just do it

Everyone is a leader in some realm. Whether you are a parent, a teacher, an older sibling, a coach, a manager or a cancer survivor….someone, somewhere is looking at you, and taking a cue from you. And that, my friend, is what it means to be a leader.

Sometimes we can operate under the misconception that a leader is someone with a charismatic personality and an ability to speak eloquently, and that feels very intimidating. But lately, as I’ve been studying through the book of 1 Corinthians, I’ve found myself chuckling and relating over the apostle Paul’s leadership experiences and realizing how much emphasis Paul puts on trying to debunk this very myth of big-name, ‘celebrity’ leadership.

I can practically see Paul sitting at a rough-hewn wooden table, thinking over the petty disputes and lofty debates of these churches and facepalming himself.

And I have to say, I love how snarky and sarcastic Paul gets with people.  Take a look at 1 Corinthians 4:8, where Paul is tongue-in-cheek ‘applauding’ this church for thinking they are so rich – even “kingly”! – in their spiritual “maturity”….which he has just spent the previous several pages trying to correct, because they’re so off-base.

(Can’t you just hear Paul saying “Great job, guys…you’re now all experts, without any help from anyone! NOT!”)

And you get it too, don’t you? Paul’s sentiments. Because you’re a leader too. 

You’ve lived something, experienced something, learned something the hard way. And SOMETHING is now, to you, more than a theory, an idea or a belief. It’s your reality. And you now have this gem in your hand, this hard-earned or learned lesson that you now have a responsibility to steward well and help bring to someone coming along behind you. And that’s what makes you a leader. Not a certificate or a degree that says you ‘are’ something. Those papers or accreditation (or lack thereof) don’t make you who you are, don’t mean you necessarily have something to offer. It’s the life you’ve lived that has really taught you things.

And I’d also be willing to bet that the things that you KNOW in your KNOWER…those very things that are the gems of wisdom and experience that you hold….they probably came at a pretty dear price. But that’s also what makes you a leader. Leaders are willing to pay the price.

Real leaders aren’t people that can learn some “lines”…some good arguments, some information, some facts, or some doctrines…and then “perform” those with great energy in front of a crowd. Those are actors.

Real leaders are the ones who are willing to get in the trenches of life, do the hard stuff, learn the lessons, take the hits….and then turn around to the watching eyes behind them and say “This way”…and keep on going.

This is essentially what Paul is chiding the Christians about in his Corinthian letter. He’s telling them…being mature isn’t about knowing (or thinking you know) a bunch of stuff. Maturity is cultivated in the “fire”, so to speak. It’s about drawing the “short straw”, sucking it up…and going for it. He compares the apostles “status” as leaders to prisoners of war being paraded in a procession to their death. The end of the line, “buck stops here” kind of thinking. Not exactly the glamorous “position” we like to associate with leadership. He’s essentially saying to them… “You guys SO don’t get this….” It’s not about being “top dog”, but rather, being willing to be the bottom rung so that others can climb on your shoulders.

But a few sentences later he expresses that he’s not railing on them in order to shame them, but rather to give them an accurate picture of what REAL leadership is, and to encourage it to embrace it for themselves. To go for it. To pursue being true leaders. He says “Look at what I’m going through, and imitate me…do what I’m doing!”

Does Paul do this because he thinks he’s just All That? Because he’s such hot stuff he wants everyone to be just like him? No. Not at all. Just like good parents don’t strive to set a good example just to make themselves look good (or at least that shouldn’t be the motivation). They do it because they want to pass something on. They want the next generation to get it. Paul says to this church…”You guys have a lot of teachers, but not many fathers…”

What’s the difference between a teacher and father?

It’s the fact that a father gets down and dirty and takes a whole lotta crap in order to give the best to his kids. Teachers are great, and good, and necessary. They impart important information and facilitate learning. But it’s a more detached role. It’s not nearly as personally invested as a parent.

But a dad (or a mom), or anyone that cares enough about another person to take hits on their behalf…that’s a LEADER.

We need more leaders. We don’t need more personas, more big-names, more celebrities. We need more “fathers” (and “mothers”). Essentially saying…we need more people that really, really care, and care enough to ‘go there’…to the difficult places…themselves.

We need people who are willing to look like fools, to take the heat to push through…and then who are willing to turn around, look someone in the eye and say… “This way. Follow me.”

You see, the very word describes what a leader should do. They aren’t called “senders”. They don’t stand, like a sign-post and just tell everyone where to go and what to do. They LEAD. They get out in front and they go where they want others to be able to go.

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So you…yeah, YOU. Someone, somewhere is looking at you. They’re waiting for you to take the step. To say “I’ve been there.” To show them how to navigate the murky waters. They don’t want to just read a book, listen to a TED talk, or watch a YouTube tutorial (though all those things are great). They need YOU to get in the trenches, to be with them in taking the hits, to let them see you wrestle through the struggles. They need you to lead.

So don’t get hung up on whether or not you look good or sound good. Take a cue from Nike (and the Apostle Paul) and “Just Do It”. And take somebody with you. Because that’s what a leader does.

emotions – perception or reality

I have often heard it said…

“Emotions aren’t right or wrong. You can’t deny your feelings.”

I do believe that is true.

However….

Emotions are fickle things; they are like slick salesmen…not always to be trusted or taken simply at face value…

I’m not saying that they are ‘wrong’…but they can be deceiving.

The problem with just always trusting, and acting on, our emotions is that our emotions are not necessarily bias-neutral. They spring from our perceptions of the situations going on around us.

Notice I said “perceptions of”….not necessarily the facts of reality.

Emotions may tell us that certain “thing” will make us happy. Sometimes I can get such warm-fuzzy emotions from a successful shopping trip. However, most times, the reality is that my bank account says I should have found some alternate way to find those good feels. My emotions say “Yes! Buy! Oh, it’s perfect! You SHOULD have this!”, but it’s a distorted reality.

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Sometimes my emotions tell me things like “So-and-so is mad at you. In fact, they don’t even want to be your friend. Actually…they never really did like you.” While there might be some truth in the fact that maybe something is off…it could also be that my friend is going through some things completely unrelated to me, and just hasn’t been feeling all that social. The emotions offer me a perspective that might not be rooted in reality.

Emotions also take into account my side of any given story…but not necessarily the other factors at play. I don’t, or can’t, always know the details of what is going on with other people, or their own struggles, and the way all of that might be contributing to whatever situation is at hand. Emotions don’t give me a full-story picture. They only filter through my own lens of interpretation of things.

The biggest red flag for me is when my emotions seem to have a vice-grip on me, and I struggle to shake from myself a nagging feeling of dread, sadness or anger. Those bigger-than-life feelings are usually the ones that, while not ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, sure often turn out to be liars about reality. When I can manage to realize the how disproportionate they are, I try to force my brain to engage over whatever feelings are trying to control me, and purpose to choose to not buy into whatever the deal is my innards are trying to sell me on. I try to ration with myself…

 “There is no reasonable cause for this fear.”

“That person isn’t ignoring you…they have a busy life too!”

“While you may want to just unload and give that person a piece of your mind…in all likelihood, you are really going to regret it if you do!”

(Totally random scenarios to make a point.)

All that to say… I’m not at all an advocate of “stuffing” one’s feelings. I think feelings are good, and helpful…if we learn to handle them properly. They can be helpful…not necessarily always in giving us the honest truth…but helpful, maybe, in sometimes cluing us in to other things that may be going on internally, like insecurity, fear or simply over-tiredness. Emotions are NOT ‘right’ or ‘wrong’…they just ARE. But the question we have to ask ourselves is often more about the “why” that is triggering the emotion.

Emotions are good, we just have to remember they aren’t the end-all and be-all, and they cannot be the only force that drives us. We are not slaves to our emotions. We have to always remember to pair emotions with reasonable thinking and good decision making. They are a vitally important part of the way we are wired as humans…but not the ONLY part. THANKFULLY we also have a brain to engage with our ‘feeler’. Outcomes of actions are usually better when we are firing on ALL cylinders.

Now, if I can just remember IN THE MOMENT to do so!!

Hey, I’m a work in progress, okay? ;)

looking back while planning ahead

I don’t always do #TBT (Throwback Thursday), but today I did. I was working on creating some pro-and-con lists for decisions we are trying to make regarding our house…namely, whether to build on or move…or just wait it out. As I was perusing articles on home additions, and looking up loan interest rates, I took a minute to hop on Facebook and saw some posts reminding me of this weekly social media event…a day set aside for reminiscing. It made me feel a little nostalgic and I decided to see what fun old picture I could quickly unearth and share.

I found one of my ‘babies’, a whole ten years ago when my youngest was merely weeks old, and my now-grown girl was just a cute ‘tween’.

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At first I chuckled…at their silly faces, the baby pudge, and the memory of a bit simpler era when we could stay in PJ’s all day, and life wasn’t dictated so much by the outside world as much as it was by who was getting a new tooth, or needed extra snuggles and naps. Of course, then I also remembered the stress of being exhausted from nursing that little guy round the clock, while trying to homeschool, potty train and deal with daily food battles. The wistful sight turned slightly to a breath of relief that I had made it through those years.

As I looked at those little people, I thought about how quickly they’ve turned into much bigger people (with still more growing to happen!), and that the changes over the past decade is the very reason my agenda for today is largely focused on how to better accommodate this wonderful family of mine…now, and in the years to come.

I realized how crazy-fast ten years flies by. I believe the saying goes something like “the days go slow, but the years go fast…”. As cliché as it sounds, I’m astounded by the truth of this. It renews my desire to make things count…the words, the decisions, the investments. I am reminded that what seems like it can always be “put off until tomorrow” really can’t, because before we realize, tomorrow is actually yesterday…or ten years ago.

It has helped me some in evaluating what the priorities are, even in this tedious process of trying to make house, time, finance and all the other day-to-day type choices. Life is all about trade-offs. For every “yes” we say, we are saying “no” to something else. I want to evaluate and make sure I’m giving my “yes’s” and my “no’s” to the right things.

I don’t want to sit and look at pictures, a decade from now, of my family today and think “We should have just…” or “I wish we hadn’t….” I want to think and act purposefully and proactively. I don’t want to be ruled by tiredness and procrastination, and worry and “what ifs”. I don’t want to be consumed with the petty things, only to miss out on the opportunities. I want to enjoy these days, and weeks and months and hopefully be building on them in a way that will give me even more to enjoy in the years down the road.

Sometimes thinking “lofty” thoughts seems a bit like sentimental “pie in the sky” and a waste of time. But today taking time to reminisce turned out to be quite practical in that it helped to give me some of the very specific “pros” and “cons” that I need to put on the lists I am making right now.  It motivated me to try to put things in practical perspective, and take some “next steps”.

Reminiscing can be both a look back, AND a look forward.

Thanks, kids, for being my inspiration today.

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acceptance and trust

After reading and re-reading my own post, I feel I need to offer a bit of a precursory statement. I’m over here on the blog talking about “slowing down” like it’s some grandiose thing, like it’s a choice that everyone should make. I want to be the first to say that I know full well, from the changing seasons of my own life, that this is not always even an option. Many people are in situations where their livelihood picks up during this time of the year. Work isn’t an option. Diapers and teething and sick kids don’t usually get the memo “Hey, I’d like a more peaceful holiday season, okay?”. Some folks are in a stage of grief or pain, where slowing down would only serve to intensify the struggle; they actually NEED to keep busy and distracted.

Please know, and let me acknowledge the validity of all those things. I’m writing from a perspective that I am currently in, from one I am going to guess might connect with others who might be experiencing similar things. But to the family, friends and other readers who might read and want to smack me, because they’d love to slow down, and just can’t… I get it. I have been there too. There is no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ when it comes to life…just sharing where we are at, and what we are thinking, to help whomever it may.

That being said…

Slowing down is no easy thing for me. I’m a do-er, a ‘git ‘er done‘ kind of gal. Except it doesn’t always work out to live this way all the time. After an extended period of this, it often ends with an ‘ouch’.

A very easy and vivid example of what I mean is the fact that I’m actually typing this post while lying flat on my back. The reason for this isn’t because the creativity of writing flows better while horizontal, it’s because I spent about four weeks straight living like a mad-woman on a mission. We had decided we were going to roll the dice on the real estate market and list our house for sale. However, after nearly a decade of raising 4 small children into highly active teenagers, our little rancher has seen a lot of wear and tear. The kind that needs to be ‘touched up’ to impress prospective buyers. So I dove in full force, and took the bull by the horns. I was painting, sanding, tearing out carpet, and hanging out second-story windows to clean those suckers (a job that had been neglected for longer than I’ll ever admit because of the absolute insane level of difficulty of doing so.)

The combination of jobs, topped off with my body-twisting aerial stunts resulted in a stretched nerve in my back causing me all sorts of pain, numbness, tingling and immobility. For the past 4 ½ weeks. We’re talking doctors, pain killers, muscle relaxers, chiropractors, massage and physical therapy. And I’m still on my back.

The hard lesson in this is that I’m in this spot, at least in part, because I just couldn’t slow down and do things at a reasonable pace. Instead of shooting out ahead, I’m further behind, and the house won’t be listed minimally for another few months.

While I could languish and bemoan that fact, I’m instead learning a valuable lesson and looking for opportunities.

Going into the holiday season with limited physical functionality has actually been a perfectly timed wake-up call for me. Sometimes God needs to get firm with us when He’s trying to get a message through to our heads. If I wasn’t forced to be so still so much of the time these days, I’m pretty sure I’d be missing it again.

I looked back to my blog posts from last year and initially found it a bit discouraging that I seem to have been talking about the very same thing around this time last year… “Too much! Overload! Must.slow.down.”  And at the end of all that rushing and racing, there was an ‘ouch’ also. This past week, two members of my family said they felt like they missed Christmas entirely last year, and felt disappointment that we had rushed through it and then ‘boom’, it was gone.

Apparently this is a cyclical (or simply ongoing?) struggle. But this year seems to have brought us some newly opened time.

Ironically, it was through some unexpected changes and disappointments that this blessing in disguise has been delivered. Had these tougher things not come, I’m thinking this December would have been a repeat of last year.

In the past several months, we as a family we were bummed out by not getting certain things we thought we wanted. Things like not getting into certain things auditioned for, for not being able to list our house for sale when I thought we should, and for the out-of-the-blue shutdown of a theater that one was involved with a Christmas production. As parents, we questioned our own ‘laxness’ for not pushing another one to involvement with a club or instrument, and ended up missing sign-up deadlines. And of course, the added frustration of my current injury.

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But because of these “no’s” that were given to us, more than chosen, I’m sighing with a bit of relief when I look at the calendar right now. We don’t have every single evening filled from start to finish. We are having time to think, and even talk as a family, about what we want these weeks of holiday time to look and feel like. There is excitement and anticipation for simple things like listening to Christmas music, cozy evenings at home with the glow of the lights, and for the first time ever doing a ‘Jesse Tree‘ devotional as a family. It’s actually rather exciting.

Last year I was writing about barely keeping up and letting go of the unnecessaries. This year is a different ‘season’…figuratively speaking. Our family is in a different place (and I’m quite sure next year will be altogether different again!). And in reading last year’s posts, and writing what I am now, I also am reminded how there is NO ‘one-size-fits-all’, this is the ‘right’ way to do things. Priorities aren’t necessarily ‘fixed’ things. Different times in life call for adjustment of what is “good” and what is “best” and what is “necessary”.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is this. I am hoping to encourage you to tune in to the time and the place and the people that God has you in and among right now. For me, it is the opportunity to slow down. It’s choosing to see blessing in what we could focus on as some losses (and lest it sounds all ‘pie in the sky’, it’s often not an easy thing to not dwell on the frustration or disappointments!). But I am trying to be conscious to push back against the things that make me feel ‘driven’…not just from the outside, but even from within myself. I am trying allow myself to enjoy the blessings that are to be found in the things I thought I didn’t want. Without tuning in and allowing God to reveal the joy amidst the pain, I would be totally focused and consumed with all that is going on around me, and miss what the Holy Spirit is doing within me.

One of my acts of ‘pushing back’ against being driven in these weeks is fairly simple (not easy, but simple). Acceptance and trust. Acceptance of some struggle, some disappointment, some changed plans. Trust that God is good all the time, and that He has good plans and intentions for me and mine….even if they don’t always look like what I think they should. I can have peace, no matter the circumstance, if I choose to allow Christ to bring it to me, and not try to scramble or grasp after my version of it.

 

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.  ~Colossians 3:15

 

overdrive

Isn’t it amazing how ‘driven‘ life can feel sometimes? I have been thinking about this…and trying to formulate a battle plan…quite a lot lately. Such an endeavor is no easy thing.

We live in a society…at least in America (apparently, based on this post I read, it’s not this way in the Netherlands!)…that feels like it is in OVERDRIVE all the time. (Caps for emphasis, because that is what my insides feel like most days!!)

We seem to be career driven, education driven, money driven, success driven…and we go, go, go and do, do, do.

Except…*deep sigh*… I really rather want to veer off the rat-race course. And I know I’m not the only one; I’ve certainly read enough blog posts about simplicity, minimalism and the like to recognize that. However, the reality is, apparently we are still in the vast minority, because the world around me continues to race on at a mind-dizzying (and soul-numbing) pace. And I become increasingly aware that, sadly, in all of this, God’s interaction with us…the wisdom and guidance from His Word and His Spirit …grow more and more faint, drowned out by all the other noise.

Even though I know this, I still battle.  Can I be totally honest with you? The problem is, the thing that holds me back from taking the leap into the world of slow-paced simple-living, is that – honestly – I’m afraid. Not so much for myself, but for my kids. I’ve already beat myself up in the past over choices I’ve made for them (and to be honest, still do fret) that I’ve disadvantaged them by being too lax.  I don’t want to make the wrong decision, leaving them ‘behind’ in some way. It’s a constant internal struggle to know when to push them, when to accept the competitive drive of the world around me and teach them to ‘keep up’, and alternately when to help them learn to pull back. It’s SO HARD to strike a balance between wanting to see them succeed, and yet just allowing them to be who they are and enjoy life without forcing them to be driven by all the messages the world around them is clamoring about. 

But I also realize, if I want them to learn balance, I know I must first figure out some semblance of it myself.

I will confess right now – I don’t have a magic answer. So if you were skimming to find some grand revelation, I’m very sorry to disappoint. You can bail on reading this now if you like. All I have to offer is to share with you what I’m learning and doing to slowly sort out how to take control of my own internal turmoil, and thus, trying to find ways to help my children navigate the same. It’s all a work-in-process.

I will say this…I’m finding it rarely comes from an attempt at some one-fell-swoop, major life-overhaul. Which can be a bit of a relief. It’s not a mountain to be scaled, but rather, a path to be chosen. Daily.

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It seems to be more about being in tune with myself, and staying connected and sensitive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all the little, day-to-day situations. It seems to be about learning to acknowledge and trust my gut on the little things. Sorting out, one-by-one, when to give a “yes” or a “no”. And accepting that “no” is not only acceptable…but even beneficial.

Not that knowing this makes it any easier. (No one claims ‘simple’ means ‘easy’, right?) Saying no to the smallest things can sometimes still cause me to be wracked with guilt. Papers come home from school daily about every club, event, ‘special day’, sport and other activity known to humankind. I can barely keep up. I don’t even want to. I’ve pretty much gotten okay with accepting that this doesn’t make me a ‘bad’ parent (though occasionally I still battle that June Cleaver-ish, ‘perfect mom’ voice in my head). I am, however, realizing, the more I can be at peace with not putting every expectation in the world on my OWN shoulders, the more I can help my kids learn to navigate the barrage as well, in a way that equips them to make healthy choices for themselves.

I don’t have to DO IT ALL.

They don’t have to do it all.

Instead of looking at life’s ‘demands’, I’m trying to shift to seeing life’s ‘options’.

It’s like learning to approach life similarly to how I approach a buffet. I don’t have to eat every single food put out. Ironically, such an array of options never causes me stress. I am never wracked with guilt about passing on mushrooms or brussel sprouts or stewed tomatoes, because…eww. I don’t need to weigh and debate about their ‘goodness’ or nutritional value, or that they do in fact contain something beneficial to my health, so maybe I should, out of obligation, say yes. I simply don’t like them, therefore, I’ll choose to get my nutrients elsewhere.

Many life choices, really, are much the same. I don’t need to feel guilty (and neither do you!) over saying no to joining the PTA, not being a homeroom mom, or booster club member. Last year I felt great about saying yes to helping administer weekly spelling tests in my son’s classroom. This year, it’s a different season for our family, and I’m not making the same level of commitments there that I did in the past. And I’m confident that is the best choice for our family for right now. Maybe next year will be a different story entirely.

Yes, I’ve definitely made progress is the area of ‘slacking’. (Said tongue-in-cheek of course. Saying no does NOT mean slacking!! Don’t you believe it for a minute!!) And especially when it comes to sifting through stuff on the elementary school level. Goodness, people…I seriously used to stress over every book fair, pajama day and holiday party. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve managed to parent one child successfully through graduation that has helped me to realize…and can I please share this nugget of truth with you…in the long run, some things JUST. DON’T. MATTER.

Seriously. Not in the least. Zero long-term effect, I promise.

This kid likes to do crazy-hair day? Great! Pink hair it is! That one doesn’t feel at all comfortable with wearing his Mario Bros. PJ’s for all to see? That’s cool, buddy. You don’t have to! (And to be honest with you, I don’t see the point either.) Really, I’ve becoming much more aware that’s it far more important to tune-in to each of my kids…their personalities, their needs, their talents…and just go with it. We don’t all, always, for every occasion have to be a ‘joiner’.  Sometimes, it’s just fine to say “no thanks”.

No pressure. No driving. Sometimes saying yes; sometimes no.

I think this is called living. I’m still familiarizing myself, so I’m not entirely sure.

I hope to, in the next days (weeks?) share some of the ways I’m learning to filter all the going, doing, choices and options. It seems that especially during the holidays all this craziness can go into hyper-mode. I’m on a mission to push back. And I thought I’d share with you some of the little ways that we are doing that, in our quest to thrive and not just survive this holiday season.

Hopefully you’ll also share with me some of the ways that you navigate the driven culture that we live in….or maybe (if you’re my friends from the Netherlands!!) how you manage to avoid it altogether! Goodness knows I need all the help with this I can get!!

photo credit