I love the day before the leaf blowers come, before the families with their rakes assemble, and before the autumn wind swirls and winter snow falls.
On this day, the tree drops her leaves, and we see how beautiful they remain, even fallen.
In high places or low places, we still reflect beauty. And sometimes, in that lowest place, we astonish.
I show my students the research regarding the importance of teaching information in order to retain that knowledge. In fact, if you study with the mindset that you’ll teach the data later–to a friend or a parent for example–your brain employs a powerful strategy to remember the facts. It remembers key points. It synthesizes data. It forms a presentation.
Learning to teach, not for testing, works better.
We teach what we most need to learn. We thrive as learners when we anticipate teaching. I believe this research (found in the journal of Memory & Cognition) helps me understand my own joy in reading scripture. I retain it best when I imagine who needs the encouragement I’ve read. I scan the whole day, in fact, for learning with an eye to teach it later in my blog.
Oh, the wonder of teaching in order to learn best!
Today, fluffy white globs fell upon our neighborhood. Snow! We haven’t even raked our yard from falling autumn leaves, and the snow dared to come unannounced. It’s beautiful and astonishing, and I realize how much unexpected things for which I’m not prepared often usher in beauty and the kind of pause I need for worship.
It’s a day for hot chocolate and a few Christmas carols. It’s a day to gaze out the window, turn the heat on, and bundle up with cozy socks, slippers, and blankets.
It’s an unexpected joy.
I love the moment when a student wants to improve an essay after the grade comes in—not for a higher grade or for any other reason than the satisfaction of working on a piece of writing they love.
Twice it happens like this: a student comes in to talk about changing this or that, improving this paragraph, and adding in this thought even though it doesn’t change the grade. And again, a student comes to the office to work on something while explaining all the negative feedback she received.
“Doesn’t the grade shut you down? Does the negative feedback make you insecure and discouraged at all?” I ask.
“No! Why would it? It’s just information about what to do next to make things better.”
I sit with students, amazed at how much more mature they seem than I was at their same age, back when achievement and high grades meant everything. I sit with a writer who lets no grade disorient or destabilize her (either good or bad). It’s because she loves what she wrote and want to make it even better. The grade just indicates, for these writers, places of possible improvement, more creativity, and new directions.
The grade shuts nothing down; it opens everything up.
Today I had a great conversation with a younger writer who wants to finish a manuscript while also maintaining a full-time job and raising a family with young children. We laugh about writing in the nooks and crannies of the day like while the pasta cooks on the stove. I think about writing in between laundry loads, while the coffee brews, while the dishes dry, while waiting in line at the grocery store and typing thoughts into the notes of my phone, while sitting in dentist office waiting rooms, airports, before classes begin, in the car pool line, and even while lying in the bed in the morning.
It’s true that sometimes the writing happens in the middle of everything else.
I receive an alert that thunderstorms will most likely delay my trip home tomorrow. I apply the family motto that “every delay is God’s way” so I can begin to turn my dread to joy. Who wants another hotel, another long wait at the airport, and the fuss? Will I cancel class on Monday? What about my family? What am I supposed to do?
Every delay is God’s way!
But pray the weather turns! As I research why a thunderstorm so disrupts planes, I realize the vital way planes endure: they cannot fly through the storm; they must fly above it.
I think higher. I lift my eyes higher. God holds our times and our delays in His hands, and nothing falls outside His loving control.
I’m traveling and speaking again this weekend, and this morning, I learned to ask this question: What truly brings me joy? How can I do that thing here?
As I walk with God today, I realize how much bringing others joy brings me joy. I think about all the things I could do in this one day, and that singular activity provides so much joy in the Lord.
The second thing I learn this morning is how natural joy is for children. They wake up and automatically seem to know the thing that makes their hearts sing. On a day off, for example, I watch my older girls naturally and without apology move into joy: they knit; they practice their new obsession called “tiny baking” (imagine miniature cakes fit for dolls); they watch Hallmark movies; they laugh and dream already about Christmas; they listen to music they love. I know these things because they text me pictures of tiny baking and alert me about all I’m missing on the Hallmark channel.
I think adults often forget to ask the question, What truly brings me joy today in this place God put me, in this personality He gave me?
It’s so true what God says in Psalm 32:8:
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
How do I know? Because after all this time, I’ve truly learned how to do the things God has called me to do. But at first, I had so much to learn. I’m so thankful I didn’t give up or give way to fear or embarrassment because I was new to the task.
I had to say, “Teach me, Lord. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I know you led me here.”
He teaches. Everywhere I go, He teaches.
For example, as I’m nearly finished with my speaking events for 2017 (just four left!), I’ve learned some things:
I’ve learned to enjoy airports, rental cars, and toll roads. I’ve learned how to sleep in hotels. I’ve learned how to speak to audiences large and small. I’ve learned how to be myself. I’ve learned to fight dread. I’ve learned how to pack a small, organized suitcase. I’ve learned how to speak on the radio. I’ve learned to how listen to people, really listen to them. I’ve learned how to use God’s word in the moment. I’ve learned how to trust the people running my presentations or advancing my slides when I speak. I’ve learned how to dress for public events. I’ve learned even how to wear makeup well. I’ve learned not to be afraid but to look for signs that God is treating me as His treasured possession. I’ve learned how to make meals in advance for my family, how to prepare everyone when Mom leaves, how to check in to make sure everyone is still OK with this writing and speaking thing, and how to celebrate the return home well. I’ve learned to gather stories wherever I go. I’ve learned to rejoice and surrender, even when I want to run away. I’ve learned to make new friends and belong to new people much different from me. I’ve learned to desperately depend on God’s word and the presence of Jesus.
And I’m still learning. I’m still learning that, wherever I go, He is a good, good Teacher.
I’ve been talking to my older daughter about how to worship God in any situation. We talk about marveling over something that brings you to a place of awe over God’s design. We talk about actively looking for God’s provision at all times because it’s His nature to provide; He’s forever providing and sustaining. We finally talk about having an eternal perspective by looking around to see who He has brought to us. How can we act as an agent of blessing or proclamation right there?
It’s a powerful way to train the mind Godward, and it helps us think about everything differently. A physical therapy appointment (once seen as drudgery, disappointment, inconvenient, costly, and uncomfortable) now becomes fertile ground. We talk about the wonder of the human muscle system and the muscle coordination to even walk at all. What a marvelous design! Who did this? We talk about God’s provision of a most exceptional doctor. We talk about how to bless the people around her and talk about the hope she has in Christ.
It’s a different moment. It’s a different way of seeing. It’s changes us both.
Today I rejoice in the view from the kitchen window as the stormy sky shines a bit of light on the transformed leaves. I’m arranging ingredients for dinner. I’m always here, at the back of the house, looking out.
I love the filtered light; it creates some kind of nostalgia, longing, joy—something.
I realize I see this view from my position of background service. It’s always in a quiet moment of reflection while setting out the dinner plates, sweeping the floor, scrubbing dishes, or arranging after school snack. It’s always in that moment when I’m gathering up the scraps of some craft or wiping off the spilled ingredients of another baking project. I glance up to the light and to those trees.
I’ve been glancing through the back window for all these years.
I think about service, about the low, hidden, secret places. I think about this ministry of housekeeping and the back views.
I thought of all the backyard views and our changing lives. I thought of how, today for Halloween, my daughters didn’t dress up for school. They’ll be no parade, no boo platter, and no events. They’re older, like I am. However, like me, they’ll all gather on the porch and greet the young trick-or-treaters. They’ll dole out candy and make the holiday happen for others.
It’s another kind of back view for me–of love and serving others, and we’ll laugh with joy over all we’ll see from that vantage point.