Author: Mary Ann Johnson

Be Wary of Comparison

I have a friend, Audrey Rindlisbacher, and recently I was listening to an early morning Facebook Live she did. The topic was ‘comparison.’ Audrey is an exceptional woman who has been speaking and teaching for years on great books. I have sat with rapt attention in her classes. She inspires me with her knowledge of natural law and principles.

Not too long before she did this Facebook Live, she spoke with another woman that she considered exceptional. This mom had been the Young Mother of the Year, had multiple degrees, and currently lives in a foreign country where she has been for the last ten years with her family doing full-time work with refugees. Audrey admitted that during her conversation, she had thoughts like these – “You have always wanted to take your kids and do some humanitarian work. Why haven’t you? If you had, your family would be so much better off. You are so lame!”

I had to smile inwardly because when I first heard Audrey speak, I had similar thoughts – “Man, you should have read more great books than you have. Why haven’t you gotten as much out of them as Audrey has? How come you don’t understand natural law and principles as she does. Reading isn’t enough; you needed to think as she has. You are so lame.” When we begin comparing ourselves to others, our self-talk plummets! When our self-talk dives, then our life-results also dive. We must speak kindly about and to ourselves.

Another reason to speak well of ourselves is that how we are and what we do, speaks volumes to our children. We want to model a way of being to our family that will help them as they tackle hard things in life and as they begin seeing that where they are and how they are doing is different from someone else.

Tools to Derail Comparison

When I find myself treating myself poorly or comparing myself to others, I have a couple of tools I use to get myself back on track.

1. Focus on gratitude. When I shift from seeing what I am not or what I don’t have and focus on who I am and what I have, my self-talk improves. My result improves. There are many ways to stay in gratitude, but one that I use is a gratitude journal. Each evening before bed, I take a moment and write at least three things I am grateful for. No matter how terrible the day has been, I have yet to be stumped. I can always find at least three and usually more. Keeping my eye on what I have that is good keeps my mind on a higher plane, so I don’t spiral into negative thinking and self-talk.

2. Limit social media. As much good as social media has provided, it is a hotbed of comparison and envy. Currently, three of my daughters have taken breaks from social media. No Facebook, no Instagram. They have found that they feel better about themselves when they cannot compare their worst to someone else’s best. I spend less than 1 hour on social media each day, and on days when I don’t need to be on it for work, I spend none at all.

You don’t have to give up social media. Just limit the time you spend there. If you have a hard time, then turn off your notifications. Give yourself set times during the day to participate. When we compare ourselves to others, it creates unrest within us. It sucks the joy out of our accomplishments. It diminishes us in our own eyes.

We each have strengths and weaknesses. We all do well at times and at others do poorly. We all are in the process of becoming. Accept that you are still learning, growing, evolving. Be kind to yourself. Speak and think with generosity, and it will improve your pace. It will also give your children a better example of what to do when you are not perfect. It will do your family good.

Take the time to let a friend know about these simple tools to derail comparison. 

The power of a table

I have always had a dining room or kitchen table. Even in our first home, which was small, we had a table. I loved having a table. It was good to rest my elbows when I was reading or studying.

As our kids came, we sat around our table for meals and talked. It was a gathering place, a homework place, my sewing space when the need arose. We used our table a lot.

Then ten years ago, when our daughter’s family and we decided to share space, I gave up my table. We lived in a basement apartment of our daughter’s home with lovely big windows. We had a kitchen and living room. However, there wasn’t a dining area. The kitchen was narrow and had a bar. I thought the bar would be enough.

But it was high and required stools. Don and I were in our sixties, and so we never used it. No resting elbows while reading. Fewer conversations. That’s because we used TV trays. They work but don’t lend themselves to the same intimacy one feels at a table.

Then we moved again. We have the south side of this beautiful home with lots of sunshine. We have a new kitchen which we built. We have a nice sized living room. But again, no place for a table. We have been in this space for three years, and my need for a table has grown.

This spring inside, I was screaming, “I NEED a table.” I couldn’t put into words why I felt such a need for a table. We had our TV trays, and since the space is not large, it seemed the thing to do. BUT something was missing, and I knew it in my heart.

Finally, I decided I HAD to have a table. I bought one for $40, used. But it was too large and felt overbearing in the room. I thought about it a lot. I NEEDED a table. So, I did what I do. I prayed, and within a couple of days, someone gave me the perfect table. It was the right color and size. It came with chairs, and I was ecstatic.

We have had the table for a few months now. Has it made a difference? YES! And here is how. I can finally explain, in words, what was missing. There is something ‘connecting’ about sitting face to face around a table. There is something ‘family’ about it. Many times, over the last few months, my husband has said, “I like sitting here and looking at your face.” That doesn’t happen when you’re seated at TV trays. My mother talks more while we eat. Because she has Alzheimer’s, I guess she felt a bit isolated in her chair in front of her tray unless asked a direct question.

Our conversations are better, more intimate, more interesting. Frankly, the temptation to turn on the TV is less. Last night we played music while we ate. It was awesome!!

And when we aren’t all sitting at the table, I study there. I rest my elbows, and I read. I am aware of the life going on around me, and I like feeling my family’s pulse. A table, well used, creates a sense of ‘family.’

You probably have a table. My questions to you are:

  • Do know what a gift it is?
  • Do you use it?
  • Are you taking the opportunity to connect your family at least once a day?
  • Are you developing that ‘family’ feeling?

Reasons to gather at your table at least once a day:

A. It will help you get what you want—Eating together goes a long way in helping you create the family culture you see in your mind or have written down.

B. It will unify your family—During the years our children were making poor choices, the time at the dinner table held us together. If we couldn’t agree on the best way to live, we could at least gather once a day and eat together. It kept us face-to-face and heart-to-heart. We didn’t teach or reprimand during these meals. We stayed out of management and worked on the relationships. This effort didn’t stop our children from making choices we disagreed with, but it kept our children bonded to us. It kept us unified as a family.

C. You can de-stress—If you determine that spilled milk and children falling off chairs are not interruptions and catastrophes but significant family life moments, then the dinner hour will bring you joy. Even when mealtimes feel hectic or disorganized, they have long-term benefits for children because if parents remain calm, kids aren’t stressed by dinnertime chaos. Remember, they think and see like kids and not as adults. And you, as you watch and listen to them, can breathe. You can let down your guard. You can relax. There is research that supports this. : )

D. You can build close relationships—Family meals are opportunities to develop more intimate family relationships. Although families live together, we each go about our business of living independently of one another. We aren’t all doing the same things each day. When we eat together, we have a few moments to reconnect, talk, laugh, and enjoy one another. Meals are a prime time for communication and understanding as we each live our individual lives.

E. You’ll have an improved sense of well-being—Anne Fishel, Ph.D., said, “Over the past 15 years researchers have confirmed what parents have known for a long time: sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members” (Fishel 2016).

F. You can practice Being Present—Eating together allows you to implement Present strategies. You can discuss a book the family’s reading together. You can memorize scripture or quotes you like. You can tell jokes and laugh. You can share what happened in the community or thoughts you had during the day. When having a conversation, include everyone. Keep it positive. Avoid nagging, complaining, or controlling the discussion. Listen more than you talk.

What If No One Talks?

If up until now, dinner hasn’t been a productive time to connect and build relationships with your kids, try playing the Conversation Game. This game can get the flow going. Go around the table and have each person share a high point of the day and a low point. Eventually, when done consistently over time, it will begin to feel safe, and your family members will open up more. This game is fun, and you can practice seeing and hearing your children.

Dinner’s the perfect time to turn away from your technology. Turn off cell phones while at the table—mute your landline. Even the ringing can be a significant distraction. Turn off the TV! Having the TV on negates many of the benefits of a family meal and prevents you and your family from being Present with each other. The comfort of the food will make practicing this less painful. : )

Eating together is an opportunity to empty your mind of your endless to-do list and focus on your children. What are they saying? How do they look? What’s their body language? What did you miss during the rush to get out the door in the morning? Mealtime is a perfect time to practice being Present.

G. If you need one more reason to eat together as a family, ponder this: in a nationally representative Internet-based survey of 1,037 teens (ages 12 to 17), 71 percent said that they consider talking/catching up and spending time with family members as the best part of family dinners. These comments come from kids, just like your kids. They want and need time with you. They want your Presence, and one of the easiest ways to give it to the whole family at once is at the dinner table (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, “The Importance of Family Dinners”)!

I have loved finally having a table again. I enjoy looking at my mom and my husband. I savor the conversations and laughter. It has felt whole!

One time I asked my kids about their favorite memories. I’ll never forget Kates. It wasn’t about sitting at the table together but under it.

Kate—”I remember you and me sitting under the table reading a chapter of Katie John together. She painted her face with lipstick on picture day, and it wouldn’t come off. We laughed and laughed together.
Whatever works right. Being around or under your table, unifies families! Use yours!

This ‘table message’ is for all your friends who have families.

Let them know about it : ) 

There is Always Something to Work On

A few years ago, I stopped business building after ten years. I published a book, and I’ve continued to write, but my main focus shifted to caregiving for my family. For now, it’s my calling and mission. My mother has Alzheimer’s and lives with us. My husband has been ill for some time. My daughter works full time, and I get my grands off to school most days and help care for my granddaughter, who has severe Cerebral Palsy. It is a lot. I take it very seriously.

I use prayer to stay focused on what matters and on what to add or delete from my life. It is imperative to receive this help in our busy four-generation household. Without direction, it would be impossible for me to maintain balance. Through prayer, I understood that my mission needed to change from speaking and teaching to caregiving. It was equally clear that I should continue to write my weekly article, post once daily, and work with a few mentees. It wasn’t an easy choice; I LOVED what I was doing but I trust God. So, after agonizing for a few months, I made a leap of faith.

A couple of years passed, and then this spring, I understood that I needed to add two resource sections to my newsletter – Resources Worth Sharing and the Home School Corner. That added to my workload! (By the way, I am always on the hunt for excellent resources to share. Got one? Please send it my way.)

Then, a couple of months ago, I felt prompted to begin making the articles into audios. YIKES!!! I have put it off for a while. I made a few attempts to figure it out but then would let it go in frustration. However, this week I determined to get it done, and after some crying and handwringing, I DID IT!! Can I say that I am over-the-top proud of myself!!

The Purpose

I have asked a few questions as I have implemented these new things:
•Why would I be asked to let go of something I loved and was good at, which impacted others for good? After all, it was my dream and passion.
•Why would God ask me to keep writing and mentoring when life is crazy busy, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed?
•Why does God keep asking me to learn how to do hard things? Isn’t what I do enough?
•What should I be learning?

In the past two decades, God has asked me to let go of several things that I loved, and which mattered to me. It was never easy to decide, but I did because I trust God. What have I learned from letting go? I have learned that I can make hard decisions even when they fly in the face of what others think I should do. I have learned that life isn’t always about me and what makes me happy. I have learned that when we give something up, we make space for something else. Often it’s of more value than what we gave up.

Every week I get one or more emails from those who read what I write and those I mentor. They consistently relay the message that what I share matters to them, helps, and gives them confidence and hope in their efforts. Every week in my small way, I have an impact.

As for question number three, I have pondered it diligently. Here is what I think. I needed confidence that whatever is required of me, I can learn how to do it! With God, all things are possible. In the coming days and years, this clear belief, backed by my own experience, will help not only me but others. Life can be tough!

I have also learned that when we are faced with something we don’t know how to do or a problem we are unsure how to solve, we need to move. As soon as we take even a small step resources and people that we need begin to come to us. But the key is to move. God can’t steer a parked car.

Another thing, getting older is not easy. Things change, and it’s tempting to begin doubting yourself and your abilities. My memory has become an issue. I will recall your face, but I may not know your name, where we met, or anything about you. If you tell me your name it all comes back. It scares me because I may see you in the future, and despite this current hardship, I want you to know that I am your friend and I love you. It matters to me.

My energy level has changed. I can still work rings around many younger people, but I feel the difference. However, God keeps asking me to learn and grow despite the challenges of aging. He asks me to keep sharing with you. I believe he wants me to remain confident in my ability to impact my small piece of the world for good despite the limitations I may face. We really are never too old to influence others positively. Talking with those I trust has helped me deal with these things.

I am sharing all of this, so you know where I am and why I do what I do. It may help you because what you need to do in your current life may be kicking your butt. : ) Maybe you struggle to do as you feel moved. Perhaps you’re afraid to give up something you love to make space for something new. Perhaps your needs outstrip your current abilities or skills, and you must learn something. Maybe something has changed, and you are scared. Perhaps you need a mentor.

A True Story

This is the process of life. It never stops. It doesn’t matter if you are twenty-five, fifty, or over seventy, like me. We need to keep pushing the boundaries of what we know so we can serve better. We need to be obedient to what our promptings, gut, or thoughts tell us. We need to be willing to go to some scary places. How do I know this? Let me share a story that drove this home to me. I was younger, but I am living the truth of what I learned then.

Marjorie and Marion were eighty-year-old twins. They had both lost spouses and lived together. Every day they took a walk around the block arm in arm.

One day Marion was walking alone, and she was a bit tippy on her feet. I saw her and was worried, so I went out and said, “Marion, can I walk with you.” As we walked, she talked about her life and her sister. They had been fighting, and she was sad. Their relationship had been a mess for a few days. She was trying to figure out what to do about it. She began to cry.

I was stunned!! I couldn’t help myself, and despite her tears, I blurted out, “Marion, I thought when I got to your age, I would have it all worked out!”

Through her tears, she began laughing – “Oh goodness honey, that will never happen. There is always something to work on!”

So, take heart. You are not yet eighty, and so as Marion said, “There is always something to work on!”

Addendum

Because I keep learning hard things, here is what is new as of today. Each weekly article has a featured image. When you click on the Go To The Article link it will take you to the website. Please note that in the corner of the featured photo you will see a small sound icon. Click it and voila, you can listen to today’s article. You will also see a soundbar at the end of the article on both the website and in this newsletter. Again, you can listen in. God knows that you are busy and that sometimes listening is more accessible than reading. That is why he had me learn this new, hard thing!

Here is the caveat. I won’t be doing any fancy editing. I won’t be taking out all the little mistakes—no musical introduction. No logo. Just me, a busy mom, grandmother, and caretaker, sharing with you. You get what you get. I hope it will be enough and that you and I can continue to learn from one another as we share our experiences.

Listen, I never give up until I learn how to do what is required. You do the same and if you do it will be enough. : )

Do me a favor and spread the word that you can now listen, as well as read.

No One Can Take Away What You Put In Your Mind

I recently finished reading The Choice. The author, Dr. Edith Eva Eger, spent part of her teen years in Auschwitz. She shares things she learned while there, after she left, and while working as a psychiatrist with other trauma victims. It was gut-wrenching and not a pretty read. I had to endure a bit of foul language. It went with the territory.

I could relate to many things she shared, as I have also experienced trauma. I could affirm many of the healing tools she spoke about because I have used them.

One that has made ALL the difference for me in the latter part of my life is encompassed in a phrase Edith’s mother shared all the time and which Edith carried into the concentration camp – “No one can take away from you what you put in your mind.”

I know from my own experience that this is true. We can choose our story no matter what is happening. We can choose to forgive. We can choose to love. We can decide how to respond. We can think negative thoughts or positive. We can choose. Our ability to choose what goes into our minds is the greatest gift we have been given on this earth. It makes ALL the difference.

We don’t need to be dealing with trauma for this to be true. It is true every day, in every situation. It is true as we deal with friends, family, and even enemies. It is true in abundance and scarcity. It is true in sickness and health. It is always true. What we think about and how we frame it determines our lives, whether we are growing or dying, whether we are happy or dissatisfied, whether we are contributing or not.

You change your story by controlling your thoughts. You manage your emotions by controlling your narrative. When you do this, you take more positive actions, and you get better results.

Tips for Better Thought Management

Here are some tips to begin to master your thoughts and hence, your responses. I have been using these tools for the last fifteen years, and I can promise that it will change your life if you use them.

TIP 1—Take responsibility and stop blaming
Blame is an indicator there’s a problem with our way of being or how we perceive what’s happening, or in other words, our thoughts.

TIP 2—Decide to think the best of others
The key to overcoming the natural man’s tendency to assume the worst about others’ motives is not to polish our apology skills nor learn to control our anger and frustration. Rather, the key to overcoming this destructive behavior is to question our story. Examining the negative story we tell ourselves . . . causes us to consider alternate explanations for their apparently hurtful behavior. To accomplish this, ask yourself one question: “Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do this?” Or, if this is too unwieldy, ask, “Why would a decent person act this way?” (McMillan, “Master Your Stories and You Master Your Life”)

TIP 3—Choose words wisely
Dr. Wayne Dyer has said, “What’s in you is what comes out” (“Why the Inside Matters”). It’s true! Pay attention to the words you say in frustration, sorrow, and anger; you’ll get a good idea of what you’re holding onto in your subconscious mind.

TIP 4—Keep practicing
Managing your thoughts and putting good things in your mind is something you need to do daily. There isn’t a point when you’re so good at it that you can stop working on it. Negative thoughts will come, and they’ll need to be managed.

Dr. Eger was able to survive the concentration camp because she controlled her thoughts. She held on to the good and let go of the bad. She remembered the joy and dismissed the pain. It all took time. Some took a lot of time, but as she persisted, she was able to heal.

Thoughts and the resulting stories are powerful in determining our happiness level. When my granddaughter, Mary, was six, she loved to watch the fish in our tank. We have a very sleek, silver catfish that swims fast and erratically whenever anyone stands in front of the tank. I believe the fish does this out of fear or because it has been disturbed.

One day Mary asked me, “Do you know why this fish swims so fast when I’m looking at him?” I replied, “No, why?” She responded with, “Because he likes me!” Like all of us, Mary gets to write the story, and her story makes her happy. And for all I know, her story may be as valid as mine.

You can find more tips and some amazing true stories in Chapter Five of my book Becoming A Present Parent: Connecting with Your Children in Five Minutes or Less. It is worth the read!

The Great Key!

When you fall in love and marry, there’s no way to know what’s in store. No way! You can’t know till you get there.

Don and I were deeply and passionately in love over fifty years ago. We raised seven kids, and they are great people, but it wasn’t easy. We had some significant bumps in our marital bliss road. It shakes you up a bit. But we weathered those years, and with a dollop of joy, laughter, and forgiveness, we all came out OK. Don and I were still intact as a couple and we still deeply and passionately loved each other.

The years passed, and the things that you can’t know till you get there sneaked up on us – financial worries, adult kids and their issues, aging, health, energy differences, stress. They all took their toll. One night I was grieving a bit because we’re not the same. Our relationship cannot be the same. Sometimes it feels like two people who care about each other living independently in the same house, sort of like roommates. I talked to God about it because I want to remain deeply and passionately in love with this man even if we’re here together for 60 or 70 years. This isn’t the first time I’ve been in this place and gone to God for help, and I suspect it won’t be the last time. Then a miracle happened.

I got an Echo dot three years ago. I tried everything I knew how to do, but I couldn’t get it to work. It sat in a cupboard. This week my sister came, we got it out, and she tried to get it going. No luck. The next morning there it was on the counter, my daughter saw it, and after an hour of figuring out the kinks, it worked.

As we ate breakfast, we listened to the music of our time- Neil Diamond, John Denver, The Mama’s and the Papas, Sonny and Cher, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Monkeys, Barbra Streisand. I was having a hard time getting stuff done because I kept stopping to dance. We laughed a lot. Smiles just seemed to happen over nothing. During lunch, Don and I gazed across the table at each other. I sang the lyrics, and he cracked old jokes. It was fun.

Later, as I was cutting kale for the dehydrator, he gathered me up, and we danced around the kitchen for a short moment, as Don’s ability to move is compromised. Wow! That felt so wonderful. We haven’t been able to dance for some time. Then I returned to washing kale. As I worked, I thought about Don, how funny he is. How handsome he is. What a great question asker and problem solver. An all-around good guy. A keeper, as we used to say.

Then in a moment, I was overcome with such a feeling of love I began weeping. It’s all still there; deep and passionate love. It will always be there, but sometimes it disappears inside life, illness, work, stress. But if we focus and ask God for a small miracle, it resurfaces to save us. God is good. He loves Don and me, and we love each other. Such a gift. Such a blessing. Such a life!

Is That the End of the Story?

I know you think this is the end of the story, but this is where it gets real! You probably think it was the music and the dancing that brought the spark to the surface. But it wasn’t. Remember that talk I had with God? I didn’t just complain about loss, age, passing time, etc. I asked what I could do to feel ‘in love.’ Not only “I care” or “I love you,” but ‘in love.” If you’ve been there, then you know what I am talking about.

The thought that came to my mind was to look for every good thing I could see about this man I have spent over fifty years with and then tell him. I did that, many times because his gifts and good qualities aren’t hard to find. But they are easy to take for granted and let pass by unappreciated.

The Great key.

With every kind word and compliment, my heart softened towards this man I care for and love. I changed. Not him and not our relationship. Me! When you add that kind of heart softening to a bit of music and a quick dance around the kitchen, well, you can’t help but get magic.

When we look for the good, when we speak the good, when kindness is at the top of our mind, it makes all the difference. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about a crazy day with kids or a day between two aging souls. The result is the same. Magic and miracles!

When you have children, there is no way to know what’s in store. No way! You can’t know till you get there. If you have a day that isn’t going well with your family, give it a try. Pick the one person you’re feeling the most annoyed or frustrated with or that you feel the most distant from. Look for every good thing and then mention it to them. I can just about guarantee that by the end of the day, your heart will swell with tenderness for this soul that only a few hours before was causing you grief.

Their behavior might not change, but you will. Your heart will soften. Your way of being with that one person will be kinder. You will see differently. It will make a difference.

It’s all about gratitude. Gratitude is the great key to overcoming what is bugging you right now. I have this saying on my bedroom/office wall: “When you complain, you will remain. When you praise, you will be raised.” I know this is true, as I experience it regularly. I experienced it this week in my kitchen while chopping kale. : ) You can experience it too, and practicing this little exercise will not only change you, but it will also improve your whole family. Give it a try.

Addendum

It has been a few days since the miracle and Don, and I are still connecting in small ways. We are talking more softly and listening more intently. Saturday afternoon, while our granddaughter Maggie watched Mother Goose Playhouse, we held hands and danced in place for just a moment. : ) If I keep focusing on his strengths and gifts and keep thanking him for them, it will last.

But life is busy, crazy, and sometimes overwhelming. We will probably find ourselves moving apart again, but when that happens, I will pull out the ‘practice of gratitude for this one soul’ and have another miracle.

Gratitude is a practice, and so it requires ‘practice.’ Practice it in your home and then let me know what differences it makes. : )

Give this article as a gift to someone else who needs a Gratitude Practice. : ) 

What Do You Do When You Discover a Weakness? Beat Yourself Up? Fall Apart?

A Painful Realization and a Gift

Recently I was listening to a religious leader speak at a conference. As he talked, it came clearly into my mind that I had a weakness I had never supposed. I was shocked to see myself in this new light. In the past, I would have immediately begun beating myself up for having a weakness. But not today. I have learned a great lesson over the years that has helped me look upon a newfound weakness as a gift.

I have learned that when we recognize a weakness, it is a gift because only then can we do something about it. Only then can we change a behavior, a story we tell ourselves, or a way of being. The weakness I discovered during the conference I attended was unknown to me. There wasn’t any way that I could do anything about it. Now I am pondering it and coming up with a plan to turn it into a strength—what a magnificent gift.

In my spiritual cannon, there is a verse that I cling to when I am working on a weakness, and it is challenging me. “And if men come unto me, I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble, and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” Ether 12:27

Isn’t that an excellent thought, that God shows us where we are weak, where we need to do some work because he loves us and wants to help us become stronger in that area?

I have often said that our weaknesses are our strengths in embryo. Inside an egg, the embryo doesn’t look like much, but eventually, it becomes a bird and beatifies the world. A seed isn’t very exciting and even when it emerges from the ground it isn’t anything to look at. It takes time for a flower or a tree to grow.

Strengths are Often Disguised as Weakness

We are like that. Our greatest strengths may not be apparent to us yet, but they are there, and often they are disguised as a weakness. So when you come face to face with a weakness – yelling, lack of focus, difficulty getting your family systems to work, being discouraged, feeling overwhelmed, feeling resentment, and a host of others, celebrate. Celebrate God’s greatness in showing you what to do to be happier and grow as a person.

It isn’t always easy. Once I realized that yelling wasn’t the best way to deal with my family, it took me ten years to conquer it. What if I had given up on myself after five years or eight or nine. A couple of years ago, I began anticipating the coming of the New Year. In September, I felt an urgent need to make changes in my way of being and in my life. I didn’t want to enter the New Year in limbo. I wanted to know what one thing I could do to affect the most significant personal growth. I was serious. It wasn’t a passing fancy motivated by a current problem. I wanted my life to feel different, better. I wanted to be better.

I set out to discover the one thing I could work on to take me where I desired to go. I approached the problem in the same way I approach most things: I began seriously pondering and praying. The simple steps I took were to think diligently on the issue and to pray daily. I repeated this process for over three months. Finally, eureka, I struck gold. In December, a thought came clearly to my mind—Stop complaining. I hadn’t considered myself a complaining person, so this was a bit of a shock. Nevertheless, I began monitoring my words, thoughts, and actions over the next few weeks. I could see I had indeed struck gold.

It’s been a few years, and I’m still working on this. It’s a toughie! But the changes I’ve experienced have been astonishing. I’ve grown in areas I didn’t realize my complaining was affecting. I am happier, I feel more successful as a person, my relationships are changing. It has been worth the work, and the knowledge of this weakness has, indeed, been a gift.

Moving Forward When You Discover a Weakness

•When you see a current weakness in yourself, accept that it’s about you and not others’ behavior. Take responsibility.
Think honestly about the weakness, and then determine small steps to begin making a change.
•Make certain the actions you take are in your control.
•Write the weakness down and then write down the opposite, so you see the weakness in a new light, as your emerging strength.

A friend of mine, April H. has experienced this. She told me, “I’m so grateful you shared with me that I’m the opposite of my weaknesses. This truth has changed how I see my stumbling blocks and how I see and handle both of my sons as well.”

Remember, a weakness is a strength in embryo. When you discover another weakness, celebrate the gift you have been given and then go to work. You will grow, and over time, you will be happier.

Let someone who is struggling with their weakness feel heartened.

Give them the good news!

Keep Your Hand on the Helm of Thought

You Have Control Over How Your Life Feels!

I’ve written many articles on the power of accepting that you have control over how your life feels. This control comes from learning to manage your thoughts. I write about it because, for three decades, as a mom, I didn’t believe this was true. I felt hammered and blown about by life. Then one day, I came face to face with the truth – I had control of my life through how I thought about my life.

I didn’t want to accept this truth. It was a heavy burden, too much responsibility. I fought against believing this truth for over a decade. Then one day, I came to know it was true. When I accepted that I was 100% responsible for how my life felt, I discovered that it wasn’t a heavy burden at all but one of the most freeing truths I had every embraced.

Planting Seeds

One of the earliest books I read that talked about the power of controlling our thoughts was As a Man Thinketh by James Allen.

“Yes, humanity surges with uncontrolled passion, is tumultuous with ungoverned grief, is blown about by anxiety and doubt. Only the wise man, only he whose thoughts are controlled and purified, makes the winds and the storms of the soul obey him.

“The tempest-tossed souls, wherever ye may be, under whatsoever conditions ye may live, know this-in the ocean of life the isles of Blessedness are smiling, and the sunny shore of your ideal awaits your coming. Keep your hand firmly upon the helm of thought. In the bark of your soul reclines the commanding Master; He does but sleep; wake Him. Self-control is strength; Right thought is mastery; Calmness is power. Say unto your heart, “Peace, be still!”

Pretty deep. I was in high school and borrowed the book from my dad, who had gone back to college when I was in 10th grade. I didn’t understand it fully then, but a seed was planted.

One of my favorite quotes is from Viktor E. Frankl, a Holocaust survivor. He said, “When we’re no longer able to change a situation—we’re challenged to change ourselves.” He reminds us in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, the one thing that can never be taken from a person is their ability to choose how to respond (Frankl). I would add their ability to control their thoughts, which leads to the best response. Isn’t it interesting that I read this book back in those high school days also?

Negative Thought Narrows, Positive Thought Expands

A couple of years ago, I read an article by James Clear in the Huffington Post – “Research has shown … negative emotions narrow your mind and focus your thoughts.”

Your brain shuts everything else off and focuses on the negative emotions of fear, anger, frustration, or stress. You can’t see other options or choices. On the other hand, positive emotions do the opposite.

From a research study by Barbara Fredrickson, a positive psychology researcher at the University of North Carolina, “When you’re experiencing positive emotions like joy, contentment, and love, you’ll see more possibilities in your life. Positive emotions broaden an individual’s momentary thought-action repertoire: joy sparks the urge to play, interest sparks the urge to explore, contentment sparks the urge to savor and integrate, and love sparks a recurring cycle of each of these urges within safe, close relationships. The broadened mindsets arising from these positive emotions are contrasted to the narrowed mindsets sparked by many negative emotions.”

It is a Daily Practice

I have to work on controlling my thoughts every day. It’s easy to fall back into old patterns of blame and complaint. But I do work on it every day.

The result – I stay in blame and complaint for less time than in the past. Days have become hours, and often hours have become minutes.

If you’re feeling some push back to this idea, I understand. I’ve been there. But if you’re struggling to feel joy in your life, give it a try. Please take responsibility for your thoughts and your responses. Stop blaming. Take responsibility for your words, which are your thoughts in concrete form. You’re in control. Knowing this gives you all the power.

Help Other’s Know that there is a Way to Take Back Their Power. : ) 

Do You Grant Others Space to Breathe and Regroup?

Everyone can become overwhelmed.

At some time in our life, we will do less than our best. The ability to love and serve without judgment or recrimination is one thing that stands out to me about the ministry of Jesus Christ. He spent time with those who were overwhelmed, who were managing less than their best.

One of the things that I have been privileged to do over a thirty-year span is to help older people and families with their homes. Sometimes I clean inside, sometimes outside. I have tiled and painted. It is just one way that I have been able to serve.

As I have offered this service to people, I have noticed something interesting. After I have been helping for a few weeks, they might rearrange a closet or a cupboard. There might be a pile ready for Goodwill. Maybe a packet of seeds shows up that they plan to plant. A family member will rearrange the living room.

After a few years of noticing this phenomenon, I wondered what it was all about. Then I was reminded of an experience that I had a few decades earlier. It has been over 45 years now, and it is something I keep in my mind because it helps me to serve the way the Savior did – no judgment, no recrimination, just love, and care.

A Life-Changing Experience

My husband decided he needed to go back to school and finish his degree. We had two children, one a newborn. We moved to Greely, CO., where I had spent the last year of high school and where my parents lived for a few years longer. It was far away from family and friends.

Don went to school full time and worked full time. He went to school all day, came home late afternoon, ate, and then slept until he had to go to work at 11 pm. In the morning, he would get home at about 7 am and sleep until he had to be in class at 9 am. It was grueling. He studied between classes and on Saturday.

I watched other people’s children, as well as my own. I kept them quiet in the morning when Don needed to sleep, and I kept them calmed in the late afternoon when he needed to sleep. I made meals, kept the house, did the laundry, took care of the yard, and taught a Sunday school class for 5-year olds. I rarely got away from home. I rarely saw other adults because we had just moved, knew no one, and on Sunday, I taught a children’s class.

I began to yell a lot. I felt angry at Don. I frequently found myself at church without a prepared lesson. My house was suffering, and the laundry was piling up. I was suffering from post-partum depression. I was overwhelmed.

One day I was done. I sat on a chair, and I knew that I could not do anything for anyone. I was a failure as a wife, mother, as a person. Tears coursed down my face. Then the doorbell rang. Sister George, a woman from my church, was standing on the porch.

She had been a friend of my mother’s when my family lived here. She had loved my mother, and, as I was to learn by her behavior, she loved me. She said, “Hi, Mary Ann. I’m here to borrow the kids. I want to take them home for the afternoon. Would that be OK?” No judgment. No recriminations about the poor job I was doing in my life.

I was stunned. I had two of my own, one an infant, and I was caring for three others. As they drove off in Sister George’s van, I felt relief. I sat on the porch and stared at the sky. I breathed the air. This one day was a turning point in my life. Sister George had saved my life by giving me space to breathe and regroup.

Space to Breathe and Regroup

That was the answer to what I saw happen to the people I helped; I gave them space to breathe and regroup.

When I visit my daughter’s homes, I clean something, the kitchen fan, the toilet, empty overflowing garbage cans, or wash a pile of laundry. I don’t do it because they are incompetent but to give them space to breathe and regroup.

In my core cannon, there is this question, “Are we not all beggars?” I ask myself, “Do we not all beg for relief somewhere in our lives – self-doubt, children who stray, spouses who leave, school left unfinished, too little income, the trauma of abuse or neglect, old and hidden emotional wounds, fears, failure. The list is long and as varied as the people who live on the earth.

Occasionally we all need space to breathe and regroup. When I am mentoring, I am ministering as Jesus did. No judgment. No recriminations. I allow room to breathe and regroup.

When we suspend judgment, override our desire to recriminate because someone should be doing better; when we extend service because we genuinely love and care about others, we serve as Jesus Christ served. He never judged those who were overwhelmed or failing in some way. He just reached out a hand to help.

It reminds me of the second verse of a song that I sing to remind myself to serve and love the way Jesus and other great teachers of truth have loved and served.

I Have Work Enough to Do

I must speak the loving word,
Ere the sun goes down.
I must let my voice be heard,
Ere the sun goes down:
Ev’ry cry of pity heeding,
For the injured interceding,
To the light, the lost ones leading,
Ere the sun goes down.

Let someone else know that they deserve space to breathe and regroup.

Want What You Teach Your Kids to Sink In?

Since the schools closed, I have been helping my grandchildren with their schoolwork. Their work is online. A learning curve for me! : ) My eight-year-old grandson is a competent student. When he isn’t doing actual schoolwork, he is busy teaching himself about aerodynamics, science, and math. He is a smart little guy. However, each day that I have been called upon to help him, when I say, “Ben, let’s get your schoolwork done,” he replies, “I don’t know what to do.” That statement isn’t true. He knows how to log on. He knows where to find the modules, and his teacher has made a video for walking him through. I realized what he means is, “I need some direction. Get me going.”

Right after this conversation, we had a second conversation. I said, “Get your iPad, entry code, and paperwork and meet me at my house.” He replied, “I don’t know where they are.” I said, “Ben, you do know what to do. What I think you need is direction. So, I don’t want you to say that you don’t know what to do anymore. Say, Grandma, I need direction. And Ben, it’s your responsibility to know where your stuff is. Let’s find a spot for you to put it in my house, and then you’ll always know where it is.”

Although it will probably resolve these two issues eventually, there was a big problem with this morning’s exchange, and I should know better!

Mini Conversations Vs Mini Lectures

When talking to kids, mini conversations are far more effective than mini-lectures. What Ben got this morning was a mini-lecture. It took all of three minutes, but it was still a lecture.

When he finished his work, he put his book in the spot we decided upon and took his papers to his house. When I called him back and reminded him to put his papers in the same place so that he would know where they were, he said, “Oh, I didn’t know you meant the papers.” My best-educated guess is that tomorrow he will say, “I don’t know what to do” and need reminding that he does know and needs some direction. Mini lectures rarely sink in on the first go-around. Mini conversations, however, are far more effective when teaching. So, what is the difference?

The Purpose of a Mini Conversation

The purpose of a mini conversation is to listen and then teach, if you need to teach. Sometimes you share cool stuff, sometimes kids share cool stuff, and you stay present and listen through it all. Mini conversations always feel agreeable to both parties! They never feel like a lecture. A mini conversation will go miles in helping your lessons sink in. What would it have looked like if Ben and I had had a mini conversation this morning rather than a mini-lecture?

“Ben, it’s time to do your schoolwork.”
“I don’t know what to do.”
“That’s interesting. Didn’t you figure it out yesterday?” “Yea, but today I’m not sure what to do.”
“What would help?”
“I don’t know.”
“Let’s open your tablet and look at the modules and see if we can figure it out. OK?”
We would do what we do every day, and then I could say, “Ben, see, you do know what to do. Now you won’t have ever to say “I don’t know” again. High Five buddy.”

And what about the second part, not knowing where his school supplies are.
“Ben, get your tablet and papers and meet me in my house.”
“Grandma, I don’t know where they are.”
“That seems to be a problem every day, Ben. What can we do about it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Hmmm, let’s see. What if you had a spot in my house to keep them. Do you think that would help?”
“Yea, that would help me.”
“I think I have the perfect spot. See this basket on the stairs. I keep the book I read to grandpa and great-grandma here, so I always know where it is. Would that work.”
“Yea, that will work.”
“Ben, what do you think you need to put in here when you finish your schoolwork?”
“My reading book.”
“What else.”
“Oh, I could put my papers and my code in there.”
“Yea, that’s good. Then you won’t ever have to say I don’t know where my stuff is again. High five. We are Rockin this, Ben.”

Mini Conversations Are Powerful In Connecting With Kids

Can you see the difference? It not only sounds different; it feels different. There isn’t any recrimination. No shame. No judgment. Just solutions. And here’s another thing. Ben would have bought in. When kids buy into something new, a system or way of being, they take more ownership, and they remember to do it more often.

I’ll bet you also noticed that this mini conversation would probably have taken more than 3 minutes. Yup, it would have taken at least five or six. But if it relieved you of hearing lame responses and having to remind over and over, wouldn’t it be worth the three extra minutes.

Mini- conversations are powerful in connecting with our kids, and they are powerful when we want to teach.

Help someone else learn about the power of mini conversations. Spread the word. 

INSPIRATION – Sample Mission Statements

When children are young

they learn more by what their parents are and the environment and feelings that surround them than through the explicit teachings or activities families provide. If this is true, ask yourself, “how do we, as a family, consciously develop who we are and the environment and feelings that make up our home? What are we doing to consciously articulate the values of our family?”

A family mission statement helps with this articulation. A family mission statement becomes part of your efforts to help your children understand where you are going as a family and is the inspiration for your family culture. In other words, it is what helps you consciously design the environment and feelings in your home.

Here are some samples for those that need inspiration

I. Habits of Our Home
We obey the Lord Jesus Christ.
We love, honor, and pray for each other.
We tell the truth.
We consider one another’s interest ahead of our own.
We do not hurt each other with unkind words or deeds.
We speak quietly and respectfully to one another.
When someone is sorry, we forgive him.
When someone is happy, we rejoice with him.
When someone is sad, we comfort him.
When someone needs correction, we correct him in love.
When we have something nice to share, we share it.
We take good care of everything God has given us.
We do not create unnecessary work for others.
When we have work to do, we do it without complaining.
When we open something, we close it.
When we turn something on, we turn it off.
When we don’t know what to do, we ask.
When we take something out, we put it away.
When we make a mess, we clean it up.
We arrive on time.
We do what we say.
We finish what we start.
We say please and thank you.
When we go out, we act as if we are in this house.
When necessary, we accept discipline and instruction.

II. Our Family Mission
To encourage others to become like Christ through loving relationships,
healthy lifestyles, and stimulating experiences.

III. The Olsen Family Mission Statement
We love and obey God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
We celebrate our family’s faith, heritage, and traditions.
We show our love for one another in word and deed; we pray for each other; we are
courteous, caring, positive, supportive, and considerate.
We live a healthy lifestyle, and maintain order and cleanliness in the home.
We raise up children in the way they should go; making learning together an integral
part of daily life with books and enriching experiences.
We optimize the competing forces in our lives for good: health, wealth, aesthetics, rest,
exercise, recreation, work, skills, and knowledge.
We enjoy life today and live it fully; we accept the wonderful gifts from God:
forgiveness of sins and eternal life through the sacrifice of His Son.
We are wise in the way we use our time, talents, and money; we establish good habits,
help others, and teach them the truth of God’s salvation.
We contribute something of worth to the community; maintain the environment, mankind’s institutions, and religious, political, cultural, social, and individual freedoms, all to glorify God

IV. The Palmer Family Mission Statement
The Joyful Palmers are a Team! Yeah!
We love, create, and protect family time, both one-one and everyone together.
We talk about our needs, thoughts, and feelings, and we carefully listen to each other.
We treat each other with respect, patience, and kindness.
We speak and act in a way that allows the spirit to be with us.
We nurture, support, and celebrate each other’s ambitions, dreams, and missions.
We are always honest and do the right thing even when no one is looking.
We courageously commit to public virtue.
We know that God loves us and we are wonderful and amazing!
We build our knowledge, skills, and attitudes of self-reliance and freedom.
We make everything around us better and more beautiful.
We build others up through service, sharing, and love.
We protect our home and the Spirit dwells here.
We learn, live, and share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Love is our compass and our anchor.

V. Family Mission Statement
We, the , believe that our purpose as a family is to . We will accomplish this by:
• valuing and as our main guiding principals
• making our home a place of , , and
• prioritizing above lesser values
• interacting with each other in a spirit of

VI. ’s Family Mission Statement
We are compassionate and kind.
We are committed to family.
We will be caring in our relationships with our family and friends.
We want to be role models and guides for our children.
We will encourage creative expression in each other.
We will lovingly support each other as we strive to reach our individual potentials.
We will grow old and wise together.
Our home will be filled with love and laughter.
Our sanctuary will inspire and renew us, enabling us to contribute our best to the world.
Our home will be a haven for our family and friends to gather and share life’s ups and downs.
Our home will be a nurturing place for children and animals.
Our home will be a safe and comfortable place for self-expression.
We enjoy helping others in our daily lives.
We strive to work with passion and discipline.
We want to bring the love and positive energy from our relationship into our careers and the world around us.
We will live our lives in a manner that is free from harm to other living beings.
We want to bring the peace within our home, to our world community.

Having a family mission statement can make all the difference in the feeling and atmosphere in your home. If you haven’t already read the four-part series on how to involve your family in creating a mission statement. You will be glad you did.

Part I,   Part II,    Part III,    Part IV

If you know a family that would benefit from having a Family Mission Statement let them know help is here. : )