Friday, October 30, 2015

Autumn Heaven

Autumn is a place
where colors richly dwell
and collected sighs, contented, 
bid falling leaves farewell.
- Unknown

If I lived in the same town as autumn, I'm afraid I wouldn't be able to concentrate.  I would wear sweat shirts, drink cider and crunch through fallen leaves every day.  I'd have to suspend real life from September through November to watch every single leaf fall. 

LtDan and I visited our dear friends Kathy and Billy last weekend in North Carolina.  It was g.l.o.r.i.o.u.s.

After thunderstorms in Texas calmed down and a delayed flight crew arrived from Mexico, we finally got out of the airport and winged it half way across the country to arrive well past midnight.  Then we stayed up talking until much wee-er hours than anyone whose age doesn't end in -teen should.

We slept indulgently late, and after eating a huge breakfast including biscuits and gravy at the local restaurant, we spent most of the day rocking the hours away on the front porch (one of my favorite places in the world), watching the leaves fall and basking in the autumn sunshine.  The yard full of leaves was thrilling for me, but then of course I don't have to rake them :o)

Saturday we took a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The day was overcast and a little gray, but that didn't stop the leaves in every color from yellow to gold to red to orange from stealing the show.  Who needs sunshine when the leaves are glowing from within?

We spent Sunday afternoon around a backyard barbecue grill beside a private pond, and had the most amazing fish caught right out of Key West.  A little football, a little Nascar, lots of laughing, some story swapping, and a fun game of LeftCenterRight made a perfect fall day of it.

Although fall is my absolute favorite season, I suppose it's a good thing I don't live in North Carolina, where even a trip to the grocery store down the street looks like a scene from a movie called Perfect Autumn.  

I thought that our Texas trees had begun to change their summer colors for fall; indeed, I thought in Texas we had a proper fall - but I stand corrected, because now I know the truth:  fall lives in North Carolina.

Friday, October 23, 2015

How to Be Late

I think there are two kinds of people in this world:  those who are late and those who aren't.  Some people seem to be born with the ability to run on time, and some of us ... well, we have to learn how.  Having been in the former group most of my life, there's a sizeable build up of guilt that triggers when I'm running late.  I don't know about you, but guilt doesn't bring out my best behavior.  Guilt makes me want to avoid speaking the truth (I'm late), which makes me less likely to be considerate of others (call ahead to say I'm late).

The discussion around punctuality is typically centered around Don't Ever Be Late!  Ideally, standard practice is to be habitually early, but in the (hopefully rare) event that circumstances beyond our control prevent an on time arrival, we need a plan so that the bad behavior of the guilty late-comer doesn't take over as default.

Our HomeSchool Co-op runs on a clear outline of expectations and procedures.  If you're late, there's a defined process to follow (text Pam!) and clear consequences if you don't follow it (a demerit for being late). As a new HomeSchool Mom, I was super anxious to get it all right, and that dreaded demerit was the spectre in more than one bad dream for me.

The first time we were late for Enrichment classes, I did it my way:  desperately trying to cover my guilt by rushing, completely stressed out, driving too fast, rushing breathlessly into the building, dragging two children by the hand and tongue lashing the other two for moving too slowly.

Then I tried it the other way:  late, desperately in need of a break, calling to confess we would probably arrive a few minutes after the bell.  What I got back was complete grace, and just like that, a topsy-turvy morning was set right by the simple act of taking responsibility met with a gracious response.

What I've come to understand and appreciate is that our co-op rules have provided not only an excellent rehab opportunity for guilty-late me, but also a great chance to teach my kids how to be late.  To be clear, I don't advocate being late - you should make punctuality a habit (I wrote }here{ about how to do that).  But in the event one of your passengers gets carsick, or you get stuck behind a tractor on a country road, or you have to go back to get the class project which adds 20 minutes to your commute, you can still be late responsibly.

Here's how we've learned to handle it when we're running behind schedule:

Call Ahead

Don't stress yourself out for 30 minutes thinking you'll make up time in traffic and arrive on time after all - as soon as you know you'll be late, just call.  It feels  so.  much.  better.  You're exerting a positive on the day that didn't start off so great - now you don't have to drive like a maniac, and you won't get a ticket or have an accident because of careless driving.  You also know that you've been considerate of others and have given them adequate time to cover your spot or use their time differently until you arrive, which feels pretty fantastic and grownup.

When You Arrive

You'll be tempted to rush in like an out of breath hurricane when you reach your destination.  Don't do that.  Rushing only makes you feel more flustered.  Remember:  slow is smooth and smooth is fast.  It's a distraction to have someone rush in all dramatic because they're late.  The transition will go faster and you'll be out of the embarrassing spotlight more quickly if you'll just be calm.  If it's appropriate, apologize to the proper authority for being late, but don't take up time to give excuses or tell your story about the neighbor's buffalo blocking your driveway, even if it is true.  Your goal is to mesh into the activity in progress as seamlessly as possible, and as is so often the case, it isn't all about you anyway :o)  Just enter quickly and quietly and go on about your day.

Even if you're late, you still have power over how it will affect other people and how significantly it impacts your day.  I have to admit being on time is something I'm still learning, and I still backslide on occasion.  But knowing how I'm going to handle it if I'm going to be late makes it significantly less stressful.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Listen to This! Podcast Recommendations, #2

You know how lonely it feels when you face a tough situation and you have no idea how to speak to it?  The toughest situation you've faced in ...  ever ... and no one around you has any common ground?  Or maybe the situation is really personal, and you can't talk to anyone about it, though you desperately need input.  When you're faced with a tough life situation and you feel all alone in it, what you've been filling your heart and mind with can be your lifeline if you've been cultivating good stuff, and podcasts are an exceptional source for inspiration and personal development.  Today I'll share six of my current favorites with you.

I love podcasts because they're like getting free  -free!-  coaching, mentoring, encouragement, and entertainment on demand.  When my kids were small, I listened to books on tape whilst doing the repetitive tasks of the day.  It helped keep my mind active and focused on positive things rather than well, the repetitive tasks of the day.  I still listen to books, but these days I'm also listening to a lot of podcasts.  They keep my thought life focused and growing, and when life's stormclouds come along, not only are they a place to find comfort in the present, I find they've seeded my mind with wise counsel, direction, and sound thinking.

I'm invested in my Ipod and ITunes, so that's the solution for me but there are lots of other options (I hear Stitcher or Downcast mentioned fairly often).  Initially, I bookmarked podcast websites and listened to them from my SmartPhone, but eventually that became unwieldy.  Now I subscribe to my favorite podcasts in ITunes, and new updates are automatically downloaded to my ITunes library and ready to sync to my IPod whenever I plug it in.  I sync my IPod on Sunday evening, and I've set ITunes to remove the episodes I've listened to and load up to ten new episodes of each Podcast.  This makes it super easy to start my week with a cache of inspiration, encouragement, motivation, entertainment and education.

I listen to podcasts on my IPod on my morning walks and while I do housework or yardwork.  Sometimes, if there's no one around to entertain me, I listen while I cook.  My favorite time to listen is when I get dressed in the morning - that's a regular 30 minutes at the beginning of the day and gets my thoughts moving in a positive and empowered direction.  I also love to listen when I drive into town, if I'm by myself - it makes a 30 minute drive go by much faster.

At the moment, I'm subscribed to 30 podcasts, and I'm always finding new recommendations from other bloggers and podcasters.  Here are six great listens:

Insight for Living, with Charles R. Swindoll

Charles Swindoll teaches the Bible like no one else.  His teaching style is my favorite - take a passage of scripture and examine it from all angles, don't water down the truth when it's difficult, and don't pass up any opportunity to laugh deep down from the belly.  This is solid, wise Bible teaching at its best, and Swindoll's kind and warm voice makes you feel like you're listening to a trusted friend.

Click }here{ to view the current Insight for Living series, "Joseph: A Man of Integrity and Forgiveness"

Sorta Awesome, with Megan Tietz 

Oh, this delightful Podcast!  You get to sit in on a weekly happy conversation between Megan and one of her co-hosts.  You never know what they'll be discussing, but it will always be interesting and may include beauty tips or a discussion about the Myers-Briggs personality test or pop-culture.  And the Awesome of the Week is always, of course, awesome.    

Click }here{ to go to the Sorta Awesome Podcast archive.  I enjoyed episode #22, "Breakups, Favorites and Other Confessions," wherein Megan and Laura discuss books, among other things.  I read my first Steven King novel as a result of this podcast - never in a million years thought that would happen.

The Accidental Creative, with Todd Henry

The Accidental Creative is consistently at the top of my list for great podcast listens, since I can always count on Todd Henry to offer concise and practical inspiration for upping the game when it comes to productivity and creativity.

Click }here{ to listen to "The Power of a Morning Ritual", and you'll hear compelling reasons why a regular morning ritual will heighten your productivity, along with a description of the elements of Todd Henry's morning ritual.

The Lively Show, with Jess Lively

The Lively Show will equip you to live life from a foundation of values based intentions.  Topics vary from career to relationships to wellness to business to food and are thought provoking and inspiring.

Click }here{ to listen to the interview with Tara Bliss, a life coach from Australia about her journey from life as a party girl to her best self.  She has the kindest voice, ever - the way she says "Honey" will melt your heart.  I also enjoyed the episode with Alisa Viti, "Optimizing Your Hormones to Optimize Every Aspect of Your Life (click }here{ to listen).  The episode with Jadah Sellner, "Simple Green Smoothies, Embracing Imperfections and Online Marketing" has me drinking Green Smoothies and loving it (click }here{ to listen).

Fat Burning Man, with Abel James

Honestly, this Podcast is just a little beyond me, but I'm interested in living healthier and this podcast is packed with information about fitness and nutrition and high quality health that gets me thinking in the right direction.  Fat Burning Man gives the science behind the healthful recommendations and that helps me internalize the whys.

Click }here{ to listen to the interview with Danny Dryer, "Mindful Exercise, the Importance of Breathing, and Hitting Your Reset Button."  Of course I knew you should breathe "properly" when you exercise, but this is the podcast that helped me understand the benefits and was therefore the thing that finally has me breathing right.

Hope*ologie, with Myquillyn Smith, Emily P. Freeman, and Gary Morland

That would be sisters Myquillyn Smith (the Nester) and author Emily P. Freeman, and their Dad.  Hope*ologie is a sweet conversation between the three about random things revolving around family, health and spirituality.  It's a very casual broadcast, frequently filled with giggles and silliness that you will completely understand if you ever discuss childhood with a sibling.  Definitely lighthearted, with spiritual depth, Hope*ologie is soothing to the soul.
 Click }here{ to listen to "What Only Summer Can Teach Me"

If you're looking for more podcast options, check out my first podcast recommendations post }here{.  I'd love to know if you have some recommendations, too!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Mercy Hunting: Looking for Good Works

Hello Friday!  It's a new day and God's mercies are new along with it - I have pictures to prove it.  Last week I was thinking deep thoughts on a roller coaster.  This week I'm thinking deep thoughts about good works.

One mercy and blessing that I'm thankful for and not just in the morning is our new porch furniture - I'm completely and totally in love with it!  It came from Nebraska Furniture Company (click }here{ to read about that birthday shopping adventure) and it's so lovely and meets my 'comfortable enough for a nap' requirement.  It also matches the leftover barn paint I used to paint the armoire and back door ... didn't plan that but I love it.  The pelican was also a birthday gift, he flew in all the way from Key West and makes me smile every time I see him.

I've always been a weekly grocery shopper - it's how my Mom did it, too.  Living 30 minutes from a grocery store provides a weekly opportunity to spend some private time with each of my kids on a regular basis.  If you haven't read my post about Mom & Me nights, click }here{ - I think it's one of the best things I've instituted as a mom.  This is my sweet girl last week at our favorite restaurant.

She isn't texting friends and obsessed with social media, she's showing me all the funny things on the internet so we can laugh together.  We talk non-stop all evening on random topics of no consequence and weighty topics that take some thought.  I look forward to Mom & Me nights every week and they are way up at the top of my list when it comes to God's Mercies and how they show up daily.  I had no idea what I was starting more than ten years ago with Mom & Me, and I'm so grateful for it.

This week I listened to }this{ episode of the Portfolio Life Podcast, Jeff Goin's interview with Seth Godin, wherein they discuss Godin's book What to Do When It's Your Turn (and it's always your turn).  The entire interview is packed with excellent insight, but the one thing that I keep pondering is Godin's comment that he writes what he needs to read.  As someone who processes things through writing, this makes great sense, and resonated deeply with what I've been thinking about lately.

Today, this is me, writing what I myself need to read.

Years ago, LtDan and I went through a two day course called Walk Through the Old Testament in which we memorized the Old Testament.  Not word for word, but we learned a blurb for every significant event that occurs from Genesis to Malachi, complete with hand motions.  It was amazing to get the big picture and see how it all fits together.  Our friend, Richard, described it best when he said, "I felt like all those events were rolling around in my head like loose marbles, and this program is the string that collects them all together."

That's a little bit how I feel about the life lessons I'm trying to learn right now.  They are a bunch of loose marbles rolling around in my head - nuggets of truth and wisdom that are high value on their own, but if I could only string them together on the same strand, they would be massively powerful.

Lately, I'm realizing that not only do I need to absorb wisdom for myself, I need to be able to share it in conversation, too.  In all honestly, I would rather recommend a podcast or book and leave it at that.  That way I'm not so much in the position of telling people what they should do, and I avoid the necessity of putting the energy into making a compelling case and inviting conversation about it.  But my young people are probably not going to go listen the the podcasts I talk about or read the books I recommend, and they aren't so inclined to patiently sit through my long-winded presentations anymore.  They're stretching into their own lives, and my best opportunities these days are elevator speeches, more often than not.

I'm rereading When the Game is Over It All Goes Back in the Box, by John Ortberg.  It has so many great points about focusing our lives on what is lasting.  Chapter 11, "Fill Each Square With What Matters Most" opens with a quote from Lewis Smedes:
I bought a brand-new date book yesterday, the kind I use every year.... Every square has a number to tell me which day of the month I'm in at the moment.  Every square is a frame for one episode of my life.... Whatever I do, it has to fit inside one of those squares on my date book.  I live one square at a time.  The four lines that make up the box are the walls of time that organize my life.  Each box has an invisible door that leads to the next square.  As if by a silent stroke, the door opens and I am pulled through, as if by a magnet, sucked into the next square in line.  There I will again fill the time frame that seals me - fill it with my busy-ness just as I did the square before.  As I get older, the squares seem to get smaller.  One day I will walk into a square that has no door.  There will be no mysterious opening and no walking into an adjoining square.  One of those squares will be terminal.  I do not know which square it will be.
Ortberg goes on to discuss the idea that our lives are like a glass jar with finite capacity, and how critical it is to make sure that we put in the most important things first.  When I think of what I should be doing - impacting the lives around me with love - I feel a mental door slamming on trying to be the kind of Mom I'm not, and the perfectionist in me gives up before she even begins.  I'm not the smoochy, huggy, selfless Mom always ready to have a long heart-to-heart that I picture when I think of being ultra-loving.  But what if I pried that slammed door open a little bit, what if I tried those impossible things, chief among which is to change and be a better version of myself?  What if I tried to do better, tried to rack up some good works for the Kingdom?   Normally, I'm leaning hard on God's grace and mercy, and doing my tried and true version of "good," but not really thinking about my call to actually do good works.

That's the downside of grace, if there could possibly be one: that I rely too heavily upon it.  I'm tolerably "good" but I am not great, and certainly don't live my life as though my salvation depends on it.  I am saved purely by God's grace ... but what about the works that are supposed to be evidence of my faith?  What if I lived this day like I needed to earn my way into God's grace ... would I behave differently?

Yes.  I would behave frantically.  I would be frantic, not knowing what to do.  Leave now for the mission field, right now?  Give all my possessions away to the poor?  But there's a mission field right here in my living room - these lives, these hearts, these growing souls.  How am I impacting the Kingdom in these lives, in my ever so, ever so daily life?

My MotherMantra is "if you're going to live here, you have to do chores.  You have to contribute to the family."  Maybe God is tapping His foot toward me, and saying "Absolutely, you are my child, and if you're going to be part of this Kingdom, you have to contribute!"

My heart rejoices in God's constant, perpetual, all sufficient saving grace.  I'm so grateful for that, every single day.  His love is steadfast, and His mercies are new every morning.  But God has blessed me with much - blessings upon blessings as far as my heart's eye can see - to me, much has been given.  Maybe it's time to push out of my spiritual adolescence and challenge myself to seek, find and do good works.  Maybe it's time to do more chores for the Kingdom.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Life Lessons from the Roller Coaster

Every year, LtDan's company throws a big party at Six Flags over Texas.  The park is closed to the public and it's a big employee party, so it's not crowded and there are nearly no lines.  Our kids look forward to it every year, as well they should.  It's always in the fall, so the chance of fantastic fall weather is about 50% (it's Texas - we could be freezing cold or sweltering in the heat - you just never know).  This year, the evening was absolutely perfect and everyone had a blast.  Wandering around at Six Flags always makes me nostalgic - for my own trips there as a teen, and then for when the kids were little.  Once I walked in desperate circles looking for our littlest guy Aaron, only to realize I was holding his hand and dragging him along with me.  Ha!  Those days are long gone - no one needs me to hold their hand anymore.

All night long, I looked in awe at the 79° angle plunge of the new Texas Giant roller coaster.  The first drop looked straight down to me.  A straight down plunge from 153 feet.  NO WAY.  No way would I EVER ride that.  But, when faced with compellingly convincing young people who are willing to lie to you and tell you that oh yes, Mom, this is the one you rode last year and you said it was your favorite, it's not time to say no.

So I rode the Texas Giant.

image credit: "SixFlagsTexasGiant" by Loadmaster (David R. Tribble)

The incline ticked up endlessly, and when I could stand it no longer, I shut my eyes tight.  The coming tip over the edge to plummet straight down was just too much to make with my eyes open.  Once that drop was over things didn't slow down, of course: the speed topped out at 65 miles an hour.  Finally, I managed to open my eyes, but with every muscle in my body clenched tight and focused on holding on for dear life.

I fought for presence of mind and told myself to relax, to breathe.  I unclenched my muscles, leaned into it ... and floated.  No, literally - I floated a few inches above the seat to meet the safety bar :o)  But instead of being tense, clenched, and scared, I realized that it was ... lovely.  Like flying.  As we twisted and turned and I kept my eyes open anticipating the turns, it was like flying.  Part of me was thrilled and exhilarated.  When we stopped, I wanted to ride it again, so I could keep my eyes open and lean into it for the whole ride.  Well, okay, everything but that first drop.  I wanted to learn the curves and twists and angles so I could fly again.

It strikes me that my whole life I've handled scary things like this - close the eyes tight, hang on for dear life, and just get through - just hang on until the end.  Then suddenly, the ride is over and frankly, everything is a little vague.

Maybe you've noticed, too, but life is kind of like a roller coaster.  Here comes a breath-taking climb - squeeze your eyes shut just before the perilous drop, and grip the bar with a death grip on the crazy turns.  You feel the twists and turns and maybe take a peek at the scenery streaking by - then suddenly it's done and you realize well really, that was kind of fun now that you got through it.

The lesson of the roller coaster is that you can ride with your eyes closed and your hands clenched on the safety bar, but it all goes by in a blur.  If you want to really experience the whole thrill of it, relax.  Relax, just lean in, and keep your eyes open.

We walked through the park toward the exit, everyone talking excitedly about their favorite ride and their favorite thrills.  But I was thinking about applying the roller coaster lesson to real life.  When the big scary things come along - change, for instance - what if instead of tensing up and closing my eyes, what if I lean into what I fear?  What if I just relax?  Could it be that I'll make it to the end and remember the thrill and the exhilaration all the more - and maybe carry the lessons to be learned a little closer to the heart?  Maybe leaning in and keeping my eyes open will make it not so scary.

I won't be riding any roller coasters again for a while, but meanwhile, I'll practice keeping my eyes open in real life.  Even when it's scary.