The Irony

I stand in a museum in Gettysburg.  As I enter the room called, “The Gettysburg Address,” I feel more solemn than I expect.  A simple room–nothing elaborate or majestic–painted in muted browns displays the words of that historic address.  10 sentences, less than 250 words.  I examine Lincoln’s handwriting, noting his style.  How could so few words create a cultural moment so powerful?  How could this conglomeration of verbs, dashes, and words puzzled into a graveyard address change the course of history? 

The document amazes me.  Lincoln uses the address to challenge and inspire us to press on in our own legacy-making, our own freedom-fighting, our own responsible citizenship so those honored dead “shall not have died in vain.”  It’s a speech so deeply embedded in the past (four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent), but so simultaneously lodged in a future Lincoln could not yet see (that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom).  That double vision is what the study of history so often offers. 

As I turn from the wall displaying the text of the Gettysburg Address, I face an opposing wall of quotations others have made at the time of Lincoln’s speech.  It’s difficult to see with this cell phone photo, but these quotes refer to the short speech as a bunch of “silly remarks.”  One newspaper says that “every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat. . . remarks.”  Another comment claims that Lincoln’s remarks will “no more be repeated or thought of” in American history.

I take a picture.  I laugh at the irony.  There will always be haters.  There will always be opposition to the good, the noble, and the true.  Perhaps the amount of criticism directly correlates to how good, noble, and true a thing is. 

Living with flair means we move on in our legacy-making and our freedom-fighting despite opposition.  What others claim is “dull and commonplace” just might change a nation’s history. 

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Losing Something You Can’t Recover

My student bursts into the classroom. “I’ve lost my paper!  I didn’t save it properly and the whole thing is gone!”  The exasperation in this student’s face is one I’ve seen many times before. 

My student can’t get that paper back.  He stands in front of me, small and hopeless.  I’ve been there.  I remember the first time it happened to me.  I remember the discouragement, the anger, the desperation, and the embarrassment of it all when I forgot to save a term paper.  

It’s not fair; it’s not right.  But I told myself I had to move beyond what’s fair or right.  I had to move beyond the anger and the shame.

I had to start again.  

Students tell me that what they produce after the loss turns out stronger, more authentic, and more concise than the original paper.  They build on the memory of what they once wrote and make something better.  It’s not easy, and it never seems fair.   Losing stuff is like that.  I’m learning to take a loss and build on it somehow to create a marvelous new thing. 

Otherwise, I get stuck in the anger.  

This won’t be the last time we lose something that can’t be recovered.  But beauty does arise from the ashes.  I see it every semester with every lost paper.  I see it in my own life with every thing I’ve ever lost.  There’s a way to start again on the fresh page, remember what you had, and press your fingers down on the keys.  You start letter by letter, word by word.  Soon, you’re not just back where you started.  You’re beyond in a beautiful far country that you never imagined existed.  And the loss got you there.

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Trusting the Process (without Peeking)

I’m a horrible disaster in the kitchen.  But God seems to teach me things in this place of flour and butter.  This morning, I tried my neighbor’s delicious “popover” recipe.  Their family loves popovers.  They sprinkle lemon juice and powdered sugar atop the fluffy dish, and voila!  Breakfast joy!

Yesterday, she scribbled the recipe for me on the back of my daughter’s “She Had a Wonderful First Day in Kindergarten” card.  You melt 2 tablespoons butter in an oven-safe skillet at 475 degrees.  Meanwhile, you whisk together 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup flour, and 2 eggs.  When the butter melts, you pour your batter in the skillet, close the over door, and wait exactly 12 minutes.  No more, no less.  And you cannot open the oven door.  The popover won’t puff up if you do.

I do everything according to the instructions.  But when it comes to the “no peeking” part (and my oven has no glass window for seeing inside), I can hardly bear it.  Was it working?  Was my batter fluffing up?

12 minutes seems like an eternity.  I’m dying.  I have to peek.  I have to make sure the process is working.

I bite my lip and wait.  I actually count down with my timer–aloud–those last few seconds.  Finally, I can open the oven door.

It worked. 

Why was it so hard to trust the process?  Why did I have to bite my lip and restrain myself from needing proof that something good was actually happening inside that hot oven?

Oh me of little faith!  As I enjoyed that delicious treat with my family, I remembered that I can trust the process even if I can’t see what’s happening.  God works in secret within what often feels like an emotionally dark inferno.  But if I trust the process, I’ll turn into what I’m supposed to become. 

Living with flair means I’m OK with not peeking.  What’s supposed to happen is happening.  I’ll see the product when it’s time.

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The Easiest Way to Persevere

There’s just too much to do.  That’s the problem today.  Most people have a threshold.  They can balance just so many plates in the air, and add just one more, and the whole operation comes crashing down.  Some of us respond with a paralysis and a moodiness that we can’t beat.  We are overwhelmed and stressed out.

I’m lying in my bed, and I think of what needs to be done today.  It’s huge.  It’s mammoth.  It’s impossible.  But then I remember one of the best coping mechanisms for that overwhelmed, stressed out, paralyzing, moody feeling of “I can’t do this.”

I think about tiny chores.  It’s a simple truth your own mother probably told you when you had to clean your room.  When the chores seem too much, you just break them apart into teeny, tiny chores. 

And they have to be tiny chores.  Remember, we are overwhelmed and stressed out.  We can’t tackle cleaning the basement, but we can clean this one inch of desk.  I need that small accomplishment as activation energy, as catalyst, as fuel.  Then, a reaction starts.  A glorious, vibrant one. 

So I start in the smallest division of my mammoth task as possible.  I do one inch, then the next inch, then the next and next and next.  You fold this one shirt.  You clean this one dish.  You study this one page.  You write this one sentence.

And soon you’ve written a dissertation.

I’m persevering through the day, and all of a sudden, the stress drains.  The finished tiny chore gives me a power that moves out in concentric circles like a stone I’ve thrown on the surface of the water.  I can do this next thing and then this one and that one. I’m inspired!  I’m energized! 

Perseverance is “steady persistence in spite of difficulty.” I don’t have to do everything right now. There’s difficulty here, opposition there. But I can do one inch and see what happens.  I can keep doing my inches, steadily.  It’s like starting to exercise.  You just put on your shoes and say you’ll go these few steps.  Maybe you’ll walk or run to the mailbox out front.  That’s good.  That’s the inch.  Later, you could run to the stop sign.  Next week, I won’t even be able to catch you. 

Do the inch.  Living with flair means I think of this task in terms of the inch

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