The Bad Day Mantra

As far as bad days go for a five year old, this one ranks high.  While at her yearly check-up, she discovered she might need glasses, was told her spine might be slightly crooked, and, to make matters worse, endured two shots in both thighs.  My job was to “restrain” her arms and legs as the nurses jabbed the needles in.

Not flair.  No, this was not flair at all today.

We left the doctor’s office right at lunch time.  Dairy Queen was on the way home, so we pulled in.  The whole time, I’m trying to comfort her, but nothing’s working.

As we order food inside, I begin telling our server all about my daughter’s horrible day.  Hopefully, some ice cream will help matters.  A few minutes later, this same server came to our table.  Seeing my daughter still tear-stained and sniffling, I said, “We are just having a really bad day.” 

“Well,” she said as she handed us our food, “there’s a lot of day still left.”

My daughter looked at her and smiled.  The thought of “a lot of day still left,” worked.  The radical concept that the day wasn’t doomed just because of a bad morning transformed this little girl’s world.  There was still time–seconds, minutes, hours even–to redeem the day.  There was still time for flair. 

I wanted to kiss the server.  I told her that her comment would change the course of our whole day.  Once again, language well-timed and well-spoken can create a new reality.  The comment created anticipation.  Something good would come.  And by the time we’d finished lunch, ice-cream, and some laughs in our booth, it already had.

Living with flair means remembering “there’s a lot of day still left.”   Even if we’re down to seconds, there’s still time for flair.

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The Best Verb to Keep in Your Notebook

Great living is a lot like great cooking. You want to take the ingredients of the day and create 5 star masterpieces. You want to arrange what’s given to you (like on Iron Chef), and make something so fantastic that you close your eyes and sigh (like the judges) when you think about it.
I’m not a great cook.  Fortunately, I have a chef friend.
Today she explained what “braising” meant. Braising something means you apply low heat, lots of time, and moisture in order to soften something hard and unsavory into something delicious. She was braising cabbage, I think.
I stood there and wrote in my little notebook the definition of braise (you have to keep a notebook if you are searching for flair). I like this new verb. I’m going to tell students they need to braise their ideas, break them apart with some intellectual heat, some time, and some emotional juice in order to present that concept the best way.
I use cooking verbs like percolate, stew, and saute, but I haven’t used braise ever in my whole life. It’s a great verb for cooking, writing, and now, living
Everything that happens to me in any given day passes through some intellectual heat, some time, and some emotional juice in order to arrive at flair. I braise the day to get to the good stuff. It keeps the hard parts in me soft.
It’s the art of reflection, and it teaches me how to have insight. It’s not as if we wake up and find flair arriving on our pillows in a package we recognize. It takes some work: some heat, time, and moisture. It takes energy and emotion to actively find the larger importance.
Insight means to look within the thing, to go deeper.  It’s mining for a new understanding about my day using the common, daily ingredients I’m given.  People with insight train themselves to see, not just with the senses, but with the mind. In other words, as I live, I think about what something symbolizes or represents. I put a flair lens over my eyes and pray I see it when it comes.
Braising my experiences creates steady hope and steady joy for me. It feels so good to have this lens, especially after knowing the dark days of depression and hopelessness for nearly a decade of my life. I want to braise the day and make it all soft and delicious. It makes me live well and intentionally. 

Living with flair means writing down the word “braise” in a little notebook and thinking about living (not just cooking).

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3 Questions that Set Me Straight

This time last year, I was mad about everything.  I was jealous of other mothers and their resplendent brunches, their new jewelry, and their country club life.  Why couldn’t I just have more money?

I was jealous that Rob Reiner was filming a movie, “Flipped,” in my old backyard (the one I left to move here).  I should have been there, serving coffee to Hollywood celebrities and awaiting my invitation to star in the movie.

I was jealous of other women (friends from college) who had political and academic power.  That was supposed to be me there on Capitol Hill or at that podium.  It was weird how jealous I was.  It was the kind of jealous that ate my insides and made me stomp my feet in the kitchen as I told my husband how wrong everything was.  I was supposed to be a different person by now.  Why was I here, in this town, with this life?

The rhetoric of my life was “if only.” 

So exactly one year ago today, I sat in church, jealous and ridiculous.  I had just finished writing something about how if you ask yourself a good question, the right question, you could get yourself out of any bad mood.  I knew I need to ask spiritual questions.  That seemed right (after all, I was in church).  So I wrote:

1.  Is knowing God better than anything? (as J.I. Packer asks: “For what higher, more exalted, and more compelling goal can there be than to know God?”)

2.  Will I live the life God asks me to? (Here, in this town, with no retail, no glitz?)

3.  Will I pursue wealth or godliness? (Seriously?  I need a whole new summer wardrobe with sparkly flip flops.)

These questions mattered so much to me because in a split second, like lightening forking through the roof and straight into my heart, they reoriented me.  They set me straight.  They reminded me that my happiness comes from surrender to the spiritual truth that governs my life.  

The first recorded question that Jesus asks in the Gospel of John is, “What do you want?”  I love this question.  I love the disciples’ answer even more.  They essentially ask him where he is staying.  They want to be where Jesus is.  They would leave everything to be in his presence.  So Jesus says (strangely), “Come and see.”

When God says, “What do you want,” the answer from my heart is: “To be in your presence.”

God, always the pursuer, always setting up a way to delight us, just says, “Come and see.”

That morning, a year ago today, I imagined God asking my jealous heart: “What do you want?”  And I wrote in my journal: To be in your presence.  But is it really enough?  It is really worth it to pursue spiritual instead of material wealth?

And God said: “Come and see.”

It’s been a year.  What a year of enjoying the life God has given me.  Nothing more, nothing less.  When I open my eyes to see the wonder and mystery of God, the jealousy dissolves.  Living with flair today means I continue to “come and see” what God wants to prove to me about the sufficiency of Himself.

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7 Beautiful Things

1.  Hearing that my neighbors are celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary by recreating their first dates.
2.  Seeing a brown bunny with a huge cotton tail hopping in the yard.
3.  Putting maraschino cherries in my drink just because.
4.  Listening to my husband on the phone as he arranged to borrow a truck to deliver compost to the backyard for a new vegetable garden.
5.  Feeding the pet turtle, Stripe, that I’m babysitting for two weeks.
6.  Wrapping myself in a huge green blanket as I write this because my basement office is chilly.
7.   Knowing that a friend with seven children received a day of housecleaning as a Mother’s Day gift from her husband.

It’s May 7th.  Another ordinary day in my neighborhood.  Seven different moments made me happy today, and it’s not even lunch time yet.  As I wrote this list just now, I asked myself what made each moment so full of flair for me.

They each triggered a special memory:  nervous and romantic first dates with my husband, chasing rabbits in a field when I was eight, ordering Shirley Temples with my father at fancy restaurants, growing the hugest tomatoes as a kindergartner (I still can see them in my mind), finding turtles on the banks of our backyard creek as teenager (I was too old for this, and yet I knew some things you don’t outgrow), wrapping my friend in this green blanket as she slept on my couch one weekend nearly a decade ago, and remembering a best friend before she was married, before her life became the day-in and day-out of raising kids, and knowing she could rest today as someone else scrubbed her toilets.

The brain is a file cabinet of memories we turn into beautiful narratives.  We thread the present moment into this quilt of memories and find its place in relation to all we’ve been through.  What I love about living with flair is that it embeds my thoughts in the now while allowing deep reflection into past joys.

It’s not a future thing.  It’s never a fantasy about what should or will be.  Living with flair is fully experiencing the day, connecting it to what we love and loved, and staying in that place of joy.  No need to imagine a different life.  No need to ask what’s missing.  It’s all right here.

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Admiring the Raw

I’ve been practicing a new flair attitude. I want to admire people.

Admiring somebody seems gushy and cheesy; we think about valentines or romantic movies. But the real meaning of admire is to esteem, respect, and have a high opinion of someone. I want to be the kind of woman who thinks highly of all kinds of folks for good reasons. What I admire about people can reveal to me what I value. It tells me what my heart thinks is good, noble, and right.

I used to admire wealth, prestige, and my appearance more than anything. It’s embarrassing to admit how much. For almost 2 decades I pursued every accolade possible. I admired people with advanced degrees, people with political power in Washington, and couples with the kind of wealth that lets them own several vacation homes. I admired beautiful women who dressed fashionably and went to the salon on a weekly basis. I had the time and means to live that way. I hung around people like that, at those sort of houses, and at those kinds of parties.

I wasn’t happy.

Today, I’m a completely different person. I can tell just by what I admired over the last few hours. My days, not surprisingly, are devoid of material wealth, prestige, or a salon appearance. I live in a small town in a rented house; nobody even cares about my academic degrees; my hair is still in a pony-tail from this morning. I can’t remember if I washed it.

But I did something right today:

I admired—with flair—my daughter’s incredible 2nd grade teacher for her creativity, devotion, and genius lesson plans. I admired a man battling cancer while I ate biscotti in his kitchen. I admired a salesperson who treated me kindly. I also admired three girls who rode their bikes up a huge hill without stopping to catch their breath.

I even admired the dogs in my neighborhood for their consistently joyful tail wagging.

I just admired my youngest daughter for enduring strep throat with a good attitude today. And now, I’m off to admire my husband who just left to pick up a new prescription of antibiotics.

Living with flair means learning to admire the authentic thing, the raw parts of really living, that show me what is so good and right about my life.

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