If You Know How to Use It

I read this morning a fascinating quote from E.Stanley Jones:

“A young army officer said this, ‘Weather, in war, is always favorable, if you know how to use it.’ That is the point–if you know how to use it.  The fact is that everything that comes to you in life is favorable–if you know how to use it.” 

I look at the day before me and grimace over the tasks, but then I wonder, Is everything favorable if I know how to use it?

I look out at the icy rain and frown over the weather, but then I ask myself:  How can I use this? 

Beautiful things are coming; I’m already choosing joy.  Over these last 600 blog entries, I’m learning to use whatever comes in order to learn, grow, and find beauty. That’s God promise, and I find that He keeps it. 

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Do you know how to use whatever you’re going through?

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Just In Case

When my youngest daughter even thinks we might leave for a long outing, she gathers essentials just in case. 

She compiles all her jewels just in case a spontaneous fancy party invite comes her way.  She folds several sets of pajamas just in case an extended pajama party occurs.  As I try to put things away, she simply gathers more things just in case she meets new friends and needs to share stuffed animals or toys. 

I love the hopes and dreams of a child awaiting adventure.  She anticipates joy and prepares herself for it.

I want to prepare for joy.

Let’s gather some essentials just in case.

I’ll brew extra coffee.  I’ll clear the afternoon schedule.  What does it take to prepare for joy?  My Bible, my journal, my new pen?  Your sweet face across the table from me? 

How do you prepare for joy?

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When Everything Aligns

I’m driving to work, and I pull up beside a yellow school bus.  The children inside wave and giggle.  I motion back with an exaggerated wave.

I notice one cute little girl in the backseat.  Her ponytail bobs and her head tilts back as she laughs.  I look again.  It’s my own daughter on her way to a field trip at the marsh.  She doesn’t know that I can see her.  I watch her for a few seconds and then have to exit.  As I pull away from that school bus, something rises up in my heart.  It’s the strangest and deepest kind of joy.

I can’t explain it other than to say watching a group of laughing school children is good for the soul.

I’m so happy for the warmth and safety of a little yellow school bus that takes children to a marsh. I’m so happy for my daughter as she rides on that bus, laughing with all her friends. God bless that bus.  God bless that teacher.  God bless the whole elementary school, this whole great state of Pennsylvania, and the whole wide world for that matter.

For at least a few minutes, something aligns.  Everything, at least right here, is just as it should be.

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Journal:  Can you remember when everything felt “just right” for a moment?

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Perceiving Contrast Brings Pleasure

I learn today how sensitive the human eye is to contrast.   In fact, perceiving contrast brings pleasure.  We actually enjoy it.   This explains why I can’t take my eyes off of my hostas.  The contrast of white on green keeps me planted. 

Or my weeping cherry that now has cherries.  That deep cherry red on green (with the sun shining upon it) brings out some joy in me. 

Or, of course, the strawberry patch.  Red and green again!  I actually feasted on this berry right after I snapped the photo.  Sweet and juicy. 

I think about what catches my eye and delights my senses.  It’s always contrast–juxtaposition. 

I’m so thankful for contrast–light and dark, hope and despair, joy and sorrow, suffering and relief.  Beauty and worship come in the crossfire between these opposing states.  There’s a sweet spot in the contrast that catches my breath and lets me see inside a spiritual reality.  I’m not afraid of the darkness or the despair anymore.  It’s contrast that shows me truth, beauty, and wonder. 

My own vision depends upon contrast, so why wouldn’t my spiritual eyes? 

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Journal:  What contrast do I see today? 

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I Forgot to Tell You. . .

I forgot to tell you that the lilacs are blooming.  That’s what we smell on the walk to school.  We bury our noses in lilacs.  When we get the mail?  Lilacs!  When we open the doors to our homes, it all lilacs–all the way down the road.

Lilacs Blooming

Lilac doesn’t even give you a choice about it; no matter what you’re thinking about or feeling, you’ll notice the rich smell, close your eyes and just enjoy it for a moment. 

Lilacs

The forced nature of that lilac scent–overpowering, insistent, saturated–made me think about how, sometimes, we need some forced pleasure because we’re too stubborn, too negative, too worried, or too sad to enjoy anything anymore.  The lilac cries out, “I’m here, and you’re breathing, so enjoy this, will ya?

Living with flair means receiving the joy today.

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Journal:  What is insisting that you enjoy it today?

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These Aren’t Interruptions

I’m in the university library to find the article I want on neuroscience and writing.  I’m suddenly interrupted by the pull of the juvenile fiction section on the 5th floor where I remember they have all the P. D. Eastman books that my youngest daughter still loves (Go, Dog. Go!,  Sam and the Firefly, The Best Nest).

I spend all my time there, and for once, it doesn’t feel like I’m just getting through some kid’s library event on my way to what I really want to be doing. 

Many times over the years of being a mother, I’ve felt like I’m just trying to get through something.  I’d think to myself:  I just have to get through this night waking, this potty training, this noise at the dinner table, this driving everywhere, this laundry, this cleaning, this bedtime routine.  I need to get through these interruptions in order to arrive at what I really want to be doing. 

I believed some clever lie that kept me from embracing motherhood fully.  Motherhood was something to endure, and this made me so deeply troubled and ashamed that the dark days of depression stole half a decade of my life.  

My doctor told me one afternoon that “my children are not interruptions” to the life I want to have.  They are my life.  Exactly how God designed it. 

That’s what I remembered last night:  It’s 3:15 AM, and my youngest wakes me up needing a drink and a snuggle.  We’ve been training her for months to stay in her bed, but still she comes, a wandering little soul wanting me in the night.  I gather her to me, and when I tiptoe into the cold kitchen to get her a cup of water, I notice the fresh snow in the moonlight.

This isn’t an interruption.  This is worship and wonder at 3:15 AM.   I don’t sleep after that; I listen to my daughter breathing and can hear the icy whisper of snow falling outside.  I don’t have to get through this. This isn’t pain to endure on the way to what I’d rather be doing.

There’s wonder and worship here–every day–no matter how sticky, loud, or sleep deprived this day seems.  Our days are not something to get through as we endure interruptions to our real life.  This is our life: wonderful, beautiful, and just right for us.   And as I hear snow falling, I remember that sometimes we have to listen harder to comprehend that truth.

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Answer with Joy

Winterberry Holly

This weekend, I could not help my fascination with winterberry holly.  I love how vibrant the berries appear against a drab late-autumn landscape.  Those berries challenge their depressing surroundings with a hallelujah of red. 

Thorny Cages

They rise out of treacherous, thorny cages of leaves. 

They nourish entire populations of birds–over 48 species.  Even small mammals depend on these luscious berries to sustain them through the bitter winter. 

Let me rise out of thorns, answer with joy whatever dark background hovers about, and nourish those around me.  

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Am I Willing?

Driving through central Pennsylvania, I gaze with wonder at the work of Amish families on their farms.  Through the warmth and convenience of my car, equipped with music and movies, I watch the dance of their laundry on lines between trees; the long pants kick up in the wind, and the crisp white shirts wave as we pass.

A farmer works his field by hand, tilling the soil with pleasure.  Barn cats leap up around a little girl’s feet as she pushes her wheelbarrow through the family’s garden.  A mother collects sticks for her fire.  We have to slow our pace to give a horse and buggy room on the road. 

How inconvenient this all is.  How strange this work. 

As I think about the labor of living in my own very convenient and very comfortable life, I’m suddenly aware of my stubborn heart.  I want ease and comfort.  I want the smoothest way out of work.  But when I look back at my happiest days, the ones full of joy and peace, I realize those were days when I surrendered to the work.

I had a willing spirit.  I submitted to tasks, to people, and to my circumstances with joy.  I got up and worked the way a farmer works a field and wipes a brow.  I worked the kind of work that makes you so hungry you eat with a different pleasure and so tired you relish sleep like it’s a precious gift. 

Will my children know this kind of work in my culture?  

The convenient and the comfortable, the lazy and the entertained life, may seem like pleasure, but it doesn’t satisfy the way work does. 

Lord, give me a willing spirit to do this work.  Let me labor hard and enjoy the tasks before me.  Living with flair means I sweat and wipe my brow.  I meet the tasks assigned with pleasure.  

I want to be willing for my whole life.  As the psalmist writes, “Lord grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.”

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You Cannot Contain This

My morning begins by watching children race down the street so the speed limit monitor sign records their speed.  I still haven’t had enough coffee to move properly, and these kids are racing.  They know how to walk to school with flair.   I secretly want to record my own speed.  I still might, but I’m too busy trying to contain the activity. 

Turkey Masks

Then, I volunteer in the kindergarten classroom.  The teacher puts me in charge of the Turkey Masks for the feast the class will have next week.  I’m the monitor, and I can’t contain this project; the children smear glue everywhere, and feathers are in their hair, on their shirts, and attached to their jeans.

Eventually, we produce these fine specimens. 

However, nobody can see anything once the mask is on.  I wonder about this, but then I see kids delighting in darkness.

Apparently, this makes the feast more fun and uncontrollable.  

Meanwhile, I monitor the purple glue sticks and question how in the world they go on purple but dry clear.  The chemistry behind this phenomenon has me stumped.

Something dries out, and the purple disappears. Who invented this great item?  Maybe the same person who, as a kid, would have raced towards the speed limit monitor sign.

Lord, let me monitor my own joy today.  Let me race down streets, wear turkey masks even when I can’t see a thing, and stay vibrant purple.  Let me not be contained.  Let me have turkey feathers even on my jeans. 

I’m on my way to run in front of the speed monitor.   

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The Ache You Need

My little one’s molar has been hurting her for months.  She’s already had a root canal (we definitely needed to invoke the Bad Day Mantra on that day), and still, the tooth pain won’t relent.  Yesterday, the dentist prescribed an antibiotic to ward off infection.

“But we can’t pull that tooth,” he explains in his office.  My daughter listens, wide-eyed.  “That tooth is a space-maker, a place-holder.  If you pull it, every other incoming tooth will crowd toward that space, and her mouth will really be in trouble.  Nothing new will come in right.  I’d like to keep that tooth there for as long as we can.”

I nod.  The little one nods.   

“It’s about timing,” he says.  “I can pull it, but then we’d have to design a spacer for her mouth, and it won’t ever be as great as what God made naturally.”

I smile.  He’s talking Dentist Theology now. He tells me it’s often normal for molars to ache while the new teeth underneath emerge.  Just wait.  A good thing is happening. 

The sore molar as a “place holder” to keep everything in line, to make things work as they should, stayed with me the whole day and into the night.  That troubling sore point in my life–whatever it is–might just be the place holder to keep things right until the new thing comes.  Could I begin to see those dark years as space-makers and place-holders that ushered in present joy in the right space, at the right time?  

The ache keeps things aligned.  It makes a space I need.

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