We Are. . . Family

I’m packing a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child to send to a child I’ll never see and never meet.  I tell my daughters to imagine that child is family

Suddenly, we realize the difference it makes when you see someone as family.  She’s our daughter!  He’s our brother!

What would change? 
Packing that shoebox helped me realize why we hurt so badly here at Penn State. Happy Valley grieves so collectively and so deeply because we function as a family, and we see keenly where we have failed to love as a family.  The victims are part of our family; the shame we feel as a group stems from realizing people that were part of our family committed horrific crimes.    

This is how we should feel.  I wish I felt this way about the whole world.  We belong to one another. 

Today, the students come together as family with a new hope, and this video below gives you a sense of what’s happening here:


Living with flair means we expand our definition of family.  When a child suffers, we all suffer.  When one person sins, it affects all of us.  But when even one of us acts with courage and love, we all benefit.

We belong to each other. 



Turning the World’s Worst Weed into the Best Bouquet

As I walk in the field, I pick my way around the worst weed.  The farmer tells me it’s called Velvetleaf, and, as far as crop weeds go, it’s an absolute terror:  competitive, nutrient-draining, murderous of other plants, and just plain ugly.   

Velvetleaf in the Field

You can’t destroy Velvetleaf.  The seeds stay viable in the earth for over 50 years.  Impervious to weed killer–even the strongest herbicides–this damaging, noxious plant represents a farmer’s nightmare. 

My mother sees something different. 


With an eye for beauty, she asks the farmer if we might take a few stalks.  He laughs out loud and shakes his head.  “You don’t want that stuff,” he insists.  “Even one seed pod dropped on your lawn will destroy it, and you won’t be able to get rid of it.”

“We would like some,” she says as he continues to laugh. 

Back home, my mother takes a vase and builds the most beautiful bouquet to fill out the corner behind my piano. 

You take a weed–even an ancient one that can last generations–and you turn it into something beautiful. 

If you can’t destroy it, make it beautiful. 

Journal:  Have you ever made something beautiful out of what others consider worthless? 


10 Ways to Laugh as a Family

Yesterday, the Italian Mamas reminded me of the importance of humor in a family.    Later, I compile a list for myself of ways I can immediately lighten the mood in my home.  You know me:  I think too much, I take everything too seriously, and I like to think about the deep things of the heart.  I could use some lightening up.

Thankfully, I married a hilarious man.  He’s the one who sings us ridiculous tunes to get us all out of bed.  He’s the one who will create a diversion to help us cope with anything from fevers to bad moods.  One time, he took a duck puppet, popped it out of the sun roof, and performed a show for all the drivers (and their children) who were stuck in a major traffic jam. 

So I asked him, my children, and the Italian Mamas all the ways to immediately bring laughter to a home.  Here are our ideas, and I’d love to hear some of yours.  

1.  Watching YouTube videos involving cats, babies, or (according to the Italian Mamas), misheard song lyrics, or the family friendly comedian, Brian Regan
2.  Playing any improvisational game like charades
3.  Showing your children what it was like to dance in the 80’s
4.  Random tickle fights.  Even the adults.  And then try to have a conversation nose-to-nose.  You won’t be able to keep a straight face!
5.  Making up a Broadway song and routine to announce what kind of mood you are in when you wake up in the morning
6.  Assigning nick-names for each family member
7.  Making fun of yourself
8.  Using a puppet to talk about anything–no matter what age you are.  
9.  Owning a pet, preferably a one-eyed cat.
10.  Speaking in an accent of your choice for an entire meal.

Living with flair means laughter.

Journal:  How do you bring humor to your home?


Smooth Move

Tonight in my town, the roller skating rink will host a free “Family Roller Skating Party” just for our elementary school.  While my children jump up and down, clapping their hands in anticipation of this event, I’m shaking in my boots. 

I’m going to put on those roller skates, wobble and tumble out into the rink, and make a complete fool of myself.  I’ll probably end up hospitalized. 

What happened to the fearless me?  As I think about the joy of roller skating, I consider the beauty of gliding.   To glide means to move smoothly across a surface without effort.  You push off and slide, letting physics take over.  You don’t have to do anything but cooperate

Most children tend to do this automatically after a few falls.  They find equilibrium and stay balanced on these bizarre rolling contraptions.  They speed by, skating even backwards and under limbo sticks. 

Uncooperative me can learn a lot tonight.  I need to push off and glide.  I need to surrender to whatever lies under my feet, cooperating with the kind of joy that might just send me into fabulous twirls, backward moves, and limbo stick bends. 

I want to live like one on roller skates:  I move smoothly as I surrender and cooperate. 

Journal:  What am I resisting that I need to surrender to and cooperate with? 


How to Be Sick with Flair

All night long, a fever rages, and I can’t keep warm no matter what I do.  I’m coughing so much that I actually lose my voice.  I can’t talk on the phone; I can’t boss my family around; I can’t even go to church and call out my welcomes. 

I try to get out of bed while everyone else is at church, but then I flop back down on the pillow.  I have no energy.  I’m suddenly amazed by how the body takes the energy it needs to get better and forces you to conserve it.  You stay in bed.  You don’t move.

I can’t stand the lack of productivity.  I actually devise a grand plan with my lost voice.  I can make a vow of silence and pray all day.  How godly!  But when I try to get my Bible and journal, I flop back down on the pillow once more.  Forget it.  I’m too weak.  

I’m worried about how in the world my husband got everybody ready for church and who handled all my responsibilities there.  And I’m worried about who’s cooking dinner. 

My family returns from church, and the girls bound into my room like little gazelles leaping about the bed.  Their outfits are adorable, and my husband has actually fixed their hair.  The youngest has the smoothest pony-tail , and their faces are clean and bright.   I can’t stop looking at that pony-tail.  For years my husband has announced, “I don’t do hair.  I’ll do everything else, but I can’t do hair.”

But he did it. I look again at that hair and realize how God provides, even down to the pony-tail.  And then a friend sends the message that she’s bringing hot soup.   I turn over in my blanket and realize my God-given assignment.  Stay in bed.  Don’t move.  

There’s nothing I can do, so, for once, I learn how to let God provide.


The Everyday Apprentice

I want to enter the various cultures around me with a curious mind and a willing heart.  In the past few days, I’ve been invited to experience various “cultures” whether it’s joining the swim team community, learning about the various spiritual cultures of my neighbors, or entering the college culture by watching movies students love, listening to music they download, and attending the places they go downtown.

As I thought about what it means to love people and be a good friend, this concept of entering different cultures seemed suddenly so important.

Right at that moment, my husband was leaving to go to his workshop.  On his days off, he apprentices with a carpenter to learn the skills of woodworking and carpentry.  (Note:  Apprentice is a fantastic verb.  It means to study under a master to learn the skills of a trade.  Apprenticing represents a whole cultural system by which a new generation trains for a trade.  I wish I could apprentice under certain mothers, teachers, and wives.)

He’s asked the family before if we want to visit his workshop.  We’ve always said, “no.”  We don’t have time!  We aren’t interested!  What would we do in a workshop?  Well, not today.  I want to enter that culture with a curious mind and a willing heart.    

So we go.

It feels like a foreign country.  He shows us big, scary machines with names like planer, jointer, miter saw, and band saw.  I start asking questions.  Soon, I learn that my husband can take material like these split logs:

And turn them into this.   

I start feeling some flair happening.  I start looking around me with new eyes.  I notice some order and beauty in this place.

And I notice my children are captivated by what their father is doing.  He puts safety gear on them and shows them what he can do on the machines.  He takes a scrap of wood and transforms it into something smooth and square. 

Right now, we are back home, and the girls are playing with their block of wood–imagining all sorts of things with it.  We entered the culture of woodworking with a curious mind and a willing heart, and we had more fun than I could have ever thought possible.  Living with flair means I enter the various cultures around me by being curious and willing.  I apprentice and learn.  I want to do it everyday.


10 Things You Learn About Life When You Go to the Beach

1.  Don’t have lots of stuff.  The sand gets in everything, and it’s a lot to manage when you’re tired.  Less is more.

2.  Listen to older and wiser people.  Grandpa knows where to park and find the best spot.  He had to do it before GPS and iPhones.  

3. You need protection of all sorts–the more the better (SPF 100). 

4.  Find places to rest in the shade.

5.  Don’t expect to find whole things (shells, starfish, crabs).  Most everything is broken but still beautiful.

6.  When you leave the shore and venture out, it’s best to have  folks (grandma and grandpa) watching you and with you (Mom and Dad).  The sea is dangerous, so the more people you have aware of you, the better.

7.  Your instincts tell you to race back to the shore when a wave is coming.  Do not do this.  It will pummel you and toss you so hard you’ll be beyond recognition afterward.  Move towards the wave (the fear, the new thing, the huge transition), and you’ll find it will let you rise up high.  As my daughter says, “The wave only looks big.  When you swim through it, it becomes small.”

8.  Know when it’s time to go home.   Too much riding the waves means you can’t make it back to your car.

9.  Stop for ice-cream on the way back to the car.  Sometimes a sweet, cold treat helps everybody manage if they’ve not figured out number 8.

10.Take pictures and look at them a lot.    


The Picture of the One-Eyed Cat

Here is my one-eyed cat.

He likes to lounge around with his best friend, Snowflake, who I think looks like an upside down skunk.  She’s the one who pulls the yellow rope around like a dog.

Anyway, the point of this. . .

Jack has one eye. He was a wild cat who injured himself somehow.  His eye and mouth were infected.  Eventually, his eye had to be removed.  A local pet store, who rescued both Jack and Snowflake, asked if anyone would take the cats in.

So we did (I didn’t want to at all–it’s my husband who loves cats mostly).  I resisted with every fiber of my being (Now, I’m completely in love with cats.  I would write blogs about these cats).

Jack’s one eye was strange and a little creepy.  But soon, nobody noticed or even cared anymore. Sometimes, because he only has one eye, he bangs into stuff.

He is a tough kitty.

Too tough.  He didn’t even purr, not once, ever.

I noticed this one day.  Months had gone by, and Jack didn’t purr.  Not once, ever.

Our injured, wild cat had lost his purr. Years of sorrow had clogged him up.  The purr didn’t work.

The family and I decided to embark on a project to help our injured, wild kitty rediscover cat joy.  That purr was in there somewhere.  We brushed him, snuggled him, fed him, bathed him, pet him, loved him and loved him and loved him.

One day, he’s lying there, and like a slow machine winding up and letting loose, I hear it coming.  Jack found his purr.  And the moral of the cat story?

You know.


Commemorating with Milk

We couldn’t make the Memorial Day blueberry pancakes this morning because we ran out of milk.  I was the one dressed already, so I volunteered to drive to the store.

It was a little after 8:00 AM.

It was just a trip for milk.

I left my children in their pajamas and my husband hovering over his ingredients.  I’d have to be quick.

I’m turning the corner out of our neighborhood, and all of a sudden, like something bounding out of a dark woods into my car, I’m aware that I’m really, really happy.  The realization struck with such force that it astonished me.  For someone who battled the black haze of depression for nearly a decade, I am still amazed and celebrate the sheer joy that accompanies feeling good.

I was so thankful this morning to be alive.  I was so thankful for what the holiday weekend represented–commemorating soldiers who died to secure freedom.  We’d commemorate them in ways they would want us to: we’d eat pies, swim in the public pool, gather for a potluck dinner.  What a gift this life is–this simple life that bursts with beauty in all these hidden places if I just look . . .

Living with flair means I commemorate, with ceremony and observation, how thankful I am for battles won, large or small. And I remember the fallen by being fully alive–fetching milk early Monday for blueberry pancakes eaten in peace, with a family, around a simple kitchen table.