Can You Make This Unfamiliar?

I’m teaching my students how to de-familiarize themselves from their own writing in order to find errors.  It’s a strange phenomenon of writing:  when you write a paragraph and then reread it, it’s as if the brain knows how it should read and somehow blinds us to mistakes.

We need to make the text unfamiliar again.

I invite them to read their paragraphs in reverse order; I encourage them to change the font; I have them read words on paper instead of on a screen; I challenge them to give the writing a 48 hour break.  I knew a man in graduate school who placed a ruler under every line of text in order to detach it from its context.  He could find errors every time.

All day, I remember the beauty and power of the unfamiliar.  I remember why I need to detach from the old familiar contexts.  In familiar settings, coping mechanisms, dysfunctional relational patterns, and spiritual blind spots set in.  But remove me from my settings and get me away from the familiar?  Suddenly I have clear focus.  I can see all the junk.  I think this explains the importance of weekend retreats, marriage date nights, travel opportunities, and simple changes in routine.  This explains why I need to get on my knees, away from my life patterns, to listen to God. 

We makes things unfamiliar in order to see again. 

Journal:  How can we make our lives a little unfamiliar today?


What You Monitor

Today my youngest cries out, “Mom, please tell me that you have not written your blog for today!”

“I haven’t written my blog for today,” I tell her.  “Why?”

“Well, I found the thing you are supposed to write about!”

“You did?” I ask.

“Yes!  Come with me!  There’s a little twig hanging from our balcony, and I just know it’s a bird’s nest.” 

I go out onto the balcony, and there I see all sorts of tiny bird nests tucked into the gutters, the light posts, and even in the railings.  I hadn’t noticed them before, but now, they were everywhere.  The one by the neighbor’s light post has two blue eggs in it.

“What should I write in the blog?”  I ask her.

“Tell everybody this:  I traveled a very long way to Colorado.  I found a bird’s nest, and now I have things to check on every morning like I did back in Pennsylvania.

I realize how important–how wonderful–it is for children to observe something growing.  A vegetable garden, a bird’s nest, their own bodies. . .

Adults take great delight in monitoring growth, but I think we forget the pleasure in it.  Maybe that’s why I love listening to a professor teach me the book of Romans and help me look back over my own spiritual growth.  Maybe that’s why I blog every single day.  I’m monitoring my own ability to find the one good thing each day, no matter what.  

Journal:  What growing thing are you monitoring today?


What I Cannot Change

The Braiding Impression

Over the weekend, I braid little braids all over my daughter’s wet hair.  In the morning, we unravel her hair.  She loves the “rock star” look.  

Notice the pink sparkle headband.

A simple thing–braiding hair–but oh the joy in the morning when those braids leave impressions all throughout her hair! That zig-zag complexity dries that way and temporarily changes the structure of the hair.

But as soon as she soaks in the bathtub before bedtime, the pattern fades and straightens.  She can’t believe how all that work (and an entire night’s worth of sleeping on braids) dissolves with water.  It doesn’t last.  It can’t.  Her root system, determined by her genetic code, trumps my skillful hand.  

Sometimes the patterns I set are fragile and tenuous, delicate and flimsy.  What seems so fixed and certain dissolves when exposed to environments that test resolve.  But I’m still tempted to believe that all will be well if I just find the right structure, the right pattern, the right technique. 

I can’t fundamentally change my life by new patterns or designs.  I suppose my daughter’s braids made me consider the limits of external applications to change internal dilemmas.  I need to get to the root, allow for God’s transforming work, and experience the kind of fundamental change that goes beyond clever techniques for happiness.  That kind of change won’t dissolve in water. 

Living with flair means I don’t limit happiness to external work.  I want the kind of mood change that’s deeply rooted, deeply true. 


2 Ways to Handle Life Transitions with Flair

You can handle a transition (new job, end of a semester, a new marriage, a death, a birth, anything new) by:

1.  Reminding Yourself of your Personal Mission Statement

2.  Imagining a Kite

I know, this is not what you expected today.  Let me explain.  I get depressed and anxious every time I enter a new life phase.  I don’t like change.  Not many people do.  As I sat down to try and figure out how to handle my transition to summer with flair, these two things grounded me.  Since a change of routine disables all our normal coping mechanisms, sometimes the body fights by any host of symptoms: anxiety, depression, fear, uneasiness, and sometimes a paralysis (you want to sleep all day and not face the new).  It’s like my identity crumbles apart with change.  This doesn’t have to be the case.

I remembered the semester I made myself write a Personal Mission Statement.  I promised my students that a mission statement helps us make good choices, enables us to navigate change, and delivers us safely to the other side of life transitions.  Mission statements stabilize us.  Today, mine anchored me.

Finding a mission statement takes time, but once you write it down, life feels more settled.  Here’s an easy way to frame a mission statement:

I am devoted to__________________________.

My goal is to ___________________________ by _______________________.  (use strong verbs here.  See “5 Ways to Write with Flair.”)

So, for example, here are some of my mission statements:

I am devoted to excellence in teaching.  My goal is to build writing communities by generating atmospheres of trust, acceptance, and inspiration.


I am devoted to being a fun mother.  My goal is to create lasting memories for my children by planning unmediated nature experiences, building a neighborhood, and training them in the art of friendship. 


I am devoted to being a great wife.  My goal is to support and inspire my husband by helping him fulfill his dreams, partnering with him in his endeavors, and creating an environment of predictable joy in our home. (That last part is a stinker for me.  Pray for me.) 

When I recall my mission statements, I always feel less unstable.  No matter what transition I’m going through, my mission statement remains fixed.  It tells me that I have goals to pursue even if everything in my schedule unravels. 

Now for Part Two:  Imagine the Kite

Last night I watched my children fly kites.  A kite is what I feel like when I’m undergoing a transition.  I dip and I dive, I crash land, I jitter and jounce.  But if I remember I am tethered and held by a Strong Hand, I can relax and know that eventually, I’ll find the right air current and soar.  

Living with flair means I’m assured of my mission, and I relax on the journey up.