Screaming “Base!”

Today I chase my daughter around the living room to tickle her.  At one point, she defiantly stops in her tracks, places one hand on the couch and screams, “Base!” 

“I’m safe!  I’m safe on base!  You can’t touch me!”  she insists, nodding her head and putting one hand up as a stop sign. 

I wait patiently for her to move from “base” only to find that as soon as she’s nearly in my grip, she just touches the wall and screams, “Base!” again.  

For little ones, the concept of a “moving base” saves them every time.  They just have to touch something–anything–claim it as their safe haven, and stop the attacker (in this case, the Tickle Monster).

She’s onto something.

I imagine enemy attacks against us in various spiritual forms.  I reach out my hand, wherever I am, cling to God and scream “Base!”  You can’t touch us here.  We are safe. 

Living with flair means I realize I’m on base.  

Journal:  What do I need to scream “Base!” to as I claim my safety and protection in God?


Some Pictures of Hope

The landscape in Pennsylvania, for the most part, still frowns with the weight of winter. 

Trees raise their arms in surrender to a blank sky.

After church this morning, my youngest daughter pulls on a double layer of pants and says, “Mom, let’s go on a hunt for daffodils.”  (How can I not follow her outside?  I’m struck by how I need to listen to and follow children more often.)

The hunt!  I put on my winter coat, and my old camera dangles from the strap around my wrist. 

We journey to the side of the house, the hidden territory in front of the gate.  With frozen fingers and faces, we hunt.

We hunt, and we find.

Lilies burst forth; daffodils announce victory over winter.

To hunt means to chase relentlessly.

Lord, let me be relentless in my hunt for hope. 

Journal:  What gives me hope today?


Keeping Hope Alive

Yesterday, this little girl (the one who lost her first tooth) brings home a homemade bird feeder.  She announces that the bagel was “a rotten one, leftover from her teacher’s kitchen,” and the birdseed and spread cannot be eaten by humans. 


We hang the bird feeder on the winterberry bush.  And we wait.

And we wait. 

We wait, wait, and wait some more. 

I read somewhere that it takes backyard birds a few days to find a new feeder. 

All day today, we stop every few minutes and glance out the kitchen window just in case a bird has arrived.  We talk about who might be the first to catch sight of that first little bird. 

No birds yet.  But the desiring of them, the wait, delights us. 

We remember another wait, last April, for a hibernating turtle to emerge from underneath our deck.  It feels just like that, this waiting, and we love it.

It feels like the wait for a first loose tooth. 

I want to construct more apparatuses designed to teach me the beauty of hope.  A backyard bird feeder reminds me to hope today.  I wait patiently with my daughters, peer into the landscape ahead, and keep our longing alive.  Tomorrow might be the day! 

Journal:  What am I hoping for, and how do I keep my hope alive? 


Licking the Blender Whisk

It’s a snow day in our county, and the children and I make cookies to frost.  The girls crowd around me and eagerly reach for the blender whisks after I’ve made the vanilla frosting. 

I hand the whisks down, and I purposefully arrange some extra frosting on each one. 

A child licking the blender whisks reminds me of Henry David Thoreau’s famous quote about sucking the marrow out of life. Back in July, I wrote about how the “Live with Flair” blog was my way to “live deep and suck all the marrow out of life.” 

When my daughter licks the blender whisk, I see her searching out every last drop.  When she hands it back, it’s as if it’s been cleaned in the dishwasher. 

I want to search out the beauty in this day, relishing every part.  God hands me the whisk, and I sit back and enjoy it. 

Journal:  What good thing has come my way today? 


Walking on Water

This morning, the lawns become ice skating rinks.  The children are so light they can skate across the surface of the snow without falling through. 

When I walk, I sink.  I’m just too heavy.

All day, I think of those weightless little children and the joy they exude as they twirl and slide to school. 

I pray that I learn to travel light, as they do, to cast my heavy burdens on the Lord, and to shed the worry and stress from my heart.

Without fear, weightless, I walk on water. 

Journal:  What weight might I cast off and onto the Lord? 


If You Were an Explorer. . .

This morning I learn about the exploration goals of the 3rd and 4th graders.  If they could be explorers–anywhere–where would they go and why?

My daughter says, “I would explore the ocean depths to find sea glass, coral, and dolphins.”  Her friend agrees, but he suggests that they explore the Bermuda Triangle for these things because you can always discover the lost city of Atlantis along the way.  

I follow along, hands in my pockets, listening as the children describe, in specific detail, this exploratory trip.  They will need underwater cameras and a submarine obviously.  I hear the children talk about sea glass and how you never know what kind of object that glass came from.  “It could have been on the Titanic, you know!”

Anything is possible.  

Everyone walks much faster when we have these conversations.  Nobody notices the freezing cold, and nobody complains about the slippery trek uphill.  When we access the explorer in us, something changes. 

The world, vast and unexplored, lies before me.  I transform myself into an explorer:  one who travels into unknown or less understood regions–physical, emotional, or spiritual regions.

I learn to inquire, take notes, preserve artifacts.  Like a child dreaming of the depths of the sea, I experience the thrill of discovery.   Anything is possible today. 

Journal:  Children are natural explorers.  When I was a 3rd grader, I went on a field trip to Puget Sound in Washington. That day, I discovered a baby octopus.  The teacher brought the entire class over to where I stood by the water, and I had the thrill of sharing my discovery.  I love that explorer memory; it’s one of a dozen of special experiences of discovery.  If I approach my day as child-like explorer, will that change my attitude regarding my tasks?


Count Your Whorls

I learn this morning that you can tell the age of a pine tree by its number of “whorls.” One child stops in the woods on the walk to school, and she counts the circles of branches that shoot out from a tiny pine tree.  The top layer of branches is one whorl and represents one year of growth.  The next layer represents another.  This baby pine tree boasts seven whorls, so it’s been growing for seven years.  It stands as tall as my daughter. 

“Next year, they’ll be eight whorls!”  The children, wide-eyed, pause and look down upon the tree. 

I’m struck by the slow growth of this little pine that’s witnessed our journey to school all these years.  Now, we witness the pine tree, mark its age, and incorporate that growth into the whole system of things that grow and change about us.

These things matter so much to children.  Just last night, at Neighborhood Fitness Group, the children always gather to record their growth on my kitchen wall.  They inevitably check, every single week, if they’ve grown even a little bit. 

They record each each others’ heights, and they claim they’ve really grown each week.  The wall, smeared and nearly illegible, tempts me every Saturday morning as I stand beside it with my cleaning bucket.  I just can’t clean the wall.

We have to count our whorls.  And, even though I’m no longer getting taller, I want to count my own growth somehow–visibly, publicly.  Am I growing kinder?  More patient?  More wise?

Let me retain that child-like quality of marking my own growth.  There’s something to celebrate; there’s something to note here.  

Living with flair means I count whorls.  We’re growing–changing–and we must witness it.

Journal:  How do I measure my own growth?  What tool might I use to track spiritual and emotional growth?


Beyond Math and Music: Encouraging Excellence in Friendship

Last night, a friend arrives for a sleepover.  She has a green envelope that she presents to my daughter.  It’s a homemade “friendship award.”   She awards it to my daughter for “always understanding her.”  

I nearly burst into tears.  I run and get the tape and slap that thing to the wall where we will all look at it for as long as the tape holds.  Just last week, several girls at school received a friendship award as a trait of good citizenship.  My daughter wasn’t called up to receive that award, and she cried outside of the school.

The sleepover friend wanted to set the record straight. 

As I watch the two little girls celebrate their true friendship, I realize what I so strongly react to in all the articles circulating about parenting and the need to force math drills, excellence in piano, and various other versions of academic success.  The philosophy of parenting that prizes academic success above all else misses the one component of life that makes all that success worth it:  friendship

So I’ll continue to host slumber parties, play dates, dance parties, and spontaneous trips to the movie theater.  I’ll continue to put the homework aside for an afternoon so my daughter and her friends can go sledding, play dolls, and paint their fingernails.  I’ll display cupcakes instead of math flashcards.  I’ll let her blast music in the bedroom instead of shaming her into another piano drill.

If I raise a daughter who wins every prize in school, it won’t mean a thing without friends. 

I’m so thankful for my friends.  Happiness comes from sharing our lives with one another.   The day I defended my dissertation to earn my Ph.D., I felt profoundly empty.  I’ll never forget leaving that exam room, after 5 years of work, and wondering what it was all for. What mattered so much more were the friends waiting with flowers down the hall.

I had a friend who received the highest promotion in her job track at an Ivy League school.  She called me in tears because at the moment she received the news, she realized she had no one to tell. 

I don’t want my children to excel and have no one to tell.  It won’t be worth it.  They might become math geniuses, but if they don’t know the value of friendship and living in community, their intelligence might be directed towards selfish or even harmful ends.  Without friends, we lose our way.  Living with flair means I fill my wall with as many friendship awards as math scores.

Journal:   How will I know I’m excelling in the art of friendship?  What are the marks of friendship excellence?


A Great Cloud of Witnesses

This morning, my friends and I huddle by the school entrance, making conversation with other parents and school administrators.  As we notice the line of cars pulling up to drop off children, I’m overcome with the desire to run up to the car doors, open them wide, and greet each child like he or she were a celebrity. 

London Paparazzi

I imagine each car to be a long black limousine. I even include fashion commentary like we’re on the Red Carpet for some premiere.

My friend and I laugh about making this our community job each morning.  We wonder what it might feel like to arrive at school and have folks open your car door, celebrate your arrival, and compliment your outfit.  What if we even brought paparazzi to our morning Red Carpet event?  What if we really did announce a child’s arrival?  You’ve arrived!  Welcome to school you beautiful, wonderful person!  You are very important to us! 

Walking home from the school, I feel like I’ve touched upon something eternal in that moment of opening a car door and celebrating a child’s arrival.  Something about that act seems to echo in eternity. 

All of us parents, surrounding those youngest members of our community–celebrating them like that, protecting their journey from car to school entrance–represents a spiritual reality for me:  I too am surrounded by that love and protection at all times.  I have cheerleaders in the heavens. 

Doesn’t scripture teach in Hebrews 12 that we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses” who cheer us on, helping us “run with perseverance the race marked out for us?”  We cannot see the saints and angels, but aren’t they surely there in some unseen realm about me? 

Later, I ride in my minivan across town.  As I unfasten my seat belt and turn to touch the door handle, I imagine them all there outside my van.  My Red Carpet event unfolds as I walk into the cold, bright day, surrounded by my cloud of witnesses.   

They cheer about me, celebrating and protecting.

(Photo, “Paparazzi at the ICA in London” by Justinc, courtesy of Creative Commons)