The Saggiest Wins

At the Denver Zoo, I become amazed with the number of animals who give prestige and power to other animals based on how much skin sags on their bodies.  I’m serious.  In a herd, the animal with the saggiest chin (dewlap) has the most power and prestige. 

And another thing:  Animals regularly make themselves look larger in this zoo.  It’s best to be wrinkly, big, and old.  It’s beautiful, powerful, and important. 

The other day, I notice the thin little wrinkles that have formed around my mouth.  I’m noticing all the sagging on my body and how nothing stays in its place.  I notice my own hands as I type–leathery and sketched with crossing patterns in skin that’s getting old.  I notice that it’s harder and harder to have a waist when you age. 

But, oh, where these hands have been!  Oh, the great conversations I’ve had with this very mouth!  Oh, the places this body has taken me!  I want these marks and sags to signify the beauty and prestige that they should. 

I like the zoo.  I like communities where old means beautiful. I want to foster that cultural shift in my own community. 

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Journal:  How can I see signs of aging as beauty, power, and importance? 

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Beautiful But Fatal

I’m relaxing in a neighbor’s backyard, and she leans my lounging chair back to make sure I’m comfortable.

Then she exclaims, “Look!  The delphinium!”

I turn to see the brightest blue flowers.  What beauty!  That blue shames even the sky. 

Later, I learn that this plant’s beauty comes with a caution:  it’s poisonous.  It can actually kill a person if eaten.

Dr. Alice Russell, in the Department of Horticultural Science at North Carolina State University, reports that this gorgeous plant will cause “burning of the lips and mouth, numbness of the throat, intense vomiting and diarrhea, muscular spasms, paralysis of the respiratory system, convulsions.” Her list concludes with a toxic warning:  Fatal.

All from a tiny blue buttercup.  I think about the nature of temptation.  It always seems tiny, harmless–beautiful even–that thing we want that’s outside the boundaries. 

Remember the delphinium.  It’s beautiful but fatal. 

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Journal:  What’s tempting me right now that’s really only going to damage my mind, body, and spirit? 

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Perceiving Contrast Brings Pleasure

I learn today how sensitive the human eye is to contrast.   In fact, perceiving contrast brings pleasure.  We actually enjoy it.   This explains why I can’t take my eyes off of my hostas.  The contrast of white on green keeps me planted. 

Or my weeping cherry that now has cherries.  That deep cherry red on green (with the sun shining upon it) brings out some joy in me. 

Or, of course, the strawberry patch.  Red and green again!  I actually feasted on this berry right after I snapped the photo.  Sweet and juicy. 

I think about what catches my eye and delights my senses.  It’s always contrast–juxtaposition. 

I’m so thankful for contrast–light and dark, hope and despair, joy and sorrow, suffering and relief.  Beauty and worship come in the crossfire between these opposing states.  There’s a sweet spot in the contrast that catches my breath and lets me see inside a spiritual reality.  I’m not afraid of the darkness or the despair anymore.  It’s contrast that shows me truth, beauty, and wonder. 

My own vision depends upon contrast, so why wouldn’t my spiritual eyes? 

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Journal:  What contrast do I see today? 

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Moving Ahead Despite Danger and Uncertainty

I wait for the Northern Cardinals to leave.   I lean in, snap the photograph, and then get out of there before I’m pecked to death or beaten with a mother bird’s wings.

Northern Cardinals Growing in the Nest

I don’t even check the photos until I’m safe inside.

Sleeping Northern Cardinals

It’s the same caution I take when I photograph a snake or a snapping turtle.  The best photographs involve an element of danger.

Living with flair sometimes includes danger.  We take risks; we move out of comfort zones; we endure the possibility of harm.  Why?  Because there’s beauty and joy right on the other side.  I wonder, too, if moving deeper into a life of faith requires confronting danger–seen and unseen–because that’s the only way to have a clear picture of the power and victory of knowing God.  That’s the only way to grow faith.

If I only move ahead in my life into safe and obvious directions, maybe I need to think more about choosing avenues that call for the kind of faith that I want to have.

So I face the danger, and I move out in faith.  There’s a beautiful picture waiting. 

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Journal:  Do I need to move ahead despite danger and uncertainty?

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The Thing You’re Neglecting Might Be the Thing You Need

First Green Strawberry

Today I zoom in on the first little strawberry in the patch.  I take a moment to focus.  The background blurs, and all of a sudden, I see what I have never observed in my whole life:  the white fuzzy covering on a new strawberry’s stem. 

Have you noticed it before?  Not me!  It’s because I value (and pay attention to) final products that I can consume;  the juicy bright red of a strawberry far outshines the immature and stunted green bud.

Not anymore.
 
That’s what living with flair feels like.  It’s a mindset and a focus to notice that one stunning thing (that you haven’t paid attention to before) that ushers in beauty, wonder, and mystery. It’s often not the obvious final product that gives the most delight.  It’s the not-yet and the neglected.  It’s the unripe and the green. 

Look there, and you’ll find flair. 

This white fuzzy stem declares something today. A tiny, beautiful thing is happening here.  Not glamorous or stage-worthy.  Not marketable or consumable.

But beautiful. 

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Journal:  What neglected thing has the most wonder and beauty for us today? 

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Digging Deep

Today I learn from the neighborhood children all of their digging stories.  Children seem to have lots of these:  digging in sand; digging in dirt; digging in snow.  They report the treasures they’ve unearthed in the form of bones and shells and marbles and old pennies.

“If you dig deep enough, you will find something,” a little girl tells me.  She explains that once, last summer, she struck water just by digging and digging.

I recall my own tendency to dig as a child.  Finding worms, I admit, was a particular delight.  But I also believed that I would find buried treasure if only I kept digging.  And usually, I actually did.  I’d get to a layer of earth and find what I thought was magnificent:  a piece of turtle shell, a strangely shaped stone (an arrowhead?), or an old piece of twine. 

This instinct to dig stays with me, even today, as I work to turn up beauty.  It does feel like excavation.  There’s a layer down deep that holds the day’s treasures.  I think of analogies–of symbols–that things I encounter might represent.  It’s as if a spiritual current runs beneath this dust and dirt of life.  Dig deep enough, and you strike water. 

We just keep digging, and it’s surely there.  

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Journal:  The Great Awakening preacher, Jonathan Edwards, practiced the art of analogy–or making connections between the natural world and a spiritual truth.  What else do I see today that helps me, by analogy, understand something about God?

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What You Alone Can See

Walking to school, we notice how everything drips.  It’s nearly 35 degrees (a warm day!), and we’re jubilant as we slosh along the sidewalk. 

I observe the water droplets on the branches and winter berries, and it suddenly occurs to me that not one other living creature sees what I see at this exact moment.

The droplets fall to the earth, and I know that never again–not even once in a million years–will that exact configuration of molecules exist on this limb.

I observe them, behold their passing, and consider the sublime fact that I took note of what nobody else could see.   In this enormous earth, filled with billions of people, no one–not even one!–saw that droplet reflecting the neighbor’s pine tree in its orb. 

My day bursts with wonder.  I’m seeing what no one else sees.  I’m documenting a beauty that would be otherwise lost.  

You see things in your world that I do not see and will never see.  You notice what a billion people will not ever behold.

Living with flair means we erupt with wonder–with worship–at these things around us.  No other creature looks at what we are seeing, in the way we are seeing it.  We experience beauty that God places before us, and living with flair means we proclaim it. 

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Journal:  What moment of beauty did I observe today that no other creature saw?

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Beauty that Astounds

Snowflake Melts on a Branch

I learn something astounding about snowflakes today:  the more hostile the environment, the more intricate the snowflake’s shape.  The bitter cold and wind encourage sharp tips and branching designs while warmer temperatures produce slow-growing, smooth, and simple patterns.

I’d rather have complex, sophisticated, and beautiful.  I’d rather have unexpected and perplexing than smooth and simple.  

I stand in my backyard as the storm swirls about me.  I think of what it takes to make such beauty.

Snowflake on a Thorn

It’s not easy; it’s not warm and smooth.  What’s harsh in our environment right now shapes beautiful things in us.  That kind of beauty–born from trial and thorn–truly astounds.

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I included a new feature at Live with Flair!  You can journal along with me on your own (and share your wisdom in the comments if you wish) every day.  I’ll include a reflection question that I’m thinking about along with each post.  

Journal Question:  Is it really true that sorrow or hardship “shapes beautiful things in us?” 

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Snowflake Photography

Early this morning, the children race around the house to announce the news:  Snow!  Just flurries, but still the excitement mounts as the sun rises on our town.

I grab my camera and go outside on this blustery morning.  I’m in thin pajamas–no hat, no gloves, not even my coat–and it’s amazing how I don’t notice the cold.

First Snow on a Berry

It’s because I see something so magnificent it diminishes me for once.  I’m not even aware of my own frozen fingers. 

Snowflake on Concrete

Is it true that each one is different?  And why does this design delight? 

 
Snowflake on a Stone

Close up, I see something so wonderful, so miniature in its grandeur.  

Snowflake on a Log

The beauty of these tiny designs keeps me outside too long.  But I don’t notice what comes against me; I don’t notice myself at all.  That’s what beauty–real beauty–does to a soul.

You get caught up in the awe of it, and even in the cold gray of a winter morning, you are set free from yourself.

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Spiritual and Stylish Too?

Today, my very stylish sister takes me shopping.  I used to be stylish–maybe 20 years ago–when I had the means, the time, and the desire to look my best.  While my internal flair has grown exponentially this year, my external style needs help. 

I’m too tired, too old, to be cute.  

I’m too spiritual to be stylish. I’m too academic, too poetic. 

But there’s a part of me that I’ve left behind somewhere.  My external flair has turned to. . . frump.   

So my sister has me in a dressing room at a very stylish store.  As I pull on layers of beautiful clothing, I’m surprised at what my heart feels.  

It feels wonderful to be in these clothes.

And then it feels awful that it feels so wonderful.  I know that life is not found in clothing; I know that true joy will never come from a shopping trip.  Living with flair means I find my true self in relation to God, not this soft pink sweater or these jeans that somehow make me look like I’m 18 years old again.  Besides, I’m on a tight budget.  Who can afford these things?  

I’m looking at price tags and frowning.  My sister sings out as she shoves more clothing into the dressing room:  “It’s all 40% off!  We can buy a whole new outfit!”

I have a whimsical shopping bag tied with a bright bow with new jeans and a pink sweater.  As we leave the store, I mention to my sister that I feel guilty feeling so happy about an outfit.  I don’t shop.  I never buy new clothes.  I’m above that pull of materialism and addictive consumerism.  I don’t need these things. 

My sister reminds me that I’ve swung the pendulum too far.  She tells me I can celebrate being a woman in ways that showcase my unique style and elegance.  It’s not ungodly to dress well.

I’m still figuring this all out.  I know there are wise and balanced ways to be stylish, and I want to learn them.

Do you have any advice for me on this journey?  How do you balance spending money on clothes while keeping perspective on what matters most in life?  Do you fear shopping addiction and materialism too? 

(It didn’t help when I asked the saleswoman for her advice about my guilty feelings.  She said, “Oh, those? Don’t worry.  They go away in a couple hours.”)

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