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You Cannot Contain This

My morning begins by watching children race down the street so the speed limit monitor sign records their speed.  I still haven’t had enough coffee to move properly, and these kids are racing.  They know how to walk to school with flair.   I secretly want to record my own speed.  I still might, but I’m too busy trying to contain the activity. 

Turkey Masks

Then, I volunteer in the kindergarten classroom.  The teacher puts me in charge of the Turkey Masks for the feast the class will have next week.  I’m the monitor, and I can’t contain this project; the children smear glue everywhere, and feathers are in their hair, on their shirts, and attached to their jeans.

Eventually, we produce these fine specimens. 

However, nobody can see anything once the mask is on.  I wonder about this, but then I see kids delighting in darkness.

Apparently, this makes the feast more fun and uncontrollable.  

Meanwhile, I monitor the purple glue sticks and question how in the world they go on purple but dry clear.  The chemistry behind this phenomenon has me stumped.

Something dries out, and the purple disappears. Who invented this great item?  Maybe the same person who, as a kid, would have raced towards the speed limit monitor sign.

Lord, let me monitor my own joy today.  Let me race down streets, wear turkey masks even when I can’t see a thing, and stay vibrant purple.  Let me not be contained.  Let me have turkey feathers even on my jeans. 

I’m on my way to run in front of the speed monitor.   

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The Most Impressive Thanksgiving

Right now I’m launching into my official Thanksgiving preparations.  Imagine all the family driving in.  Imagine the rooms to arrange, the week of activities to plan, the house to clean, the meals to prepare.

There’s a way to go about this with flair. 

Lately, I’ve been reading and hearing a lot about how to handle Thanksgiving stress. At the same time, I’m reading article after article about how to “Have a Thanksgiving to Impress!” 

Does Thanksgiving stress come from what I stress?  If I emphasize wanting to impress my guests, my Thanksgiving becomes a performance to evaluate rather than a holiday to enjoy. 

I don’t want family members to remember how impressive I was; I want them to remember how loved they felt.

So I’m cleaning my home to make others feel comfortable, not impressed.  We’re planning a menu to nourish and celebrate, not impress.

Living with flair means I make preparations in order to love–not impress–those around my table.  Suddenly, it doesn’t matter about this old rented house, this tight budget, this simple meal.  We’ll hold hands around a thrift-store table and thank God for all we have.  You will feel loved, not impressed.

And that will impress you.

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When the Competition is You

Last night for Neighborhood Fitness Group, we dance our normal dances and crawl around like wild animals.  But then, the children beg for “The Jump Rope Challenge.”  Turning jump rope in a basement is a challenge in itself, but we figure out a way to make it work.

“The Jump Rope Challenge” isn’t a normal competition.  It’s a battle against your own best record.  Before each child begins jumping, he or she announces a personal goal.  Sometimes, this number is 10 jumps.  Sometimes, it’s 110 jumps .  There’s a scorekeeper, cheerleaders, and rope turners, so everybody has a role to play.

A little girl jumps.  We cheer when she surpasses 10 jumps and reaches 39.  The next one exceeds 100 and achieves 102 jumps.  The next one beats his record of 18 and goes for 21 jumps.  High-fives!  Loud cheering!

The fun of the challenge is that you beat yourself.

I’m amazed because the children don’t compare their record to other records.  The moment jumping rope is about their personal best–unique to them, in their stage of life, set right at their fitness level.  My sister has told me for years about the running world and “personal records.”  It’s not important who finishes ahead of or behind you.  You have your own time to beat. 

I keep turning the jump rope, and my arm feels like it’s going to give out.  I tell myself to keep turning so that a little boy can reach his personal best.  Somewhere deep inside of him, he musters up the strength.  I see his face, and I try to imagine what’s going on inside of his head.  He wants to quit; I see that.  But he doesn’t. 

The scorekeeper records the personal win.  We tape the evidence to the wall.  Maybe I’ll keep these charts in my basement for 20 more years.  Maybe I’ll show them at their high school graduation and remind them of these nights in my basement when they accomplished a personal best and the neighborhood cheered.

They wanted to quit, but they didn’t.

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The Detail that Changes Everything

In class today, we read the description of the town of Maycomb in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.  As we imagine that beautiful Southern drawl, we hear how “ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.” 

That one detail comparing ladies to teacakes sets a mood for this little town.  It’s a comparison worth making. 

The ladies like soft teacakes seem out of place.  It’s a tiny detail, amid the “red slop” of rainy streets and “bony mules” that flick flies away.  There’s even a dog suffering in the background.   I don’t want to live in a town like this. 

But then, the writer introduces the lovely and delicate and transforms sweat to frosting and talcum.  Already, I know something marvelous will happen in the mind of this narrator. 

She’s going to reconstruct a new reality for me. 

As we work on our own personal memoir settings, we think deeply about tiny details that change how we understand our pasts. We are the characters, looking back over our lifetimes, and weaving threads of meaning into our experiences.  Was there a detail that I couldn’t see until this moment that offers a new reality?   Is there a truth I might apply that I only see now?  Back then, I only felt the heat and slop.  But now? 

Can I notice something different–one detail–that might turn sweat to frosting? 

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A Clog in My Heart

Yesterday, I’m walking alone in the woods behind my house.

Evening in the Pine Forest

It’s not a very big forest, but it’s big enough to get lost in.

I’m looking up through the pine trees, taking photos and moving forward with a grand plan: I want to see the sun set through the pines, and I want to find beautiful pine cones.

A chill settles on the forest, and a strong wind snakes around the trees like it’s coming for me.  I know if I keep walking in one direction, I’ll hit a road, but I’m not sure which road or how far it is from my home.

By this time, I find myself taking a winding path and tumbling out onto a foreign road like I’d been spit out from the forest’s dark mouth.   I’m in some strange neighborhood now.   It’s getting colder, and I’m sapped of strength.

Finally, I clench my teeth and call my husband because I have no idea where I am.   He’s so loving about it, so gentle.  But I’m angry at myself that I have to call him for help, and I refuse to have him drive to pick me up.  Instead, I walk the mile home along a road with no sidewalk. I’m too smart to be lost.  I’m too capable to need rescue. If you saw a hopeless woman without her coat, tripping along and nearly falling back into the forest, you were looking at me. 

Pine Cone on Forest Floor

What is this deep resistance in me?  What ancient sap inside of me keeps me proud and unyielding when I know I need rescue?  I refuse for anyone to come find me and just take me home.

This morning before church, I review my photos:  The pine trees and these cones aren’t oozing sap like they do in the warmer months.  In the colder seasons, the sap thickens and hardly flows.   There’s a clog in the heart of those trees until the summer sun comes and warms it, changes it.

As my husband pours warm syrup over snowman-shaped pancakes this morning, I pray that God would unclog the cold, hardened things in me.  Otherwise, I’ll stay lost and wandering in that dark woods. 

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What Your Underwear Drawer Can Show You

I run down the stairs with my purse swinging wildly behind my back and cry out, “I have to take the girls shopping.  They need new socks and underwear. I can’t find one thing for them to wear! “

“Are you sure they need more?” my dear husband asks in response. 

“Yes,” I nod my head. “Definitely.” 

We return home, and in order to stack all of our new stuff neatly in their drawers, it occurs to me to refold the little one’s underwear drawer because it’s a tangled vine of swirling tights, wads of underwear, and socks without partners. You can’t see a thing in there. 

This is why I went shopping. 

I dump the whole drawer out, isolate items, and begin the slow process of refolding.

Long Lost Pink Mitten

That underwear drawer had 30 panties (that’s thirty!), 10 pairs of socks, 4 leotards, 6 tights, and 1 missing mitten. Did I mention how many underwear?  Didn’t I?  Thirty.

I learned my lesson.

We have stuff to spare.  The mess just created an illusion that I was missing something.  Had I paused and assessed the truth of the circumstances, I once again would have found abundance where I perceived scarcity.  

What theme is this God continues to show me?  Living with flair means seeing God’s abundance. It might mean I sort through my life–isolate the blessings–and see all I have.  Once I’m organized, I find I have more than I need. 

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Where No Pie Belongs

Getting Ready to Teach

I’m in my classroom, trying to muster up some flair. 

And then, I see a student has baked two pies to share with our class.  She made an apple pie with a lattice crust and a key lime pie with a graham cracker crust.  One student sees the pies and says, “I’m having the best day ever.”

Students gather, grab forks and plates, and we feast on pies in the midst of writing lessons.  It’s still morning.  This whole thing seems crazy.  

A View of Campus

We have pie where no pie should be, for no reason at all, other than a student wanted to bring the class a treat.   We can’t stop talking about these pies, their crusts, and the whole experience of eating together in a college classroom when we’re supposed to be writing.

We eat and write, talk and eat.

Key Lime Pie

Meanwhile, I take a picture of this beautiful crust.  In the world of baking, a crust represents the foundation and the substance that holds the filling in.  It keeps everything together. 

We did feel held in–held together–by an unexpected treat.  And the writing seemed stronger, but maybe I’m imagining things.

Living with flair means bringing a pie where no pie belongs.  

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More Than Enough

A long time ago, a friend of mine remarked that you can see things more clearly in the late autumn and winter.  She said that the contrast of empty, colorless landscapes makes anything vibrant stand out that much more.  There’s a focus you gain when you find yourself in stark places.

I like that.  I like that because when it looks desolate, maybe it’s because there’s something I’m supposed to see. 

Yesterday, I leave my house to walk to pick the girls up from school.  It’s 2:15 PM, and here I am, trudging through my own bleak landscape.  I take my camera because I’m learning photography.  It’s nearly winter.  Few leaves hang on the trees like lovers not ready to depart.  There’s a desperation in the air and a sadness as I crunch all these dead leaves under my feet.  Everything mourns.  But then, I remember the feature on this old camera called “Digital Macro.”  I fumble with the camera, punch the button, and look around–differently this time.

Glorious Acorns

I’m exploring with hope on this mile walk to school.   Two acorns survived the fall from their tree, and as the sun shines through the bare trees, I lay down on the path and take a picture. 

I rest a minute in the stillness of it all.  It feels like flair to be a grown woman stretched out on her stomach on the ground like this with her hands propped up to steady an old camera. 

What else can I find out here?  What beautiful thing awaits?

All of a sudden, the view isn’t barren.  It’s absolutely abundant

Autumn Berries of Richest Red

This grim landscape has gifts to offer. 

And even in the starkest landscape, there’s more than enough.

Yellow Berries with Blue Sky
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The Next Step

My one-eyed cat, Jack, has taken another important step.  

Remember how wounded and sick Jack was?  How unattractive and miserable?   We brought him home and gave him all the love we could.   He’d lost his ability to purr.  He couldn’t even meow.  His whole kitty identity seemed withered and dying. 

Then one day, he found his purr again, deep and rich and wild.  We were petting him, and we heard the slow chug, like some distant train coming from a far-off country.  He’s purring!  Then, nearly a year into his recovery, he stood in the kitchen, proud and tall, and let out his first meow.  That kitty self was back. 

The One-Eyed Cat Serves

It gets even better.  Yesterday, I walk into my bedroom, and I see the once lonely and wounded kitty in a warm embrace.  He’s holding another cat.  He’s holding her still and bathing her face and the back of her ears!  As I watch this display, I realize that Jack’s journey has reached yet another point of healing. 

I snap a picture of him and think of what it means to care for somebody.  The once-wounded cat is now serving others.   

Living with flair means that we don’t stay wounded.  We press on, find ourselves again, and discover where we might serve.  Even if you’ve had a loss that changes how you see everything (and limits you), there’s hope towards a journey of healing-turned-ministry.  Maybe that’s the best kind.  Maybe Jack is particularly good at caring for other cats because he’s come back from the worst. 

The One-Eyed Cat and His Friend

Maybe I’m particularly good at helping folks live with flair because I lived without it for so long.  How could I not offer an embrace, hold you still for a moment, and speak out whatever words might help make today meaningful? 

 

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I Have an Announcement!

A Basement for Dancing

Last night, for Monday Night Fitness Group, we have 15 children and their parents gather to dance and jump rope in my basement.  The space isn’t fancy–it’s just big enough to let a group of children dance for one hour.  As we finish up with jumping jacks and a game of “Little Sally Walker,” we pause for “Community Announcements.” 

So many little hands go up in the air.  I have an announcement!  I have an announcement!  We sit in a circle and share our most important news for the neighborhood to know.  I begin with a challenge to walk to school–even in the snow–so we can celebrate our 100th mile with t-shirts and dancing.  I have more weight to lose and more health to gain, and I need this neighborhood to help me. 

Then the children go around the circle with their most important announcements:

One child has her first loose tooth.  We cheer and clap.  She’s growing! 

The next child reports that there’s a new student at school.  She says, “We have to talk to him and make him feel very welcome.”  Another child pipes up that there’s another new student who only speaks Portuguese, so we have to pay attention and help that new person. 

Then one boy announces that he “played outside the whole afternoon, ate dinner quickly, and rushed back outside to play.”  We clap because it’s a fitness achievement for him, and our neighborhood is on a mission towards fitness.   The next child claims she danced for one hour in her basement with her friend.  Another fitness win. 

Then, we hear of new badges earned in scouts.  We cheer more.  

And then, we are alerted to a neighborhood emergency.  Earlier in the afternoon, some of the children discovered a tree that had a rock embedded in the trunk.  They perform surgery and remove it. When they examine this tree, they find that too many acorns are taking root near it and within the hollow between two limbs.  They proceed to clear away the acorns and water the tree.  And then they observe that it’s all solid clay around the trunk; no water seeps in.  So they grab shovels, till the soil, and mix in compost to save the tree.  2 hours they work.  Emergency averted. 

Our announcements show me what our neighborhood values: our growth, our community, our fitness, and our environment.  We celebrate each other and press on toward our goals–together.  We also value announcing our lives, living them out alongside one another.  A loose tooth, a new student, a tree in danger–these things must be noted and marked in our annals.  We chronicle lives lived in this little neighborhood.  We hear you.  We love you. 

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