Besides the enormous hustle and bustle around Penn State due to our White Out game and the presence of College Game Day broadcasting on ESPN from the lawn of Old Main, life feels quiet on my street. I just delivered three ripe garden tomatoes to the neighbors. I took a walk with a friend. I harvested raspberries. I drank coffee and thought about life. I might run another load of laundry.
Of course, alongside this simple day, there’s massive excitement—like a tingle in the air— as we count down to the big game tonight, and even a few streets over, the lines at the grocery store stretch far as people grab their tailgate food of deli sandwiches, wings and lobster rolls, hot pretzels and buffalo chicken dip.
A mile or so down from the grocery store, campus overflows with fans from both Penn State and Auburn. The little country airport hasn’t seen such traffic in years. Every hotel room is packed, and homes in my neighborhood offer beds for out of town guests for a high price.
So it’s a big day! As they say, let’s hope the Lions beat the Tigers tonight! In just a few hours, I’ll hear the fans and the music from the stadium if I stand in my front yard and listen.
When you live in a college town like Penn State, it’s hard not to fall in love with football and tailgating. I join in from afar. I like watching the game from my cozy living room, wrapped in a blanket with a cat curled up on my lap, but we still set up a tailgate area in the kitchen with spinach-artichoke dip, fried chicken, mac-n-cheese, chips, fruit, and desserts. It’s the culture I’ve adopted, right down to my Penn State fan gear.
Simplicity alongside enormity.
I recall the first Bible verse I ever memorized and meditated on as true and entirely applicable to my situation. In Deuteronomy 31:6, Moses encourages Joshua as a new leader who will enter unknown territory.
His words? “Be strong and of good courage, for the Lord your God goes with you. He will not fail or forsake you.”
Be strong! Be courageous! And why? Because we aren’t alone. God never fails or turns away from us.
Imagine the places we might go, the people we might engage, and the new things we might try if only we had the strength and courage. Today I remember these words to Joshua, and I press on with courage.
Sometimes I challenge my students and the writers I coach to craft a paragraph using all active, vivid verbs and the five punctuation marks that best contribute to a written voice: colons, semicolons, parentheses, dashes, and commas. I also coax writers to vary their sentence length. Try the five-word sentence! Then try the longest sentence you’ve ever written—using dashes and maybe a colon to introduce a list–that will modulate the rhythm of the paragraph. Finally, emphasize a key word with italics. See what happens. Maybe you’ve never tried all this (and maybe you don’t know how). It’s OK. Try. Students like the challenge; they turn in this assessment to showcase a beautiful paragraph, full of voice and style, full of music.
Sometimes a student will miss a class or two. But if a student misses several classes without contacting me, I go into this investigative mode. I email. I ask other students. I check his or her social media accounts. I contact the advisor. I go where I think they have a part-time job. Where are you? Are you OK? We’ve missed you in class. What is happening?
Over the years, I’ve discovered students in distress, students with mental health issues, or students who fall through the cracks for whatever reason. It’s important to find missing students. It’s vital to check up on them. You just never know when you might save a life.
It reminds me of the lengths God will go to seek and save us. He goes after us when we go missing. He’ll do whatever it takes to bring us back.
Today I joined a group for new professors at Penn State who talk about teaching. I first thought I didn’t need a group like this. Did I even want a group like this? I’ve been teaching for 25 years! What else could I learn?
Oh my! I learned so much in the first five minutes of the zoom call. The host used new technology to ask us how we felt about our teaching. We immediately learned three new programs to gather feedback in a classroom–whether apps on their phone, word clouds, or google forms.
I also appreciated how the host built community based on things we might know about–like grocery shopping. The lead question involved introducing ourselves and sharing our favorite item to buy at Trader Joes. Ha! Apparently, people love the Cold Brew Ice Cream and the Almond Bread (two things I have not tried).
I remember living with flair means to keep learning.
My dreaded season of grading has begun. It’s the least favorite part of my job, but in order to offer students timely and relevant feedback, I offer grades with commentary soon after an assignment’s due date.
This means I’m nearly always grading something.
So today, I set reasonable goals. I might say, “OK, let’s grade three portfolios in the next hour.” Of course, I might grade five or six or even ten. But I love setting reasonable and attainable goals. It feels good to achieve them. When I do, I’m motivated for the next hour of grading where I might challenge myself more.
But I start small with reasonable goals. One needs the joy of accomplishment. For you? Is it cleaning just one space? Answering a few emails? Writing one paragraph? Make it reasonable. You’ll do it. Then, the joy comes.
My husband recently weeded around all the raspberry canes and then tied up the long stalks so I could better pick all the raspberries. Before this, the massive tangle of raspberries made it difficult; I practically crawled into a thicket to gather raspberries and endured pokes and scapes along the way. Weeds suffocated my legs.
But now, I just pluck and pluck and pluck all the beautiful fruit. No weeds. No tangled up canes or branches on the ground.
As I filled my big bowl with berries, I thought about the life of teaching, speaking, and writing. You want to make things easy for people to grasp. You want to make the fruit of God’s word easy to understand when you present it. You want to streamline a message, remove any unnecessary information, and do what you can to put the knowledge in reach. You want to think about barriers to entry. What’s holding people back from entering in and enjoying a lesson, message, or chapter?
Before my husband repaired my raspberry patch, I didn’t even want to harvest. It felt overwhelming and exhausting to even approach the task. Now, I’m eager to do it. It’s a fast and manageable process–all due to the presentation of the garden.
Put things in reach. Streamline. Make a way for simplicity, organization, and efficiency in teaching, speaking, and writing.
At a recent speaking event for my Seated, Surrendered, and Sent retreat, a woman approached me and said, “You need to meet me.”
“I do?” I said. “Why?” Other women around me parted to make space for this person.
Was she famous? Was she in publishing? Was she a publicist or journalist? Was she going to invite me to some big speaking event? Who is this woman with this audacity?
Her eyes sparkled. Then I looked again at her face. She seemed to be missing an eye and had a patch covering part of her face. She stood in a t-shirt and jeans. She was jolly and full of this joyous energy. But still, I couldn’t believe her bold statement. Never in my life has someone approached me with such confidence matched with a strange humility. Something otherworldly was happening.
“Why do I need to meet you?” I asked again and chuckled. Meanwhile, two other women nodded their head.
You do need to meet her.
She spoke carefully: “Well, the power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in me. I’m filled with the righteousness of Christ, and He’s flowing through me. You need to meet me because it will bless you.” She laughed and let that one eye sparkle. For a minute, I wondered if she was an angel. “I mean think about it. It’s true.”
Think about it. It’s true.
I looked at her as she stood there. She didn’t need to impress anyone. She’s never had an insecure moment. She enters a room with the confidence that her presence brings Jesus into a space.
So you need to meet her. Because she’s got Jesus for you.
Sometimes I find that when a person experiences a hardship or bad news, his or her theology begins to unravel.
Suddenly, God feels against them instead of for them (Romans 8:31). They begin to bargain with God or try to do better somehow to earn His favor, rather than living under the reality of Christ’s applied righteousness to us (Romans 3). Finally, they live in condemnation rather than the truth that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
Don’t unravel. Stay put in God’s hands. Put the whole tangled mess of you right in His care. He is making things right. You are, like Hannah Whitall Smith says, “under the ruling power of His goodness.”
Today my friend reminded me to encourage my husband and children by telling them what I see. I love the idea of texting or verbally telling people in my life what I see them doing that I want to congratulate, compliment, and honor. So many times we get stuck in attitudes of criticism, disappointment, advice-giving, or attempts to improve other people. Instead, we can affirm them.
I see how you handled that . . .
I see you and all the ways you served . . .
I see how you gave your best there . . .
I see how you made a great choice. . .
I see how you were kind then. . .
I see how you were the mature one. . .
I see how you offered help there. . .
I see how you were gentle and patient there. . .
I see how you helped. . .
I see how you were loving. . .
If you haven’t told your spouse or children what you see today, try to tell them three things you see about them.
And then do it again tomorrow.