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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Does Happiness Have a Sound?

Lately, I’ve been amazed at how loud the autumn leaves are.  They crunch underfoot, and those left in the trees chatter as the wind blows.  And then there’s the haunting whisper of a leaf as it descends–barely audible–but still vibrating whether I perceive it or not.

I stop everything and gaze at that leaf.  It arrives on the ground soft and silent.  

What beautiful sounds never reach my ears?  If I stop and think about it, I’m hearing so many things at this exact moment I’m surprised I’m not crashing from auditory overload.

I know I’m growing older.  Movie soundtracks seem too loud and assaulting.  I can barely handle the frenzied circus beat of a video game.  I’ve been known to scream out, “Can’t we just have some quiet?

I want enough quiet so I can hear beautiful sounds:  the purr of a cat, the clink of ice in a tall glass of water served to guests, the hush of wool socks on the hardwood floor.  I want to hear the gurgle of homemade sauce simmering and the teasing fingers of the first drops of rain on the roof.  

And the measured sigh a page of a book exhales when I turn it. 

I take my hearing for granted.  One day, I might lose it all together.

I want a beautiful soundtrack to accompany this day.  I want to be still enough–aware enough–to hear it.  Living with flair means I manage the auditory track.  Might I be a gatekeeper for my ears and my living space?   Might I create a culture of beautiful sounds in my home–the kind of sounds that delight and don’t disturb?

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A Glorious Death

Autumn Leaves

I’m looking up into the autumn leaves, and I realize I’m watching a glorious death.  These colors–this vibrant display of glory–come at the point of death (technically the disintegration of chlorophyll).   This beautiful moment represents the end of life for these leaves.  I don’t name it as tragic.  I revel in this autumn landscape.  I take a picture and marvel.

What forms of death are glorious?  When, like these leaves, is death a moment of glory?

A Glorious Death

I think of when the will bends to God in a moment of surrender.  I think of what it means to become absorbed in divine purposes–letting my right to my own life, my own plans, and my own demands disintegrate like chlorophyll.  Like autumn leaves, I am most beautiful when I’m at the end of myself.  The Christian life might be seen as a glorious dying–a surrender of self–to become a child of the one whose Glorious Death wasn’t tragic but victorious and radiant.

Decaying Tree

Later, I hike through a forest and come upon a massive decaying tree.  I think of this as a glorious death as I imagine the refuge and nourishment such a dying tree provides for the ecosystem.  Might I see my own life as a fallen tree, bowed down, dead to self, so that I might find the life that’s truly life?

A life surrendered might feel tragic and painful.  But not for long.  It’s nourishing, radiant, glorious.  We see and marvel.

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The Beauty Always There

Autumn alights on my kitchen table as neighborhood children unload this gift of leaves.  We configure the apparatus:  one leaf, a white sheet of paper, and a broken crayon stripped of its packaging. 

Leaf Rubbings on an Autumn Evening

We smooth the crayon against the clean page.  As if by magic, the unseen leaf appears.

The children hold their breath, amazed.  One of them looks at her paper and then up at me.  She exclaims, “We didn’t even need the Internet to do this!”

My youngest is overcome with the impossibility of it–a crayon pressed to her page reveals a pattern that’s there but could not previously be seen. 

All night I press my mind against this event.  The leaf represented a reality we couldn’t see but that made itself evident when we rubbed against it.  Was I encountering a truly beautiful thing in that moment, the kind of beauty philosophers pause for, the kind of beauty that poets claim can break your heart (and repair it)?  

It’s always there, underneath.

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A Great Quote from Sweetpea

Last night I took my oldest daughter to a Secret Keeper Girl event.  The whole evening aims to inspire young girls to live differently in a culture obsessed with beauty.  A Secret Keeper Girl, I’m told, is kind, modest, and loves God.  Besides seeing a slide show of Disney Stars without make-up and untouched photos of celebrities, my daughter saw a fashion show of exciting clothing for young girls that doesn’t sexualize her.

You’re beautiful!  You’re beautiful!  You’re beautiful!  God made you!  Let’s celebrate you! 

You know I have tears in my eyes as I’m thinking that the Secret Keeper Girl organization is really a search and rescue mission.  I look around at hundreds of little girls who already face pressure to be. . . beautiful.  As moms and older teenagers dance on the stage, I’m watching my daughter pump her fists and clap her hands in that unselfconscious way I can only hope remains for the rest of her life.

It gets better.  At one point during the evening, we see a trailer for a new Veggie Tales movie, “Sweetpea Beauty.”  The girls already know from Psalm 45 that there’s a king who “is enthralled with [their] beauty.”

As described by Nichole Nordeman (who works on the music for the film,) in “Sweetpea Beauty,” a common girl roams the forest finding beauty “in all sorts of unconventional things that might not be considered beautiful to anyone else. Her friend Prince Larry says to her, ‘How is it that you find beauty in everything?’ And Sweetpea says, ‘I don’t. It’s God who sees beauty in everything. I just choose to agree with Him.'”

Nordeman adds on, “And I thought that was a great way to look at ourselves. God’s the one who sees us as beautiful, and we can either choose to agree and say, ‘Thank you. I feel cherished and loved and I choose to believe that,’ or ‘I disagree’ and work like crazy to improve on His work.’”

My daughter leans over and says, “Mom, we have to watch this movie.”  

Sweetpea should write this blog.  It was a great evening for me.  My heart knows that finding flair in unconventional things that others might disregard comes from agreeing with what God has said about this marvelous, marvelous world.

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My Fight with a Ballerina

Early this morning, as the rain drizzles down, I drive across town to a ballet studio.  I’ve never in my life been anywhere near a ballet studio–at least not one like this. I walk in, moody as the sky.

Classical music, nearly muted, emits from a hallway.  I follow it until I’m facing a wall of windows peering in on a room lined with mirrors and ballet bars.  A sign on the door says a famous visiting Russian ballet instructor is giving lessons.  I lean against the glass and can’t believe what I see:  Rows and rows of young men and women–maybe sixteen years old–dancing in leaps and turns and impossible acrobatics.  The women have tight buns in their hair, and their pink tights and black leotards move in strict unison. 

Why aren’t they still sleeping like normal American teenagers in summertime?  How long have they been here?

It feels like a foreign country.  I’m only here because my daughter is five and obsessed with ballet shoes and twirls.  I’m only here because we’ve saved money for one activity, and as I tuck her in at night, she looks up at me with her hands clasped under her chin and asks, wide-eyed, “Mommy, when, when can I be a ballerina?”

For such an elite dance conservatory, the lessons are cheap enough for us to afford one day of dancing a week.  I approach the receptionist, fill out some forms, and then have to wait while she answers a phone call.  I find myself pulled back, like a planet in some larger planet’s gravitational pull, towards those dancers.

I’m back at the glass, looking in on this new universe.  Now the dancers are lifting one leg high up behind their bodies and extending one arm out in a perfect line as if beckoning me.  Their bodies are suddenly so beautiful, so exact in movement.

I steel my face.  Why are tears coming to my eyes?  I’ve resisted ballet lessons for months.  There’s no useful market value type of skill here.  I’ll pay a fortune, and what will come of it?

Then, it happens.  One teenage girl extends her hand towards me and balances while her leg lifts behind her.  She looks down and then up to meet my face.  Hers is one of determination and sweat.  Hers is a face steeled in a different kind of focus.  She looks me in the eye and, for a single moment, smiles at me.

Oh no you didn’t.

I’m her audience; she’s dancing for me now.

As that girl dances, I’m so overcome by the beauty of it that I can’t remember where I am or what I have to do today.  I’m lost in wonder.  How dare she do this to me.

They are doing all of this for me, for us, for anybody who takes the time to watch. 

I want to rush into the studio, stop everything, and extend my arms wide. I want to gather everybody to me and thank them for this supreme act of service.  I imagine dancers in other studios all over the world.  They are artists perfecting a piece.  Bound to the audience, they perform for us.  I imagine writers, film makers, painters, musicians, scultpors, photographers, actors.  I think of ways they sacrifice, burdens they bear, lifestyles they endure because they must develop their particular art for us to experience. It’s a service industry.  It’s a profession of joy-giving and beauty-making. 

C.S. Lewis said that “art has no survival value, but it gives value to survival.”  My daughter might never do anything at all with her ballet passion.  It might come to nothing.  It doesn’t matter.

It’s beautiful. 

Living with flair means that I acknowledge that beauty has no market value.  It’s too good for that. 

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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.  

Why? 

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. 

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You Never Know When a Limousine Will Show Up

You’ll never guess where I am.  Just a minute ago, I arrived here by limousine to a full day makeover. But it’s not for me; I’m just accompanying the winner of an extreme makeover contest in our town.

A few months ago, I wrote a little essay about a local mom who inspires me.  The winner of this contest would receive a full makeover (wardrobe, jewelry, massage, nails, hair, gym membership, new smile, makeup, housecleaning, a Wii Fit, photo shoot, and tons of other prizes).  When I heard about the contest, I had to nominate this mom.   She’s lost 100 pounds this year, but that’s not even the most important thing.  She’s totally transformed her whole life.  She’s been on a journey to find emotional and spiritual health.  I just love this girl!  I love sitting next to her in church, worshiping God and seeing her write down every word the pastor says.  I love seeing her choose hope and optimism even in hard circumstances.  She fights for happiness, and I just admire her so much. 

So all day, she gets to enjoy an incredible makeover.  Not only that, but at 6:00 PM she arrives (by limo) to her huge reveal party–just like you see on TV!  The press will be there: local news and ABC, magazines, photographers.  It’s the coolest thing to be a part of.

The real story here is that change is possible.  This friend has had an impossibly hard childhood.  She’s taught me that the past does not determine your future, and you can change your life.  Right before we got in the limo, I shared two  Bible verses with my friend.  I said, that “those who look to God will be radiant” (she is totally radiant right now), and that “anyone who is in Christ is a new creation.  The old has gone, the new has come ” (The new woman is here!).  In fact, I have to sign off; she’s nearly finished with her massage, and we are moving on to the hair salon.  More later (with pics I hope).

Living with flair is getting into a limo with someone who deserves a makeover.   It means going on the journey with friends who want to change their lives and being ready to celebrate.

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Admiring the Raw

I’ve been practicing a new flair attitude. I want to admire people.

Admiring somebody seems gushy and cheesy; we think about valentines or romantic movies. But the real meaning of admire is to esteem, respect, and have a high opinion of someone. I want to be the kind of woman who thinks highly of all kinds of folks for good reasons. What I admire about people can reveal to me what I value. It tells me what my heart thinks is good, noble, and right.

I used to admire wealth, prestige, and my appearance more than anything. It’s embarrassing to admit how much. For almost 2 decades I pursued every accolade possible. I admired people with advanced degrees, people with political power in Washington, and couples with the kind of wealth that lets them own several vacation homes. I admired beautiful women who dressed fashionably and went to the salon on a weekly basis. I had the time and means to live that way. I hung around people like that, at those sort of houses, and at those kinds of parties.

I wasn’t happy.

Today, I’m a completely different person. I can tell just by what I admired over the last few hours. My days, not surprisingly, are devoid of material wealth, prestige, or a salon appearance. I live in a small town in a rented house; nobody even cares about my academic degrees; my hair is still in a pony-tail from this morning. I can’t remember if I washed it.

But I did something right today:

I admired—with flair—my daughter’s incredible 2nd grade teacher for her creativity, devotion, and genius lesson plans. I admired a man battling cancer while I ate biscotti in his kitchen. I admired a salesperson who treated me kindly. I also admired three girls who rode their bikes up a huge hill without stopping to catch their breath.

I even admired the dogs in my neighborhood for their consistently joyful tail wagging.

I just admired my youngest daughter for enduring strep throat with a good attitude today. And now, I’m off to admire my husband who just left to pick up a new prescription of antibiotics.

Living with flair means learning to admire the authentic thing, the raw parts of really living, that show me what is so good and right about my life.

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