes to get a great thing, you have to lose a great thing.” 

All morning, I’m reminding myself that every yes is a no somewhere else.  The great thing I want means a loss somewhere else.

And this is perfectly reasonable, good, and right.

Marriage, children, working part-time, waking up early–there are losses associated with these choices.  But nobody talks about them enough.  Nobody tells you what it will feel like to get the great thing you want.  They don’t talk about what you will lose in the getting of it.  Maybe if we did, we could understand more fully the weight of our decisions and the flip side of every “yes.”

What great loss do I need to consider, weigh, and let go of?   I’m reminded of what it costs me to embrace God, marriage, children, my health, my work, my community with radical commitment.  When things cost me nothing, are they really great things

Living with flair means that sometimes to get a great thing, I will lose a great thing.   And that’s what makes it a great thing.