A Real Conversation

More and more students come to my office hours because I’ve baited them with promises of chocolates and tasty beverages. And so we sit and have conversations.

A student tells me about her favorite poet–one she insists I will love. It’s David Whyte, so I quickly type in the name, gather his books from the library, and cannot wait to begin reading. Next week, we’ll all talk about poetry and have real conversations.

Meanwhile, I read this from Whyte about conversations:

“A real conversation always contains an invitation. You are inviting another person to reveal herself or himself to you, to tell you who they are and what they want.”

Teaching, I’m learning more and more, is an invitation–just like a real conversation–to reveal ourselves and invite one another to speak about who we are and what we want.

I will buy more chocolate and beverages for next week. We will need them.


Morning Pep Talk: The Possibilities!

The Morning Pep Talk contains a word to remember all day: possibility. We’re walking to school, and I tell my daughter to imagine the possibility of today. She’s listing out all the worries and troubles, and I say this:

But imagine all that might happen! Imagine the possibility of today! You might possibly meet your best friend–the one you’ll share an apartment with in your twenties and call when you have good news when you’re old. You might possibly have the best idea you have ever had in your life today, and it might happen in Science class or during Geography. Consider the possibilities of some great thing that’s been designated by God for today. This day! Girl! On this day, you can live in possibilities. Look ahead to what might be! This day could change everything. Think, just think, of the possibilities. God says we cannot even imagine–even if we tried our hardest–to know the things He has planned for us. This day is here! Go out there and live in possibility. People look back on their lives and note single moments where everything changed. Go and find single moments today of bright and glorious possibility! 

The atmosphere around us changes. The colors look deeper; I note the blackness of the trees and the soft blue sky meeting the rising golden sun. The icy snow squishes under our shoes. Our steps take on a deliberate rhythm. We look ahead into possibility, and the whole day starts shimmering. We train our mind in hope. We train our mind to see possibility.




Moments to Smile

At 8:45 AM this morning, I drove by a family building an enormous snowman in their front yard. A butter yellow dog lounged beside them, half buried in a snow drift. Three (or were there four?) children danced around in the snow as the father hefted a round snow belly up to continue building the snowman.

The whole scene brought a smile to my face, mostly because I looked at the time. I remembered those days when it wasn’t unusual to feel like a whole day had passed and the time read merely 8:45 AM. I imagined how long the children had been awake already and how snowman building was just part of this long snowy morning. I smiled, too, about that happy dog. Dogs in the snow make me so happy, every single time. They roll around in it. They eat it. They bury themselves in it. They take a nap in it.

I drove on, smiling about dogs and early-rising children and snowmen and dads who lift up middles made of snow. I thought about them now going in to drink hot cocoa, then off again to sled. But mostly, I loved that butter yellow dog.


The Sick Tray

I cancel all meetings. I arrange a nest of warm blankets and pillows on the couch. 

I bring out the Sick Tray–the red handled serving tray painted with strawberries. 

My youngest is sick with fever, cough, chills, headache–it’s kept her from school and therefore kept me from work. 

The Sick Tray arrives to her side with hot tea, fresh fruit, toast, and medicine in the morning. It returns to the kitchen all day and then appears with popsicles and gingerale mid-morning and with ice water and more tea by lunch. I watch movies with her, diffuse essential oils, and fold laundry. I answer emails and finish coursework as I now reassemble the Sick Tray with the thermometer and more medicine. 

But it’s just as I hoped and what the Sick Tray encourages: the fever is long gone. Now we enjoy the afternoon in sweet recovery. 

And the sick tray goes home to its drawer for another day. 


Better to Take Refuge in the Lord

I love the hope of Psalm 118:5-8: 

“In my anguish, I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free. The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? . . . It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.”

Yesterday, I read this from Psalm 108:12: “Give us aid against the enemy, for the help of man is worthless.”

When I consider God’s power and what it means to take refuge in Him, I know I trust in this Name and ultimately no other. 


“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” – Anne Frank, March 26th 1944

All morning, I consider this beautiful idea that nobody must wait to start helping and improving the world. I think of my home, my little street, my wider neighborhood, and then further and further out. I ask God to help me help. What might I improve here by my prayers, attitude, acts of service, and friendship?

I run the list down in my mind afresh:

Who needs help? What kind of help? How can I help? 

Every fresh day, I think of not waiting, but improving and helping.

I’m off to help!


Bursting Out in Song

On the way home from the Walk-to-School, and after the Morning Pep Talk (in which I quoted JimDaddy Miller’s famous line, “You have everything to look forward to and nothing to dread), I began to sing. 

I hope nobody heard me, but I did seem to attract an unusual number of dogs. I sang the old Twila Paris chorus, “He is Exalted.”

He is exalted the King is exalted on High

I will praise You

He is exalted forever exalted

And I will praise His name

He is the Lord

Forever His truth shall reign

Heaven and Earth

Rejoice in His holy name

He is exalted the King is exalted on high! 

I think about this exalted King whose truth reigns forever. Here I am with dogs jumping all over me on this crisp Pennsylvania winter day–when some of my friends protest this day in history and others brim with hope–and yet, I’m attached to this beautiful, eternal moment. 


“Because It Will All Be OK”

Today, I ask the students to tell me their names and to answer this question: What were you known for in high school?

A student offered a response I’d never heard. It ranks as my most intriguing response next to the student who said in 2010, “I was known for mediocrity.”

A new student says, “I was known for not experiencing stress. I was the only student in the class who ranked the lowest the teacher ever saw in stress levels. I’m just not a stressed out person. I just don’t experience stress. I stay peaceful and relaxed.”

Students sit in silence, flabbergasted. These are Penn State students who often come to my office crying from stress and in care of doctors because of stress. So I say, “Tell me more. What’s the secret? What enables this?” So far, I would describe this student as the most engaged, most prepared, and most alert. It’s not as if he’d checked out or resigned himself to laziness.

He says, simply: “It’s because it will all be OK. Whatever happens, I will work through it. So I stay calm and peaceful. I don’t get stressed about the work. I just do it and know that it will all be OK.”

I thought about that attitude of taking what comes and working through it. Not fearing it, not anticipating the stress of it, but just working through it. I think about all my resources that enable me to work through whatever comes. And I consider how, perhaps, being stressed-out is really about fear of outcomes more than anything else.

I’m going to ask him more as the semester continues.


Treasuring Them

Today I learned how badly I’m doing in expressing love to my family. I’ve been so busy! I’ve been so task oriented. I’ve been so focused on myself. 

When the girls were little, I loved writing little notes to them, leaving chocolates on their pillows, and designing special mystery outings. They were my little treasures.

I thought about those first years of marriage when I would design appetizers to bless Ash. I also wrote love notes and thought about ways I could encourage him all day long. He was my treasure.

And now, almost 17 years in, I forget to show how I treasure them. Instead, family members feel like interruptions to my otherwise busy and so-important day. So I go back to treasuring them and think about new ways to show how important they are to me. I think about something special for dinner, a specific, unique encouragement note for each one, and an invitation to some kind of special event (like we did all those years ago). I tell my friend that today feels like a course correction back towards loving my family.


3 Bible Verses to Shape the Day

I love Psalm 82—86. This morning, I note Psalm 82:3-4

Defend the weak and the fatherless;
    uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
    deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

As I look out upon the day, I think of who among us lives weak and fatherless, poor and oppressed. At some point in our lives, we transition from living as hurt and weak and powerless ourselves to then helping those in need. And we do so because we need nothing in return. We are so full of God’s love and healing that we move out into the day as agents of blessing and help.

Next, I read Psalm 84:10 and the beautiful words of the psalmist:

Better is one day in your courts
    than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

So many of us wish we were “elsewhere,” but truly, even standing near the threshold of God far exceeds the joy and peace and even the fun of “elsewhere.”

Lastly, I note Psalm 86:5, a verse I underlined so many times in my younger days that I read with new, older eyes today:

You, Lord, are forgiving and good,
    abounding in love to all who call to you

As this day will unfold, I think of blessing and helping others, staying near to God because nothing elsewhere is better, and rejoicing in the forgiveness, goodness, and abounding love of God.