Exceedingly So

I love how my great friend and mentor has recently prayed that God would make her “exceedingly fruitful.” I love her stories of how God has answered that prayer almost immediately. I think about that beautiful word exceedingly. I notice how in Psalm 68:3, we’re told that the people don’t just rejoice in God, but they exceedingly rejoice. I love how in Matthew 19:25, the disciples are not just amazed at Jesus but exceedingly amazed. Or, I see in 2 Corinthians 7:13 how exceedingly comforted Paul is.

When Jesus is present, things aren’t normal and ordinary. They become marvelous and exceedingly so. They exceed expectations. They exceed our capacity to even imagine them.

Exceedingly: It’s a beautiful word that means to a great extent, in an extreme way, beyond what is usual.

So today, I find myself praying, not just for God’s mercy and joy to fill our lives, but for it to arrive in exceedingly beautiful ways. I pray for an exceedingly fruitful ministry, an exceedingly wonderful holiday with family, and an exceedingly bountiful parenting and marriage life.

I pray most of all that I would know Jesus in an exceedingly powerful and intimate way.

And His answer will exceed even my asking.



New Question: What’s Your Good News?

I love starting class by asking each person to say his or her name and answer the question: “What’s one piece of good news?” We sometimes clap and cheer after whatever it is people announce. I love this “Name Game” because it changes the atmosphere in the classroom; it makes us somehow more creative and receptive to new ideas and new styles of writing.

I don’t have any research to back up my claim here, but I will report that positive, grateful atmospheres change my writing instruction and their receptivity. Sometimes it’s difficult to reframe something to find something good, but when we do, it’s a wonderful way to start off a class, a conversation, a dinner, or any kind of meeting.

And it’s especially marvelous to approach teens with this question before they begin the onslaught of everything going wrong. Instead, I’ll ask: “What went right today? What’s one piece of good news?”



His Highest Willingness

This morning I read E. Stanley Jones’ thoughts about prayer. He challenges our ideas that we somehow must overcome God’s reluctance or somehow convince God to move on our behalf. I wonder if we imagine God’s disposition as bored, unwilling, distant, annoyed, or even angry with us.

Stanley insists that instead, we must “lay hold [of] His highest willingness. All His barriers are down. All you have to do is take down your barriers. Prayer lets God’s love in.”

His highest willingness. 

What if we believed this phrase with all our hearts? What if we approached each new morning understanding God’s overwhelming willingness–His eager waiting and His desire–to meet us, respond to us, empower us, bless us, and renew us? He is neither reluctant nor bored with His children.

Stanley tells his readers that a vital prayer life is the most worthwhile thing in all of life. And when we consider God’s highest willingness to meet us in prayer, perhaps it shifts us more to this grand pursuit of Him.


What Can Never Be Food: A Lesson From the Cat

This morning, once again, I find that Merlin has brought his toy mouse and placed it in his food bowl. It’s adorable, but it also, at least this morning, feels desperate and sad.


Why does he do this? Does he wish for it to be food? Does he dream and wonder if it will magically turn into the mouse he once caught on a summer day long ago?

His wanting this fake mouse to turn into the delicious food he enjoys doesn’t make anything happen. It will never be food. It will never satisfy. Still, he drags the mouse from wherever it’s been to the food bowl. It does make me laugh.

But I also think about all the things I drag into my life that I imagine will feed my soul. I think about what brings true peace, true safety, true prosperity. I think about all the things I add to my hopes and dreams and desires; if I just add them into the mix of salvation and connection and Jesus, will they come about and feed my deepest longings?

Of all things I might consider on this day, I remember Isaiah 44:20. I think of the one who “feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself.” But then, God tells us that He redeems! He’s the true food for our souls–the bread of life (John 6:35) we’ve needed all along. God says, “You will not be forgotten by me. I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.”

Meanwhile, I continue to lead Merlin to food that will satisfy: the treats, the canned wet food just on Saturday, the crunchy daily food, and the fresh, cool water. I will keep filling the bowl, and maybe someday soon, he’ll know the toy mouse won’t feed him and cannot ever.




Making the Harder Work Fun

So much of the day involves tasks I don’t necessarily want to do. I’ve learned over the years the great trick of pairing something I love with something I don’t want to do in order to ease the boredom, dislike, or even discomfort of a task.

Pair exercise with walking with a friend.

Pair coffee and snacks I love with grading a stack of papers.

Pair great, new music with hard cleaning chores.

Pair talking on the phone with folding laundry.

It’s a simple reminder today about making harder work more fun.


An Hour Walk

Lately, I’ve been taking hour long walks with time I do not have to spare.

An hour! Who has an hour?

I close the garage door behind me, pushing back inside deadlines and laundry and cooking and grading.

I’ve invited my children along for the walk. I’m amazed what can happen in an hour as we walk around the neighborhood. We notice beautiful things, beautiful people, beautiful animals. We talk about whatever we need to talk about.

I remind my children what a walk can do for the soul.

Of course, back home, our work load hasn’t changed. The circumstances we left remain exactly the same.

But we’ve changed.


7 Newest Easy Meals for Work Days

I share with one of the Italian Mamas some kitchen shortcuts I’ve learned for those days of long hours and low energy. I love learning from other moms and dads and then passing on some tips. I thought I’d share some of our recent favorite new dinners for busy weeks.
1. We now try to have frozen lasagna waiting. Every few Saturdays, we’ll make a few small pans and freeze them, and then we can pull them out to defrost in the fridge all day, pop them in the oven for an hour, and eat a later dinner. I use the Pioneer Woman’s incredibly delicious recipe. It’s her Best Lasagna. Ever. recipe. http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/the_best_lasagn/. Thank you, Ree. 
2. Taco Night. You can brown the meat or turkey on the weekend and freeze it in baggies. Heat the crumbles up in the skillet, and then serve with taco shells, tomatoes, lettuce, guacamole, and refried beans. If you have time to start the rice cooker, that’s always a nice addition, especially if you add in some black beans, garlic, and onion. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for taco night. 
4. Crock pot French Dip served with crusty rolls. My daughters LOVE this recipe from Taste of Home. My friend Jen tipped me off to the joy of French Dip sandwiches. We serve the au jus in little bowls for dipping and we add a slice of provolone cheese to each sandwich. http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/shredded-french-dip
Thank you, Jen.
5. Broiled Salmon (takes 6 minutes) in oven served with green beans or roasted brussels sprouts. I spread a mix of soy sauce, lime, and brown sugar over the salmon and broil it. Thank you, Food Network. 
6. Crock Pot Taco Soup: Dump in crock pot 2 or 3 frozen chicken breasts, bag of frozen corn, can of black beans, can of fire-roasted tomatoes, jar of salsa, cut up onion, some peppers, garlic, salt, pepper. Cook all day on low. When you are ready for dinner, shred chicken meat (it will fall apart) and stir the soup. Serve with sprinkle of cheese, crushed tortilla chips, cilantro, and sour cream (and chopped avocado!!) Thank you, Laura.
7. EASY Indian Curry. Buy a curry simmer sauce from Trader Joe’s or your grocery store. Throw in sliced chicken, beef, or shrimp with a veggie you like (I use cauliflower). Cook 20 minutes. Serve with jasmine rice or the frozen Garlic Naan from Trader Joe’s that takes 3 minutes to heat up in the oven. Thank you, April. 

A Good Morning: Cubs, Country Music, and Catching Autumn Leaves

I called out to a boy as he walked to school who I know loves baseball: “Are you a Cubs fan?”

“Last night I was!” he said, bouncing along.

It was a warm autumn morning, still dark, with air still heavy with night moisture and soft winds. As I drove along, all the leaves began their descent, and later, as I walked to my office, I reached out my hand and caught a dark brown leaf like I would have as a child.

Some students passing by smiled and laughed as if they, too, remembered that catching a falling leaf meant a wish comes true.

And I was thinking about the Country Music Awards last night and how everyone cried when Randy Travis sang out that “Amen!” I thought of everyone singing along to Alabama and Reba and all the old songs of my childhood. I thought of how Nashville welcomed Taylor Swift and the Dixie Chicks and Beyoncé.

It was a good morning to think of celebrating a kind of togetherness as the leaves fell down upon us all.


When You Think It’s Only You

On too many occasions than I would like to admit, I pull out of my driveway and zoom away, only to wonder whether I closed the garage door.

Does this happen to you? It does? Well do you then do this?

I drive back around the block to check. But, in the meantime, I’m singing along to Taylor Swift, and as I drive by my house, I forget to glance at the garage door. I mean I see it, but I don’t see it.

So I circle again. Yes, twice I’ve driven around to check my garage door.

Today, I therefore circle my sweet neighbor on a jog twice. And she kindly waves twice. On the second time, I roll down the window and say, “I promise I’m not crazy. I think I forgot to close the garage door, so I have to drive around the block, but then I don’t pay attention, and I have to drive back around another time.”

(And of course, in all these years, I’ve never forgotten to close the garage door. It’s habitual now, so I don’t realize I’ve done it.)

I’m biting my lip and half-smiling with a face that says, “Please still be my friend even though you know this about me.”

She says, “You have no idea how many times I do that.”

So now, when we see each other in our cars, looping back around the block, we know.