A Reward for Stillness

Before dinner, just as the water comes to a boil for our pasta, I head to the backyard and sit down. I prop my arms on my folded knees, zoom in my camera, and I wait: still and quiet.

If you know me, you know that still and quiet don’t go well with my style. I’m all frenzy and noise most of the day.

But not right now.

It’s because I know what’s coming; the reward for stillness will surely be delivered, shimmering green as a hummingbird’s wing, if I wait in stillness and silence.

Hummingbird Perching

Some gifts from God only come in that way.

These hummingbirds are teaching me so much about silence and stillness. I love watching them!


Baby Hummingbird Photos

Out by the blooming sunflower where our nectar feeder sits, we notice tiny hummingbirds at the feeder. Every once in a while, a much larger hummingbird will circle around the smaller ones. I think we are observing babies.

Baby Hummingbird

What a happy day to have seen them! We prayed God would bring them back so we could photograph them, and we quietly waited on the porch. Then, we snapped as many photos as we could, hoping to catch them in the frame. We did!

Baby Hummingbird

Enjoy these beautiful creatures.

Maybe the Mother Hummingbird?

They are so mysterious and rarely observed. 

Hummingbirds are so delightful. Have you witnessed something rarely observed in nature lately?


Leaders Take the Long View

Last night my husband reminds me to “take the long view.”

When something goes wrong (a boring class, an argument with a friend, a dieting failure, a rejection from an agent, a poor parenting choice. . . I could go on and on), I tend to make catastrophic statements:

Everything is horrible!  I’m a disaster!  I’m the worst parent ever!  I’m quitting!  I’m never writing another book!  I’m the worst friend ever!  Things will never get better!

I could win an academy award for drama.

“Take the long view,” my husband says as I bury myself either in the pillow, in the bubbles in the bathtub, or in my own crossed arms.

The long view?  What’s the long view?  He reminds me that this is just one moment–one day–and that I have to think of my life in terms of months and years and even decades.

“Ride this wave out,” he advises while making big wave motions with his hand.  “Take the long view.”

It turns out that people who know how to take the long view succeed.  I read interviews of business leaders who knew how to take the long view and not seek short term profit.  I read about persistence, about vision, and about focus on the future.  Small failures and setbacks become part of a larger picture.

I read about families who take the long view with debt reduction and savings.  I think about everything from community organizing to weight loss.  I think about blogging and motherhood and even gardening.  I think about ministry.

When I take the long view, I’m not caught up in today’s catastrophe or short term win.  Instead, I lift my head up and remember my long term goal.  I’m growing into a beautiful thing that reflects the glory of a Creator.  Over time, my marriage, parenting, friendships, writing, teaching, and ministry get better and better.  Small bumps in the road are just that:  bumps in the road.  But I’m still on the road, and I can see a glorious destination.

Have you learned to “take the long view?”


Instead of Shopping

I know it sounds strange, but one of my favorite activities since moving to Pennsylvania involves walking the woods in search of shed deer antlers.  The deer in our woods shed their antlers right around this time, so it’s fun to hunt for them.

Shed Deer Antler

They blend right into the forest floor–like some dropped bare branch from a tree–and discerning them from their surroundings makes for a supreme challenge.  Plus, rodents immediately come and eat the antlers.  If you find them, it feels, like my neighbor said this morning, “like serendipity.”

Serendipity!  A happy and unexpected event! Some women feel this way about finding a great pair of shoes on sale.

I get it from antlers. 

I keep an antler by my writing desk.  My brother-in-law gave it to me after he found it in North Carolina.  I love this little antler.  It’s always symbolized the deep hope that I can find a remnant, some beautiful and mysterious thing, if only I’m devoted to the search.  

We’ll go back out into the woods this afternoon.

What objects in nature have you hunted?


When Something’s Missing (Strawberry Lemonade Bars)

I want to create a special after school treat for Valentine’s Day, but I’m out of everything.  No lemon juice for lemon squares; no chocolate anywhere for brownies; no frosting for cupcakes.

I do, however, have strawberries and some pink lemonade mix.  Behold!  People actually make strawberry lemonade squares, and they look so cute for Valentine’s Day.

I just love it when what I lack forces me into creative spots.  Praise God for the kind of limited resources that uncover abundance (deep in my pantry where the pink lemonade mix sat, lonely and just waiting).

I need to run out of ingredients more often.  

I find this recipe, but instead of fresh lemon juice, I mix a very strong cup of pink lemonade. And I puree every fresh strawberry we have. 

Strawberry Lemonade Squares

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Living with flair means we push through and create new things when we lack certain resources.  There’s a lonely something waiting in the back corner just waiting for use.

What’s the last thing you made because you were missing an ingredient?


A First Aid Kit for the Brokenhearted

Two years ago, I wrote about my daughter’s theory of bike riding.  As we took off the training wheels, she said, “Little hills mean little boo-boos and big hills mean big boo-boos.”  My husband said that we should just find the little hills then, and my 5-year old said, “No, Dad, we just need bigger band aids.”

She knew the adventure and the freedom was worth the pain.  

As I continue to find the brokenhearted in our region, I think about the big, dangerous hill that we travel down when we enter into our own pain and the pain of others.  We don’t need to be afraid; we don’t need to stay in silence. We don’t need to stay safe on the little hill. 

We conquer the biggest hill of our suffering, and we’ll need a bigger first aid kit.

In this first aid kit for the brokenhearted, I’ve learned so much about prayer, about truth, about the role of creativity in healing, about the beauty of devoted community, and about the power of God to heal.  I’ve learned the role of telling your story, of believing the victim, of walking side-by-side, of laughter, of crying, and of rejoicing that, as my friend mentioned this morning, we have “treasures from our trials.”

I’ll ride down this hill with you.  I’ve got a great first aid kit right here.

What would you add to a first aid kit for the brokenhearted?


If We Had a Mile

On the walk to school, a normally shy and withdrawn little girl comes to my side. 

“Guess what?” she asks, her eyes huge. She watches me with her mittens folded together and her boots kicking the ice. 

“What?  Tell me everything,” I respond (because I have a whole mile to listen and nothing to do but walk with her).  And then, I learn all about dolphins. 

Dolphins.  That was the door that let me into her heart.  I think about how–if only I had known–I might have asked about dolphins last year. 

If only I had known!  I realize that every person I meet today has a deeply held love of something.  Maybe it’s dolphins or coconuts or turtles or guitar.  I want to make the kind of time and space to hear about it. 

I want to give you a whole mile today. 

If you had a mile to talk, what would you want to talk about today? 


When All Else Fails, Bring Chocolate

Sometimes I find myself having to attend meetings I don’t want to attend with people I don’t know.  Sometimes I have to enter into hostile classroom settings with students who scowl about grades or class assignments.  Sometimes I find myself at odds with a neighbor.

As I prepare for a meeting today, I turn to Proverbs 18.  Here, the wise man says, “A gift opens the way and ushers the giver into the presence of the great.” Some translations say a gift enlarges the way of the giver.  Others claim the gift opens closed doors and connects you to people. 

I know what I need to do.

I buy chocolate.  Really good chocolate.  I enter the room with an armload of it.  “I brought chocolate!” I exclaim.  The gift never fails in classrooms, meetings, and even between friends with hurt feelings.  You stand on the doorstep, ring the doorbell, and just hand over the chocolate. 

I remember the story of a little girl who had her first fight with her best friend.  Days pass.  Finally, one of them sulks over, still mad, knocks on the door and says, “My mom wants to know if you want some chocolate.”

The other girl, angry and frowning says, “Of course I do.”  She then smiles and says, “Come in and let’s play.”

When all else fails and you don’t know what to do, bring chocolate.

Have you experienced the power of giving a gift to enlarge your way?


Attempting Homemade Naan

Last night, I attempt homemade naan (Indian flatbread).  I’m learning that trying new culinary tasks–especially ones with great potential for failure–represents part of living with flair.  I survived Italian Cooking Lessons, so why not try Indian food?

If I’m not risking disaster, maybe the task isn’t worth trying. 

I make the dough and add fresh chopped garlic. With garlic, you press down until the clove escapes from its prison of sticky paper skin.  I imagine the work it takes to release a person from her protective shell; that pressure accomplishes a beautiful thing in us.  I have to remember this.

I let the dough rise all afternoon, return from teaching, and then roll out the dough.  I apply brushstrokes of rich yellow butter.

Rolling Out the Naan Dough

Then, I let the dough bubble and rise on the griddle. The smell of this garlic naan beckons the children toward the kitchen, their noses leading them.

Naan Bubbling on the Griddle

We feast on the Indian Naan with yogurt raita (I add coriander, cucumber, and diced tomatoes). 

Later, I think about how far I’ve come with these experiments in cooking.  I want to move on to other experiments and unexplored regions of my abilities.  Thank you for joining with me in these “experiments” of living with flair.

What was your last life experiment? 


Under Occlusion

Right about this time of year, my hands inevitably crack and bleed.  The knuckles, red and leathery, reveal winter fissures that make me wince. 

Nearly every part of my skin, if not already chapped, is vulnerable to the bitter cold winter air. 

And right about this time of year, I wear gloves everywhere.  I even wear them to bed.  I especially wear rubber gloves when I’m doing housework.  These tender hands need a barrier of protection against the elements.

My doctor friend says to put my hands “under occlusion” (covered with gloves) after using lotion to keep the moisture from evaporating.  Under occlusion, my hands have a chance to heal.  Occlude means to cover, block, or close, and I’ve decided it’s a great winter verb. 

My whole day becomes about protecting these little bleeding knuckles!  My skin isn’t as tough as I thought!  I’m putting these hands under occlusion! 

I realize that sometimes that’s the season I’m in:  vulnerable.  So I pull back, go inward, and rest more.  I’m under occlusion, and that’s right and good.  When I’m in a tender place emotionally, spiritually, or physically, that’s exactly when it’s appropriate and necessary to produce an extra layer of protection from whatever comes against me. 

My extra layer?  It might be more sleep, more prayer, more nourishment, more fellowship, more laughter.  It’s that kind of season, and we aren’t as tough as we thought.  We go under occlusion, and we’ll be ourselves again soon. 

Do you have a cure for chapped hands?