Making Proverbs 13 Your Mantra

This weekend at church, the most adorable little girl stood on the seat in front of me. She was wearing a beautiful silver dress and had a pair of velvet Mickey Mouse ears perched on top of her head. Her headband reminded me of the year that Bill and I took our daughters to Disney World on the Fourth of July. It was crowded and stressful and I told myself that we would never do that again.

No one wants to be so busy during the holidays that they have no time to enjoy them, yet so many of us pack our pre-Christmas days with an overwhelming number of To Dos. This year I resolved to not to fall into this trap, largely out of necessity. On the day before Thanksgiving, I had arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone spur and repair a tear in the labrum of my left hip.  Several people who have seen me hobbling around on crutches have commented on how awful it must feel to not be able to walk over the holidays but I don’t see it that way because knowing that I would spend all of December on crutches motivated me to get ready for Christmas early.

Proverbs 13:4 teaches us that the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied, but sometimes God works through circumstances to drive home the lesson. With presents wrapped, cards ordered, and decorations up before December 1st, I had none of those distractions to keep me from serving and spending time with friends and family.

Diligence is the earnest and persistent application to an undertaking, not a frenzied  race to December 25th, so let’s make Proverbs 13 our mantra for 2013 and lean on God’s promises every day.

The Best Person for Our Possessions

I recently received a message in my inbox from a woman who received one of the books that I had posted on paperbackswap.com. In her e-mail, she gushed about how much her daughter was enjoying it.

Knowing that the letter art book that had been tucked away in our gift closet ever since I bought it 5 years ago was now being used every day served as yet another reminder that we are not always the right person for the resources God has entrusted to our care. And sometimes, the best way to benefit from our possessions is to give them away.

PaperbackSwap.com

December is a great month to clear your home of clutter. It creates space for the gifts that Santa will be bringing on Christmas Eve and gives others an opportunity to benefit from the items that have outgrown their usefulness to your family. One of the first two spaces I go through are my daughters’ closets because I know that I can pass the clothes that Katie and Hollie no longer wear to my niece when we see her over the holidays.

Next, I scrutinize our gift closet and get rid of the oldest items that I intended but never managed to give away. While in the basement, I also look inside holiday totes for decorations that could be donated to Goodwill. I prefer large pieces that have maximum impact with minimal installation time (like the giant wreath we hang in our entryway) and no longer enjoy setting out smaller items that create more clutter than Christmas cheer.

One of the last placed I scrutinize are the bookshelves in our living room as I challenge myself to let go of literature that I never should have bought in the first place. Books that are in good condition with no liquid damage, writing or highlighting are posted on paperbackswap.com. What I like about this site is how easy it is to use. For every book that I mail to another member of this free service, I receive a credit that can be used to request a book from the thousands that are posted on this website.

We all have a responsibility to be good stewards of the resources God has temporarily entrusted to our care. Sites like paperbackswap.com make it, not just possible, but beneficial to pass our unused items along to others.

Trade Books for Free - PaperBack Swap.

Managing Others

Hollie wanted to borrow a shirt from Katie but was afraid that her sister would get mad if she came into her room.

“Send her a text,” I suggested. “That’s how I got her to bring me the towels out of your bathroom.”

“Katie has to listen to you,” Hollie replied. “She doesn’t have to answer to me.”

“Send the text from my phone,” I schemed.

My suggestion worked like a charm and the outcome got me thinking: Why does relating to other people have to be so hard?

Can’t we all just say what we mean, mean what we say and forget about managing others?

This summer, I spent a lot of time managing a difficult relationship. One where constant conflict and irrational behavior left me so emotionally drained that I was ready to give up on the person altogether—Then I read a bible study lesson that talked about how the real enemy is not the person with the maladaptive behavior, but the devil who was behind it.

Satan works through flawed characters to bring out the worst in well-intentioned ones. As soon as I realized that I was not the only one trying to gain control of the situation, I stopped trying to.

Sometimes you have to give up control to gain it. Only then can we experience the peace that the apostle Paul wrote about in Philippians 4:7.

Life shouldn’t have to be like a game a chess where we are always plotting the other person’s next move; but when it is, it helps to remember that we are all on the same team. And difficult people are not the enemy, but unwitting pawns in Satan’s plan.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation,

by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,

will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Proving People Wrong

While looking through the selection of DVDs available at my local library, I came across the title Flight Plan and considered checking it out for my daughters.  I love introducing Katie and Hollie to movies, especially films that I have seen several times.

I believe that the mind cannot resist answering a question;  so when I asked myself why I was drawn to a plot about a grieving widow and her missing daughter, I put on what Hollie calls my “thinking face” and waited for the answer. It came when I realized that I watched this 98-minute movie again and again for the one minute when the main character showed everyone on the plane that she was right and they were wrong.

Proving people wrong sounds like a bad thing, especially after coming off a summer where I often felt misunderstood and always made the situation worse by trying to explain myself. What was it about Jodie’s character that allowed her to look like the victor, instead of a villain?

This question motivated me to compare the movie to my own situations. When I did, I found that one key difference emerged: Not once did she say “I told you so” to anyone.

Proving people wrong is a good thing: Gloating is not. Maybe that’s why Proverbs 10:19 tells us that when words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.

I want to be wise. To let my actions do the talking and let go of the need to explain myself to everyone. Jodie’s character held her tongue as she walked by her fellow passengers in the final scene of the movie and I have to think that my summer would have been a lot less stressful if I had resolved to do the same. The only thing worse than a sore loser is a smug winner. And in the pursuit of justice, it’s the telling—not the proving—that is wrong.

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What Matters Most

On Labor Day weekend, Bill and I attended an outdoor music festival where rock bands Starship, Survivor and Boston performed in front of a crowd of 6,000 people. It was a beautiful night as a record number of concert-goers claimed their spot in front of the stage. Because one of my brothers worked for the company that was sponsoring the event, our seats were in a section reserved for employees and their families.

It was a jail cell as far as Katie and Hollie were concerned because they didn’t want to be there. Listening to music that Bill & I grew up with was not their idea of fun, but it seemed silly to let extra tickets go to waste while our girls watched television back at the hotel.

To make the experience more bearable, Katie got out her iPhone and handed one of her earbuds to Hollie. For the next hour, I watched as both girls tuned out the 80’s by infusing a continuous dose of alternative rock into their ears.

“When can we go back to the hotel?” Hollie asked after Starship had finished on stage.

“Why don’t you wait until Survivor is finished playing?” I suggested.

I wanted the girls to hear Eye of the Tiger (one of the only songs they knew), but when the band kept playing songs they didn’t know, I decided to put Katie and Hollie out of their 80’s misery and called my mom to pick them up.

I had just returned to my seat after walking the girls to the gate when I heard that one of the members of Starship had collapsed back stage. Event staff did a great job of keeping the news quiet until the concert was over, but my youngest brother’s VIP pass put him so close to the action that he heard the wife of one of the members of Boston confirm that Mark Abrahamian, the lead guitarist for Starship, had died at the age of 46.

“I don’t know how I’m going to tell my husband,” she said. “He’s been a friend of our family for years.”

“Mark wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, ” the woman continued. “He died doing what he loved.”

Her words raise the question: If today was our last day on earth, would the people who know us best be able to say the same?

In my last post, I confessed that I had gone most of the summer without writing. What I didn’t say—and would like to add—is that with every week that passed, I felt less confident about my calling.

Does God really want me to be a writer?

Isn’t there something easier that I can do?

I am notorious for getting sidetracked with projects around the house, largely because organizing comes easy to me and blogging does not. My latest accomplishment was cleaning out our pantry; and although I smile every time I walk into the clutter-free space, I also know that it came at the cost of other projects.

Missionary C.T. Studd must have felt the same way when he said: Only one life, ’twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.

For me what will last are the things that I do for other people. Bill and the girls were frustrated with not being able to find things and so I did something about it. The fact that the work came easy to me was just a bonus. It was also a reminder that I don’t always have to be outside my comfort zone to be in line with God’s; because it’s not what we do, but who we do it for, that really matters most.

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A Little More Jesus

It’s been said that absence makes the heart grow fonder but, sometimes, it just makes me wonder: What’s been keeping a person away for so long?

Was it something I said?

Or something I did?

As a coach, I am trained to listen for two things: The story and the truth. The story is what we say to make ourselves feel better (or worse) about a situation. The truth is rooted in, not perception, but fact. And the fact, in this instance, is that the mind can get pretty carried away without something real to keep it grounded.

I was reminded of this just yesterday when I received an e-mail from a friend who I had not talked to for most of the summer. I’d thought about reaching out to her on several occasions but, because it was her turn to call, I stubbornly decided not to. Immediately upon reading her e-mail and learning about the challenges she’s been facing since we last spoke, I realized two things:

1. I was the person in the wrong.
2. Good friends don’t keep score.

Why is it that what bothers us most about others is the very thing we are guilty of ourselves? Sometimes I think the world be much simpler if we never had to spin stories to hide our hypocritical cores.

The story I spun about my friend was that she had lost interest in our friendship. The reality is that silence does not mean indifference. I, of all people, should know this after taking time off from writing following my father’s death last June. In the six years since publishing my first newsletter, this is the longest that I’ve been away from my craft—and all of you; but with an obituary to write, a slideshow to create, and an overwhelming amount of other projects to tackle as my brothers and I started the long process of cleaning up our Dad’s farm, I knew in my heart that it was the right thing to do.

What wasn’t right was my decision to also take the summer off from God. It’s not that I didn’t want to spend time with Him: It’s just that with everything that was going on, spiritual disciplines always seemed to be the last thing on my mind. And as the dog days of summer wore on, it became clear that the longer I went without studying the bible, the farther I felt from God.

If out of sight is out of mind, then out of mind definitely leads to lack of heart. It’s the one time when absence makes the heart grow, not fonder, but fussier as we lose all compassion for others.

I often joke that I get along great with people as long as I’m the only one in the room. What I don’t say about this philosopy is that it doesn’t account for God. Although it doesn’t always feel like it, silence doesn’t mean absence−just that He has chosen not to comment on our behavior.

I definitely had moments that left God speechless as certain relationships and circumstances left me ranting and raving like an emotional toddler. To make sense of these situations, I listened to self-help audio tapes while driving to and from Nebraska. One batch that I checked out from the library included the title ‘One Month To Live: Thirty Days to a No-Regrets Life’ by Kerry & Chris Shook. Although I never got used to the narrator’s deep voice (think James Earl Jones from the Lion King), I was glad that I stuck with the guy for long enough to hear him challenge listeners—myself included—to never give up something that we can’t go a day without thinking about.

What can’t you go a day without thinking about? Do you know?

I asked myself this question in early July and already it was apparent that I can’t go a summer without Jesus. And as someone who was away from home for 47 days last summer, I speak from experience when I say that if you’re feeling far from God, it’s your actions and not your location that needs to change. It felt good to return to my pre-summer ways when life settled down enough to pick up where I left off in my bible. As soon as I did, I was welcomed back with these words from Psalm 16:

5 Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.
6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.
7 I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
8 I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

How comforting it is to know that, no matter how long or far we travel, our lot is secure as we keep our eyes on the Lord and our behavior in check by putting a little more Jesus in our day.

The Importance of Social and Emotional Intelligence

Last week, I attended a meeting where Laura Belsten talked about the importance of emotional and social intelligence. Her presentation interested me because, just weeks earlier, I had watched a youtube video where psychologist Daniel Goleman had been interviewed on the same topic.

According to Goleman, emotional intelligence has to do with self-mastery while social intelligence is about understanding and interacting effectively with others. As an advocate for self-change, I want my clients to excel in both of these areas and take every opportunity that I can to learn how to better coach people on this topic.

Laura Belsten did not disappoint when she kicked off our meeting with an exercise that I could share with my readers and clients. “Think of a person you admire and write down the traits that you most want to emulate,” she explained while passing out a set of ten sticky notes to every person in the room. When everyone was finished writing, Laura asked us to walk to the front of the room and place each sticky note under one of the three categories that she had written on the white board: IQ, Technical Ability, Emotional & Social Intelligence.

One by one, we found a home for every slip of paper. And when everyone was done, it was clear that the most admirable qualities in a person are the ones that help him or her to relate to you and me.

Dependable.

Thoughtful.

Forgiving.

Self-disciplined.

Loving.

Generous.

Considerate.

In the end all but three of the sticky notes had been placed under the Emotional & Social Intelligence section of the white board, proving that attitude trumps aptitude; and it’s not the college attended, but the the degree of character represented that matters most.

The saying is true: People won’t care what you know until they know that you care so let’s put workers above the work and make our emotional & social intelligence an ongoing priority.


Road Maps

At the end of our driveway stands a new mailbox. Its presence marks the end of a long road of frustration that began when the mail carrier drove up to our old one and opened the lid with such force that a hinge broke, causing it to fall to the pavement below.

When repeated attempts to fix the hinge failed, Bill wired the top of the lid to the box to keep it from flopping open every time the carrier forgot to treat it with care.

I read once that people will do what’s important to them at their own inconvenience. What I didn’t catch was: When? When does the pain of ‘what is’ become enough to motivate us to work toward what can be? For me, the moment came when I tried to squeeze an armload of letters out of a half-open mailbox and imagined how hard it must have been for the postal worker to slide them in there.

I’ve met a lot of people who refused to start a project until they knew exactly how it would end. The problem with this approach is that God never gives us a complete road map. Instead, He wants us to step out in faith and trust that the journey will eventually lead to the finish line.

My first step was to call a customer service representative from Frontgate, because I had seen a mailbox that looked like ours in their catalog. The person I spoke to gave me the name of the manufacturer and, after confirming that ours was made by the same company, I called them about replacing the lid. To my delight, the one that our builder purchased came with a lifetime warranty.

A few weeks later, the broken lid was a distant memory and it wasn’t just our mail carrier who noticed.

“I need to fix mine too,” a neighbor said when he saw Bill replacing ours.

After seeing the bad condition that his was in and comparing it to the flawless appearance of ours, it occurred to me that people, like mailboxes, stand side by side. Some looking more worn than others: All able to be made new with a single leap of faith and the decision to say ‘no’ to the status quo and ‘yes’ to the delivery of God’s very best in life.

“For we live by faith, not by sight.”

2 Corinthians 5:7

Making Things Happen

“You know what I love about being in this family?” Katie asked me one day after school.

“What?”

“That you support my dreams.”

“What do you mean?”

“When I want to do something I’m interested in, you make it easy,” she replied. “I realize that if I want something in life, I have to work for it; but it’s nice to know that when I need a new color of polish for a nail art design or if I want to see my favorite music group when it comes to town, you’ll make it happen.”

Katie was right. I make her progress a priority  because I don’t want my daughters to succeed in spite of their parents. I want it to be, at least in some small part, because of us. It’s the reason that I talked to musicians to find out the best guitar to buy when they both wanted to take lessons. And it’s why I agreed to have my oldest at school by 7:45 a.m. every day for six weeks this summer so she can free up a slot during the school year to take photography.

At times, the list of tasks can seem endless and the amount of appreciation in short supply. Maybe that’s why I was so surprised when Katie thanked me for helping her to pursue her passions. According to developmental psychologist Robert Kegan, children under sixteen years of age (and 15% of adults) operate out of a level of consciousness where they see another person in terms of what he or she can do for them. In this egocentric stage, people can’t imagine the feelings of others and focus only on their own needs and desires.

Watching my oldest step out of this mindset for long enough to be grateful to someone else made me even more motivated to say “yes” when she made her latest request: “Mom, would you help me find something that will work to organize my art supplies?”

The words were music to this organized mother’s ears. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing when there’s no place to put it, and the mess in Katie’s room had been bothering me for long enough that I quickly agreed to fund her latest project.

One 10-drawer craft cart and a nail polish rack was all it took to restore Katie’s bedroom to a serene sanctuary. And as I looked around her clutter-free surroundings, Proverbs 14:23 came to mind as I remembered that all hard work really does bring a profit; and when you help your kids to achieve their goals, once in a while they return the favor by completing one of yours.

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