A Message from a Pandora Sphinx Moth

I arrive into my driveway, and an enormous Pandora Sphinx Moth greets me.  The moth–as big as my own hand–sits with authority as if sent to deliver a message.   We think, at first, a leaf attached itself to our door.  But then we see clearly.

Watch carefully.  Things are not what they seem

Pandora Sphinx Moth © Live with Flair

When you have a Pandora Sphinx Moth welcoming you home, you feel as if you’re in another land with enchanted creatures.  Anything can happen here.  Look again, and you’ll see wonderful things

I lean in and observe the velvety wing.  What a strange and curious world this is!  Even when I’m inside my house (folding laundry, cleaning dishes), I know the moth guards my door.  Just remembering that such a beautiful and mysterious insect exists somehow brings delight and wonder to the whole morning.  Living with flair means taking some time to observe the strangely beautiful. 

Pandora Sphinx Moth Wing © Live with Flair

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Journal:  What strangely beautiful thing did you see today?

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An Unexpected Photography Lesson

I’m hiking in snow in the middle of June.

It’s actually not even that cold (as you can see from our shorts).

The landscape presents an unexpected photography challenge for me.  Normally, I focus on the very small when I take photos.  But not today.  The view nearly overwhelms me, and I have no choice but to change the settings on my camera and try to capture it all in my lens.

I snap the photos, but it doesn’t feel as satisfying for some reason.  It is beautiful and majestic, but something is missing.  Then I notice this:  While all the adults gaze at the mountains, the children turn their attention to the chipmunks on the trail.  Every child screams in delight at these little creatures running around our feet. 

Why do children find the small thing to delight in?  I follow their lead and search the ground for beauty.  I discover mountain wildflowers growing in places where the snow had melted.  The flower, held up against the majesty of the mountains, contains equal beauty–equal awe–for me. 

I remember not to limit awe to those things large in scope and grand in appearance.  I will have to come down from this mountaintop and live in the valley.  But I will not leave my wonder and awe up there.

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Journal:  What small thing created awe in me today?

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Moving Ahead Despite Danger and Uncertainty

I wait for the Northern Cardinals to leave.   I lean in, snap the photograph, and then get out of there before I’m pecked to death or beaten with a mother bird’s wings.

Northern Cardinals Growing in the Nest

I don’t even check the photos until I’m safe inside.

Sleeping Northern Cardinals

It’s the same caution I take when I photograph a snake or a snapping turtle.  The best photographs involve an element of danger.

Living with flair sometimes includes danger.  We take risks; we move out of comfort zones; we endure the possibility of harm.  Why?  Because there’s beauty and joy right on the other side.  I wonder, too, if moving deeper into a life of faith requires confronting danger–seen and unseen–because that’s the only way to have a clear picture of the power and victory of knowing God.  That’s the only way to grow faith.

If I only move ahead in my life into safe and obvious directions, maybe I need to think more about choosing avenues that call for the kind of faith that I want to have.

So I face the danger, and I move out in faith.  There’s a beautiful picture waiting. 

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Journal:  Do I need to move ahead despite danger and uncertainty?

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A Real Message in a Bottle

Yesterday, a message in a bottle arrived in my mailbox (complete with postage, sand and shells from the beach, and a scroll).  Apparently, you can send anything in the mail.  

I have the world’s greatest sister.  Every year, her family sends us a “message in a bottle” (in a recycled plastic bottle!) from their beach vacation spot.  Her boys fill the bottle with tiny shells, warm sand, and a handwritten note from the sea.  When my girls pull it from the mailbox, you would think they’d just struck gold. 

This morning, my daughters fought over toys, begged to play a computer game, and cried at least twice each over some wrong done to them.  In desperation, I ushered everybody into the kitchen and dumped the message in a bottle out onto the counter.  I didn’t speak.  They didn’t speak.  They slowly picked up the tiny shells, began to inspect each one, and suddenly, peace like the ocean at dawn settled over the home.

Then, the questions come:  

“How do they get this way, all different and perfect?”
“Where has this shell been?”
“What lived inside of it?”
“What causes the different sizes and colors?”
“Why didn’t it break when the waves crashed?” 

I suppose I learned (again) that toys and computer games that don’t allow for this kind of questioning, this kind of wonder, aren’t helping my children much.  It’s the same story I’ve read all summer:  I have to get us all to places and objects that generate mystery, beauty, and awe.  That’s the way to live with flair for our whole lives.  No greed, no conflict, no suffering in the presence of something small and beautiful that we can observe with wonder.

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A Little Garden Magic

Early this morning my daughter picks a cucumber from our garden.  It is shaped exactly like a “C.”   The wonder of this!  A vegetable shaped like its first letter!  She holds it up and shows me, eyes wide.  Would our eggplant come out like an “E” or the pepper in a big, plump “P”?  It is fun to think of it until we realize that it’s entirely normal for cucumbers to turn into long “C” shapes.  The youngest knows this already, and my gardener husband confirms the truth.

There was no magic in the garden.

No zucchini coming in “Z” shapes or squash in long yellow “S’s.”  No enchanted alphabet vegetables. 

The disillusionment lasts only a millisecond.  My daughter, still in pajamas, decides to pick the basil for pesto.  Then she turns around and whispers:  “I’m picking some parsley for us too.  It’s the secret ingredient.”

Her eyes sparkle to think of the secret ingredient from the garden.

The wonder returns.  Tonight we are having enchanted pasta with pesto. 

Living with flair is finding a secret ingredient when you’ve reasoned the wonder away.

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The Throw Back

There you are, eating a burrito or picking at a hangnail, and all of a sudden, it happens: You have a thought.

I wonder about this. I read recently, in a Richard Selzer account, that “a surgeon knows the landscape of the brain but does not know how a thought is made.” Does anyone? Does anyone know how a thought begins? It’s a mystery to scientists.

Today, as I was drinking coffee and watching sunlight filter through the potted tulips, I had a thought. I wondered what great thing I might do in my life. It was a nanosecond of a thought.

I closed my eyes and thought about the great people I know. I concluded that every great person I know has sacrificed deeply. They live for a mission that’s bigger than their own comfort. As I sat there (very comfortably) on my couch with my just-right coffee, I wondered if I could rise to the challenge of mission. What would it take? And why do people do this? Why some and not others?

I sat there, reflecting on a life’s purpose. What does it mean to reflect? Is it useful? Reflection means to pause in the day and contemplate what I’m doing and what it means. A reflection literally is a light or sound wave being thrown back from a surface. I want to let things I observe and experience be “thrown back” in my face; I want to consider them deeply and fit them into the narrative of my life.

If a reflection is a “throwing back” of light, I wonder what I throw back to people when they observe me. What do I reflect, what do I teach?

My moment of reflection stirred something up in me. But I almost lost that thought in the rush of life. I could have ignored it altogether. (I mean, even at this very moment I’m thinking about 20 other things including but not limited to: how to manage the ladybug infestation in my house, how many calories are in a serving of ham, or why all the kids like that Iyaz “Replay” song). That greatness thought, like some shooting star across a dim sky, was barely there, embedded in the mush of neurons. I just had to figure out a way to hold it in place, let it do its work, and honor it today.

I want to be more reflective. I want to teach my children to develop curious, reflective minds. I want to be able to ask them, each day, what they wondered about. (I’m not sure how to guarantee this. I briefly considered sending the children to their room to meta-cognate before lunch.)

Living with flair means I let my experiences “throw back” something to me.

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