Flair in the Terrible Storm

I practiced one of the oldest ways of storm forecasting today:  I watched the leaves.  As families hurried into church under a darkening sky this morning,  my children clung to either side of me as I welcomed newcomers. 

I looked out at that smolder of sky and clouds.  Everything in sight seemed dark and braced for the worst.

Everything, that is, except the leaves.  My daughter pointed outside and said, “Mama, the leaves are dancing.”  I smiled at the verb choice. 

It was beautiful to watch.  Dry leaves on the ground swirled up in this ballet of movement.  And in the distance, every tree turned its leaves up, anticipating the storm.  My friend who reads botany told me that the undersides of leaves contain stomata, or little pores, that help soak in moisture.  When they turn up like that, they position themselves to receive nourishment from the sky.

“Can they turn themselves up?”  I wondered aloud.  I imagined little leaf arms that flexed tiny muscles to turn those leaves over.  That would be so cool!  So flair!

It turns out that the leaves don’t do any of this themselves.  The coming storm creates changes in pressure that actually move up from the ground and turn the leaves upside down.  The atmosphere conspires, it seems, to force these leaves to receive from the heavens.

I looked again at those leaves, enabled like that with no effort on their part, to receive.  As I turned to enter the sanctuary, I considered what it takes to stir those fallen leaves to dance and those branch leaves to receive.  I know God brings the storm, the pressure system, to invite my undersides to be exposed, to turn me to the right position.  From that place in the storm, I’m in the best place to receive what heaven pours down.   Only from there can I dance in that particular storm’s wind. 


What I Learned About Skin Today

Victory!  I figured something out:  My daughter loves to swing.  More than any other activity, she loves to swing.  Everyday, she asks if I can push her on the swing (she’s not good at pumping yet).  And ever since I started writing the flair blog, I’ve been asking her why she loves it so much.  Living with flair is figuring out what we all love–getting to the core of it–and attaching it to a deeper truth.

My daughters think I’m over-analyzing.  I’m not phased by this.  I’m used to college students rolling their eyes and telling me we are “over-analyzing” that poem or that Shakespeare play.  They hate it when I ask them to tell me why they love something.

“Can’t we just love it?  Do we have to know why?” 

Well, yes.  Yes, you do.

It will help you live great lives.

So this morning, I’m dusting my little one’s room.  Both daughters are spinning around me, doing their little girl attempts at cleaning.  And I ask once again:

“Why do you love it so much?  Why do you love swinging for hours?”

“Mom, I already told you.  I…don’t…know.”

“It’s not because it’s high up or fast or something?”


“It’s not because it feels like you’re flying?”

“No.  I just like it.  That’s all. OK?”  She’s a college student telling me I’m over-analyzing.  She wants to love the poem but not care why. 

But I’m not finished yet. I call the older one, the wiser one who is more prone to accept challenges.

“Why does she love the swing so much?”

“Easy, Mom.  She loves it because it cools her down.  It’s the wind she loves.”

“But she loves to swing all winter–when she’s already cold.”

“Well, then, it’s because she can feel the wind on her whole entire body.  That’s what she loves.  The wind on her skin!”

We pause for a minute and I’m told by my children that the skin is the largest organ and that it feels things for us.

“Right.”  My little one pops up and nods rapidly.  “That’s it, Mom!  That’s it!  I love it because it’s my whole body feeling it on my skin.”

And the older one says:  “That’s why kids like to get dirty.  It gets the whole body into it, on the skin, you know.”

I’m thinking that computer games and television don’t engage their bodies.  I’m thinking that I want to go get on a swing with them, dive back into the pool (and yes, I did do the diving board yesterday–a liberating front dive to the applause of other moms!), bury them in sand at the beach, run in the rain with them, or roll down a grassy hill to get my whole body feeling something.

I’m probably dying a little bit inside for lack of diverse activities that get every piece of my skin involved.  Living with flair is getting my whole body into something.  And it’s getting down deep into my experience to figure out what and why I love it.

(Photo from School of Prosperity)


When You’re All Out of Flair

“I’m all out of flair,” I said somberly to my sister this morning.  I woke up tired, cranky, and very, very uninspired.  Not even more coffee helped.  But I clung to one little hope, flickering like some nearly expired candle.

My sister said, “There’s hope of flair.  Just remember that.”

And I did have hope that the day could be great.  After all, I would do the one thing that always makes me feel good in the summer.

I would put on my bathing suit and go swimming.

The summers between ages 10 and 15, I lived at the pool.  I’d walk the mile and a half (in my jelly shoes), with my towel around my neck, show up when it opened, and then close the place down.  Once you passed a swim test, the lifeguards let you come without your parents.  So that’s what I did, every day, for the three months of summer.  That little public pool was my whole world those summers. 

I still remember claiming my lounge chair, spreading my towel, and running–with that lifeguard blowing his whistle and booming out the WALK command–and jumping in that pool.  I’d stay until dinner, surviving on snack food from a vending machine, race home to eat a meal, and then return until the sun went down.  Sometimes I had friends with me, sometimes not.  It didn’t matter.  I belonged to everybody, and there were goals to accomplish:  a front flip on the diving board, a full pool length of holding my breath, a championship in random Marco-Polo or Sharks and Minnows games, or a successful backstroke.  

No homework, no chores, no mean girls.  Actually, there was a mean girl, and she quickly left me alone when she saw my front flip and my mad skills in the deep end.  I was happy, free, and completely myself, floating on my back with the water holding me up and the sun shining down.

Now, I’m older.  I have kids of my own who race down to the pool.  Our pool has been opened since Saturday, and we’ve been everyday but yesterday because a storm threatened.

I read that afternoon that Rue McClanahan died.  Summer nights, I watched “The Golden Girls.”  In 1985, Ms. McClanahan told The New York Times that the writers of that show knew how to showcase the many layers of an older woman.  She said, “They don’t turn into other creatures. The truth is, we all still have our child, our adolescent and our young woman living in us.”

I thought about that quote this morning as I got our pool towels and bathing suits ready.  I’m happy at the pool, even as a woman, because that little girl on the diving board is still alive in me.  She’s in there, sometimes buried deep, and sometimes so quiet I can’t remember her.  But when I’m in the pool, she’s back.  Living with flair means accessing the child in us (and even the teenager) who loved to be alive–coloring, biking, dancing, jump roping, reading or swimming.  Happiness has something to do with remembering what we loved and doing those things no matter how old we are.

So even though my bathing suit is the kind with the skirt to hide my stretch marks and cellulite, I’m going to try the diving board today.  Who’s with me?


7 Dreams for Your Future

Today I had an unusual writing task:  I was to write a blessing of sorts for the doctoral and master’s students that were leaving our Christian graduate student community to launch their careers.  I imagined what I would tell my own children as they started careers.  I imagined all the things I would want for them.  Mostly, though, I remembered what seven dreams God shaped in my own heart that sustained me through graduate school, marriage, parenting, teaching, writing, and just. . . living.  Here’s what came to mind (and what I will speak to them tonight). 
1. May you be a blessing to all those you encounter, living a life of love and service with the strength God provides.  Colossians 1:28 tells us that we labor with Christ’s energy.  May that energy enable you to do extraordinary work in the lives of people and in your daily tasks.  May you advance knowledge in your field in ways that build, help, and bring healing in various broad forms.
2.  May you depend on the unfailing love of God, described in Psalm 90, that gives you joy and gladness for all the days of your life. 
3.  May you be filled with wonder in your career as you discover the treasures of Christ as mentioned in Colossians 2 where we read that the mystery of God is Christ “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”  May you find the wonder of God in each endeavor whether science, literature, social work, law, business, engineering, social sciences, education, architecture, medicine, or the arts.  May that wonder sustain you through difficult days.
4.  May you live a life of enormous faith—trusting God for immeasurably more than you could ask or imagine as noted in Ephesians 3:20.  May you have no fear as you move into the adventure God has for you, but only a joyful expectation of God’s power, provision, and purpose for your life. 
5.  May you be an agent of peace, love, and the presence of the Living God in your workplace and in your city. May you remember 2 Corinthians 5—that God loves and cares for others through you. 
6.  May you build authentic community wherever you go—loving deeply as noted in 1 Thessalonians 2:8—being delighted to share your life with others because they are so dear to you. 

7.  May you remember Psalm 16 and the truth that God sets the boundaries of your life—they are good and right.  Also, the psalmist tells us that when you trust in the Lord, you will not be shaken

With these 7 promises in scripture, I’m confident that those new professionals will live rich, satisfying lives.  It’s my prayer for them and for myself, and, in the words of this blog, they represent 7 dreams for a future of flair.  


The Poop Revelation

“Poop?  Poop?  You’re writing about poop?” my youngest challenged me.  “That’s gross, Mom.”  Well, what can I say?  I don’t always get to choose when the flair moment comes.  I just witness it.

On the walk to school this morning, my friend and I trailed behind her little dog (the one with the waggly tail).  When the dog stopped to poop, we stopped and waited, and then we waited some more while she picked up the poop and put it in a plastic bag. 

Meanwhile, the other parents and their kids ran ahead and up the hill through the woods.

“Thanks for waiting with me,” my friend said.

“No problem.  That’s what friendship is.  I wait while you deal with your poop.”

We looked at each other and laughed.  It’s so true.  How many days have we waited patiently while the other was dealing with her poop:  bad moods, freak-out days of too much work and not enough time, our “issues,” or any other situation that made us act less than our best, less than we knew we could be?  How many days did we commiserate about sick children, family drama, disappointments, personal failures?  

We put our arms around each other and walked up that hill.  Any friend that can appreciate my flair metaphors of picking up poop and walking up hills is a friend of mine.  I don’t even need to write it:  Living with flair means I stand beside my friends as they deal with their poop.  Even if everybody else is running up ahead, moving on with their days, I’m hanging around with the poop.  She’d do it for me.


3 Ways to Love Life (According to a Young Photographer)

My five year old steals my camera whenever she can.  She’s the most determined little girl when she’s setting up a shot.  She’ll take pictures of anything–cats, babies, rear ends, her own feet.  And it’s all equally intriguing and equally beautiful.  As I found these photos other friends took of her yesterday, I couldn’t help but think about what she’s teaching me.

1.  Concentrate.
If my little girl can do it, surely I can take a minute and look around.  All of a sudden, I find extraordinary things to love.  I appreciate my surroundings instead of moving through them like they are mere inconveniences on my way to where I’m going.

2.  Look closely at your subject and be patient.   (You may have to hunch down and look completely ridiculous)  She’s not self-conscious about this act of observing her world.  Who cares what friends think?  She’s living with flair whether anybody thinks it’s weird.   She passed up pie and shopping to stay there and get this shot.  She knew where the real joy was. 

3.  Everything’s fair game, even your flip flops.

Do you know how many feet pictures my daughter takes?  She loves her feet, she loves shoes, and she loves that one toe of pink nail polish left over from last month’s kitchen beauty parlor afternoon. 

Living with flair means I need to focus on my world, observe it closely, and know that everything is fair game for flair. 

Photos courtesy of Lauren Kooistra and Rachel Schrock. 


Commemorating with Milk

We couldn’t make the Memorial Day blueberry pancakes this morning because we ran out of milk.  I was the one dressed already, so I volunteered to drive to the store.

It was a little after 8:00 AM.

It was just a trip for milk.

I left my children in their pajamas and my husband hovering over his ingredients.  I’d have to be quick.

I’m turning the corner out of our neighborhood, and all of a sudden, like something bounding out of a dark woods into my car, I’m aware that I’m really, really happy.  The realization struck with such force that it astonished me.  For someone who battled the black haze of depression for nearly a decade, I am still amazed and celebrate the sheer joy that accompanies feeling good.

I was so thankful this morning to be alive.  I was so thankful for what the holiday weekend represented–commemorating soldiers who died to secure freedom.  We’d commemorate them in ways they would want us to: we’d eat pies, swim in the public pool, gather for a potluck dinner.  What a gift this life is–this simple life that bursts with beauty in all these hidden places if I just look . . .

Living with flair means I commemorate, with ceremony and observation, how thankful I am for battles won, large or small. And I remember the fallen by being fully alive–fetching milk early Monday for blueberry pancakes eaten in peace, with a family, around a simple kitchen table.


Why Do I Like Watching Things Burn?

I shouldn’t like to watch things burn so much. Think about it:  I’m taking pleasure in the disintegration of something, the dissolution of some object into nothing but gray ash that floats up into the atmosphere or settles hopelessly beneath my feet.  Last night I sat by a beautiful campfire in my neighbor’s backyard.  The children, otherwise distracted, came around the fire just to watch things burn. 

I could have sat there for hours.  Transfixed, I had to wonder:  why do I love to watch things burn?  Why do most people?

Living with flair means asking the sort of question to get beneath my experience.  So I stared at the fire.  My children stared, hypnotized.   I even recalled my entire history with campfires and what things I used to throw in.  Magazines burned with prettier colors. Marshmallows exploded and elongated into these snake-like black creatures.

My children, too, enjoyed watching marshmallows burn more than eating them.  


I finally thought of this:  We really don’t expect things to fall apart.  We’re used to permanence.  I see things around me as intact, stable, and predictable.  A stick is a stick.  Newspaper is newspaper.  Marshmallows are marshmallows.

But put them in fire, and all of a sudden, the true constitution appears.  These stable objects transform into mere ash, residue, that looks all alike no matter what unique appearance it had to begin with.  It’s just a chemical reaction, completely understandable, and yet it produces such wonder, such peace even, as I watch the burn.

Outside of the boundaries of the campfire, though, that fire has such destructive power that it could take down my whole city. 

It terrifies me, that power.  And yet, sitting around a campfire, I get to observe that power from a position of safety.  18th century philosophers would say this is a sublime experience; it’s a simultaneous fear and attraction.  And when I encounter a power stronger than myself, even in a little backyard campfire, I’m humbled and put in my place.  I see into the reality of my world–the black ash underneath it all.  

Fire makes me think of the fragility of things (my own fragile self).  Living with flair means appreciating a campfire for more than just the s’mores it makes.  It means understanding the fear and power that accompanies all truly beautiful things. 


A Short Rant (I Never Thought I’d Be Ranty)

A popular blog I read this morning suggested that one pathway to happiness is to “imitate” a spiritual master–someone like Jesus.  I cringed.  The not-flair bells rang.  I frowned and felt the same way I do when somebody tells me to just “try harder” and I’ll find holiness.  It’s just not true.  Telling a person to imitate a spiritual master to find real life and joy is like telling a cardboard box to act more like a computer in order to come alive.

Imitation doesn’t change the inherent problem I have.  I need an infusion of grace, not an imitation of one.    

Imitating a master is also like telling two people to stare at each other and imitate a relationship.  I don’t want to imitate love.  I want to be in love.  Imitation isn’t the trick.

A relationship with God is a romance.  It’s an infusion of power, of love, of joy, of deeply knowing.  It’s not imitating a master or doing what Jesus would do.  That kind of life doesn’t work.  It never has.

That’s why the gospel is good news.  I want to know Jesus and have him give me the power to live the life I’m supposed to.

Christianity isn’t a religion of imitation–of acting more like Jesus.  It’s exchanging our weaknesses for his strength, for inviting his presence into our lives, and for depending on his love and peace on a daily basis.

It’s not imitation.  It’s infusion.

I’m off to the pool.  My children have been in their bathing suits since 8:30 AM.  The towels and sunscreen are all in a row.  The snacks are ready.  The goggles are tightened.  We could sit on the couch and imitate swimming, or we could dive into that delicious water.  I think I know what we’ll choose.   Living with flair means I’m experiencing a life of joy, not imitating one.


My New Approach to Catastrophe

Driving home from preschool today, two bubbles floated across the street like they had somewhere to get to.  I couldn’t see any sign of someone blowing bubbles, or even any other bubbles, anywhere.   They must be mighty resilient, I thought.  One was bigger than the other, and it looked like a mama bubble and a baby bubble.  I imagined the wind, the buildings, the people, or even the animals they might have encountered before crossing my path.  And yet they remained intact, beautifully sparkling in the sun while floating just above my car.  Resilient. 

I said the word aloud, and my daughter repeated it.

“It’s a great word,” I told her.  I had actually looked the word up that very morning. My friend and I were talking about parenting, and she mentioned wanting to raise resilient children.  She advised me not to constantly rescue my children, to not be afraid to let them suffer, and to realize that adversity creates strong children. 

All week, I’ve been trying to rescue my older daughter from the bossy, mean girls who roll their eyes on the playground and insult her.  I’m the mom who calls the teacher and wants to be there, mediating, controlling the situation, and ensuring total peace and happiness for my child. 

Last night, I gave up the fight.  I’m lying on the bed with my daughter.  I’m listening to her talk and talk and talk about the mean girls, about the bullies, about the gossip and jealousy.  For once, I don’t try to solve it; I don’t go email the teacher again.  I’ve been doing that all year.  For the rest of my daughter’s life, there will be mean girls.  I can’t save her, no matter how hard I try.

“Look,” I said.  “You are just great.  I love everything about you.  You will figure out a way to handle those girls.  I believe in you.  God is with you.  You can figure this out.”

“I know,” she said, smiling with that one loose tooth hanging by a thread.  “I totally will.”  
The dictionary tells me that a resilient person possesses the ability to recover readily from adversity.  In science, resilience refers to the energy a thing can store up as it deforms or is put under stress that it releases as it reforms.  In organizations, resiliency is the ability to positively adapt to the consequences of a catastrophic failure.

I’m praying that she’s storing up energy from this, that she’ll learn that ready recovery skill, and that whatever catastrophic failures come, she can positively adapt. Tonight, I’m telling her I’m so proud of the resiliency she’s already shown in these enormous eight years.  

Resilient girls can handle anything.  Put that on her resume!  Put that in the cover letter!  I survived recess today.  What did you do?  

This way of living with flair is the only way I’ll survive parenting.  Living with flair means I value raising resilient children.  It means I embrace adversity myself for what it’s storing up in me.