Category: Personal Growth

How To Know What is Most Needful

Does anyone care about your struggle?

I believe in a power outside of myself which can and does help me manage some very difficult days. Regardless of your specific spiritual practices, if you believe that you’re guided and aided, then this article will be useful to you. I’ll be using the term Christ and Lord, but you can substitute whatever works for you.

In every moment, of every day, Christ knows what is most needful. He waits for any opening into our hearts and thoughts so that we too can know what is most needful. Often, we shut Him out by being too busy, overwhelmed, and overloaded with stuff to manage and do. But Christ never leaves us. He is beside us, waiting patiently for us to hear Him.

Christ loves us infinitely. He wants to guide us as we move through our days. He wants to help us with the laundry, our frustration with our child, our disappointment with a spouse, our endless to-do list, what to make for dinner, who to hug and when, being on the right road and getting to our destination safely, and a hundred other things.

Does this surprise you. Many believe that Christ is aloof, unaware, uncaring or even angry at the mess we often find ourselves in. Many believe that unless we have it all together God cannot help us. I know this is untrue!

Will we be helped if we’re in a mess?

We don’t have to wait to invite God into our home until we can kneel in prayer, until we have time to study the scriptures, until our home is clean and orderly, or our hearts are unburdened. You may be struggling to pray. You may talk to God all day but never make it to your knees. You may not be getting to your scriptures/core book daily. Possibly you aren’t managing your home well. Maybe your heart is a mess. You might even be angry at God.

Waiting to invite the Lord into your life until you get your mess cleaned up is like waiting to go to the ER when you’ve stopped the bleeding. Christ doesn’t love some future version of you. He loves you in your mess. Christ is here to help you with your mess. I know this is true! Seven decades of working on my mess have proven it to be true!

How to know what is most needful!

If you’re in a mess and overwhelmed, if you’re struggling to pray and study the scriptures/your core book, if you’re struggling with your relationship with Christ/Deity, there are things you can do to invite Him into your life anyway.

First – Be Aware – Know that even in your mess you’re loved. Hold on to the belief that if you’re doing your best, as poor as that may be, Christ wants to help you manage your day. When you’re aware of his love and presence you’ll hear Christ speaking to you.

  • Tighten the lid
  • Don’t delete that yet
  • You need gas
  • Jack needs a hug
  • Don’t say that
  • The roast is burning
  • Your mom is sad

The more that you hold Christ’s love and concern for you in your mind the more often you’ll hear the still small voice.

Satan/The Negative will spend most of the day pointing out your flaws so that you’ll feel less and less worthy. This can take you to the place where you begin to doubt your value to Christ, that He is with you, and you begin to block Him out. Resist! Stay aware of Christ’s infinite love and deep concern for everything in your day.

Second – Respond immediately – When you have a small thought and it’s good, do it. Tighten that lid. Don’t delete your file. Stop and buy gas. Hug that child. Don’t make that remark. Check the roast. Tell your mom you love her. When you respond immediately, you’re inviting the Lord to be with you. You welcome him into your life.

Third – Simplify – When we simplify our lives, we manage them better. We can spend more time mentally, emotionally, and physically where it matters and less in activities, that in the long run, are not going to matter. We open time to think. When we simplify our lives, we tune into Christ.

Anyone can clean a closet but how do you bring the Lord into it? When we remain aware that Christ loves us and cares, when we respond immediately, then we can know when to clean the closet, which closet to clean and when to just let it go.

I want you to visualize something. Close your eyes. Now imagine you have threads of energy attached to your shoulders and these threads connect to every item you have in your possession. Every item—every dish, cup, and pan; pictures in the photo album, DVDs, the hammer; every nail, sock, book, magazine, sweater, car, guitar pick, toy, book, and even your computer files. It’s one energy thread per item. Now, what if you also attached a thread to every item on your calendar – every shopping trip, doctor’s appointment, soccer practice, piano lesson, event or activity, church, service, and each thing on our never-ending to-do list. This is a heavy load to drag around. No wonder you go to bed weary and wake up tired! It’s challenging to find space in life for the Lord when you’re overwhelmed and weary.

As we simplify and get rid of excess stuff, and trim down our calendars, we create mental, physical, and emotional space in our lives for the Lord. That’s because there’s less that must be managed, cleaned, picked up and taken care of.

As we make space for the Lord, we’ll be wiser, we’ll do what is most needful more often, and we’ll feel more successful in our efforts.

Inviting the Lord into our lives each day is the most needful thing.

Your shares are appreciated by me and others who need to hear this. Thank you!

Lifting The Burden of Work and Family

Judgment is NOT Helpful!

I have an older client whose wife has become unable to do many of the household tasks that she used to do. I was at his home one day, a few days after their family had gathered to celebrate the end of summer. There were about 27, many of them children. They had water fights and silly string fights. This made for a lot of towel use. As he came up the stairs, he let out a tired breath and said, “How do women do it. The laundry alone is overwhelming.” I asked him what their laundry room had looked like when they were raising their family. He replied that there was always a heap of dirty clothes on the floor and another of clean laundry. I then asked him, “What did you think about that back then?” He didn’t hesitate to answer but blurted out, “Why can’t she get this cleaned up!”
He looked a bit sheepish and told me that he realized now, years later, that he should have been kinder in his appraisal of the job his wife was doing. He could see that his judgment was harsh, and his help was too little.

Here’s the thing about my friend who was washing the family towels. He went to work every day. He had to juggle the needs of the boss, his teammates and his own. He had deadlines to meet. He dealt with situations and expectations over which he had no control. Then there was the commute. He may have felt that his days were far more challenging than his wife’s.

Life is a challenge. Being part of a family is a challenge. But there are a few things we can do to lift our own burden, as well as the burdens of those we live with.

Tips to Lifting Burdens

• Decide to think the best of others. Give people the benefit of the doubt. In most cases, we’re all doing the best we can. When we decide to think the best
of others, we can manage our thoughts and the resulting stories more effectively. We will be more willing to lend a helping hand.
• Regardless of how or what another person is doing view them as a person. Treat them as you would want to be treated if you were in their place.
• Suspend judgment. Ask questions. Actively listen. Get clarity before you judge.
• Choose kindness over frustration. We’re all learning. When we choose kindness, we increase our ability to problem-solve.

Running a family can be daunting. Supporting a family can be daunting. There are so many moving parts to family life. If we learn to reserve judgment and respond with kindness, we will have far better outcomes and our family relationships will feel stronger and safer.

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What does an algae-filled pool have to do with successful parenting?

This summer my grandchildren spent hours with their friends in the pool in our back yard. Sadly, the weather cooled and so the pool was drained for the winter. Due to the placement of the drains three inches of water remained in the pool. Time passed.

One morning as I went into my office, I investigated the pool. There were three inches of green, algae-filled water. I thought, “Man, this is going to be a project to clean.”

I returned to the office and completed my morning routine. Then I sat down at my computer to begin writing. Into my mind came a clear thought – “You need to clean the pool.” WHAT! I had a full day of writing. But it was a clear, good thought so I got up and left the office. As I stood on the patio, I wondered how I was going to remove gallons of water from the pool bottom.

I decided to sweep a 5-gallon bucket through the water, lift it and pour it over the side. This worked. However, that was a lot of stooping, sweeping, rising and tossing. I persevered. After an hour and a half, I had to stop for an appointment. I thought, “I’m done for the day.”

When I finished my appointment, I headed for the office but again had the thought that I needed to clean the pool. I rolled up my pants, got my crocks and resumed the work. Eventually, my daughter who was on a break came out and said, “Mom, you don’t have to do this. It’s not your job.” I assured her that I knew I was supposed to clean the pool. She suggested that I use the shop vac. What a great idea!

The shop vac sucked up the water well, but it was far too heavy for me to hoist and dump over the side. Even only a quarter full it was too heavy. I returned to bailing with the 5-gallon bucket.

I could see that I was making progress, but it was labor-intensive and taking a long time. If any fathers are reading, please don’t stop because this scenario is so stupid. I know it! : )

Eventually, I decided that I could use the shop vac, suck up the water, and then bail water from the vac and throw it over the side. Each load of water in the shop vac was three buckets to dump. I know it doesn’t seem like much of an improvement, but it was. It felt easier even if it wasn’t faster.

When my daughter had another break, she came out to help. By then I was almost done. Jodie sucked up water while I swept the algae and sand to the center of the pool. Then she and I together would hoist the vac and dump it. We did about 5 dumps. She returned to her work and I did the final sweep and vacuumed up the residue that was left.

It was done and it looked fabulous. When I began the job, it was intimidating. After all, I’m 69, it was a lot of work and took a lot of time. I didn’t know if I could do it. But I was determined. I did what I could with what I had and as I went along my resources and support improved and I was able to finish the job.

I know that a couple of men could have done it in half the time. If I had had better tools the whole job would have been faster and easier. But I only had what I had. I could do it or not.

The Point of the Story

It’s a perfect example of parenting, my parenting. When I began, I had a pool of green scummy water to deal with that came from my growing up. I had a wonderful family, but like all families there was stuff. And my stuff had lain dormant for a long time. It was as nasty as that pool water.

Parenting for me was laborious because I lacked skills, had few resources and very little support. Don and I married and moved far away from family and friends. As the years passed, I tried different things. I learned new skills, found resources. Things got better.

Sometimes, I would look at how we were coming along, and it felt like looking at that pool job. It was hard. It was long. Frankly, I didn’t know if I could hold out to the end. But Don and I did. We actively parented for 39 years.

How Did It Turn Out?

As some of you know we had kids struggle with drugs, alcohol, dropping out of school and identity issues. It was tough. Our kids are all over thirty now and many are in their late forties. They’re smart, loyal, loving, kind, generous people. They can be trusted to do what is right.

I read a wonderful book, That We May Be One, by Tom Christopherson. His family had their share of trials, but his parents determined their success by how connected and bonded the family was. I have chosen to do the same.

My children talk to each other often. They gather at our family reunion regularly. This week one of my children found themselves in an unexpected financial bind. The word went out to the family and in less than 24 hours it was resolved with all of us pulling together.

It doesn’t matter what the water in the bottom of your pool looks like. It doesn’t matter how inefficient your tools and resources. If you will do what you know is right consistently, better tools and resources will come. You’ll get better. If you’re determined to parent as well as you can, to connect your family, to increase your skills and access the resources you need, then you’ll be successful. When you stay the course, no matter what you lack, what you need will show up. Simple things, done consistently over time, make all the difference.

If you relate to this article please share it with others. They will thank you for it. 🙂

 

It’s Not Education or a Degree That Thrills Me

Sometimes Bad Things Happen to Good People

Recently, my 45-year-old son graduated from college with a bachelor’s in philosophy. It wasn’t easy because he has a past that could have made it impossible.

When Seth was a small boy, he had some experiences which hurt his heart and soul. Sometimes, no matter how carefully we try to guard our children bad things can happen. This set him on a troubled road. He used drugs, dropped out of high school, went to jail, and was sentenced to the D.O.C. (Department of Corrections) and a work-release program. He stole some cigarettes from a closed gas station and received a felony that would make life hard.

The future looked poor. However, he was a good person, as most of us are. When his son was born, he decided to make a change. It wasn’t easy because of the past. People weren’t sure they could trust him and so they didn’t want to risk giving him a chance. He just kept looking and eventually, he found a man and a company that employed him. He worked in an underground mine running a huge haul truck and eventually became an underground miner.

However, after just a couple of years, his body wouldn’t take the shaking and jolting of the machine any longer and he was back on the hunt. He was hired at a scrap mental company sorting metal.

Setting the Goal and Sticking With It

Seth had a goal to make something of his life so he could be an example for his son and he became one of the BEST scrap mental sorters they had. Eventually, he was promoted and found himself running the front office involving the 20-ton scale and the selling and buying of scrap metals. Then during the market collapse of 2007, Seth was laid off.

He eventually found a job as a machinist and was promoted after a couple of years to the position of Quality Management Systems Specialist creating a Quality Management System training program and taught it to the employees at his plant and others in the state. This was the job that changed the direction of his life. He began to believe that he was smart enough and capable of returning to school.

While Seth was working at the mine, he developed a love for rocks and minerals. He studied them and began collecting them. He also learned to pan gold and joined an online club of like-minded people. Eventually, this love of rocks and minerals got him thinking about college. He determined to become a geologist. But he was pushing 40 and he had a felony on his record. He bravely decided to go for it.

At the University of MT, Seth did what he had done at the scrap metal job and as a machinist. He moved up. He impressed his professors and counselors and they asked him to mentor ‘at risk’ college students. His efforts were so effective that he was often able to keep all his mentees in college. He taught some classes. He was making a difference as he pursued his own goals.

All these opportunities moved him from seeking a degree as a geologist to getting a degree in philosophy. What a major jump!

We didn’t put Seth through school. He worked his way through! It wasn’t easy. I can remember times when he called me in tears seeking encouragement. He thought about quitting. After all, he was going to be 45 by the time he was done. It seemed indomitable at times!

This spring Seth accomplished his goal and graduated with a degree in Philosophy.

Anyone Can Build a Meaningful Life!

There is a purpose in my sharing Seth’s journey with you other than a mother’s bragging rights. It’s not the education or the degree that thrills me. It’s that he was kind to himself, trusted himself, set a goal and then accomplished it.

The reason that I find that so magnificently thrilling is that when we can set a goal and stick with it, no matter how hard, then we can always take care of ourselves and others. We can always make, not just a living, but a life. Way to go Seth!!

P.S. Currently Seth is pursuing setting up a program to coach troubled youth. He understands that you can’t just take kids out of bad situations. You must help them be kind to themselves, trust themselves, set a goal and then accomplish it. You must change how they think.

If you know someone who needs to be reminded that they can make a life,
please share this article. : )

The Luckiest Person On The Planet

During the years that my family lived in ID. my dad was an over the road salesman. He bought a Cadillac and I hated that car. Every time we drove to my grandparents’ home in Afton, WY., with all the kids packed in the back seat, I would ruminate on my dad’s selfishness in buying such a stupid car for such a large family. Why didn’t we have a station wagon?

And here was another thing. He ate cold hot dogs in his hotel room. I loved cold hot dogs. In our money-strapped home, a hot dog was a fabulous treat. I knew he ate them because on occasion he had leftovers and brought them home. I thought he was the luckiest person on the planet.

After my dad passed away, while remembering these old memories, I had a moment of clarity. It came because I was older and wiser.

My dad was an over the road salesman because he only had a high school degree. Fortunately, he was a gifted salesman. He could sell you your shoes even if they were worn out. He needed to be good at it because it was commission work and he had a family of eleven to feed, clothe, and house.

To do well and keep his commissions high he drove an expensive car and wore very nice suits, both items we could ill afford. But they made my dad look successful and helped him be successful. He probably wished we had a station wagon too. It would have cut down on the back seat arguing and chaos.

And the hot dogs. He ate cold hot dogs with buttered bread and milk in his room to save the money that eating out would have cost. They weren’t a treat for him but a major sacrifice. He did this for years!

When I was a young mother my husband sold dental supplies. He would leave early Monday morning and return home Friday evening. He traveled the western half of the state of Montana. When he came home on Friday, he would ensconce himself on the couch with all the kids and watch television. On Saturday he would play ball, do errands with the kids, and hang out. How irritated I felt that he would leave me all week to manage everything while he slept in hotels, ate out, and had lots of quiet. I felt a better use of his time at home would have been to take me on a date or help me with the chores. After all, I had been home alone with six kids all week! I thought he was the luckiest person on the planet.

Years later, in a weak moment, for he is a man of few words, he confessed how desperately lonely he was on those long drives. How he longed to be with his family. How dreamed about home-cooked dinners filled with the chatter and arguing of children and spilled milk. He confessed that he hated being in sales. He told me of the close calls he had on snow-covered roads and his dread that someday he might not make it home. He felt I was the luckiest person on the planet surrounded by our children, in the warmth of a safe home, on a blustery winter night.

We each know our own story. We know what’s happening in our lives. We’re aware of our loneliness, our overwhelm, our shortcomings. But it’s harder to see the reality of another person’s life. We may look at their situation compared to our own and envy them. We may feel what we bear is unfair compared to what they bear. We may be resentful and judgmental. But our families will run better if we extend compassion, if we suspend judgment. This isn’t easy but it is doable.

In 1 Corinthians, in the Christian Bible, the Apostle Paul compared our imperfect knowledge of others as viewing them through a polished metal mirror of the period he lived in. He termed it ‘seeing through a glass darkly.’ I’ve always loved that image. When I’m in a place of resentment and blame, I remind myself that I’m probably seeing through a glass darkly. Then I take a second look at the story I’m telling myself to see if I can clear the lens and get a more truthful picture.

Five Tips to Clear Your Lens

1. Suspend judgment. You can only see the outward behavior. You don’t know the heart or motives of another person. When we judge we’re using our experience? They are behaving from theirs. Ask questions. Actively listen. Get clarity before you judge.
2. Take responsibility and stop blaming. You have control over what you think, which gives you control over how you feel. When we choose to tell ourselves stories that blame others, we decide to become victims. Blame is always an indicator there’s a problem with our way of being or how we perceive what’s happening. Check your story. Be honest with yourself.
3. Decide to think the best of others. Give people the benefit of the doubt. In most cases, we’re all doing the best we can. When we decide to think the best of others, we can manage our thoughts and the resulting stories more effectively.
4. View them as a person. Regardless of what another person is doing view them as a person. Treat them as you would want to be treated if you were in error.
5. Forgive. Even if the other person is in the wrong, even if they do have a better deal than you, when you hold on to resentment and blame it only hurts you. When you extend forgiveness to others and yourself you increase your ability to be happy.

Families are filled with opportunities to judge harshly, blame, and feel resentment. As we practice clearing the lens that we see our family members and our circumstances through we will have more personal peace and family harmony.

The luckiest person on the planet is the one who sees through a clear lens.

If you relate to this article please share it with others. I’ll thank you for it. 🙂 

The Greatest Empire is…Drum Roll Please!

Ok, so how do you do that – get control of yourself?

How do you get your mind to rule over your body? There are many books out there that give some wonderful advice, but I suggest just a few things that any harried mom or dad can do right now – no reading involved.

1. Pick one thing in your life you want to have control over. Make it simple. The harder self-control is for you the simpler the thing you begin with needs to be. The point here is to be successful in one small thing.

If you lack self-control then you must begin small and work up to larger, more important things. It’s like building a muscle. You don’t begin with a 300# weight. You begin with 3#’s. When you can lift that without trouble then you move to 5# and so on. This idea applies to mastering yourself.

Here are some examples of places to begin – putting your dirty clothes in the hamper when you take them off, hanging up your PJ’s every morning, making your bed before its time to get back in it, putting your plate in the dishwasher, and so forth.

It doesn’t need to be earth-shaking or even important. What is important is that you’re willing to commit to it.

2. Commit – There’s a difference in deciding you’re going to work on something and committing to it. When you work on a thing you may get tired and quit. When you commit nothing gets in the way. Nothing!

I know when I have committed and when I haven’t. The real work for me is committing. Once that’s done it’s a done deal! I can feel it in myself when I’m committed and when I’m not. You will feel it too.

To manage the next steps, you must be committed.

3. Be consistent. Do it every day. If it’s hanging up your PJ’s do it every day. Make the effort to never miss a day no matter what it takes! If you do miss a day begin again immediately. Don’t take breaks. Consistency is key to taking control of yourself!

4. Stay the course. You have to do this for as long as it takes for it to become part of your way of being, whether it’s putting dirty clothes in a hamper, running a mile every day, saving $100 per paycheck, always saying thank you, walking away rather than yelling, or not eating after 7 pm. Some things may become part of your way of being after only a few weeks and others may take much longer. For many people tracking on a chart is very helpful.

Remember that it took me ten years to overcome raging. Ten years. But I never quit. I just kept doing the steps that I had determined would help me gain control over my responses. So, stay the course!

5. Only focus on one or two things at a time. Overloading yourself with to-do’s leads to failure. When you work on too much at one time it becomes overwhelming. You don’t do well on any of them and then you quit. I’m sure you’ve experienced this. You go to a class or read a book and have a list of stuff that you feel you need to work on right now. You begin but in a month you’re right back where you began. It is called the 1% principle and you can’t dodge a principle.

6. Forgive yourself for being human. If you miss a day don’t throw in the towel. Forgive yourself and begin again immediately. Beating yourself up is counterproductive. Thinking that you’re a failure is counterproductive. Picking yourself up and beginning again is the mark of success!

Making decisions is challenging and energy draining. It’s where most people fall short. The purpose of the above steps is to stop having to make so many decisions. Once you’ve done something long enough it becomes a habit and you never have to decide to do it again. You have mastered that one thing.

When you gain control over one small thing, you’re moving in the direction of controlling your empire.

Controlling your entire empire is a lifetime’s work and will be worth the effort.

 

If this article helped you, please share it. 

Welcome To My Morning

Recently I was taken back in time as I listened to a soundtrack by John Denver. He was a singer-songwriter from the1960s through the 1990s. I was a young teen when he began his career and I enjoyed his music.

One song, that I listened to on this day was particularly meaningful – Welcome to My Morning. Look at the opening stanza.

Welcome to my morning
Welcome to my day
I’m the one responsible
I made it just this way

Many years ago, I finally understood and came to believe that I was truly responsible for how my days look. That belief can be a bit intimidating because if it is true then we must take 100% responsibility. Yikes! We must give up blame. Double yikes! We must stop being victims. Triple yikes!!!

But it’s true. And here is why. We cannot control other people or their actions. We cannot always control the circumstances that we find ourselves in. But we can always control our response to them. That is the key to the tenor of our days – our response.

Make Controlling Your Response a Daily Practice

It isn’t always easy to stay in control of our response but there are a few things that we can practice daily that will help us get better at it.

• Pay attention to your thoughts – Thoughts generate emotions and emotions move us to action. Our action will trigger a result, either positive or negative. So, it’s important to monitor your thoughts. Make the effort to keep them positive. Don’t let your mind make stuff up which it will try to do. Our mind wants to make sense out of things and sometimes we put our own spin on the facts.
• Think the best of others – It is easy to have negative thoughts about others and their motives, but if we make it a practice to think the best rather than the worst it goes a long way to helping us control our response. When someone cuts us off in traffic we can think, “That dumb jerk.” Or we can think, “She must be in a real hurry. I hope she gets there safely.” We get to decide how we will view the actions of others. When we decide to think the best of others, we can manage our thoughts better
• Give up blame. Blame is always an indicator there’s a problem with our way of being or how we perceive what’s happening. Taking responsibility for how we perceive what’s happening can and does make a difference in our outcomes.
• Practice gratitude. It’s remarkable how thought shifting gratitude can be. For many, it doesn’t come naturally because life is hard. People are rude and inconsiderate. Bad things do happen to good people. But gratitude is something we can cultivate and when we do, it goes a long way to helping us have more positive thoughts. That leads us to better responses, and we have better outcomes.

I love this example from my friend April Hiatt, who had attended a class I taught on this topic. She was practicing giving up blame, thinking the best of others, and being grateful.

“I opened the dryer door to discover wet clothes. Jonathan (my 14-year-old) didn’t press the start button when he transferred loads. I was three words into my grumble when I heard myself say out loud “Oh, I’m so glad I checked the dryer.” The next words were of understanding, with a deep feeling of love . “I’ve done this same thing before .” This whole cycle took under 3 seconds, and it happened without me really thinking about it. Wow, I’m amazed.”

We need to make setting our intention for the day a practice. We will have to do this our whole lives. Eventually, it does become easier, but it is a life-long work. We must decide that we’re going to have a good day. We must decide that people are basically kind. We must decide that life is good. These daily decisions help us respond better.

When you wake up and have a headache you can roll over and think, “This is going to be a lousy day.” Or you can close your eyes and think, “I’m glad I have something I can take for this.”

I know, it feels irritating to even think about it. That’s exactly how I felt when I first learned this principle, that I am responsible for how my life feels. But I want you to know that as I embraced this truth it changed my world. It gave me all the power!

You can listen to John Denver’s beautiful song HERE. Enjoy.

We All Lean Into Love

There’s a tree in our back yard that is growing faster on one side than on the other. The other morning my daughter gave me her impression as to why this tree is so lopsided.

First, you need to know that it wasn’t lopsided two years ago when we moved into our new home. You also need to know that it was a very sad looking black walnut tree. The leaves weren’t thick and deep green. There were very few nuts that first year and not many more the second. However, this year the tree is loaded with nuts, the leaves are thick and deep green and it’s growing towards my patio.

Jodie said that she thinks it’s because the tree is reaching for our patio as if it wants to come right inside. She said that’s because it feels the love, the caring. Isn’t that an extraordinary thought!

I’m not one to talk to plants, but I love nature, outdoors, and gardening. I even love weeding. As soon as we could I built garden boxes for my patio and I’ve tended them with loving care. I feed them and I prune them. I deadhead the flowers every day, so they’ll keep blooming. I water. I am consistent.

Our patio is a shaded, blooming wildness that is irresistible. Yes, those are sweet pea plants in the flower beds, and we’ve enjoyed snacking from them for weeks.

It doesn’t really matter whether this thought about why the tree has become lopsided is true or not. It illustrates a very important, in fact crucial, fact about people, about families. We all lean into love. We want to be loved. We want to matter.

What I know from working with hundreds of families is that most parents want their children to know they matter. Why then do we unknowingly send messages that make our kids feel they’re in the way, that they’re bothering us, or that they aren’t as interesting as whatever else we’re doing, or that they aren’t good enough. It’s because we aren’t focused on being Present with our children. We check out.

It’s easy to check out in this busy world and often we don’t even realize that we have checked out. When we’ve checked out or are totally involved in what comes next on our list, it’s easy to be irritated and frustrated with our children, which leads to poor responses on our part. Children and youth don’t hear “I’m busy. I’ll help you later.” They don’t sense you’re overwhelmed or tired. They aren’t old enough or experienced enough to give you the benefit of the doubt. They hear, “You have no value.” “You don’t matter.” “This is more important than you.”

HOW TO SEND THE I LOVE YOU MESSAGE CONSISTENTLY

Here are some behaviors that we, as adults, can practice that will help us send a clear message to our children and youth that we love them, that they matter, regardless of whether they’re meeting our expectations or not, regardless of how busy we may be?

• STOP whatever you are doing. Turn away from the TV or your computer. Put down the cell phone. Saying “I’ll talk to you later” will not cut it. Say “I can’t talk right now but I will come and find you in ten minutes.”
• LOOK your child in the eye. When we take the opportunity to look another person in the eye, we send the message that we are present with them, want to hear them and find whatever they have to say important. This is especially important when we need to disciple or teach.
• TOUCH them on the shoulder, hand, back, etc. Touch sends the message that we like being with them even if we are upset with them. It connects us to them.
• RESPOND to what your child is feeling, not only what they’re saying. Are they feeling angry, disappointed, attacked, judged, sad? Focus on the feelings.
• LISTEN with patience and interest. Whatever you’re feeling, your child will know! They’re like energy magnets. If your energy is inwardly impatient, they’ll know. If you’re dying to get back to your stuff, they’ll feel it. If you’re bored out of your mind, it’s coming across loud and clear. It may all be on a subconscious level, but they know. Hold thoughts in your mind that will help you maintain interest and patience.
• ACTIVELY LISTEN Don’t check out looking for solutions or what you want to say next. Stay Present. Hear your child and respond to what they’re saying. If you feel the need to teach don’t. Wait until later. You can always teach but your children will not always come to you if they can’t trust that you hear them.
• CHOOSE YOUR WORDS WISELY – We must begin taking full responsibility for the words we say. If we want better outcomes, we need to watch our words. Say what you want, not what you don’t want. Words generate emotions. You’ll feel the way you speak. How you feel moves you to an action that gives you a result, either good or bad.

We want our children to lean into our family, to want to be home, to see our example, and to know that they matter, that they are loved. Children who feel loved have far better outcomes in life.

This leads to the final behavior:

• BE CONSISTENT – You won’t be perfect. You can’t be. But be as consistent in your efforts as possible. If you do, it will be enough, and your kids will know that they are loved and that they matter.

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This Is the Most Fun Thing I Have Ever Done!

Some years ago, we had a dirt pile in the corner of our yard. Then my daughter decided to create something beautiful in that space.

She measured and cut the wood and figured out how to hold it all together. She built a fence to keep the dogs out. She planted herbs, tomatoes, peas, a watermelon, and a pumpkin. She built trellises for them. As a final touch, she added a metal baby robin, a fairy statue, and a brick walkway. It was beautiful!

My daughter said, “It took me two weeks to do a one-day project”. That was because she had three small children, one with cerebral palsy. The fact that she couldn’t focus and get the job done more quickly was a bit frustrating. Yet, despite the frustration, she said, “While I was building the garden, it was exhilarating. It was so exciting and rejuvenating.” Building that garden gave my daughter a wonderful sense of “This is the most fun thing I have ever done!”

My daughter was startled by the absolute joy she experienced as she figured it out and then built the garden. She thought a lot about that and remembered that she had felt this overwhelming joy before when she was four.

On our porch, she found two pieces of wood. She decided to make a plane. She asked for her snow pants because every builder needs overalls. She wanted a hammer and nails. Then she proceeded to make a plane. It didn’t look like a plane, just two sticks nailed into a T which she painted. She thought it was grand!

My daughter loves to build things. She also knows that she doesn’t build often enough. She works on ways to add that element into her life. When she makes time to build, no matter how stressful life is, she manages better.

Satisfaction and Joy Make Us Better People

There’s value in determining what brings us a sense of satisfaction and joy. As we create opportunities where we experience these feelings, we’re better mothers, fathers, grandparents, neighbors, friends, and people. These feelings enhance our ability to problem-solve instead of blowing up or becoming depressed. They ease the stress of modern life. They increase our patience and our ability to reach out to others, to forgive and to love.

The key is knowing what brings us these feelings and then finding ways to include them in our lives more often. We must make space for them. This isn’t always easy, but it is doable!

Do the work of figuring out simple things that feel exhilarating, satisfying and joyful to you. As you implement more of these activities into your life you fill your bucket. This enables you to give more to your family, friends, and community. Above all, it increases the quality of your life.

Let me leave you with an example from my own life. I love organizing things. Yup, work. I know it wouldn’t feel joyful and satisfying to everyone, but it is to me. So, I make plans on a regular basis to order something in my life, a drawer, a closet, a shelf in the garage, under my bed, etc. I organize something at least once or twice a month. I’m busy so I must plan it. I must get the support of my family to make space for it. But it’s worth it because it feels exhilarating, satisfying and brings me joy.

Someone once said that life is not a dress rehearsal. This is the real deal, so find ways to live a life of satisfaction, fulfillment, and joy no matter how busy life gets. Determine what generates these feelings for you and then find ways to incorporate them into your life.

Feel moved? Please comment.  Then share. : )

Change Looks Like Failure First!

Change can be hard. One reason that change is so challenging is that we misunderstand what change actually looks like and we also misunderstand the time that is required for change.

I have read many books on change. There is the standard – it takes 30 days to create a new habit. If we are talking about making our bed daily or exercising every morning then that is probably true. But if we are talking about changes that involve our character or our ability to respond differently in times of stress then maybe, just maybe, it will take more.

When I wanted to stop yelling that required a huge mind shift. I had to come to believe that I could actually stop yelling, that it was in my power to make that change. Accepting that fact took a few years.

Then I had to figure out what to do besides yell because it’s easier to replace a behavior than to stop a behavior. Once I knew what I was going to do instead of yelling I had to practice, practice, practice.

And here is where it’s important to understand what change looks like. Change looks like failure long before it looks like success.

Steps to Change

Step One – Realize that you need to make a change.

Step Two – Begin to believe that it is within your power to make a change.

Step Three – Determine what needs to change. Let me give you an example. I needed to get a handle on my complaining. It wasn’t that I wasn’t happy but the words of complaint just kept falling out of my mouth. It’s just too hot! I don’t know why you can’t put your socks in the hamper. I wish the prices weren’t so high. Why won’t my hair just do what I want it to? This meat is overcooked.

When I had this conversation with a friend, she said, “Well, everyone does that!” She is right but that doesn’t make it a healthful or useful practice. I knew that if I controlled what came out of my mouth I would experience far more moments of happiness during the day.

I determined that I needed to express gratitude more often and I did this by using a small notebook where I wrote down what I was grateful for as I went through the day. I also had a second small notebook where I recorded my complaints. Then I would tear up those pages each night. These exercises may seem simple and even silly but they kept my mind on what I wanted to do instead of what I had been doing.

Step Four – Make a firm commitment to doing the work and giving it all the time required. I can always tell when I only wish I was different or hope to be different and when I am committed. That is key. You have to have a firm intention that no matter what it takes, how long it takes or how discouraging it feels you will keep going.

The Process of Change

A – Realize that you will continue to do the very thing you want to change. This is the step where change looks and feels like failure. When I was working to replace yelling with self-control I would often yell. Right after I yelled I would think in my mind, “Rats. I yelled. I don’t want to yell anymore!” I would feel bad and I would feel like a big failure at this self-control thing.

However, I eventually came to understand that every time I recognized that I had errored, gave up blame and took responsibility for my actions and then determined to do better, I was making progress.

B – Stop. Eventually, I would stop in mid-yell. I would mentally catch myself and reverse course. This entailed a fair amount of apologizing. It was uncomfortable but it was progress. I caught myself and made an adjustment.

C – Change. Finally, I would think about yelling and I wouldn’t. I would choose to respond differently. It felt wonderful when I began to experience this step more often. That didn’t mean that I didn’t fall back to step three and four; I did, for a long time. But eventually, I found myself staying in control more often.

It Takes Time to Change Our Way of Being

Here is another place where people in the process of change find themselves in trouble. We think that if it takes 30 days to develop a new habit then that should equate to change but it doesn’t. The kinds of change that I’m talking about, those that make us better people and parents, are changes not just in what we do but in our very being, our character and that requires time.

It took me ten years from the time I realized that yelling was not a good coping skill or parenting tool to consistently staying in control. And the truth is, I can, on occasion, still find myself yelling. It is a lifetime work for me. However, if I had bought into the idea that I needed to accomplish this significant change in 30 days or one year or even five years, well, I might have given up and never made it to where I am today.

My current project, giving up complaining, has been in process for over six years. Sometimes I feel discouraged. But I express gratitude more often than in the past, even though I still complain. I am making progress.

Changing our way of being, who we are, how we respond, doesn’t have to take ten years or even six. But if it does, hang on and keep working.

As Nelson Mandela said,

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