Stick with Them

Our One-Eyed Cat

A year ago, we brought home a sick cat with one eye.  Remember how he didn’t purr, and then, after months of loving him, that deep, rich purr flowed out of him?  We tell the story of “How Jack Got His Purr Back,” and we stay inspired to love what seems unlovable.  I mean look at him:  one eye, an injured mouth, and a tail that doesn’t hang right.  He’s a mess.  He’s falling apart. 

But we fell in love with him.

Two days ago, our strange little cat looks at us and makes tiny, almost indiscernible yelping sounds.  Then they seem to get louder.  Then they turn into these little barks.

“What’s Jack doing?”  we all ask.

“I think he’s trying to meow,” my husband says.  And then it happens.  He stands before us in the kitchen, regal and proud, and lets out his first full meow.  

The One-Eyed-Cat that nobody loved and who couldn’t even purr is now meowing.  

Beautiful Cat

Last night, he curled up on the couch, and I thought of where he came from and where he is now.  We didn’t give up on him. 

It took a year of love, and by golly, that cat found his voice.

Living with flair means I don’t give up on people.  I don’t give up on myself.  It may take a year to find your voice.  It might take longer.  But here, come sit beside me.

My one-eyed cat’s meow came at the right time.  I’m impatient with my children, my students, and even myself.  Sometimes people are a mess.  They fall apart.  But stick with them; their voice is in there somewhere.

So Jack found his meow.  And now, he’s tired of me taking pictures of him.  This photo definitely says: OK, stop now.


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.


Breathing Deeply in the Froglet Phase

When you aren’t a tadpole anymore, but you still aren’t a frog, you’re a froglet.  I’m reading a book about frogs to my children (how could we not after chasing a toad on Saturday?), and I read that, on the way to becoming a frog, the tadpole endures a curious in-between phase. 

The froglet phase. 

She has lungs but must stay in water.  She has feet but can’t yet manage the land.  Now a foreigner in the place once her home, she cannot even breathe.  Her gills betray her, and her tail that helps her swim disappears.

She doesn’t quite fit in her environment because she’s made for a different one.  
I read the text with my daughters and look at pictures of frantic froglets, fanning a worthless stub of tail, bursting through the water’s surface to gulp that breath of air.

Something about coming to the surface like that resonates deeply with me.  I saw myself in that froglet.  I saw myself gulping for spiritual truth, for spiritual refreshment, because the physical environment wasn’t–and couldn’t–be my satisfaction. 

As spiritual beings made for communion with God, how do I manage in the grime and slosh of daily life when I’m made for a different environment–a heavenly one, a spiritual one?    We toggle like froglets on the rim of two environments.  I need to rise, fast and direct, to the surface of the water and take the deepest breath I can from the environment I was made for.  

When a frantic froglet realizes her gills and tail won’t work–and shouldn’t–she propels herself up and out of that murky underwater world and up into the light.  She breathes in what she was made for.

It helps me live with flair to think of myself as a froglet.  My environment wasn’t meant to sustain my life. There’s a whole world outside of the dark water.  I need to swim up, breathe deeply through a life of prayer and connection to God, and look around.

There’s glorious land ahead. And once I see it, the weight of this world doesn’t hold me down. 

(Image “Tailed Froglet” courtesy of W.A. Djatmiko)


The Love Stockpile

All afternoon, my daughter’s been riding around on her bike.

She’s collecting acorns.

She loads her pink basket and rides back to a rugged old tree–the one that’s really three trees converging into one trunk–and fills it with her acorn treasures. 

As autumn approaches, she’s thinking about the squirrels.  What if she stockpiled, for days and days, every acorn she could find?  What if she put them all in the tree?

One morning, a discouraged and unsuspecting squirrel would come upon that stash of treasure and go wild with pleasure. 

In terms of squirrel joy, could there be anything better?

The enthusiasm with which she goes about this task of storing acorns simply to bless another creature who can neither reward nor thank her makes me wonder if she’s tapping into some spiritual truth (the kind that children always know but adults forget) about generosity.  

I find myself gathering acorns with my daughter.  Other neighborhood children join in.  We talk about the squirrel who will rest, on one glorious day, from all his labor, and bask in the light of the sun.  He’ll have so many acorns!  We giggle and smile and go back to find more.

Every time I pass by that old tree,  I think of ways I might create reserves of treasures for, not just squirrels, but family members and neighbors.   I pray I can give extravagantly, unexpectedly, and secretly.  Living with flair means I delight in that kind of giving. 


When You Have to Wait for Something

I’ve been watching a chrysalis in my garden for a week now, and today a gorgeous butterfly emerged.  She’s finally here!

She’s a female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

She waits for the right time.  If it’s too cold, too windy, or too wet, she knows.   She’ll proceed another day, another month, when conditions are perfect. 

Today’s her day!  So why in the world is she just sitting there? 

I read that after she comes forth from the chrysalis (a great word: from the Latin chyrsallid and Greek chrysos meaning “gold”) she pumps her wings full of blood, and then she’s required to sit very still and let her wings dry. They have to harden in order to support her in flight.

This could take three hours.

How hard must this be for her to wait, very still, when she was made to fly, when she’s been waiting for this her whole life?  

As she waits, she’s extremely vulnerable to many predators (birds, spiders, ants, wasps, snakes).  She’s delicious and vibrant and without any defense.

I think about her all morning.  My youngest daughter and I creep around the garden barefoot, dew soaking even our legs.  We approach her, and she doesn’t move.  She can’t.  She’s not ready, not even a little bit.
How could I not think of those of us waiting for things–letting our wings harden–in that fragile and dangerous time (dangerous because of the lies that assault us) when something’s just about to happen but we aren’t quite ready?    We have to stay still and obey the process.  We can’t rush.  Our whole flight depends upon it.


Small Flair in Hidden Places

I wake up with a horrible cold or horrible allergies–funny how the body responds the same to real or imagined threats against it–and dread the morning.  I can’t find one box of tissues anywhere.

Then, I realize I’ve lost my cell phone.

Sniffling and pitiful, I wander to the basement just in case my cell phone is lost amid the scatter of assignment sheets and lesson plans.  Still sniffling, I spy it innocently positioned in the most curious of places.

Right next to a box of tissues.

Flair came early and reminded me that what I lose sometimes brings me to what needs to be found.


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.  


One Good Prayer

This morning, I had a few minutes before the walk to school, so I took out my prayer journal. What did I need?  What did the neighbors need?   Many things came to mind, but one thought kept recurring.  I knew I might pray for prosperity, for health, for safety, for success, or for any host of material things. God says we can ask for anything.  But I knew to pray this:

“Jesus, help us see you today.” 

Jonathan Swift wrote that “vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”  When I look at this day, right now, I know that God is at work.  And he sees what I don’t see.  Through suffering, through disappointment, through fear, through loneliness, God sees what I don’t see.  I want vision to see, with God’s help, what is otherwise invisible.  That’s flair. 

I want to see what God sees.  I want to pierce through that layer of my circumstances to perceive that invisible script that God writes.  These marks of God’s intentions, of God’s goodness, of God’s love, are here.  I pray that God sharpens my vision so I can see them. 

My sleuthing for daily flair is really a prayer to see the invisible thing–that underlying beauty and goodness in any situation, no matter how bleak.  It’s a prayer to identify, in every circumstance, the marks of a spiritual process.  When I see that process, I’m suddenly released from fear.  I can find hope and love here, even in pain or confusion. 

Living with flair means seeing the invisible thing. It means offering up a prayer to find God in whatever situation I’m in because, surely, he is here.


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.


When it Looks Like Chaos and Abandonment

My sassiest daughter was playing school with her big sister this morning before church.  Apparently, they’d set up a whole imaginary classroom with imaginary students. All of sudden, the little one starts stomping around with her hands on her hips.
“I can’t do imaginary anymore!” she yelled. 
I laughed out loud. Watching her with her hands on her hips, saying in exasperation, “I can’t do imaginary anymore,” gave me the same feeling as when I hear her singing that Sugarland song about not settling. There I am, driving down the road, minding my own thoughts, and this little girl will belt out:
I ain’t settlin’
for just getting’ by
I’ve had enough so-so
for the rest of my life. . .
It’s the kind of sass I like in a girl. She doesn’t want so-so or imaginary, and neither do I.  We want to fully inhabit the lives God gives us.  We are learning that ordinary is extraordinary when you figure out what you can learn from it.  We aren’t settlin’ if we can help it.  We aren’t letting one moment go by without finding out what it means. 
We are getting better at it.  This morning, in the cool breeze of 9:00 AM, something caught my eye as we pulled out of the driveway.
Blue and wispy like the tip of some fairy’s wing, leaves danced across the base of the oak tree by my house. I stared harder, confused about the blue leaves tumbling around on the lawn.  My husband stopped the van, and I got out. There, like tiny crumbled scraps of blue construction paper, balls of feathers unfolded to show little beaks. Obviously abandoned, obviously fallen from a high nest, these bluebirds strained their heads and wings hopelessly. They seemed cold, sure to die, and starving. I looked up through the branches of the oak tree. High up, higher than the rooftop, the tangle of sticks and leaves sat.
The whole family gathered solemnly around the oak tree. Believing we were seeing dying birds, the girls shouted: “We need to call the pet store! We need to call animal rescue! Help!” We all ran inside, frantic as we tried to find the phone book. My husband, calm and sure, went to the internet to find out what to do.
And we prayed.
A moment later, my husband spread the good news: These weren’t dying birds. They were fledgling birds. There’s a big difference.
Fledgling is a great word. It describes a young bird (or person) who is new to the scene. This person has just left the nest and is almost ready to fly. They still need help, but as they flop around, looking hopeless, they are actually building strength to fly. To the inexperienced observer, a fledgling looks like a dying bird. The feathers look all rumpled and broken, and the body is limp. What I saw, when I looked at those bluebirds, was chaos and disaster and, worse, abandonment.  
But it was actually a highly controlled, intentional situation.
Later, I sat in church, so thankful for the truth about my fledgling times. What I see as chaos, disaster, and abandonment (by God or others) is actually a highly controlled, intentional situation. God knows I need some time to strengthen my character and my resolve. He knows I need to flop around a bit first.
And I was thankful that my daughter who can’t do imaginary didn’t have to this morning.  She could sit and look right out at the real world in her front yard.   And this girl who won’t settle for so-so learned that rescuing birds isn’t about removing them from their situation or creating better circumstances.  Sometimes it means keeping them right there in it because it’s where they are supposed to be.  
Living with flair means that I might reinterpret chaos, confusion, or even disaster as part of a highly controlled, intentional situation.  God, like the mother bird, knows exactly what’s going on.  Later today, I saw that mother bird seeking out each fledgling with a worm in her beak.  She found all six of them, no matter where they had tumbled, and nourished them fully.  They’ll fly by evening.