The Secret Community You Might Want to Join

This morning, at 5:30 AM, I discovered the secret community of Those Who Rise Early.

I can’t believe this world exists.  There I am, alarm going off, pulling on work-out clothes and stumbling to the driveway, when all of a sudden, I look around.  At the unnatural hour of 5:30 AM, there are actual people walking about.  Happy people.  People with dogs and friends and strollers and. . . energy.

What coffee do these people drink?

I pass folks out in their yard and folks driving places.  I see three runners, several walkers, and some gardeners. Why in the world are they so happy?  Do they know it’s 5:30 AM?

It’s a secret community.  Those Who Rise Early do things like work out, drink a quiet cup of coffee, stroll in their gardens, take leisurely showers, fix their hair, empty the dishwasher, prepare breakfast, and then, they greet Those Who Rise Late with a smile, ready.   

I’ve been in the later group my whole life.  I’m the one in the bad mood, dragging myself around, begging for coffee, griping at everybody and wanting my soft bed back.  Let me sleep!  I need my sleep!  I’m fighting the DNA of generations upon generations of Those Who Sleep Late.  I need to sleep until that last possible minute.   So stop bothering me and hand me that cup of coffee.  I need to sleep late

Do I?  I decided to interview Those Who Rise Early.  This club chooses to greet the day differently, and it’s supremely amazing to join them.  They usually delight in 2 hours of solitude and productivity before children rise, before traffic surges, before the onslaught of the day.  Of the men and women I’ve talked to, this 5:30 wake up has changed their lives.  They wake that early for a variety of reasons:  personal prayer or meditation times, exercise, solitude, meal preparation and house organization, reading or writing.  Those people seem to live with with flair because their early rising prepares them for the day. 

My early morning wake up is part of living with flair.  I’ve taken a nose-dive off that plateau.  I’m hoping to change this part of my life and join the secret community of 5:30 AM.  Day by day, day by day.

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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.  

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The Blessing We Need

A girl with a stuffed unicorn stood by the restrooms at church this morning. I’ve been seeing unicorns everywhere, and each time, I have a little flair moment. Here’s why.
I learned recently that a gathering of unicorns is called a blessing. I just love that. Animal groups have some strange names. Alligators are a congregation; barracudas are batteries (did you know that?); sea birds are called wrecks; bullfinches are a bellowing; zebras are a crossing; rhinos are a crash, and owls are a parliament.
But a group of unicorns is a blessing.
The gathering of beautiful creatures, more divine than earthly, isn’t just the stuff of lore and legend. As I left the bathroom, I walked into the worship gathering of our church. It suddenly occurred to me that I was in the presence of the divine, the holy–in the people.  
It suddenly stuck me how much I loved the people.  I knew all those people, and all those people knew me.  I could probably raise my hand and ask anybody for anything and the answer would be, “no problem.”   
One man had broken his ankle and, on crutches, rose to the applause of the rest of us as we cheered in hope of his full recovery.
 And those people–those creatures more divine than earthly–were my blessing.  They were my group and my joy both.  
People go crazy in isolation. People die in isolation; they can lose their vitality and their strength. But in groups, they thrive, they enhance one another, and they accomplish more together than they could alone.   They bring forth the glory of God.  
In the Scriptures, Satan drives people to solitary places. In fact, his best work is accomplished when we are alone.  For example, Jesus encounters a demon-possessed man who “drives the man into solitary places” (Luke 8: 29). And we learn in the book of Peter that the enemy of our souls “prowls around like a roaring lion waiting to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).   He must search for the loner.  When I watch nature shows, I’m always struck by the skill of the lion. He preys on the lone gazelle, the one that gets away from his group.  The isolated, the ones separate from their group, are the ones in the most danger. 
If only we could see that left-out person as part of ourselves.   If only we could boldly move forward, extend a hand, and invite a stranger into our blessing.  Our story has many more characters to include.   
If only we could see the divine calling to participate in each others’ lives. 
We are interdependent at our best, much like tiny streams that, when we link up, become mighty rivers that nourish entire landscapes.
I need to join my blessing. Whatever it takes, I need to. Living with flair means seeing my community as more divine than earthly and part of my own self. Within my blessing, I gather in the stray gazelles when I’m strong. And when I’m weak, I look to the others to circle around me and bring me to safety. 
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The Best Definition of Courage

My daughter and I were talking about taking her training wheels off and learning to ride a bike.  She became very quiet and said, “You know, Mom, little hills mean little boo-boos.  And big hills mean big boo-boos.”

I said, “So I guess you want to avoid the big hills on your bike.” 

She paused and said, “Oh, no.  It just means we need a bigger first aid kit.”

There you have it:  Courage means I ride full speed ahead, anticipate the wounds, and prepare with a great first aid kit.  For my daughter it means Hello Kitty band aids.  For the rest of us, it might mean we fill our kits with authentic friendships, strong ties to a community, a vibrant relationship to God, and the kind of space to heal.  It’s not the height of the hill that matters.  It’s not the danger, the risk, or the potential for failure.  Wounds are likely.   So I build the best first aid kit I can.  That’s some 5 year old flair.

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The Extra Chair Revolution

A revolutionary is a person who actively participates in a revolution. A revolution, I just read, is defined as: a drastic and far-reaching change of thought and behavior. Defined this way, I like to think about my search for daily flair as a revolution for me. It’s a daily choice to find the good, the beautiful, and the meaningful in the rut and hum-drum of a life. And once I notice it, I have to proclaim it and act in response to it. I want to revolutionize the dark days; I want to let the light in.

Last night, a boy knocked on the door with little marshmallows and toothpicks in his hand. He invited my girls to help him build structures out of these materials.  Afterward, they were outside, running barefoot, playing hide-n-seek in the yard.

I cooked dinner with my husband. Nothing fancy: burgers, some pasta, some corn, some sweet potatoes. All of a sudden, the little boy came into the kitchen and said: “I’ve got to call my Mom.”
“Is everything OK?” I asked.
“Yeah. I just gotta call her. I’m gonna tell her I should probably stay for dinner.” Apparently, the kids smelled the food cooking.
“Sounds good.” I smiled. I love impromptu dinner guests. In fact, I keep three extra chairs on standby with extra place mats for our round table. Years ago, my husband and I had this policy that we’d always make more food than we needed for a “just-in-case” dinner guest. Every so often, a student or a friend will stop by, and as 6:00 PM rolls by, I just pull up the extra chair. We’ve never had to say we didn’t have enough for dinner guests.
It’s a hospitality revolution for us. My house isn’t clean. The food isn’t anything great. I didn’t have to send out invitations or have party favors or anything. I just had to pull out an extra chair. Spontaneous hospitality for the neighbors is part of our lives now.
Having barefoot kids coming in for dinner and then rushing out for another game of hide-n-seek was my flair for today. I’m so glad I had extra corn and burgers just in case.
Living with flair has something to do with being a neighborhood revolutionary. It means having extra chairs to pull around a dinner table. It means having friends who know they should probably stay for dinner.
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Sound the Alarm!

Apparently, word spread that I wasn’t in church yesterday.

“What did you tell people?” I asked my husband.  I was in bed, still in my pajamas, destined for the flu.   

“That you were tired, really stressed-out, and probably getting sick,” he said.  Meanwhile, he collected the children to take them to an afternoon movie so I could sleep in a quiet house.

Then, my oldest approached me with her fist holding a crumpled up dollar bill.

“What’s this?”  I asked her.

“It’s my tooth fairy money from my piggy bank,” she said, very seriously as she put it slowly beside me.  “I want you to have it in case you need to go to Starbucks later.”  

I had husband love, daughter love, and then, and then, some completely unexpected neighbor love.

At 5:30, neighbors came over with dinner.  This amazing family brought me teriyaki pork tenderloin, fruit salad, green beans, rolls, potatoes, and ice cream for dessert.  I hadn’t been in the hospital or anything.  I didn’t even have a fever. They just heard I was tired and maybe getting sick.   

Then, this morning, another neighbor handed me a pack of those mocha frappuccino drinks to sustain me while working today.

“How did she know I love those?”  I asked my husband.

“It was either that or a bag of beef jerky.  You’re sort of easy to please.”  

It isn’t like I’m on my death bed.  I was just really, really tired from a long semester.  I sounded the alarm on Sunday morning, and the family and neighbors mobilized immediately.  I know what happens when a mom takes a day off.  All of a sudden, the whole operation jams up.   There’s a clog in the wheel; everything overflows.  She feels guilty and lazy because, after all, she’s still breathing and can therefore empty the dishwasher. 

But I had to do it.   Living with flair means sounding the alarm if I have to. It means receiving from a community.  I want to be strong enough to stay in bed and strong enough to accept help.  And today, because I know what it feels like to be loved with a meal, coffee, and a quiet house, I know just what to do if I hear that somebody else is tired and stressed out.

My neighbors have flair.  Bringing unexpected dinner and iced mocha frappuccino drinks to a tired woman is a beautiful, and so appreciated, form of flair. Community flair–that’s what helped me get out of bed today.

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The Double Dutch Challenge

I learned Double Dutch with the neighborhood children.

I did it. Seriously, I did.

It was a community effort. One mom bought the jump ropes at a sporting goods store, one mom offered her vague memories of how to do it, and one mom agreed to turn the ropes with me.

We read an instruction booklet first.

So there we stood, us moms and dads, with all these children around us, rising to our newest neighborhood flair challenge: Learn Double Dutch jump rope.

It’s a terrific game to learn. Think about the fact that two ropes are turning in opposite directions, fast, and some child (or adult) jumps over these ropes in a sequence that resembles running in place or else doing little hops to avoid getting tangled up. We practiced turning the ropes (that’s a sport in itself), we sang traditional jump rope songs (something about candy), and soon, 6 children learned this skill. We cheered each time. We slapped high-fives. We celebrated like we were at the Olympic Games.

And then it was my turn.

I am an older woman, remember. Put it this way: I jiggle in places and need support in more ways than one. But I always wanted to learn Double Dutch, and for whatever reason, I never took the opportunity.

Well, now. If I’m going to live with flair, I can’t let this be.

It took me two tries, and I did it. I maybe jumped 5 times in total, and I didn’t get tangled up in ropes or anything. It’s actually not that hard once you learn to jump really fast. Now I’m moving on to performing Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” moves while I Double-Dutch (thanks for the suggestion, friends).

What made it an overwhelming flair moment? Double Dutch represented the best of community organizing. We set a goal, we divided tasks, we gathered to accomplish our goal, and then we celebrated. As I teach my family about community service, I instill the value of building a neighborhood. We are learning how to gather people together around common goals.

Our neighborhood values physical fitness and raising children with the skills they need for life-long health. We can’t do this alone. We need the group.

Something about this shared task of learning Double Dutch felt truly authentic. I’m not sure how to define it other than to tell you that authentic community involves jump ropes. I keep them in my minivan at all times.

Besides, life is hard. Some days I feel like I’m trying to jump over ropes going in opposite directions with out-of-control schedules, sick children, working, and just living. But then I look up, see my community with their hands on the ropes, steadying me, encouraging me, looking me straight in the eyes and saying: You can do this, Heather! Ready, Set, Go! And the ropes turn, and the neighbors cheer, and then I’m doing it! I’m doing this impossible thing that I couldn’t do just yesterday!

Having a neighborhood that comes out to play after dinner is community flair. We value exercise, and now, we value it with flair. Living with flair means keeping jump ropes in the back of your minivan just in case the neighbors come.

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