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Why Are They Doing This?

Just as I tuck my daughters in bed last night, the doorbell rings.  My husband opens the door, and a gust of icy air enters.  We can feel it all the way up into the bedrooms.  Who would come by so late on such a cold evening?

Then, the singing starts.  I peek down the stairs, and a half moon of carolers stands on my front porch singing, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” and then, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

I hurry to nudge the children out of their warm beds.  We gather on the stairs and crane our necks to see the carolers.  Even the cats come to witness this event.

My youngest asks, “Mommy why are they doing this?”

“They are carolers caroling!” I tell her.

To carol means to sing a joyous religious song, and last night, we had a dozen carolers caroling.  It felt like we’d been visited for a special reason–like an unexpected celebration arrived at our home.  Each carol told a story, a narrative, about Christ’s birth or some celebration surrounding the Christmas season.

I suddenly want to teach my children all the old carols.  I want to transport them back in time to when folks honored the birth of Jesus with the kind of singing that went out through the towns and villages on Christmas Eve. They rejoiced with carols.  

I want to rejoice like that.  I want to broadcast that ecstatic joy–the kind that knocks on a stranger’s door in the cold night and sings out.

I love that Christmas carols remind me of something I’d forgotten:  I rejoice in Christmas.  I open wide the door of my home and heart and let the celebration in.

Photo: Bolas Navidenas — Kris de Curtis (Creative Commons)

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Are You the Fudge Fairy?

Perched atop a snow drift by my front door today, a package of homemade fudge boasts a bright green ribbon.  It’s the same wrapping every time.  And every time, a Bible verse of encouragement, neatly typed and tucked under the ribbon, speaks about God’s faithfulness. 

I never know when the fudge delivery will come.  Sometime in the cloak of night or wee hours of the morning, someone delivers fudge all over town.  It comes several times a year.  Mostly graduate students receive the gift–just as exams approach–and soon, the phone rings.

“Are you the fudge fairy?” 

“No, are you?” 

Nobody knows.  

Gifts delivered in secret to the front door delight this community.  Part of the joy is not knowing who performs this anonymous ministry of fudge–and guessing and guessing and loving that someone was thinking of you.  

Are you the fudge fairy? 

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The Simple Remedy

This morning, the icy wind blows against the house and whips down the street, determined.  The power goes out, and suddenly, the warm yellow glow of the kitchen turns into the blue-black of a morning not quite awake. 

We have breakfast by lantern and candlelight.  It’s quiet

We have so much time on our hands.  It’s as if a lack of electricity remedies our morning frenzy. 

We have to pull the garage door open by hand.

I can’t charge my cell phone; I can’t check email.  My day turns basic, simple.

But I can drive across town to the doctor’s office.  Finally, after 14 days of coughing, the doctor wants to treat with antibiotics.  As I sit there, still chilled from my morning without heat, the doctor says, “You’ll need to buy buckwheat honey today.  It’s the only thing that works for the cough.” 

Buckwheat honey?  Last week, I paid a fortune in medications (that did not work) to treat this cough, prescribed with robotic speed.  But this new doctor claims that all the clinical trials in cough research show that a teaspoon of buckwheat honey (and it has to be buckwheat–no other type works) coats the throat in such a way that coughing ceases.

A simple remedy, as simple as a quiet breakfast by lantern, trumps the big expense of manufactured cough suppressants.   My jar of honey costs a couple dollars, and I cradle it in my arms as I make my way through the fluorescent lights of the grocery store.  I imagine the little bees making this honey–that simple, natural act–that I’ll benefit from today. 

Honey and lanterns:  I have to remember that living with flair can be natural and basic and cheap.  That kind of living may remedy what frenzies my day.

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How Ridiculously Inconvenient!

I receive a desperate email from one of my best students.  He’s applying to this great new program, but the deadline’s been changed to tomorrow.  He has no choice but to beg his professors to write last minute recommendations. 

It’s a ridiculous inconvenience.  It’s exam week here.  I’m grading papers, posting grades, and barely keeping my head above the water.  Not only is the recommendation due now, but I have to stop everything, drive across town to my office to pick up the appropriate letterhead, write the narrative, and then arrange to meet the student to drop off the forms. 

What makes this one student’s life so precious, so important, that I would bother to do what I do not have time for?

I bundle up in my coat and scarf, pull on my gloves and boots, and brave the ice.  As I drive, it’s as if God has a message for me about the beauty of the ridiculously inconvenient.  God, after all, takes on the inconvenience of flesh, and if I think about it, Christmas is actually a celebration of radical inconvenience. 

A student needing a recommendation seems a small thing, really. 

I know, I know.  I’ve also memorized the quote:  Your lack of planning doesn’t constitute an emergency on my part. 

But what if it did?  What if I embraced being ridiculously inconvenienced for once in my life and made your particular need my current emergency? 

I’m smiling as a race into the English department.  It’s because the student is precious–profoundly so–and why wouldn’t I go to extraordinary lengths to help him move forward in the direction of his dreams? What makes my time more valuable than his? 

Years ago, I was that flustered student trying to meet deadlines, knocking sheepishly on my professors’ doors.  How many folks did I inconvenience on my journey?  How many emergencies did I bring into the laps of folks I needed to help me? 

Living with flair means I learn to embrace inconvenience.  The inconvenient things often usher in the magnificent, the life-changing, and the divine.  I felt myself transforming into the type of woman I want to be as I drove back home.  I did a ridiculously inconvenient thing for someone, and I knew it was full of flair. 

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Christmas and the Ancient Path

I stay home from church today and cough my way through the morning.  But I want to create my own Sabbath worship–to start the week fresh in peace–especially with so much to do to prepare for Christmas. 

I light candles and gather my Bible and a curious old journal that my students presented me on the last day of class. 

It’s an ancient journal, fresh out of Camelot or Narnia or Hogwarts.  The grainy pages connect with wisps of leather; the secrets within stay secure with a clasp.

I will record wise things here.  I will document revelations and promises–the whispers of God into my heart.  I will take His Hand and follow ancient paths that lead me to truth. 

As I unclasp my journal, I’m reminded of the words of that moody and artsy prophet Jeremiah.  He tells me:

This is what the LORD says:
   “Stand at the crossroads and look;
   ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
   and you will find rest for your souls.” 

I open my journal and ask for the ancient paths.  And then I know.  I recall his name:  The Ancient of Days, God, the one who comes from the ancient into the modern, the one who descends down into a manger. 

That’s Christmas–the ancient path that leads from Bethlehem into my heart. 

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Becoming an Adult

Getting small children ready to play in the snow requires patience.  Change your agenda for the moment because this is going to take some time. 

My child wriggles into her snowsuit, and then reports that her jeans are bunched up by her knees.  I pull each pant leg down, digging up underneath her snowsuit and repositioning her clothing.

We’re almost there.  Boots on, coat zipped up, hat secured, she stands by the door with her hands up and fingers splayed  like she’s just been arrested.  She only needs her gloves.  She can hardly move within that bundle of snow gear, but still she manages to hand me two pink gloves.

Carefully, I hold the glove’s mouth open wide while she shoves each eager hand in. 

We try again and again.  Every finger has a slot–a place it belongs–and her task is to find it.  I can direct her and inch her fingers just so far, but she needs to navigate the dark cave alone, journeying up until everything’s in its place.  She’ll know when it feels right.  Nobody can know it but her. 

We try again, and this time, she’s figured it out.  I push open the door and stand to the side.  I send her into the bright, white snow, where all the other children play, and she doesn’t look back.

At some point (and it’s a different point for everybody), I became the glove holder and the door opener.  This is a good thing.  Living with flair means adopting–with flair–my adulthood.   It’s not just parenting.  It’s embracing adulthood for all its work for those who come after us.

I’m a glove holder and a door opener.  And then I sit back with my cup of coffee and watch with delight as children tumble down the hills–only a boot clinging to the sled.

Adulthood means I am more concerned with facilitating the joyous moment for others than I am living it for myself.  I give myself away to a new agenda, serving with the strength God provides, and mysteriously–miraculously–find the deepest joy.

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Write Like A Jellyfish

Today, one of my favorite on-line communities, The High Calling, features my flair for the day.  Enjoy the beginning of the post here, and please read more over at a great website that helps us deeply consider life, work, and faith. 

It’s the last day of the semester.

I smooth out a new page, unzip my red pencil case, and attempt–along with these college students–the art of writing with flair.   The rain outside transforms to ice.  We hear its tiny fingers pelt the window begging for entrance into this warm space. 

With my own pencil poised, I ask the question again:  “How do we get our own voices–the authentic ones deep within our hearts shared by no other living soul–onto the page?”  Lately, I’ve made my writing lessons all about voice. Early in my writing teacher career, I learned that high school and college writing instruction attempts to remove voice from writing.  Make it academic.  Make it sophisticated.  My students always, always ask me (in a timid, near whisper) if it’s OK for them to use the word, “I.” 

It’s like they’re trespassing, violating some rule.  If they put the voice back into their writing, somebody will cross out the sentence and send them back to their desk to imitate some other scholar’s prose.  The subtext: Don’t sound like you.  Sound like us.

But there’s something that only they can say, in only their way, in their own voice. 

What’s a voice in writing?  How do I get to it?   Read on. . .

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When Your Cat Looks Like a Skunk

My Skunk Kitty

When you’re sick in bed, you have a lot of time to think about your life.  You can have bizarre thoughts, brought on by fever and narcotics and the reality television shows you’ve been watching to pass the time. 

You start asking yourself if you’re dying, and you wonder what the whole point of life is anyway.  Then you start thinking you’ll never have another moment of flair again in your whole life.  You think that God has abandoned you and everything you thought was true is now untrue. 

You can’t remember any of God’s promises.  

And then your kitty comes up to snuggle with you, and she rolls over to show you the single white stripe on her belly.  She looks exactly like a skunk. 

But she’s not a skunk.  She’s a kitty.  She only looks like a skunk. 

What I see from this bed is not reality. 

There’s another system, another actuality, that God knows and God sees.  Good, beautiful, right, and true.  As warm and comforting as this cat beside me. 

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What You Have to Know

Typing Out My Flair

Yesterday, I receive a sweet email from a wonderful 5th grader in another part of the country.  She’s the amazing girl who owns her own business and announced, regarding her appearance, that “a face without freckles is like the sky without stars.”  Her story appeared in an August blog post

This email contains two questions for me to answer.  She has to know how long it takes me to blog and where I get my ideas.  Even though I want to get back to bed to recover from my cold, I can’t resist answering her.  Such curiosity!  Such interest in somebody else!  I feel honored to be that somebody else.  I respond and tell her I normally work on my blog for 30 minutes to 1 hour a day (I don’t have any more time than that!).  Then I tell her the great secret of living with flair:  I ask God in the shower every morning to show me the flair that day.  Then I start looking for the beautiful thing that reminds me of a spiritual truth that can help me live my life better.  It might be common; it might be small, but I can find it every day. 

Then, she asks me all about my Neighborhood Fitness Group because she wants to start her own.  I’m so impressed that I have to tell her everything–our dance music play list, our jumping jack challenge, our tendency to get rowdy and need adult supervision.  I even tell her about our Community Announcement time at the end when we talk about healthy eating and how to stay active in the winter.  

I imagine she will start her own group.  She’s a 5th grader who wants to help her community.

I finish typing and get back to bed.  I’m thinking about my own children and how I might raise them to have curious hearts, to take an interest in other people’s ideas and projects, and to launch their own neighborhood initiatives.  Being interviewed by a 5th grader reminds me that even children, especially children, live with flair that inspires me. 

I’m sure my freckled friend is on to other interviews today.  There are so many things she just has to know. 


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Latkes, Menorahs, and the French Phrase that Might Change Your Life

I have a student who already has a career in bread and pastries.  She’s a baker who works all through the night baking bread for local bakeries.  She’ll rise at 2:30 AM, work all night, and report to my 10:00 AM class covered in flour.  The smell of freshly baked bread precedes her and lingers when she departs. 

Last night, my baker student stops by to make potato latkes (pancakes) for my family.  She wants to share this special Hanukkah food tradition with us, and she even brings a Menorah to light at sundown.   As a Jewish daughter, she said the blessing as the candles were lit in her family, so she also proclaims the Hebrew blessing as a treat for my Christian family as the flames flicker.

But first, we make latkes!  She’s like a precision sportsman grating white and sweet potatoes with speed.  As my student cooks, I notice how organized and how peaceful she remains.  She carries on 3 different conversations, washes the dishes (and the floor!), and flips the latkes.  At no point is my kitchen disordered or dirty.  No stress, no worry. 

“This is amazing!” I remark. 

She looks over at me (while putting more latkes in the pan), and says, “Mise en place.” 

“Me za what?” I ask, laughing.

“It’s French for, ‘everything in its place’,” she teaches.  Apparently, every great baker knows this rule.  Before you start cooking anything, you enact mise en place.  You set everything up–all your ingredients, all your tools, all your supplies–for the entire project.  There’s no scurrying about and no energy wasted. Everything is exactly as you need it–mise en place

When the latkes finish, she turns them over onto a plate beside her, already lined with a paper towel–mise en place

When sundown falls like a grandmother’s shawl around our home, she has her candles and matches ready to light her Menorah.  Her Hebrew blessing is typed out in translation for us–mise en place

I serve Italian for dinner; my husband prays over our meal; we enjoy Jewish latkes as the candles burn down. 

But all night, mise en place resonates long after I should be sleeping.  Can I do that with my life?  Can I get everything ready–anticipating–so I offer spaces of peace and organization?  Those well-planned days are my best days.  No scurrying, no energy wasted.  I have everything I need right here before me.  Living with flair means mise en place

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