Little Cupcake Grills!

My new neighbor calls me over to come see the birthday cupcakes she’s made for her husband. 

I start laughing out loud when I see them.

She and her children have made little grills with kabobs, steaks, hotdogs, and even hamburgers with cheese on top–all made out of candy.  If you look closely, you’ll even see the glowing embers of flames (red sprinkles!).  You’ll even see the fine grill marks on the caramel cream steak. 

I love these cupcakes!  I’m adding them to my list of whimsical things that make life a little lighter.  Right beside my green apple and hamburger cupcakes, I’m listing one more:  On the Grill. 

Late last night, she invites our family over for this “Grill Out.”  My children sneak across the street in pajamas, and we follow behind as lightening streaks the sky over the mountains.  We share cupcakes and ice-cream and celebrate a dad’s birthday.

I remember–especially this 9/11 weekend–how thankful I am for this great nation and the simplicity of family, neighbors, and sharing cupcakes. I learned that horrible day that we can’t take a single moment for granted. Something about eating whimsical cupcakes puts me in that state of thankfulness.  What a privilege to sit around a table with friends, eating cupcakes and sharing our lives!

Living with flair means you Grill Out with cupcakes.

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Journal:  What little thing are you thankful for this 9-11 weekend? 

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A New Approach to Serving Others

Today, I hear my husband explain a new way to care for folks in our community.  He says that we do things “with” people and not “for” them.  As a scholar obsessed with the nuances of language, I find myself baffled by how a simple change in a preposition revolutionizes how we act.

Prepositions reveal relationship.  Am I doing things “with” my community or just “for” my community?  For years, my husband and I followed the model of doing things “for” other people.  But two years ago, we wanted to belong to our community and not stand outside of it.

We had recently heard a Navajo Indian speaking about various groups that would visit his reservation.  They’d bring help or aid and quickly leave.  Yet what the Navajo truly wanted, more than anything else, was to be known, understood, and valued.  They wanted the organizations to be “with them” and not just come do things “for them.”

In our community, I have learned (finally) to be with people.  The walk-to-school campaigns, the Monday Night Fitness Groups, and the Saturday Pancakes are all about being with my community.  We mutually encourage, mutually support, mutually serve.

In my parenting, I have learned (finally) to do things with my children and not just for them.  I’m learning to say, “I would like to do this with you and not just for you.”  That philosophy seems to honor their dignity and mine as well.

It’s the same with teaching.  It’s the same with blogging.  There’s a “withness” about this work that transforms it.  We are with each other. 

My husband reminds me that the incarnation is God “with us.”  Immanuel–God with us–represents a prepositional phrase that’s changed my life.

Living with flair means I learn the meaning of with. 

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Journal:  How can I change my “for you” to “with you?”

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When Your Scars Leak (Warning: Graphic Image of a Cat’s Infected, Although Missing, Eye)

Yesterday, my daughter cries out that Jack’s scar is leaking

Remember Jack?  Our one-eyed cat, over this past year, seemed fully recovered from the day we rescued him:  he learned to purr again; he discovered his lost meow; he started caring for other cats; then he learned to stand up for himself against the other cats; and finally, he learned how to knead the bed like normal kitties do.

He was fully alive, fully cat

We hardly notice the scar anymore.  It’s only when other folks come over and comment that we remember.

Infected Eye Wound

But the wound where his eye once was becomes infected.  The vet says the infection is so great, so deep, that it has to burst out of the scar. 

We hold Jack all evening.  We care for the infection, treat it with medicine, and give special attention to him. 

I remember that sometimes wounds leak.  Even after a year of healing, the old scar can ooze.  Just because we don’t notice the wound, one day, it bursts back into our lives and threatens us with that discouraging reminder.

But we aren’t discouraged.  We go back to the basics.  We hold him, love him, and treat him.  We aren’t shocked or repulsed.  It’s part of his journey, and we’re right here with him. 

Living with flair means I’m in this with you.  Even when the old wounds leak out, we go back to the basics, take care of one another, and let the healing begin again. 

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Journey:  When old wounds leak, how can I keep from being discouraged?

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Somebody Needs This

Last week–during my horrible cold– my neighbors express their concern for me in. . . soup

First came the hearty meatball soup with spinach and tomatoes.

Then, on day two, a bright orange butternut squash soup paraded in with crostini appetizers so delicious I gobbled six between the front door and my kitchen.

Day three?  A classic turkey noodle elbowed in.  The Italian Mama brought more the next day, escorted by bread and chocolate and a baked ziti that stole the show.    

On day four, a minestrone humbly entered, warm and muted.  

And the next day, when I had given up all hope that my body would heal, a creamy potato soup arrived.

Bowls and bowls of steaming broth, eaten right in the bed, nourished me in more ways than one. My body was healing, aided by neighbors whose soup loudly proclaimed: “We are taking care of you!” 

This morning, word spreads that a family down the street is sick.  My crock pot muscles her way between the toaster and the coffee pot, and I chop all the ingredients for a vegetable beef stew.  I’ll deliver it late afternoon and find my place in the parade of neighborhood love in the form of steaming soup. 

So loved did I feel by soup that I wonder why I don’t make it every day this winter and find a neighbor who needs it.  Somebody needs soup today, and living with flair means I deliver it. 

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The Most Impressive Thanksgiving

Right now I’m launching into my official Thanksgiving preparations.  Imagine all the family driving in.  Imagine the rooms to arrange, the week of activities to plan, the house to clean, the meals to prepare.

There’s a way to go about this with flair. 

Lately, I’ve been reading and hearing a lot about how to handle Thanksgiving stress. At the same time, I’m reading article after article about how to “Have a Thanksgiving to Impress!” 

Does Thanksgiving stress come from what I stress?  If I emphasize wanting to impress my guests, my Thanksgiving becomes a performance to evaluate rather than a holiday to enjoy. 

I don’t want family members to remember how impressive I was; I want them to remember how loved they felt.

So I’m cleaning my home to make others feel comfortable, not impressed.  We’re planning a menu to nourish and celebrate, not impress.

Living with flair means I make preparations in order to love–not impress–those around my table.  Suddenly, it doesn’t matter about this old rented house, this tight budget, this simple meal.  We’ll hold hands around a thrift-store table and thank God for all we have.  You will feel loved, not impressed.

And that will impress you.

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When the Competition is You

Last night for Neighborhood Fitness Group, we dance our normal dances and crawl around like wild animals.  But then, the children beg for “The Jump Rope Challenge.”  Turning jump rope in a basement is a challenge in itself, but we figure out a way to make it work.

“The Jump Rope Challenge” isn’t a normal competition.  It’s a battle against your own best record.  Before each child begins jumping, he or she announces a personal goal.  Sometimes, this number is 10 jumps.  Sometimes, it’s 110 jumps .  There’s a scorekeeper, cheerleaders, and rope turners, so everybody has a role to play.

A little girl jumps.  We cheer when she surpasses 10 jumps and reaches 39.  The next one exceeds 100 and achieves 102 jumps.  The next one beats his record of 18 and goes for 21 jumps.  High-fives!  Loud cheering!

The fun of the challenge is that you beat yourself.

I’m amazed because the children don’t compare their record to other records.  The moment jumping rope is about their personal best–unique to them, in their stage of life, set right at their fitness level.  My sister has told me for years about the running world and “personal records.”  It’s not important who finishes ahead of or behind you.  You have your own time to beat. 

I keep turning the jump rope, and my arm feels like it’s going to give out.  I tell myself to keep turning so that a little boy can reach his personal best.  Somewhere deep inside of him, he musters up the strength.  I see his face, and I try to imagine what’s going on inside of his head.  He wants to quit; I see that.  But he doesn’t. 

The scorekeeper records the personal win.  We tape the evidence to the wall.  Maybe I’ll keep these charts in my basement for 20 more years.  Maybe I’ll show them at their high school graduation and remind them of these nights in my basement when they accomplished a personal best and the neighborhood cheered.

They wanted to quit, but they didn’t.

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The Next Step

My one-eyed cat, Jack, has taken another important step.  

Remember how wounded and sick Jack was?  How unattractive and miserable?   We brought him home and gave him all the love we could.   He’d lost his ability to purr.  He couldn’t even meow.  His whole kitty identity seemed withered and dying. 

Then one day, he found his purr again, deep and rich and wild.  We were petting him, and we heard the slow chug, like some distant train coming from a far-off country.  He’s purring!  Then, nearly a year into his recovery, he stood in the kitchen, proud and tall, and let out his first meow.  That kitty self was back. 

The One-Eyed Cat Serves

It gets even better.  Yesterday, I walk into my bedroom, and I see the once lonely and wounded kitty in a warm embrace.  He’s holding another cat.  He’s holding her still and bathing her face and the back of her ears!  As I watch this display, I realize that Jack’s journey has reached yet another point of healing. 

I snap a picture of him and think of what it means to care for somebody.  The once-wounded cat is now serving others.   

Living with flair means that we don’t stay wounded.  We press on, find ourselves again, and discover where we might serve.  Even if you’ve had a loss that changes how you see everything (and limits you), there’s hope towards a journey of healing-turned-ministry.  Maybe that’s the best kind.  Maybe Jack is particularly good at caring for other cats because he’s come back from the worst. 

The One-Eyed Cat and His Friend

Maybe I’m particularly good at helping folks live with flair because I lived without it for so long.  How could I not offer an embrace, hold you still for a moment, and speak out whatever words might help make today meaningful? 

 

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Love is a Tornado

This morning, my daughter hands me a little card that says her love for me is like a tornado.  She drew a picture of a tornado and wrote, “It’s like this.” 

I turn to her and say, “You mean it’s powerful and destructive?”

She smiles and pretends she’s punching me.  She tries to explain the comparison:  “It gets stronger each day like a tornado gets stronger with each spin.” 

Her tornado is a giant mess of scribble that looks terrifying.  

Love is a tornado? 

That can’t be right.   

My husband adds at breakfast that a tornado is like love because you “never know where it’s coming from.” It can take you by surprise (like how I met him when I least expected it).  

I look at this little family.  I think of the kind of love that breaks the heart and repairs it simultaneously.  I think of the terrifying surrender of it, the giant mess of living lives intertwined. I think of the powerful destruction that love’s wake leaves on the landscape of a heart.  It’s a tornado that rips you apart.

But it’s the kind of devastation you endure because there’s no other way to have it.  It’s the most beautiful storm you’ll ever experience. 

I hug my children–these little tornadoes in my heart–and think about the kind of love I want in my life.  Let it be giant and powerful.  Let it get stronger each day. 

Let it destroy what in me needs to be leveled and remake a pure landscape.  

(Photo:  Public Domain. Credit: OAR/ERL/National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) via [pingnews])

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Be Impressively Vulnerable

Yesterday, I admit to my dear friend that I’m not good at being vulnerable.  I’m better at listening and giving advice and pretending I have it all together.  I’m better at being cheery and funny than admitting when I’m not feeling well.  Maybe, deep down, I think that folks won’t love me as much if I admit my struggles and my weaknesses.

I spent five years studying the emotion of shame.  One would think I could see through my tactics!  We hide away and protect ourselves from feeling vulnerable.  We preempt the mere possibility of feeling inferior, exposed, or judged by tucking ourselves away in protective spaces of various forms.  But my research regarding shame proves this:  when we make ourselves vulnerable, we create pathways for intimacy.  Our capacity for intimacy directly correlates to how vulnerable we are.

My cats perform dramatic displays of vulnerability.  When they roll flat on their backs and expose their tummies, they welcome affection.  Dogs enact even more impressive acts.  With incredible submission, a dog will lay down, roll over, and endanger himself by revealing an unprotected belly and throat.

In the animal world, showing the belly and offering submissive gestures signals love and trust.  What submissive gestures might I enact to signal to my friends that same love and trust?  A willingness to expose my underbelly–those weak and unpleasant things about me–might seem dangerous and shameful. But these impressive acts of vulnerability are what make friendship happen. 

Who wants a friend who can’t be vulnerable?  Who wants a life shackled by the fear of shame?  Roll over, show your belly, and just see what love you find.

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One Way to Say “I Love You”

A few days ago, my husband and I seriously start brainstorming ideas for our Halloween costumes. There’s a lot at stake:  we have a party to attend and neighborhood children to impress.  

I have this genius idea–one I actually stole from a student– that my husband could dress as Colonel Mustard and I’d go as Mrs. Peacock from the board game, “Clue.”  We decide that, although a brilliant idea, it is too complicated (and nobody would remember that game). 

My husband begins implementing his plan;  he starts searching the Internet for “bear suits.”

I repeat:  bear suits.  

He actually wants us to go to this party as bears.  I smile politely and then leave for the costume store.  

I find the most glorious red cape for a Little Red Riding Hood outfit.  I picture my little basket and my adorable dress.  Then I consider my husband.  

Lederhosen / Wikipedia Commons / Public Domain

The store features another fairy tale costume that’s equally adorable.

It’s Hansel.

Think lederhosen.

Think actual leather breeches and embroidered suspenders.  And a little hat. 


I rush home and tell him about this costume.  I have it being held for 24 hours with his name on it.  

“You could be Hansel!  From Hansel and Gretel?  You know, Hansel?”  I’m nodding my head and shaking his arm back and forth. 

“I’m not going to be Hansel,” he says firmly.

“But it’s so adorable!  Honey, please be Hansel.”

“I can’t be Hansel,” he says again. 

I’m crushed.  I’m devastated.  He’d be the most wonderful Hansel.

A day goes by.  I’m still crushed.  And just about the time I’m going to search for more impressive costumes (Gandalf, Dumbledore, Batman) or else begin an ebay search for bear suits, I get a text message from him.

3 words.  

“I’ll be Hansel.” 

I call him back, and say, “Really?  Will you really be Hansel?”

He says, “Yes, I’ll be Hansel.  I know how much this means to you.”

It turns out that other husbands (the ones who we arrange playdates for), perhaps in an act of solidarity, are encouraging his decision.  At least one is seriously considering going as Hansel–standing side-by-side with my husband.  Maybe they’ll be a whole neighborhood throng of German men in lederhosen. 

But I would have been a bear for him. 

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