Even in the Rain: The Best Part of the Week

I didn’t think anybody would show up to Neighborhood Fitness Group.  It was raining and dreary; who wants to exercise in the rain?

But we can’t help ourselves.  We love it. 

By the time I get the double-dutch jump ropes out, a group of children is already rolling down a hillside.  Then I look and see that my daughter has tied a kite to the back of her bike, and she rides as fast as she can to keep that kite flying.

You can’t slow down.  That kite needs speed. 

Then, the best part of all, one of my college students shows up to teach the children how to play 4-Square.

I find myself right in the mix.  I play 4-Square.  I jump double-dutch.  I dance to the music from the car speakers.  It’s raining, and I don’t even notice. 

I realize that I need this.  I need to be part of my neighborhood.  I need to know folks by name, roll down a hill with them, and gather even in the rain.

On the walk to school this morning (in the pouring rain), two children announce how far they got in 4-Square.  “I was almost King!” they shout and pull on my sleeve.

Is this what they’ll remember in 20 years?  Is this what they’ll put into place in their own neighborhoods in another generation?

I’m starting to think that showing up at Monday Night Fitness Group is the best thing I do in a week.  Even in the rain, I’ll be there next Monday. 

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Journal:  What else can we do to build our neighborhood?

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Give Your Life Away

My arms are sore from turning double-dutch jump ropes. 

From 6:30 PM-7:30 PM, 30 (yes, thirty!) parents and children came out to the parking lot for Monday Night Neighborhood Fitness.  Imagine a swarm of children riding bikes and scooters or playing football and Frisbee.  Imagine a car blaring music from an iPod so a group of children can dance.  Imagine moms and dads walking together and connecting in their own neighborhood. 

Imagine a little boy tugging on my sleeve to announce he rode ten times around the lot which I clocked for him as one mile.  Imagine another little girl finally learning to jump rope. 

I need more kites!  I need more cones for obstacle courses!  I want hula hoops and another set of ropes! 

Why am I so happy when I’m turning jump ropes?  It makes no sense that something like this would so deeply change my life. 

Over the weekend, I hear Larry Crabb (a Christian psychologist) talking about the goal of Christian therapy.  As someone who battled depression all those years and reads everything I can about finding happiness, I drop everything to listen. 

Crabb tells me that, typically, we think about counseling and our own happiness as answering the question, “How much can I get out of my life?”  But therapy in the truest, Biblical sense asks, “How much can I give of my life?”  In practice, I have found my own happiness bloom fully when I’m involved in tasks that serve others and let me forget myself.

I want to give my life away.  Turning jump ropes isn’t glamorous, and it doesn’t generate any revenue.  But something about this task has secured more happiness for me than anything else I’ve done this year. 

_____________________
Journal:  How is God asking me to give my life away? 

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Count Your Whorls

I learn this morning that you can tell the age of a pine tree by its number of “whorls.” One child stops in the woods on the walk to school, and she counts the circles of branches that shoot out from a tiny pine tree.  The top layer of branches is one whorl and represents one year of growth.  The next layer represents another.  This baby pine tree boasts seven whorls, so it’s been growing for seven years.  It stands as tall as my daughter. 

“Next year, they’ll be eight whorls!”  The children, wide-eyed, pause and look down upon the tree. 

I’m struck by the slow growth of this little pine that’s witnessed our journey to school all these years.  Now, we witness the pine tree, mark its age, and incorporate that growth into the whole system of things that grow and change about us.

These things matter so much to children.  Just last night, at Neighborhood Fitness Group, the children always gather to record their growth on my kitchen wall.  They inevitably check, every single week, if they’ve grown even a little bit. 

They record each each others’ heights, and they claim they’ve really grown each week.  The wall, smeared and nearly illegible, tempts me every Saturday morning as I stand beside it with my cleaning bucket.  I just can’t clean the wall.

We have to count our whorls.  And, even though I’m no longer getting taller, I want to count my own growth somehow–visibly, publicly.  Am I growing kinder?  More patient?  More wise?

Let me retain that child-like quality of marking my own growth.  There’s something to celebrate; there’s something to note here.  

Living with flair means I count whorls.  We’re growing–changing–and we must witness it.

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Journal:  How do I measure my own growth?  What tool might I use to track spiritual and emotional growth?

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What You Have to Know

Typing Out My Flair

Yesterday, I receive a sweet email from a wonderful 5th grader in another part of the country.  She’s the amazing girl who owns her own business and announced, regarding her appearance, that “a face without freckles is like the sky without stars.”  Her story appeared in an August blog post

This email contains two questions for me to answer.  She has to know how long it takes me to blog and where I get my ideas.  Even though I want to get back to bed to recover from my cold, I can’t resist answering her.  Such curiosity!  Such interest in somebody else!  I feel honored to be that somebody else.  I respond and tell her I normally work on my blog for 30 minutes to 1 hour a day (I don’t have any more time than that!).  Then I tell her the great secret of living with flair:  I ask God in the shower every morning to show me the flair that day.  Then I start looking for the beautiful thing that reminds me of a spiritual truth that can help me live my life better.  It might be common; it might be small, but I can find it every day. 

Then, she asks me all about my Neighborhood Fitness Group because she wants to start her own.  I’m so impressed that I have to tell her everything–our dance music play list, our jumping jack challenge, our tendency to get rowdy and need adult supervision.  I even tell her about our Community Announcement time at the end when we talk about healthy eating and how to stay active in the winter.  

I imagine she will start her own group.  She’s a 5th grader who wants to help her community.

I finish typing and get back to bed.  I’m thinking about my own children and how I might raise them to have curious hearts, to take an interest in other people’s ideas and projects, and to launch their own neighborhood initiatives.  Being interviewed by a 5th grader reminds me that even children, especially children, live with flair that inspires me. 

I’m sure my freckled friend is on to other interviews today.  There are so many things she just has to know. 


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I Have an Announcement!

A Basement for Dancing

Last night, for Monday Night Fitness Group, we have 15 children and their parents gather to dance and jump rope in my basement.  The space isn’t fancy–it’s just big enough to let a group of children dance for one hour.  As we finish up with jumping jacks and a game of “Little Sally Walker,” we pause for “Community Announcements.” 

So many little hands go up in the air.  I have an announcement!  I have an announcement!  We sit in a circle and share our most important news for the neighborhood to know.  I begin with a challenge to walk to school–even in the snow–so we can celebrate our 100th mile with t-shirts and dancing.  I have more weight to lose and more health to gain, and I need this neighborhood to help me. 

Then the children go around the circle with their most important announcements:

One child has her first loose tooth.  We cheer and clap.  She’s growing! 

The next child reports that there’s a new student at school.  She says, “We have to talk to him and make him feel very welcome.”  Another child pipes up that there’s another new student who only speaks Portuguese, so we have to pay attention and help that new person. 

Then one boy announces that he “played outside the whole afternoon, ate dinner quickly, and rushed back outside to play.”  We clap because it’s a fitness achievement for him, and our neighborhood is on a mission towards fitness.   The next child claims she danced for one hour in her basement with her friend.  Another fitness win. 

Then, we hear of new badges earned in scouts.  We cheer more.  

And then, we are alerted to a neighborhood emergency.  Earlier in the afternoon, some of the children discovered a tree that had a rock embedded in the trunk.  They perform surgery and remove it. When they examine this tree, they find that too many acorns are taking root near it and within the hollow between two limbs.  They proceed to clear away the acorns and water the tree.  And then they observe that it’s all solid clay around the trunk; no water seeps in.  So they grab shovels, till the soil, and mix in compost to save the tree.  2 hours they work.  Emergency averted. 

Our announcements show me what our neighborhood values: our growth, our community, our fitness, and our environment.  We celebrate each other and press on toward our goals–together.  We also value announcing our lives, living them out alongside one another.  A loose tooth, a new student, a tree in danger–these things must be noted and marked in our annals.  We chronicle lives lived in this little neighborhood.  We hear you.  We love you. 

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The Ridiculous Ritual

Last night, the neighborhood children gather in our basement for Monday Night Fitness Group.  It’s cold, dark, and dreary in the evenings now, so our alternative to biking and double-dutch is Dance Party and Jumping Jack Challenge. 

I don’t want to do this.  I want to change into my pajamas and watch television.  Earlier in the day, one child races out of school and asks, “Is tonight the night?”   Children are calling my cell phone, begging.  My own daughters are already in the basement, ready.  We’ve started some fitness revolution, and I can’t stop now.  Soon, I’m texting families to invite everybody to dance in my basement after dinner.

We’re in a circle dancing to whatever comes out of my iPod.  At one point, the “Hamster Dance” song comes on, and 10 of us crawl around like hamsters.  Then we skip in a circle. 

I’m too old for this. 

A hula hoop rests in the middle of our circle, and each child takes a turn standing in the hula hoop and doing whatever dance move he wants.  The rest of us copy him.  As we rotate around each child, dancing and hollering, I start to feel like I’m in a tribe doing a ritual dance.

I think of Native American dances designed to strengthen tribe members spiritually and emotionally before battle.  Perhaps each of us, in our own way, fights something.  Each child needs us here, circled around him, seeing him, celebrating him, strengthening him for the fight. 

This ridiculous dancing suddenly turns to ritual right in front of my eyes. 

This is my tribe.  I need this.  We enact these rituals that, on the surface, represent fitness.  In a deeper sense, we build our tribe when we gather like this.  Deeper still, we prepare each other emotionally and spiritually for tomorrow’s battle.   

We rally and fall, out of breath, only to rise up in a brave dance. 

It doesn’t take much:  a space to move, people, and a song.  It cost me nothing, and I went to bed more satisfied than I’d felt in months.  I have to remember that living with flair means I build my tribe.  We gather up because we need that strength, that ritual, that dance. 

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