Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Best Gift You Can Give!

This morning, I looked down at the counter, which is always a mess!  (I try to keep it cleaned off, but my attempts just don't seem to meet with much success).  There amongst some papers was a notecard.   It was addressed to me so I looked at the return address.  It wasn't an address I recognized.  I curiously opened the envelope and discovered a thank you card.  It was filled with sweet, encouraging words from a woman on staff at my son's school.  A few weeks ago we got to chatting as I was heading out from my monthly recess duty.  She is a delightful woman.  Her words spoke of the encouragement I brought to her, but it was her words that brought something wonderful to my heart this morning.

I have sent several cards out to friends and family on my heart this past month.  You know what I've realized this morning? I need to do it more!

I know you can like a friend's social media posts, you can text a nice meme or comment on their sweet instagram picture, but even with all the ways to connect - there is still something about a handwritten letter in the mail!  

We live in a time saving world with insta-everything.  We get more done and yet time is a wonderful gift.  When we sit down to write a letter, we have to stop and think about what we say.  Sure, we can use white out if we make a mistake, but its harder to do then to delete and re-write on the keyboard.  Its that time and effort that

1. still our hearts to think about someone
2. communicates care.

Don't we need more care?  Look at our world.  Take out all the opinions we fling around like a verbal food fight and look at just the "out of our control" experiences.  This week alone, we see:

* fires raging in Gatlinburg,
* a plane crash with a promising Brazilian soccer team all casualties,
* a car/knife attack on the Ohio State campus

those are just the highlights and its only Wednesday!

We need more encouragement.  We need to know, we are loved, we are in community and its gonna be okay.  We can't look to get those things from our government or even our religious leaders, we need to be a part of the solution and through some encouragement around.

People are going nuts on shopping deals right now, trying to get the latest for their kids or best deals for Christmas gifts so Christmas morning can be magical, and yet sometimes the best gift we can give someone is recognition that they matter.

Challenge:  Write a hand-written note each day during the month of December?  Can you think of thirty-one people who you could encourage or communicate your heart with?  

All you need: Paper, envelopes, pen, addresses and stamps.


Don't know how to write a note?

It doesn't have to be long, just start:

Dear ____________________,

I was thinking of you.  I wanted you to know FILL IN WITH YOUR FEELINGS OR WHAT YOU APPRECIATE.  I am always encouraged by your FILL IN WHAT MAKES THEM SPECIAL.  

Then wish them a Merry Christmas.  You may even let them know you are there if the holidays are hard for them because of a lost loved one.


Your name here


Make it your own, but just start.  It will get easier as the month goes, but take time to send something that isn't fast.  Write out your heart, your thoughts, your thanks or whatever comes to mind.

Let me know if you are gonna do this with me.  I'd love to have a team to help spread the love.

What are you waiting for?  Get writing, December starts tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

5 Tips to Regain Control of Your Life

Life can get going at a rapid pace and we can sometimes feel overwhelmed with the constant demands that nip at our heels each day.  It happens to me more often than I'd like to admit, just read Monday's blog post.  What are we to do to gain control again?  Truthfully, I can't speak to you specifically unless you reach out and give me details on your life, but there are some simple steps that can help you regain control. 

1. Unplug

Think for a minute about all the messages and mediums vying for our attention.  We have text messages, email, television, YouTube, social media private messaging, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Linked In, Instagram, Tumbler, Pinterest etc.  So many ways to get information and that didn't even include the newsfeed built-in to your phone home page or computer web-browser.  Its no wonder we feel stressed out and tired, we are getting too many messages.  If you begin to feel like you are on this treadmill that keeps getting the speed increased, its time to get off the media train and take some time to shut down the many methods of input.  Maybe you can't go without it all for your job, but if you are being honest, you could easily find hours reaching or even exceeding the double digits of unnecessary media time.  That movie or latest episode of your favorite show can wait.  You can take the social media apps off your phone or turn off certain notifications so you aren't clicking to see each like or comment. 

2. Be Silent, Be Still

If you are as old or older than me, you may remember a movie in 1999 called, "She's All That."  There is a scene where during a piece of live art, the actors chants, "Be Silent, be still," repeatedly.  It brings home the point that we need to bring all the noise to a stop.  If the mess of noises listed above weren't bad enough, we have a few more bouncing around our brain.  They can be summed up with one word - expectations.  We allow the voices of others in our lives and even our own self-talk, to bring craziness to our thoughts with an endless supply of limitations and criticisms.  It's time to shut it out and just silently be still.  That may be meditation for you or it may look more like what Craig Groeschel describes in his 5 minutes of quiet each day.  Just take time, even if its 5 minutes to sit quietly.  It may seem awkward at first, but you will grow to appreciate what it offers you. 

3. Put on your Mask

I don't know who you are or what you do, but I bet involves taking care of others.  That my friends is an amazing part of life, but sometimes we give and give without any balance of caring for ourselves.  Its become cliché, but truly the airlines know what they are speaking to when they tell you to put on your oxygen mask before assisting smaller travelers.  If you put the mask on our child first, you could pass out in the process due to your bodies need for oxygen.  You need to sleep, eat, exercise at minimum.  If you are like me you also need relational time to fill that love tank.  My mom suffers from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and needs to go to certain yoga and water aerobics classes each day to manage the pain levels.  It is a need.  If she ignores it she becomes debilitated by pain.  If I ignore my need for relationships I can become debilitating depressed.  I don't know what that looks like for you but its time to figure it out and schedule it so that you have what it takes to do your life. 

4.  Choose Gratitude

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and honestly its a holiday we have all but forgotten.  Its just become a day off work to stuff our faces (and now start Christmas shopping) instead of a season of gratitude.  Gratitude prepares our hearts and minds to center our souls between reality and desires.  Gratitude allows us the ability to recognize what we have.   Let's face it, if you spent $2.50 today, you are doing better than 50% of the population (I know I've quoted this before) but isn't it something to celebrate?!  Each situation has a positive and negative spin and its your choice to pick a path.  Gratitude quiets the unsettlings inside ourselves. It keeps us rooted in the here and now and keeps us from either living in the past or too focused on what's next.  What are you grateful for in this one moment?  I once sat in the woods for 5 hours and during time made a list of everything I could think of that I was grateful for from birth until that very moment.  It was a humbling and truly rewarding experience.  Its time I do it again.  Focus on what is beautiful in your life.  Sometimes it does take some digging but it can be that one thing in the midst of the storm we face that can bring us comfort.

5. Re-evaluate

Greg McKeown's book "Essentialism: The Discipled Pursuit of Less" or Marie Kondo's books on tidying up both bring to our attention the need for re-evaluation of what we are aiming at in life.  When we hold onto things and develop a hoarding mentality or we overwork ourselves in an effort to do it all, we are creating dysfunctional habits and aren't aiming at anything.  The result isn't satisfaction and success, but instead stress and anxiety within an unsettling reality.  We must pause long enough to look at see what we want from life and if our current daily actions support or fight against our goals.  If this is an area of struggle for you, I suggest you check out one of the resources I listed at the beginning of this paragraph.  Get some tools to working smarter, not harder.

Monday, November 21, 2016

My Momtastrophy Of A Morning

This morning I lost it.
  I mean ugly tears cascading down my face for issues of little consequence, yet in those moments my world was over.  Okay, so my world wasn’t over, but my reaction to issue ratio would warrant that sentence.   It was just a normal day that I turned into my very own momtastrophy.  Thanksgiving is this week and my son’s school is in session for the first two days of the week.  Today, Monday, was a special class treat.  They would have a Thanksgiving Feast and it was going to be epic.  Today they would dress like pilgrims to use their pilgrim hat and tomorrow is Indian day.  Kids were asked if possible to wear black pants and a black or white top.  Simple.  

I turned simple into stressful.  The outfit I had picked, turned out to have a ton of flaws.  The shirt needed to be ironed (I don’t iron, unless absolutely necessary), his jacket had a rip in the sleeve, both shirt and jacket were looking too small and his pants were flooding him as they were too big.  I looked through his closet finding patterns and grays, but no other clothes that fit exact specifications.  Meanwhile, Katie is trying to wrangle LeighAshley who is running all over the house refusing to cooperate with any request given to her.  We were running out of time and were trying to get out to make it to the bus stop in time.  

I tried to steam the shirt with no luck, then quickly stitched the whole in the jacket, but managed to sew the lining in such a way that made it hard to put on so I had to pull out the stitches and go again.  The clock was ticking.  I glanced at the clock and the bus stop option was out.  We now had to race to get to school on time.  I managed to get dressed enough to get out of the house but was trying to get all the school necessities together and do Caleb’s hair.  There was yelling from the other room as Katie was exasperated by LeighAshley and at times my voice joined the “let’s just get out of here” choir.  It was spiraling out of control fast.  I had lost it.  We got in the car and as we drove down the road I heard my little girl ask, “Mommy, ok?” She was responding to my tears.  “Yes, Mommy is ok.”  I told my boy he looked handsome and gave him kisses telling him I’d be there for the fun in a few hours.  As he jumped from the car, I just began to cry even more.  LeighAshley and I repeated our early dialogue many times between the school and home.  I was a wreck and honestly I didn’t know why. 

Fast-forward two hours and I rolled into the school ready to join my son.  I look around at kids in an array of outfits, most of which weren’t the strict guidelines that had taken over in my head.  Lots of jeans with black shirts, oatmeal colored sweaters, one even in a neon sweatsuit and I realized, I had lost my ever loving mind!!! Why? Why had I made something so simple and unimportant the King of my morning.  How had I let this consume me to the level of receiving a First Class trip on the crazy train?  

The fun started with cookie decorating then onto games and crafts.  My son sat working on his turkey craft and sang a song about majoring in the minors and my heart sank inside my chest.  I looked at him and said, “Sweetie, that is what mom did this morning, can you forgive me?”  He was quick to hug me and was definitely fine with moving on.  We had a great time, and I have a sweet memory with my son, his class, teachers and other parents from the day.  It was epic. 

There is a lesson here.  I am a prime example of how we as moms can make a mountain out of a mole hill.  Where do the priorities go when our hair is on fire and we are running around in an undefinable stream of insanity?  

What matters most?  I want my kids to feel loved and special.  I want them to know what matters most is who they are and how they treat people, not what outfit they are wearing.  The funny thing was, all that stress, and I had a handful of compliments on his jacket.  You know the one he was growing out of with a hole in the sleeve.  Geez!  Reality check party of one, and yet, I’d venture to say, I am not alone in this boat.  Stop and ask, is what I am freaking out about - inwardly or outwardly - a major or minor issue?  If its minor, let it go, we have far too many major issues to worry about!  Let me be your lesson for the day.  

Happy Thanksgiving!  

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What Will You Do With Yours?

I went out today and bought groceries at Costco.  I hate grocery shopping so I try to get as much as I can at the beginning of each pay period.  I spent over $200 on groceries and other household items.  This number echoes in my ears as I learned this weekend that if you spend over $2.50 a day, you are in the top half of the world’s population.  The fact that I own a car, puts me in the top 90%.  I don’t often think of myself in this way as I see many people in my circles making much more money than me.  My husband and I are a middle-class family, but just because the comparisons of wealth in my own backyard are much greater than mine, doesn’t ignore the fact that I am wealthy in comparison with the world.  

I was recently challenged to share my abundance.  I was asked to look at what that might mean for me.  What I have come to recognize, is my abundance goes beyond money.   My husband and I are fairly generous people.  We give to our church each month and share other monies with non-profits locally and abroad, and then of course there are those who come across our path seeking funds for a variety of reasons, that beg for a $5 here or $10 there.  Even with that, I know we could give more.  It might take sacrifice, but sacrifice could do me some good.  

However, as I reflected I realized some of my abundance comes from my heart.  I am someone who naturally has always loved people and sought to hear the heart of a person.  I know I can talk, but I think I can also lovingly listen.  I realize in our world today, showing the world love, one person at a time, can really be utilizing my abundance.  I have an inner strength as a result of my faith and relationship with God.  When others struggle, my abundance might be sending encouraging words, letters or even praying with them or offering a hug.  I can take that gift God has given me for granted, and go about my busy day, but I have an obligation as someone whom has been given much to give even more (Luke 12:48). Which isn't what I always want to hear, especially when I just want to spend time doing what I enjoy and wish for my time and efforts to serve myself.  

Now before you tell me I need to enjoy life too and have some balance, please know that is not what I am speaking to.  If you are tired, get sleep; if you are hungry, eat something.  You do need to pay attention to yourself and know what you need, but more often than not we don't give because we just don't want to,not because we have nothing left to give.  

What areas can you give?  Maybe its giving up a membership you don’t use to spend that money on someone in need.  Maybe its giving away clothes and shoes you don’t wear or don’t fit to someone who can wear them now.  Maybe its taking time out of your life to look to the needs of those around you.  Sometimes lending a listening year is the abundance you have to give.  Sure it means having to give up time you wanted to spend reading, watching tv, enjoying a hobby or just playing a game on your phone, but it can meet someone’s deficit.  

What will you give?  What will you do with your abundance? 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Why Your Posts Are Part of the Problem

Yesterday, we elected a new President.   It wasn’t the Presidential Candidate I thought would win.  I really thought Clinton had it.  I was not a fan of either so I have no idea exactly how I feel, but I was more saddened (not surprised) when I opened up Facebook this morning.  Why was I saddened?  Because while we all have a right to share our opinion, most of us just shouldn’t!  

Over the past year I have read in a variety of books and articles how our lives online have hurt us.  I have been especially impacted by Craig Groeschel’s book, “#Struggles: Following Jesus in A Selfie-Centered World.” I don’t think social media is bad, I actually love it!  I have lived in 6 states and 2 foreign countries, travelled a lot in my earlier years and I love people, so it is an amazing way for me to be in the lives of so many far and wide.  

But we were never intended to live our lives online.  We were made for relationships.  Real relationships.  That means connecting our soul with others and that rarely happens online.  Online breeds superficial, unfiltered, edited responses to life.  It gives us a false sense of celebrity as we share our every move, thinking the world wants to know.  That may work with a small group of followers or friends but you would NEVER have a good coffee shop conversation with 1,000 people.  It just wouldn’t be productive or beneficial.  

I Corinthians 10:23 says "Everything is permissible," but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible," but not everything is edifying.

We are not famous.  Our platform is faulty if we are assuming it gives us celebrity.  We need to make our voice heard but unfortunately that voice gets lost in over saturated newsfeed.  People cannot take the overwhelming responses good, bad and ugly to the election process and the results we saw unfold into the wee-hours of this morning.  We were not made to effectively process all of that.  The non-stop barrage of in your face responses to the world enforces depressive tendencies and studies are now reflecting this connection with a rise in depression and suicide, I just read a great article in TIME magazine (November 7, 2016) about this very thing.  

When I was living in London for a semester during college, I got to experience the term stimulus overload.  Living by the hospital meant I heard sirens non-stop.  It was hard to sleep or focus as first, but by the time I came back to the States, I didn’t even notice the sound.  My brain couldn’t take it so it made the proper adjustments and filtered out the sound so I could function.  I see this same phenomenon happening online.  The very tool that once gave us a voice is now silencing it because its just too much! 

Face to face communication involves non-verbal communication that get lost in our social media posts, not to mention unscripted conversations include more than 140 characters.  You may drop a controversial bomb in the midst of a two-hour lunch with your bestie, but the take away is tons of other topics and perspectives.  It adds to the dimensions of the conversation and the relationship even if its disagreement, but social media is relational-free opinions and its only creating a divide between us and anyone who disagrees.  

Get offline, get out with friends, or upgrade an acquaintance to a friend by hanging out and having shared experiences.  Share those opinions over coffee and allow the opinion to do more than scroll across someone’s face in between classes, meetings or lines during errands.  Get used to not using the delete button when giving your two cents.  Take the chance to say it wrong and hear how you could have rephrased it.  You maybe be surprised how much better life is offline! 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

4 Things To Do Before You Speak

Recently, while driving I heard a radio DJ speak some truth that resonated with me.  I am not sure the topic they were discussing as I had just gotten back in the car, but Zach, said something to the effect that many people think that if something is true that is enough for them to speak it to others, but context and timing have a huge impact on when and how we should speak it.  I couldn’t agree more!  Speaking truth in the wrong time or with the wrong motives is in fact, wrong.  

Sometimes the best thing we can do is be quiet.  This week in my Bible reading, I was working through one of my favorite books, James.   In James, we are told to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger (James 1: 19-21).  I know more than anyone that my mouth can be my greatest asset and quickest downfall.  

We think we always have the best thing to say and we are usually dying to get it out.  We are often so quick to speak that we fail to hear the person to which we are talking and in life words aren’t the only solution resource we have to offer.  So what else can we do besides run our mouth?  Well, its pretty simple!

1. Pray

We aren’t God and prayer often reminds us of that.  We are called to walk by the Spirit of God but how can we do that when we are walking by the spirit of self.  Its not a part of the Holy Trinity its just a human perspective and not the only one.   Prayer connects us with people through God who knows the other person greater than we do. 

 2. Be -

In an online world, we have lost some offline tools.  The best relationships are found in human, face-to-face, contact.  Quiet is awkward but often necessary.  I recall a story by pastor and author Craig Groeschel where he went to be with a family who had lost a child.  He felt he floundered in his condolences but later found his quiet presence with them in their home was exactly what they needed.  We need to not only be still in our time with God, but also in our relationships with each other.  Just being in the presence of our family and friends without outside distractions can be a powerful force that forges the relationship and holds our souls together.

3. Touch -

I recently ran into a woman I know in public.  She happens to be someone I hold a  great affection for and unfortunately don’t see often.  As our paths crossed, she shared some new bad news she received from her doctor.  In that very public place I grabbed her and hugged her.  That hug did more for both of us than any words I could utter in that moment.  During my years in college, I heard the statistic that as humans we need 20 hugs a day to feel secure.  I don’t know if the number is accurate, but I do know the concept is true.  We need physical touch.  Touch is very powerful with friends and family.  When my friend, who is not a touchy-feely kind of person, lost his wife, he was welcoming of a hug.  It was comforting in a very tenderly hearted moment.

4. Listen

We learn the most by listening not by talking.  When I say listen, I mean actively receiving and processing what the other person has to say without any thought to a rebuttal.  Sometimes the best way to make headway with someone in a debate or growing a relationship is by lending a listening ear.  Whether or not you understand or agree, can you become empathic or hear the heart behind the words?  

Not only do we not need to have all the answers in every situation, we likely do not have them anyway.  Too many debates are happening on social media and they are tearing up relationships because there is no relational foundation for the weight of the words we are using.  We think we know the words to say to change someone’s mind on a hot topic or to salve the soul of someone walking a hard road, and even if we do, I suggest you first pause before you speak.  Ask yourself, “Even if this is true, is this the best time and medium in which I can say it?”   Maybe its your turn to speak truth, but taking a second to evaluate can save a lot of heartache if its not.  Remember, you have other tools at your discretion, use them!