It’s the Little Things

The usually quiet dirt road was busy with cars, 4-wheelers, and various farm implements passing by. People riding bicycles or walking with their lawn chairs and strollers in tow, passed by dressed in red, white, and blue garb. Everyone smiled.

The parade line-up was just a few lots down, so we were some of the first spectators to wave and cheer in exchange for candy, beads, and key chains tossed at us.

image

The route of this annual 4th of July parade goes around the dirt road encircling Clear Lake, the home of my husband’s family cabin. Each year, we, whoever is at the cabin, haul our lawn chairs out to the road to watch the 4th of July parade.

I love parades. As long as there are not clowns (most are scary!), I love a good parade. Part of the fun is to see what people consider to be parade-worthy.

Cities around the USA hold parades and huge fireworks shows at night to celebrate the birth of our nation on this holiday. People have cook outs and get together’s with friends and family.

image

At yesterday’s Clear Lake Parade, I noticed how the people on floats, in their collector cars, or on a piece of farm equipment, looked so proud and happy. This parade draws people from nearby small towns all around, and the little things are important. Everyone seemed excited.

It is in the little things that we can find so much joy. And, unfortunately, sometimes it takes a reminder to remember this.

In this culture with all the gadgets, apps, and cool stuff to occupy our time and our minds, it is easy to forget about the world outside that isn’t dependent upon an app or a gadget.

image

I am grateful that I saw this year’s parade and spend the weekend in this small town. I noticed excitement in the air, joy on faces, and people cheering, running to grab candy from the road. It felt like a throwback to childhood, a simple 45 minutes of the good life.

May we all remember to notice the little things, and be on the lookout for them. You never know when a little joy is right around the corner.

May it a good week!

 

Attention

Tell-me-to-what-you__quotes-by-Jose-Ortega-y-Gasset-38

I have a story, or a bit of a rant, perhaps…

On my way to work every day, I drive a side-street, two lanes in each direction, to get to the main highway. A street light stands at this very busy intersection where the two-lane street meets the highway. Traffic backs up for a few blocks as people wait to either turn left onto the highway, go straight through the intersection, or turn right onto the highway. I turn right.

In the few blocks leading up to the busy intersection, there are other small streets and parking lots which intersect. Cars need to turn off the two-lane street onto the small streets and into the lots. But, often, other cars are blocking the way. People have not paid attention to where they are or what they are blocking. They know they need to stop due to the traffic waiting for the street light. And they stop right behind the car in front of them. Like sheep.

I pat myself on the back for always leaving space for cars to get through; I do not want to block an intersection, cause a back-up, or increase congestion. And when I drive past those who have blocked an intersection, I yell, (inside my car with the windows shut… no one can hear me, and I don’t have road rage) “You idiot! You’re blocking the street!”

It seriously bugs me that people do not seem to pay attention to what they are doing and they cause problems for other drivers.

I assume these street-blocking drivers are engrossed in the radio, talking on the phone, texting, or just deep in thought. Some may be jerks who don’t care they are blocking others; but most, I am sure, do it by accident. They are not paying attention to all of their surroundings.

We benefit from paying attention to what we are doing when we’re doing it. Multitasking, although meant to make us more productive, actually reduces productivity. Doing two different things that require different kinds of attention reduces our ability to do either one well. Some say it is the sure way to do both jobs poorly. I think our culture and modern lifestyle makes a lot of demands on our attention, and sometimes the schedule and constant demands take over.

But I believe we can be in charge of our schedule and demands. We can be intentional with our thoughts and attention. Entire industries involving meditation and yoga have sprung from our culture’s desire to slow down, to take a break from the demands of modern-day life. They help shut out the clutter and help us focus.

I don’t know if you struggle with this–multitasking or not paying attention to what you’re doing. But if you do, I encourage you to try an experiment. Consciously think about, attend to, the task at hand. Try to finish the email you are working on before looking at the one that just came in. Avoid answering the phone if you are engrossed in a project. Put your cell phone in your pocket or purse while at work rather than letting it pull your attention away each time it dings or vibrates.

If you do this experiment, intentionally focus your attention, I believe you will find three positive results:

  • You will enjoy the task or event rather than simply checking it off the list, onto the next thing.
  • The project or work will be done, touched once and finished, rather than drug out through distraction.
  • You will accomplish more in your day than you do when you let the demands of multitasking control you.

Make it a great week!

 

Speaking of Habits

tea cupHow long does it take to develop a new habit? I did a little research on Google and found quite a variety of answers. Some researchers have said it takes at least 21 days to develop a habit; others say it takes 2 – 8 months. So… I’m not going to guess which is right or how long it takes to develop a new habit. But I do know for me it is not easy to develop, break, or change habits. When things are second-nature and happen without much conscious thought, it takes what seems like Herculean effort to change them. Especially difficult habits to change can be in what we think and what we say.

Without even realizing what is happening, we can get into ugly thought patterns that develop into ugly speech. I remember years ago I made a concerted effort to stop swearing. In my 20’s I swore a fair amount, as did many of my friends. But, by getting a professional job and realizing not everyone cussed like a sailor, I focused my efforts on finding other words to express myself. It didn’t take long to be almost fully rid of cussing, and I felt more prepared to be professional.

A few other thought and speech habits I think are worth assessing in ourselves and dropping are:

Complaining – About circumstances, the weather, how you feel, or about other people, complaining doesn’t get you anywhere. Complaining is finding fault, not offering a solution. Complaining keeps us stuck in misery. Try not to complain for a day, consider thinking about being grateful for aspects of your life, and see how different you feel.

Criticizing – Pointing fingers at others and finding fault is, to me, one of the ugliest traits. I’ve definitely been guilty of it but really try not to criticize others anymore. My husband helped me realize I could tend toward criticism and cause a lot of hurt. I try to leave others to their own business and not stick my nose in where I have no responsibility.

Blaming – Looking to others or to our past as the cause of our problems and issues says that we are powerless over our lives. When we take responsibility for ourselves and circumstances we are the actor in our play; we have the power. Blaming can be manipulative and holds us in place, but accepting circumstances and our decisions allows us to move forward.

Paying attention to these habits of speech, and then thinking about their place in our minds, can really be eye opening. You may be limiting yourself by what you say, because of what you think. Giving up on these patterns offers freedom. Whether it takes 21 days or many more to drop them, you’ll feel lighter when you do.

Make it a good week!

Making Mistakes?

The biggest mistake we can make is being afraid to make a mistake. ~ Joyce Meyer

In college I had a roommate who was funny, caring, and energetic. She was very bright, a pre-med student majoring in biology. Everyone loved to be around her; that is, until it came time for her to make a decision. What to eat, what to do, where to go… the options seemed endless to her and she didn’t have an easy time landing on just one.

Courses were limited to a certain number of students so we were urged to register early for classes in order to get a seat. One semester my roommate perseverated over the very best course schedule for so many days that, by the time she registered, two of her top choices were no longer available. While the schedule she ended up with looked fine to the rest of us, she was disappointed for days and felt like she was set back on her goals.

A depth of indecision like this can be a real roadblock. Perhaps born of insecurity, worry of what others may think, or fear of making a mistake, it stops us from moving forward. My roommate’s parents had high expectations of her as the first in the family to go to college. She then had high expectations of herself. But her fear of making mistakes led to negative outcomes and complete inaction.

Perhaps fear of making a mistake happens to most of us given the right set of circumstances. It can be almost terrorizing to make a decision. It has certainly been a limiting factor for me as I let fears of doing the wrong thing stop me from doing anything. But, awareness is the first step toward change and when we realize how our fears or beliefs are limiting us, we can make efforts to change them.

I have found that it takes immense energy to perseverate over a decision; even about something fun like what to do on vacation. If I spend time weighing options, listing ideas, becoming invested in each idea and considering the importance of each one, I’m overwhelmed by the planning and aggravated about what is supposed to be a fun vacation before it has even begun.

How are your beliefs limiting you? Is fear of making a mistake stopping you from doing something important? I challenge you to make a choice, step out in faith, and see what happens. Chances are you will feel much lighter by not allowing the decision to overwhelm you. Think of all the energy and time we can save!

Make it a good week!

 

Who’s Your Hero?

Yesterday my husband and I saw the movie “The Judge” and, although it has mixed reviews, we thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Several facets of the story stood out but one comment in particular took my attention. One of the characters told the story of a terrible car accident years earlier where her vehicle hit a large deer that ran into the road. As she finished the story, telling of how she and her daughter lived through wreck, she said, “In that moment, I decided I was going to be the hero of my story.”

She made a decision that moving forward she would use her inner strength and push through the difficulties in her life. She was in charge. She bought a business, worked hard, then bought another one. She raised her daughter and took care of business.

In most stories with a hero there are also supporting characters. Their jobs are to play a role, to interact with and help the hero, or perhaps to antagonize the hero. If we think about our lives using this analogy, who would you rather be? The hero or the supporting character?

To me, being the hero means that we are the main actors in our lives. We take responsibility for the details and for the decisions we have made. We take action to improve ourselves and our position.

Operating in a supporting role, we may look to others to create our happiness, or to take care of us. We may feel subject to other people and wait for their help to figure out what to do.

Most of us are likely both the hero and the supporting character given different circumstances in our lives. We do need others, and we do need help. But I appreciate the reminder from this movie that we can be our own heroes, taking the lead and making things happen.

Make it a good week!

 

What’s Your Temperature?

“Some cause happiness wherever they go; some whenever they go.”                Oscar Wilde

Have you ever been to a party where one of the guests lit up the room? Someone who was funny, looked happy and seemed to have an electric personality? I have known a few people like this. They look fresh and fun, and if I stand by them I feel cooler (is that a word in this context?).

And then there are people who look dark and a little stormy, brooding. They can look cool and mysterious, but also intimidating.

I admit to being bright and full of energy sometimes, dark and stormy at others. I will carry my mood around on the outside, displaying my temperature for all to see and feel. And I think people respond differently depending upon what they read from me; the unspoken non-verbal cues that communicate my mood, my temperature, impact their response.

Think about your friendships, a circle of friends to which you belong. Think about one friend and what she brings to the group. Seriously, think of one person. She is funny, compassionate, smart as a whip, and everyone in the group gets something positive from her.

Now imagine she misses an event. She isn’t there one evening. The group is different, right?

Each person, no matter who they are, impacts the dynamics of the group. Imagine the power in that.

C.S. Lewis, in his book called The Four Loves, wrote about his friendship with J. R. R. Tolkien (author of Lord of the Rings) and another author named Charles Williams. The three were good friends and Lewis wrote, “In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles (Williams) is dead, I shall never see Ronald’s (Tolkien’s) reaction to a specifically Charles joke.”

The point is twofold:                                                                                                               1. You are needed. In your groups, you matter. You are significant.                                       2. Your temperature is felt by others. Bring your true self. Be mindful of the power of your       presence.

Make it a good week!

Re-framing the Question

Recently I asked two of my good friends to read the first draft of my memoir. I knew they each would read with a critical eye and be able to provide honest feedback. I was looking for general impressions, areas where they thought I could improve or change the story. But they each treated the project with a level of care and seriousness that I could never have imagined. They provided thoughts and suggestions that were immensely helpful!

Now I am to the task of editing, adding and changing the book. It means re-living moments and days that were painful, scary and difficult. I realized in this re-living and re-writing there was a pivotal time in which I made a decision that completely altered my experience of living with a chronic condition.

There was a period about three years ago in which I re-framed my focus from why to how.

For a long time after having a heart attack and then being diagnosed with a rare and relatively non-researched vascular disease (FMD), I wondered why very often. And other people asked me why. Why did it happen? What could be the reason?

I think other people wanted to know why because they cared, number one, but also because if there was a why for me that wasn’t the same for them, they likely would not end up in the same boat. If there’s a why, there is a way out, a solution or a way to avoid the situation.

Realizing that no one could tell me why was like hitting a brick wall. With the reason unknown, there was nothing for me to do. I could have no impact to change it. But rather than fall stuck on this question, stuck searching for reasons, I chose to start asking how.

How do I accommodate a new lifestyle? How will I remember to take medications twice per day? How will it work to work full-time? How do I best cope with the anxiety and fear?

In order to feel like I had some control and some say over my life I needed to change the question.

I believe we each have a choice in these questions. We don’t all have the same circumstances, certainly. Medical, financial, relational, spiritual — there are many issues to go around. But I venture to guess that in each case we have much more power and influence over an issue if we decide to ask how to deal with it rather than why it happened.

I hope you are not in a season where things are going wrong and you are asking why. But if you are, I encourage you to consider the other question. How can you move forward?

Make it a good week!