Talking to Teens When Tragedies Happen. Oh, and Cell Phones…

It’s been a week of heavy lifting in the realm of parenting teens. Most days, the biggest concerns in our lives seem to be getting everybody out of bed and off to school on time, making sure their sports uniforms are clean or at least baptized in Febreze and stopping those perpetually hungry teen boys from gobbling up fistfuls of granola bars right before dinner.

But this week. This has been one of those weeks when sh*t gets real. When I have to find a way to have hard conversations and break my kids’ hearts with reminders about evil that lurks. They act unaffected by news stories, like they’ve got everything under control. Teenagers. Growing and grown­­–on the outside. Still vulnerable and unsteady on the inside like fawns on wobbly legs. It’s my job to help strengthen them. I must do the heavy lifting and point them toward the source of true strength. Encourage them to guard their hearts. And insist on the importance of thinking clearly about our values–that they might live in such a way, loving one another, that others will know to whom they belong.

Stanford~

With teen boys who will one day go off to college and live with a freedom they’ve never known, this story cannot be ignored. My sons must hear me say out loud and with conviction that women should be highly valued even when the culture says they’re not. Even when the culture says women must be thin and pretty and sexy, and that they’re less than… we will reject this premise and we will value women. This is part of our ongoing conversation about relationships, sex and what being a “real” man looks like. They may not want to hear me rant about misogyny or inequality because hearing parents talk about sex can cause a gag reflex in most teens. Too bad. It’s got to be.

A friend told me how he asks his son’s friends, who think because they’re physically strong that they are truly strong, “Are you strong enough to go against the crowd? Are you strong enough to stand up for the weak?” *click here for a more poignant conversation by Ann Voskamp on the topic.

Writer Anne Greenwood Brown spoke about the courage and conviction of the Swedish cyclists who stopped the Stanford rapist and held him until the police arrived.

Not only were those cyclists brave, they were shocked and horrified. A news account mentions how one of the Swedes cried multiple times while giving testimony to police. I want my sons to be horrified if ever they witness evil being done to another human. I hope and pray they too would defend the weak and vulnerable like those cyclists did.

Brown took it a step further by making t-shirts that say “Be a Swedish Bicyclist.” I think that’s pretty terrific!

courtesy Anne Greenwood Brown

courtesy of Ann Greenwood Brown

When I told my boys about the t-shirts and the tagline, I asked them, “Would you be a Swedish bicyclist?” They nod in affirmation. I hope that’s true.

Orlando~

I remember Columbine. The horror of that day, watching the television news in disbelief and with profound sadness. And yet, somehow I knew. I knew it would happen again and keep happening. Because once an event like that gets the desired result–to terrorize and in a twisted way, be memorialized–more lunatics would begin to plot their own personal day of infamy.

In fact, I wish the news would stop proclaiming that the Orlando shooting is the “worst mass shooting in American history” because surely someone out there is evil enough or crazy enough or both to accept that as a challenge.

My heart breaks. Safety is an illusion. I’m sad to have to tell my children this awful truth.

But I’m reminded of a chapter in Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book Accidental Saints. The chapter is called, the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents of Sandy Hook Elementary and in it, Weber attempts to reassure her Lutheran congregation after a horrific school shooting of Christ’s redemption and His solidarity with suffering. She talks about how King Herod ordered the murder of children in an attempt to kill the Christ child.

Evil is not new. It didn’t begin with Columbine. And sadly, it will not end in Orlando. Evil has been with us since shortly after the beginning of our human story.

BUT! In this story, Christ enters into this broken and broken-hearted world, knowing full well how much the place needs fixing. He’s fixing us, if we’ll let him, one by one, heart by heart. Teaching us to trust, to pray, to be kind to each other, to forgive and to live at peace. I tell my sons that it’s part of our job as Christians to bring peace, joy and comfort to the world while we wait for restoration. To bless the suffering and broken-hearted until evil is forever vanquished. We must shine a light in the darkness. Be good. Do good. Point to the source of goodness with how you live your life.

Cell Phones~

Speaking of lights in the darkness. Let me finish with comments about those glowing blue screens. I should have done this before, when we first bestowed those tiny Pandora’s boxes into the palms of our children’s hands. I should have insisted they be phone free overnight.

So now, after those smartphones have become like permanent appendages that seem to cause our boys to take the longest dumps in recorded bathroom history, I’m prepared to pry those devices from their clenched fists like priceless pearls from an oyster. Let ‘em scream, “It hurts. I’ll surely die.”

They will not die. And they need not respond to text messages, Snapchats, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or any other damned digital demon in the wee hours of the night.

No plotting. No drama. No endless conversations about the latest Jordans. It stops. Maybe it never started. But with our youngest about to begin high school and informing us that he now has a girlfriend, late night access to a cell phone is bound to become a source of temptation if not serious frustration.

So, for the summer, I’ve asked our boys to turn in their phones at 10 p.m. They are not pleased. But I feel strongly that I’ve erred by letting this go on up to now, believing they were sleeping whenever I was sleeping. #afoolnomore

That’s it. It’s all I’ve got. This is the best parenting I can do this week. I’m tapped out. Tired. So turn off the news. Turn off the cell phone. Say your prayers and get some sleep. Those kids will likely need us again tomorrow.

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Inspired by Honesty

okay to laughPeople inspire me. So many people are doing cool things. I’m daily amazed at the creativity, ingenuity and drive of so many people making things happen in the world.

I admit that sometimes I’m jealous­–that the torrent of beautifully curated online content can make me feel inferior, lazy or ugly. But not always. Because I know it’s not possible for everything to be perfect all of the time. And everybody has a story-even if they’re unwilling to divulge life’s imperfections, hiccups or disillusionments online.

I believe I have a gift of discernment. I’m mostly able to sort through all of the overt self-promotion I see while scrolling my thumb over my iPhone and click on some things that are pretty awesome. And sometimes, I meet those awesome creatives in person. For instance, last week I attended a local event spotlighting musicians and writers and was drawn in by the incredible onstage talent.

shirtStill Kickin Co. founder, Nora McInerny-Purmort was there. She and a colleague were arranging t-shirts for sale on a table. The shirts said, “Still Kickin.” I’d seen the tag line #stillkickin before, somewhere online, but was unsure what it meant. So I asked. And I was stunned by the answer.

I was further blown away when Nora read a chapter from her forthcoming memoir titled It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too). This beautiful, seemingly put-together young woman was telling the world about anguish­–about how she has been broken. In a very real (and hilarious) way, she exposes her grief, explains how the world is unexplainable and that by putting one foot in front of the other, she is still kickin. The t-shirts seem to be her way of celebrating the small steps taken by every person who, like her, might be having or has ever had a rough go, aka everybody. Still Kickin is like an affirmation, a sideline cheer, a hug or a thumbs up. Because when everything feels like it’s falling apart or maybe we just feel like we don’t measure up, this quirky tag line can be a reminder that someone is in your corner.

I don’t know Nora. But I now know a piece of her story. I honor her honesty, her vulnerability and her guts. She’s also incredibly funny and creative. I bought a t-shirt and I’ve pre-ordered her book. I’m inspired by Nora. I think you will be too.

Tennis Kickin

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By the Numbers- Thoughts on Aging

50The hubs celebrates a big birthday this month. As our children like to tell him, he’s halfway to one hundred. Whoa! It seems so weird to think about how I married a 29-year-old and that in the blink of eyes that now require reading glasses I’m married to a 50-year-old. Same guy, different number. He’s cool with it. Cause he’s just cool.

But those numbers can rattle my insecurity as if a number is what defines me.

I remember when I was turning 40 and was wringing my hands about that number and what I imagined it stood for. Middle age. Wrinkle cream. Becoming suddenly unsure of my wardrobe because the forties occupy this middle space, a life stage limbo when some clothes make women look like they’re trying too hard–rhinestone studded denim and leopard prints, or like they’re simply giving up–rhinestone studded sweatshirts and elastic waist capris.

I shared my lament about turning 40 with my grandfather who was 80ish at the time. He stared off into the ether in some hypnotic gaze, heaved a great sigh and then said, “What I wouldn’t give to be 40 again.”

THAT, my friends, stuck with me. A message born of wisdom. This train isn’t slowing and it will most certainly stop one day. If we’re lucky and live to be 80, we surely don’t want to have wasted being 40 by being obsessed with the number.

It’s funny how I still try to conceal my number. At what age do we begin boasting about our number? Most 80-somethings I know are always saying things like, “Look how well I’m getting around! You know, I’m 84!”

We’re in awe at the 60-year-old who runs a marathon but people in their forties receive a collective shrug. Why is no one impressed with my ability to work an iPhone or decipher my health insurance coverage? My BMI and cholesterol levels are within the acceptable range and I have relatively few aches and pains. Isn’t that impressive at my age?

But still, I struggle with insecurity. I rant about photo-shopped celebrities and the ubiquitous use of cosmetic treatments and procedures. I occasionally hover weirdly close to the TV screen leaning in to examine a newscaster’s face for a frozen furrow or overly plumped laugh lines. I wish for more women my age to just let those lines live on their foreheads so I’d fit in and feel better about myself. I seek solace by wanting to compete on my own terms.

I’m a fool. Because it’s not a competition. It should not and does not matter how we look compared to other women because our beauty and our worth are not measured by how we look in contrast to others. We know this but how do we live it?

In Amy Poehler’s book, Yes Please, she talks about how there is more currency in life than looks and how people don’t need to be good looking to be good. She suggests that women in particular “decide what your currency is early. Let go of what you will never have. People who do this are happier and sexier.”

Aging women like me who’ve been tricked by society into over-emphasizing youth and beauty as currency might want to figure out what else we’re good at in order to avoid the losing game of chasing what we maybe never really had and certainly can never get back. Cosmetic treatments might help some of us look “better”, but in truth, they don’t really make anyone younger.

And the maintenance. Gah! It’s endless. I can see why grandmas used to just let those chin whiskers grow and their hair turn grey. Trying to meet media standards of beauty is just SO MUCH work.

Okay fine. Yes. I will continue to tweeze those chin whiskers. And my hairdresser need not fear losing me as a regular client just yet. But I’m going to try to be cool like the hubs and live less in fear of my number.

I’m going to focus on what other currency I might have to share. Wisdom? Encouragement? One need not be young or beautiful to be a good mom, wife, friend, reader, writer, thinker with a daily goal to live a useful life.

And if that doesn’t work, I might just start playing with my number instead of keeping it secret. If I over-state my age, people will be all like, “Doesn’t she look amazing for 58?!”

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Ski Bum Sagacity

ski bumYou’ve likely heard this before, or something similar. That you cannot always choose your circumstance, but you can choose how to respond to your circumstance. Of course, this is eye-rollingly trite in the face of earth shaking circumstances such chronic health issues or imbalanced brain chemistry. But it’s still something I need to pay more attention to if I truly desire to live with more joy versus wallowing in complaints and discontent.

I was reminded of this recently when the hubs, the kids and I made a trek to Colorado for a ski weekend. (Another blog post is forthcoming about the importance of taking vacations.)

This trip was our second family adventure to a mountain resort, and like the first, we wanted to tie in a visit with the hub’s brother and his family who live in Denver. Last time, we stopped at their home for a visit, a meal and an overnight stay. This time, our schedule and anticipated holiday weekend traffic meant we would only connect with extended family if they ventured up the mountain road to get to us. They agreed and we all looked forward to a dinner out in Keystone, CO.

I’ll jump to the end of the story and say it worked out really well. The eight of us, who see each other only once or twice a year, had a terrific evening. We enjoyed a great meal while catching up and sharing stories.

But before it went well, it didn’t, at least for my brother-in-law. Picture this. He lives in Colorado but doesn’t downhill ski. It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy skiing. He just doesn’t enjoy the bumper-to-bumper traffic on roads leading to local ski resorts each weekend. And he’s not a fan of typical tourist shenanigans.

Now to be fair, most locals living in any tourist destination have a love/hate relationship with tourists. I get that. But here’s the thing. His mood was less than, shall we say, cheerful when he first arrived on our doorstep. He’d encountered people driving poorly, larger crowds than normal and inadequate signage that led to a bit of a parking lot fiasco. Frustration rattled him. We’ve all been there.

Over dinner and a few beers, we laughed about his experience. I recall saying something like, “Since you live here and know there will be traffic and crowds because it’s a holiday weekend, you could prepare yourself for these aggravations by deciding in advance to remain calm, relaxed and patient. Or, because you know there will be traffic and crowds, you could choose to be angry before you even leave your house, and then get even angrier once you encounter what you already knew you would.”

He laughed and said, “Obviously, I chose option B.”

Now, I’m super glad it all worked out and that we had a great visit. But I can’t help but wonder how often we all choose option B. When we know something is going to be difficult or distasteful, why do we choose in advance to respond negatively? Or is it sometimes possible to visualize those things that might make us uncomfortable and try to prep our attitudes in a more positive direction? I think this is part of a bigger issue–our relentless desire for control–even when it comes to circumstances we cannot change or improve. When we can’t change it, we get angry about it, as if our anger has any power over the universe.

Now forgive me if I sound as if I’m babbling some psychoanalytical self-help mumbo-jumbo. It’s just that many of us already know what our triggers are. Mine typically include tardiness, rudeness, lack of sleep, lack of coffee, being too cold, being too hot, being too scheduled and sometimes feeling like I don’t have anything to wear.

And yet, we willingly turn over our joy by getting riled up in anticipation of our discomfort-thus tripping our own triggers on frustration, stress and anger. This is nothing less than self destruction. And when you’re married or around other people–mutual destruction. Gah!

There must be a better way. Maybe one better way looks a little like a Colorado ski bum even if saying this will surely make my brother-in-law cringe. I’m not talking about recreational indulgence of the Colorado variety. But I am talking about taking more deep breaths. Look around. Most of what we get cranked up about either isn’t as important as we think or is beyond our control anyway. Ski bums by definition are actively choosing a lifestyle of joy, eschewing negativity and being open to adventure instead of insisting upon control. I’m hoping to bring a bit of that Colorado ski bum attitude back with me into daily life. Although my days may look different than a ski bum–what with children, a job and a more stereotypical suburban existence, I’m still hopeful that with a little practice, prayer and patience, I can choose better reactions to stressful situations.

It is my prayer that you (and my brother-in-law) can get better at this too.

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Let There be More Rejoicing in Heaven

Ash-WednesdaySometimes I talk about where I grew up and the circumstances. Flint, Michigan–the child of a single parent. My mother is fantastic. She worked hard, provided for our needs and didn’t bring crisis into our home. You know, those common crises often associated with single moms living in financial, emotional or spiritual desperation. I got a pass on most of that.

But her provision and stability didn’t always compensate for her absence. I was a typical unsupervised, fatherless girl searching for affection and approval in most of the wrong places. I made terrible choices and really put myself at risk. Fortunately, I came to my senses. Call it self-preservation. Call it having people in my life who believed I could do better. Or call it divine providence.

Whatever you call it, my life turned out so much better than it could have had I not figured some things out. Part of that was saying yes to the right man after saying yes to too many of the wrong ones. I’m married 20 years to an incredibly Godly and decent man whom I still love dearly. We have two children who attend high quality public schools. And we live in a lovely home out here on Minnesota’s suburban tundra. A house 3x the size of the one I grew up in.

Once when my mother visited us, we took her to the local July fourth fireworks display at a nearby park. We sat on blankets while our then small kids romped in the grass. She looked around amazed. This city has enough money to pay people to empty trashcans at the park. And residents here have leisure time and enough energy to go to the park. “And look at all of the two-parent families,” she said in awe. The hubs and I were shocked by what shocked her. How had I come to take any of this for granted?

I recently finished reading This is The Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett. It’s an excellent collection of essays, many of which I’d like to pluck out individually and send to friends I think would appreciate them. But a particular line in her essay titled, The Sacrament of Divorce still stands out to me.

“There can be something cruel about those who have had good fortune. They equate it with personal goodness.”

Wow. I must admit that sometimes I actually believe my own good fortune–my rescue from a life more marred by poor decision-making–is somehow the result of my personal goodness. Other times I’m a bit wiser.

Once when I was lecturing my children about how good we have it here compared to other places or to those living in more difficult circumstances or those daily influenced by poorly educated and desperate people, my son asked me, “Why do you think you made it out?”

In my motherly wisdom, I said something like, “I don’t entirely know. But I believe that for some reason God chose me and gave me a second chance. And I don’t want to blow it or waste it. I want SO MUCH to show my gratitude to God by living a good and useful life and giving you every opportunity to live a good and useful life.”

I still believe this but have come to realize that I was only partly right. Because when I shared this story with someone wiser than me, she said, “God chooses everybody.”

Please let that sink in. Know that no matter your circumstance, no matter how badly you’ve screwed things up, God chooses EVERYBODY. There is no limit to His grace, forgiveness and restoration. But sadly, not all choose to respond to God’s grace.

Now I am not silly enough to believe that I will live out my days bathed in good fortune. Patchett has already reminded me that this has little or nothing to do with my personal goodness or striving. (Read the book of Job if you need more insight on the matter.) Only God knows how long good fortune will last. But I do know this, I will go to the house of the Lord today, Ash Wednesday, and I will be reminded of the fragility and shortness of this life. I will be reminded that I come from dust and will one day return to dust. That my good fortune does not equate to my personal goodness and that I should never be cruel to others based on their circumstance or my perception of their personal goodness.

I will be reminded today and throughout the season of Lent that a Holy and Loving God chose me, one lost lamb. And I will keep trying not to blow it but to honor God with my life no matter my circumstance.

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This Little Light of Mine

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Day two of dreary dampness here on the tundra. Folks in my neck of the northern plains can’t really complain though since we’ve been dodging the cold and snow more typical of this time of year. And yet, a sadness looms. Hearts are heavy as grief tries to inch some folks closer to despair. The world fallen. Cruelty, anger and suspicision create a fog that can be difficult to see through.

At least this is how I feel at the moment. Sad for lives lost. Frustrated by injustice. Fearful for the future.

I do not like to feel this way. I search for joy. For hope. I hug my kiddos. And admittedly, I am more excited than ever, at least since I was a child, to prepare my heart and home for Christmas. Truly a season of hope. Seriously, what is taking Thanksgiving so long to get here? I’m ready to get this holiday season started!

I will not grumble about dragging the boxes of decorations from storage. I will not lament a crowded grocery store. I will bake cookies and wrap presents and shine a light in the darkness. I do have power to be a joy-bringer. I may not be able to end the cruelty of hardened hearts or eliminate injustice. But I can offer hope, comfort and kindness to those living near me on this little patch of earth.

I can write notes of encouragement.

I can visit the lonely.

I can prepare food for the hungry.

I can do that thing where I offer to pay for the take-out order of the guy behind me in the drive-through line.

I can be forgiving to family members who irritate me.

I can be gentle with my children.

I can stop wishing for things to be easy and pray for the strength to tackle what is difficult.

I can pray for peace.

I can speak truth in love.

I can write a blog post that says you are loved. Because you are.

I can sing songs to God because I’m reminded of something so profound in a section of Nadia Bolz-Weber’s terrific book, Pastrix, where she says, “Singing in the midst of evil is what it means to be disciples. Like Mary Magdalene, the reason we can stand and weep and listen for Jesus is because we, like Mary, are bearers of resurrection, we are made new. On the third day, Jesus rose again, and we do not need to be afraid. To sing to God amidst sorrow is to defiantly proclaim… that death is not the final word. To defiantly say, once again, that a light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot, will not, shall not overcome it.

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Be a light for someone today my friends.

 

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Say No to “FOMO” Parenting

fomoRecently, I had the privilege of speaking to a local MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group. I guess they invited me because they assumed I’d have something inspiring to say since I was once a mother of preschoolers and have survived to tell the tales. I also initiated the launch of a local MOPS group approximately 10 years ago. There was a great need in our area for the type of nurturing support MOPS provides to mothers and their offspring, and that program continues to be attended by hoards of harried mamas each month. Praise the Lord.

So, what would I talk about with these young mothers whom I feared would look at me as if I could impart some great wisdom? Well, I attempted to talk about the universal mama burden of worry. I talked about how worry seems to begin in pregnancy when we fret about our blood pressure, glucose levels, prenatal vitamins, birth plans and getting registered for a car seat that ranks near the top of the Consumer’s Report.

How once the baby is born, we worry about its breathing, sleeping and eating. And then how worry can morph and grow like the blob oozing through a fictional town in a campy horror movie. We worry about crawling, walking, falling, screen time, vaccinations, bicycle helmets, bullies, environmental toxins, developmental milestones, swallowing quarters, swallowing Polly Pockets, swallowing Legos, toilet training, finding Legos in the toilet, homework, sports, piano lessons, voice lessons, swallowing beer, throwing up beer, ACT tests and college applications. This is only a basic list of typical mom worries but you catch my drift.

And what I’ve discovered over years of trying to manage my mental state when it comes to parental worry is that parents today have the added burden of abundant choices. Yes. Just as an immigrant mother once told me how she’d stood frozen in an aisle of canned tomatoes in an American grocery store unsure which to choose, so can American parents develop serious FOMO (fear of missing out) when considering all of the options we have for our children. Families are inundated with parenting options about everything from fitness to nutrition to education.

I think back to when I started kindergarten. It seems my mother simply found the school bus that came nearest our home and put me on board. I’m not sure she even knew exactly which school that bus took me to. But all of the other moms were doing the same thing, so I’m sure this gave her some confidence in making and sticking by her decision.

Contrast this simplification to today. In our hyper-competitive educational atmosphere, where parents seemed terrified that little Jane won’t get into the best college if she doesn’t attend the most dynamic and leadership-focused preschool, we have the added burden of choice. So many choices. Language immersion schools. Religious schools. Montessori schools. Classical education schools. Global learning schools. Play-based schools. Farm schools. And the worst part is that unlike when I was little, many parents seem to be doing something different. And they often want you to do what they’re doing because either they feel so strongly about their choice (bullies) or are secretly unsure of their choice and want you along to validate their decision (wimps).

Those who have a bit more sanity and who are less obsessed with making the “perfect” choices for their children in the arena of education may look around and wonder, “Is something wrong with me that I’m not freaking out over which school to send my 2-year-old to? Maybe I don’t love little Brenden as much as I should. I’m a terrible mother.” Then you flip through Instagram photos of moms who lost their baby weight in two weeks while you eat a box of SlimFast bars.

Now don’t get me wrong. Choice can be a good thing. I understand that not all square pegs will fit into one round hole of a single type of instructional method. But when we lack the community support provided by peers who are all pulling in the same direction, we can get caught up in second-guessing our decisions and this can make us miserable.

That’s why groups like MOPS are so important. We crave community. We crave reassurance and support. Now, of course not all the moms in whichever type of community group you choose are necessarily going to be making the same parenting decisions as you. But hopefully, you find a group of friends or mentors with whom you can talk through important parenting topics and gain a sense of confidence in your personal choices.

Like my international friend who was just looking for some canned tomatoes, maybe ask yourself if some of the decisions you’re afraid to make are truly going to ruin your sauce. Unlikely.

The things we worry about as mothers can be important but are rarely the most important. The most important thing is to raise moral and ethical children who love the Lord with all their hearts, minds and souls and who love their neighbors as themselves. When I was pregnant and really worried about the health of my unborn baby, my doc said something like, “You could have a perfectly healthy baby who grows up to steal twenty bucks out of your purse.” I think she was saying, there are no perfect children and no perfect parents.

If you’re going to worry about what they’re learning, this is the most important thing we need to teach them. And community groups for parents or circles of friends whose lives are rooted in biblical principals can help redirect our focus toward what’s most important. You may also find that learning to reduce your own anxiety when it comes to pursuing perfection for your kids may result in more confident, comfortable children who worry less about performance and pursuing perfection just to please you. Something to think about…

 

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Giving Myself Permission to Procrastinate

Photo Credit: theweek.com

Photo Credit: theweek.com

I knew I had a blog post scheduled for today and I had time to write it over the past week. But I procrastinated. I waited until the very last possible minute to spill my thoughts onto the page about… procrastination.

Allow me to illuminate my thought process on this particular topic. Because I tend to procrastinate and so the reasons behind my procrastination and whether I should try to correct this habitual behavior have occupied a fair amount of space in my brain as of late.

What I’ve come to believe about myself is this–I would not procrastinate unless I know I can get the task done. Eventually. And in a timely enough manner to satisfy whatever needs I have for control, accomplishment and not getting fired. For example, I’d already been noodling this topic and what I planned to say about it. So, I was not super concerned about how much time it would take to write about my conclusions. And what I’ve concluded, in addition to the fact that I would not procrastinate unless I had some confidence in my ability to perform under pressure, is that procrastinating and then stewing over it during the period of procrastination is a waste of time that I’ve gifted myself by procrastinating in the first place. Did you get that?

Typical procrastination for me goes kind of like this: I have a task that I don’t particularly feel like doing at the given moment (reasons for procrastination vary and I’ll address that shortly) So I put the task off. Then, in the free time I’ve just allotted myself by procrastinating, I wring my hands in shame and self-flagellation that I should be doing the task instead of say, taking a nap or reading a novel or shopping for a new outfit. Ultimately, I end up completing the task but have ruined any free time allotted via procrastination. The whole endeavor makes me think I should have just done the task earlier and saved myself the travel expenses associated with my guilt trip.

Same could be said for other lifestyle choices, like exercise, housekeeping and eating cake. If you’ve established a routine for regular exercise, cleanliness and healthy eating habits, (this first part is very important by the way) then why beat yourself up if you take a day off from the gym, scrubbing toilets or eat a piece of cake? We ruin what could be enjoyable experiences by shaming ourselves while we indulge in doing nothing or doing things that aren’t considered productive.

So when it comes to the temptation to procrastinate, I’ve decided to examine my reasons for doing it and then, if I conclude that I can indeed accomplish a given task later, I’ll refuse to ruin my freed up time with worry. If I determine that I can’t accomplish the task later without feeling overwhelmed or stressed, then I’ll just do the task earlier rather than wait. So once I’ve made a conscience decision to procrastinate, I’m gonna stand by that decision without agonizing about whether I should be making a different choice.

And so, why do we choose to procrastinate in the first place? Author and evangelical pastor Rick Warren suggests we do if for one of five reasons: indecision, perfectionism, fear, anger or laziness. I’d like to add my own category and that’s mood or inspiration. Sometimes, I just don’t feel like doing something. I’d rather take a nap, go for a walk or watch The Voice. But Warren’s reasoning seems legit, especially the first two–indecision and perfectionism–which seem to be two sides of the same coin if you ask me. But when one of these two behaviors plagues me, I’m reminded that indecision is a decision complete with its own set of consequences and need for accountability.

I don’t think I procrastinate out of fear or anger, although I love how Warren says that procrastination is sometimes a way of passive resistance, like a child sloooooowly picking up their toys. Any parent or manager of people might want to take note of this procrastination motivation.

And then there is plain ‘ol laziness. You may think this is synonymous with my “mood or need for inspiration” excuse, and you may be right. But guess what? I’ve considered the consequences of my actions and accept them with my head held high. I will not spoil my occasional desire to be lazy with guilt over not always being productive. Especially, if I’ve proven to myself that everything that needs to get done eventually gets done.

Hopefully, this post helps you process your own tendencies toward procrastination and that you’ll also stop beating yourself up for sometimes putting things off. And if this post made no sense at all, it’s likely because I wrote it in haste at the very last minute.

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Hospitality Geared Toward Blessing vs. Impressing

photo from partycity.com

Photo from partycity.com

I first got a clue about entertaining when I was in my early twenties. My aunt was hosting a bridal shower and a few of our female relatives were asked to help prepare the food. Each was assigned a dish. “And be sure to bring a crystal bowl for the buffet table,” she’d said. “That way all the food can be served from crystal bowls.”

I thought the crystal bowl thing was a stroke of genius. I’d never considered serving food from matching dishes before! In fact, I knew nothing of what was entailed in real entertaining–that hostesses needed to consider not only food and beverage, but also serving bowls, plates, flatware, napkins, cups, table coverings, center pieces, etc. I simply had no idea how much forethought, organization and creativity went into a proper celebration!

I was intrigued and wanted to absorb this knowledge about beautiful presentations and hospitality. So I paid close attention and made mental notes. Some years later, I hosted a bridal shower for my soon-to-be sister-in-law complete with little crust-less finger sandwiches served on a three-tiered display that I’d picked up along the way.

But there was more to learn. After children came along and I stopped working outside the home for a while, coffee with other mothers became a thing. I remember so looking forward to the company. But I especially noticed that coffee was always served with some type of pastry or banana nut muffins or blueberry scones. Sometimes homemade. Other times, store bought. It didn’t seem to matter. But presentation seemed integral with floral patterned paper napkins and cream and sugar sets. I made more mental notes. But once when I offered to host coffee at my house, I was either too lazy or too busy to make or buy food. So I served only coffee. When the first of only two guests arrived, I apologized for not providing snacks and received a comment that kinda floored me. I expected to hear, “It’s okay. Don’t worry about it.” Instead, she said, “It’s okay. You’ll learn.”

For a moment, I kinda wanted to rant just like my mother did when her sister asked her to bring food to a bridal shower in a crystal dish. But, what I’ve come to realize is that upping your game when it comes to hospitality is more than an added bonus for your guests. In some cases, it’s what’s proper. But in most cases, it’s about bringing out your best to bless your guests.

Okay, now I get it. Well, almost. This past year, I had a conversation with a friend about what’s appropriate to serve to any casual guest, whether formally invited or of the pop-in variety. She explained to me that her parents are of a certain age that they expect to be offered a beverage at the very least whenever they visit somebody’s home. So maybe it’s generational? I’ve tried to remember this, especially if we’re entertaining guests of a certain age. We had some over 70 pop-ins this past week. I right away offered ice water. They readily accepted. Whew. Didn’t blow it.

Then again, maybe it’s not generational. I once tried to save a buck by buying beer in cans for a smallish gathering of friends. One friend declined the beer with a comment along the lines of being too old to drink cheap beer. Got it. Beer in bottles and preferably of the micro-brewery variety labeled with kitchy names like swamp water or bathtub brew.

Another time, when I served dessert to a small group and asked if it was okay to top it with Cool-Whip instead of real whipped cream, I’m pretty sure somebody groaned. So now I only buy Cool-Whip for that church cookbook marshmallow fruit salad recipe that old folks and children on the tundra seem to love.

Now I’m not trying to overwhelm anyone with implied rules for entertaining. I am a firm believer in letting folks grab whatever they want right out of my fridge, especially any teenage friend of our children. Have at it.

And I’m fairly certain that my family and friends are not the pretentious prigs they may seem like in this post. It’s really not about crystal dishes or bottled beer. It’s about my learning to view everyone who enters our home as an honored guest. It’s about trying to make people feel special even if for just a little while. Cause life out there is hard. And when you come here, I want you to feel loved. I’ve learned the value of a little extra effort, that in most cases, it’s much appreciated. Although there was that one time when I hosted a dinner party and one guy said eating off anybody’s good china made him feel uncomfortable. I guess I can’t win. Good thing I’m not trying to “win”.

photo from ameliasaltsman.com

photo from ameliasaltsman.com

I’m no Martha Stewart or Pinterest professional. I’m just trying to learn from others so that I might be able to serve others as best I can. I want my door to always be open. I want company to always feel welcome at our dinner table. And I never want you to think you’re not worth the effort.

What do you think? Are there any rules to entertaining? How do you make guests feel special? Does it matter?

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Is Anybody Buying What You’re Selling?

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Anyone who’s ever been in sales likely knows about the “pen test”. I failed my first “pen test” when I was 22 years old. A fresh faced college graduate with Working Girl  dreams schlepping my briefcase from brokerage house to brokerage house on the hunt for a job in the midst of a recession. Most hiring managers were impressed with my chutzpah. But a successful stockbroker is a successful sales person. And sales people must be clear about what they want and they must ask for it–something I find too many non-sales people are reluctant to do–and that’s unfortunate. Because thinking clearly about what you want and articulating clearly what you want are vital life skills. It also helps mentally compare motivations with values to check that they are in line.

The “pen test” is a good measure of a basic sales skill. For me, it went like this: one of those brokerage house managers listened intently as I prattled on about my academic accomplishments and work ethic, etc. He glanced at my resume and complimented my aptitude. But then he did something I thought a bit strange at the time. He plucked a pen from a holder on his desk and handed it to me. “Please try to sell me this pen,” he said.

Thinking this a very odd request but knowing that the first rule of improv (and desperation) is never to deny an invitation, I took the pen and began to list all of its many features and benefits.

The manager listened. And nodded. And smiled. But he never gave an indication of when I was finished selling the pen. It seemed he was waiting for me to say more. I continued with my flowery narrative: how stylish the pen was, how smooth it wrote, how it wouldn’t leak in your pocket, etc. But his face remained unchanged and seemingly underwhelmed.

I finally stopped talking about the amazing pen and asked, “How’d I do?”

He retrieved his pen from me, replaced it to its holder and said, “You did fine but you forgot the most important part.”

“What?”

“You never asked me how many pens I wanted to order.”

Let that sink in for a moment.

We can’t just talk and talk and talk when we want something to happen or someone to act. At some point, we need to clearly say what it is we want. Salespeople want a sale. But everybody wants something at some point. Are you making it clear what it is you want–when you’re having a disagreement, when you’re nagging your spouse or children, when you’re complaining at the customer service counter or to your boss or to your staff? If you’re not getting what you want, maybe it’s because you haven’t asked. Maybe you don’t even know.

A couple of years ago, a teacher said something to my son that upset him so much, he didn’t want to return to school the next day. He buried his head under his covers distraught at the possibility that his teacher disliked him. Fury vibrated in my soul and my blood boiled at the thought of someone, especially a teacher, upsetting my child to such a degree with careless words. I called the principal and requested a meeting. I remember still shaking with indignant anger while gripping the steering wheel during that drive to the school. Then, I paused and asked myself, “What exactly do I want from this meeting?”

A fair question. Always. Venting frustration and complaining about things we don’t like or believe are unfair do little to nothing to solve any problem unless we can articulate what it is we want an offending person to do.

Sometimes we just want to be heard. If so, say that. Sometimes we want an apology. If so, say that. Other times, we may want revenge or to inflict pain on those who’ve hurt us. If that’s our motivation, we need to hit the pause button and take stock of our values and behavior.

In the case with my son, I wanted him to feel safe and accepted in this particular teacher’s classroom. And once I’d figured out exactly what I wanted, I knew how to state my case and ask for it. The principal and teacher readily agreed. The teacher even hugged my son when he returned to her class and assured him that her words were not meant to be hostile. She would never be my son’s favorite teacher (and possibly he was never her favorite student) but they could co-exist with an understanding based on clear expectations that were in line with good values.

I’ve tried to ask myself this question, “What do I want?” whenever I lead a meeting, write a blog post, return an item to a department store, plan a vacation, consider a job opportunity or find myself feeling depressed or jealous or fat or unhappy. And what if I answered that question by saying, “Today, I want my actions to give glory to God.”?

Because what good is it to wallow in negativity or aspire to some vague notion of joy? Emotions come and go. They are unstable and unpredictable.

Like counting our blessings, examining what drives our thinking and thus, what it is we want, and then practicing the skill of being able to speak that truth in love can go a long way in accomplishing personal and professional goals. It can also help smooth out rough patches in relationships and dial back a tendency to simply complain when we’re unhappy.

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

We can tap dance around most any issue ad nauseam. But eventually, we must offer ourselves and the world clarity of motivation and desire. Only then will we know if anyone is buying what we’re selling.

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