I’m Doing Great!

Once upon a time our culture put a happy face on everything. We kept problems to ourselves and family issues stayed in the family. When you walked out the door you dressed up and stood tall. You did not complain.

Over the past few years we have started using words like “authentic” and started being honest about how hard life really is, how perfect we really aren’t and how not great we are often doing. And it is great. Some of my favorite bloggers are the ones who are honest and willing to share how they messed up or how bad a day they had. Because I mess up and have bad days too and I love to know I am not alone. We have learned to accept our imperfections, we have shined a light on things like abuse rather than leaving it hidden in families, we have been able to overcome challenges with the help and support of friends and family because we are free to share our needs, fears, struggles. Since I mess up a lot, I love it. I love being able to be honest about my life. I am very, very not perfect and I live a very, very not perfect life. And I am horrible at pretending I am doing good when I am not doing good.

However, recently I have started asking myself if being more honest about the trials has swung too far and we have forgotten the good parts of our life.

When someone asks me how I am doing I can tell them I am great or tell them all my problems. I could say, “I’m good, I burned breakfast this morning, forgot a client meeting and haven’t cleaned my bathrooms in a month but I am surviving.” Or I could say, “I’m doing great, I snuggled extra long with my daughter this morning, caught up on some paper work at the office and put out the fall décor last week so my house is ready for the season.” Both of those stories could be true. In one story I am focused on my failures and in one I am focused on my successes.

My return to work 3 years ago was HARD. But life is a journey, we never stay put in one place so why should our stories stay the same? I still miss homemaking but I am finding work to be enjoyable as I adjust to this new life. I could continue telling the “working is hard” story and it would be true, but working is good too, I like many things about my work. So I have started intentionally telling people I love my job and I even heard myself tell someone recently I love working . And while I could have just as easily told them my job is challenging, I am often not sure I know what I am doing and I wish I was still at home, because those things are also true many days, I am choosing to change my story and be positive. And it is making all the difference.

So, how was your day?

From there to here

10 years ago my husband and I were part of a little group of about 30 people (including kids) who took a leap of faith and started an Anglican church in our community. (Even though we were very Baptist at the time, God takes us crazy places.) This past weekend our church celebrated its 10th birthday party with nearly 300 regular attenders.

At the time we started the church we had a 10 year old only child and a dream that someday number 2 would find us. We owned rental property which I has having fun managing in my free time while our son was attending a little private school. I was loving being a homemaker and having the opportunity to be involved in many aspects of starting the church.

Although I never got around to reading it, the book “Blue Like Jazz” was very popular at the time and I remember hearing people talking about it in our new little church. So when I came across this article written by the author recently I felt like it was a perfect message to relate both to where our church is today and where my life is today.

Don Miller is often told, “I miss the old Don.” And his response is that while the old Don was a great guy, he doesn’t miss him, he likes the new Don better.  The new Don is older and wiser, has grown, learned and matured and has a great life he wouldn’t trade to be the old Don.

Our church has changed a lot since it started 10 years ago and sometimes I miss the old Church. I miss knowing every single person and the intimacy of those relationships. I miss the monthly all church potlucks we used to have when we had one service and could all comfortably fit into the church basement. I miss being able to know everything going on in the church and attend every event.

But I love where we are now more. I love seeing new people every week come and worship with us, I love all the various opportunities people have to connect at our church, I love that we have a youth group, I love all the babies that have been born in the 10 years, including my own daughter, and watching them grow up. Families created and growing. I often say that I think we have the best people at our church. If we didn’t grow and change we would have missed out on knowing them.

I also miss the old me. The me of 10 years ago that was a full-time homemaker with no thought of ever going back to work. The me that was fully committed to raising my son to be a godly man, to loving and encouraging my husband and helping our church ministries grow and thrive in any way needed.

But I love the new me too. The me that works out in the world and is meeting new people every day. The me that shares household responsibilities with her family rather than doing it all myself. The me that still enjoys a Martha Stewartesque moment but no longer strives to create them with any sort of regularity. The new me that is once again the mother of a (soon-to-be) 10 year old only child who is being raised in a very different way but still with the same goal of seeing her grow to be a godly woman.

I have also had many experiences in the last 10 years, wonderful experiences that strengthened my understanding of who I am and who God is. And difficult experiences that have done the same thing. I was changed profoundly by them and I wouldn’t trade any of that to go back and be the person I was 10 years ago.

Who and where will I be in another 10 years? When John was preparing to return to school full-time 3 years ago and I was going back to work someone said to him, “no matter what you do, 10 years from now it will be 10 years from now.”  We change and grow and hopefully accomplish a few things as the years pass but whether we sit still and refuse to change or start something new and pursue growth, 10 years from now it will still be 10 years from now.

Who will you be?


Who are you Leading?

I love to read leadership books, blogs, Facebook posts, advertisements, listen to podcasts, attend lectures. I know it is probably a little weird but I find it motivating. And I have learned a lot while doing so about how to treat people, how to manage, organize, motivate, mentor, protect, grow and become. My current favorite leadership resource is Michael Hyatt. I also love Dave Ramsey, Seth Godin ( a new favorite), Patrick Lencioni (has a leadership book for business and another that applies to families), Sheryl Sandberg and in real life my friend Dave and my friend Ed. To name a few. I have learned and been motivated in some way by all of them and so many others.

Then the other day I was in one of those moods. I had a mishap at work that was throwing me off and I started the negative self talk.  “I am not a leader” “I don’t have a team, why am I wasting my time reading leadership blogs as if I am going anywhere?” “I don’t know what I am doing and the sooner I accept that and get comfortable just following directions the better off I will be.”

Am I the only one who has these days? Actually I was even more negative than that but I try to block the worst stuff. Most of the time I am pretty optimistic but especially on days when I make a mistake or things go wrong, I can get pretty hard on myself. Self-doubt is my friend.

So I decided to go for a run because when I am full of anxiety and nervous energy it seems like the thing to do. And as so often happens on my runs, my mind calms down and God begins to give me that little pep talk I really need. And that day he pointed out a fact that I was missing. I am the leader of myself.

I may not be a manager, I may not have a team under me that I am leading but, there is work that needs to be done and I do it so therefore, I need to lead myself. This applies both to my self-employed work and my other-employment. I can’t tell my boss what to do but I can tell myself what to do, I can choose to be a leader in my own positions or to simply follow orders and complain about management. And if I don’t tell myself what to do in my business, well, there will be no business.

The truth is I loved leadership materials even before I went back to work. Although I always read it under the guise of either my husband’s business or my desire to eventually start my own. Looking back I realize that I was also a leader at home, I led the home. And especially now that I am working I actually do have a little team of people who help me manage our home and family life. (I call my team child and husband.)

(Now I am getting into murky spiritual waters in Christian circles if I say I was the leader of my home or of my husband. So let me just say that in our home John and I are a team, if you would like you can call him the head of the home but he often tells people that his leadership style understands that I am more qualified to do certain things and fill certain roles than he is (for instance I do all the money management) and so he lets me. This isn’t giving up his head of the home role, this is him being a leader. Most of the time we discuss together and make decisions together.)

I lead myself.  This was such a fascinating thought to me. I may not be able to apply the leadership principles I have learned to other people but I can apply them to myself. And I realized that is exactly what I have always done and exactly why I have always loved leadership writings. I lead myself.

(And now I feel the need to put in the caveat that I know God in fact leads me. I lead myself under God’s authority. We Christians are very word conscious aren’t we.)

So what are some leadership lessons I have learned over the years that I can apply to myself at this non-leadership stage of my career and leadership stage of my homemaking. In no particular order here are a few of my favorites that I am always working on:

  • Get up early. I spent years fighting this one. I hate getting up in the morning. But almost without exception you will find that successful people get up early and start their day with planning and quiet time. It took me forever to establish this habit and I continue to fight with myself to maintain it even after years into the habit but it has been one of the most worthwhile of all the leadership tips I have gleaned. (just coincidence that this one is first, still no particular order.)
  • Keep Going. Don’t give up.
  • Control your own schedule, don’t let it control you. Plan. Know what needs to be done and do it. This is the epitome of leading yourself, you must be the one that decides what to do rather than letting others dictate your life and schedule but simply reacting to whatever comes next or whatever email arrives next. I have written a few things on this blog on this topic and it is and area I am continually seeking to improve. I have the concept down but full implementation has not yet been achieved.
  • Don’t give up. Failure is only failure if you quit.
  • Listen. A leader needs to be available to listen to his teams concerns and be willing to address them if necessary. What is my family telling me? What am I telling me? Sometimes we start telling ourselves something isn’t working before we fully acknowledge that truth. It comes in our attitude, self talk, enthusiasm and can even affect our health. Listen to what is going on.
  • Don’t give up. Believe in yourself.
  • Find a mentor. But don’t over think this task. I have come to realize I have lots of mentors.  Every blogger I follow is a mentor, every leader who writes a book is a mentor, co-workers can be mentors. Often the people mentoring you don’t even know they are doing it.  A mentor isn’t someone who just gives to you and you take. Someone who takes time from his or her business or job to help you succeed in yours. That is part of it but, being mentored has its own tasks, we have to listen, ask questions and take action. Being mentored, if you take it seriously, is a part-time job in itself, but since it augments your current work, I find it to be worth the effort. One of many great chapters in Sheryl Sandberg’s, “Lean In” has to do with mentors. I highly recommend checking it out if you are looking for a mentor.
  • Keep going. Don’t give up.
  • Keep growing, learning, pursuing knowledge, personal growth, spiritual growth. I think one of the keys to leadership is realizing you are never fully done. Work, business, home, life is constantly changing and you have to be alert to what is happening around you so you are prepared for whatever comes your way.
  • If you quit, you will never succeed.
  • Positive attitude and positive self talk. Which is something I was not practicing the other day when I started cutting myself down and saying I wasn’t a leader. It happens but we have to guard against it, break the bad habit of negative attitudes and sabotaging negative self-talk. Afterward I came across this affirming post from Michael Hyatt on this very topic.

I think that covers some of my favorite leadership topics. But there are so many more because every leader is different and has specific needs related to their situation. For me, I am leading myself. And this week the lesson I had to remind myself comes from Winston Churchill who said, “Never, never, never give up.”

So I keep going. What leadership lesson are you teaching yourself this week?

Take A Day Off

Today I didn’t work.  Well I worked for about 10 minutes. At least 10 minutes of business work.  Instead I had a homemaker day. I did the laundry, dropped off a broken picture at the framers, bought a new battery for my computer, had lunch with my mom (who bought me a new outfit!), picked up some table clothes I said I would get for the church potluck, signed up for the women’s retreat, scheduled an appointment to get our truck fixed, wrote a few blog posts. (Does that count as working? I would like someone to pay me for this but for now it is more of a hobby that takes away from making money.) While I wasn’t exactly sitting around, I took the day off.  I know I get 2 days off every week but, somehow weekends are never weekends when you are a working mom.  They are more like crazy catch up days.  If you are lucky they end with everyone landing on the couch for a relaxing popcorn and movie night before going back to the hustle and bustle of work and school.  If you are like most of us it ends with last-minute homework panic and get ready for the week prep, yell at the kids to take the wash-off-the-weekend-stink shower and then stay up too late trying to eek out the last moments of freedom before you return to the work week.

Which leads me to a day off.

In my current flexible employment I was lucky enough to see that I had a slow day and have a friend who reminded me that crazy was just around the corner and I handle crazy better when my home is in order so I should embrace a day off. But she warned me not to take the day off and get distracted with nothing, I needed to make it happen.

When my work schedule was less flexible and taking a day off required planning, permission and vacation pay, I still found myself taking these days occasionally.  Usually they came when I was about to snap.  House too messy, family to scattered, friends to lost, grip on my sanity loosening.  I would schedule a day off in the middle of the week and unashamedly go into homemaker mode. Yes people would ask me what I was going to do on my day off and I would say, “nothing”. There is a sense that you somehow must have a purpose for taking a vacation day. Like a vacation, an appointment, a school event, a sick child.  Who takes a vacation day to clean the bathroom and have coffee with a girlfriend?

I do. And I would like to propose you should too.

Those days off were more relaxing and refreshing than any other vacation day I took. Yes, family vacations are fabulous too but in a different way. I know vacation days are scare and I know you are trying to save them for a vacation or when your kids are sick or an emergency arises but I would like to propose that your mental health is an emergency and taking a day off to refresh yourself is a very good way to spend a vacation day.

Maybe you aren’t as tightly strung as me and don’t care if your house is in constant chaos, but I bet you miss working on crafts or an art project or you miss being able to walk through a museum without being rushed or you would like to do your Christmas shopping not on the busy days of the week. Whatever it is that you would desperately like to take a day off to do, take the day off and do it.

Remember when you are flying and the safety tips are being given.  They tell you how to put the oxygen mask on if there is an emergency.  But they also tell you that if you have young children to put your mask on before helping the child.  As parents our instinct is to help our child first, as women we give to everyone else before we take care of ourselves but, if we don’t help ourselves first we are no good to our children, our husband, our home, our work, ourselves.

So take a day off, get some stuff done, feel good and then go back and make a difference for your family and your work.

What are you going to do on your day off?

Dealing with People

Several years ago I was shopping with my sister.  The shoe department at our favorite store was having a sale and it was a mad house.  We each tried on several pair waiting an extended period of time for each pair as the woman helping us was juggling several customers. Finally we made our decisions and were ready to buy. We had to wait again for a cash register to check out. Finally it was our turn and we stood and watched our sales lady, who had not been overly enthusiastic at any point in our dealings, enter our transaction and slam our shoe boxes on the counter and in general be slightly hostile about the whole thing. I was getting ready to make some snappy comment about not banging my shoes around so harshly.  But just before I did I paused to look around and noticed how crowded the place was and wondered how many times she had been snapped at that day.  So instead of getting mad at her I simply pointed out the obvious, “wow it is busy today, have you been here long?” The immediate change in her attitude and behavior was frankly startling.  She became calm and friendly, stopped banging the lids of the shoe boxes down and even smiled at me as I took my purchase.

I was reminded of this incident recently when a friend of my son’s posted a similar story on facebook. Her story involved watching a customer be rude to a salesperson and the whole thing causing her to be late but choosing to be kind rather than impatient and having the person thank her for being such a great customer that day.

At the time of my shoe buying incident I was fully entrenched in homemaker world and had never worked retail. Now that I work I have had those very days of working long hours, being yelled at by multiple customers and not having the energy to be friendly to the others.  Of course at home I did have to deal with cranky people (toddlers, pre-teens, teens) every day and some days I was that cranky sales person who had been working too long and been yelled at too many times to be cheerful and friendly to others.

This is the part where I could write something preachy about how we treat each other, being loving to one another.  The verse, “love your neighbors as yourself” comes to mind as a possible application verse here. “Put yourself in the other person’s shoes” seems like a good application. But I think it is all so obvious and you are all so smart I don’t have to say much here. I am going to just simply say that while we can’t choose how people treat us, we can choose how we respond to them. I have chosen to respond positively and I have chosen to respond negatively (you may notice I didn’t share those stories today…). I am not perfect but I do strive to do my best, to honor God both at home and at work as I deal with people.

How are you responding to stressful situations and poor customer service today?

Working mom devotional: Daniel part 2

This isn’t going to turn into a chapter by chapter series on Daniel, I promise.  Although I can’t say there won’t be another one.

So in Daniel 2 the king has a dream and decides that his wise men should be able to tell him the dream and then interpret it and if they can’t do this he will know they are all frauds and kill them all.  Of course they can’t do this and so although only the top couple wise men were being consulted on this topic the king orders they all be killed.

Now if I was Daniel and officials randomly came to kill me for reasons that were vague at best I would panic!  But not Daniel.  He remained calm, asked to talk to the king and told him that he would be able to tell him his dream and interpretation in a couple of days. Impossible! Then he calmly went home and asked his friends to pray for him and sought God to reveal this information to him. And believed.

Jesus tells us that with only a mustard seed of faith we can move mountains. In this situation with Daniel I wonder if he really didn’t have much more than that. Had Daniel seen miracles at this point in his life? He had interpreted dreams before but never without knowing what they were in the first place. Never with a sword hanging over his neck. God does some pretty amazing and unbelievable things in Daniel but so far his friends had not survived the fiery furnace and Daniel had not faced the Lions.  He was just a Jewish boy who had been pulled into the service of the king. But the king asked the impossible and Daniel believed God would reveal the answer to him.

I have faith, I often think I have more than a mustard seed of faith.  Yet I have never moved a mountain. The truth is that while I do believe God has the power to do amazing things, if I am honest, I often am not sure I believe he will do them for me. While a mustard seed of faith is pretty small, it is also pretty big because sometimes even gathering up a tiny bit of faith takes a huge effort.

Recently at work I had a deal on the verge of destruction.  I was devastated as I had worked hard on it and couldn’t understand where it went wrong. I was talking with a good friend who said she was going to pray for a miracle.  I said to go ahead because that was the only thing that would save the deal. And then she prayed and I listened but I did not pray with her because I did not have even a mustard seed of faith that God would provide the miracle. Luckily for me it didn’t have to be my tiny faith that could bring a miracle because the next day I got one. You might think I am over stating here using the word miracle to talk about keeping a business deal together but if you knew the details you would agree. Miracle.

So I wonder how often I have missed experiencing something amazing because I couldn’t even muster a mustard seed of faith. Do I truly believe God will rescue me when I need help? I fully believe he CAN, but if I really look back on various experiences throughout my life I don’t always believe that he WILL. In other people’s lives I truly have that faith for them, but in my own life…

Daniel believed. In the face of execution he boldly went to the king to ask why he was being killed and then boldly told the king he would be able to reveal something to the king that only God could reveal to Daniel.

In the face of my own bumps in the road with work, family, friendships, marriage, home issues, do I face them with the belief that God can and will work things out? Perform a miracle? Remembering Daniel’s faith I will believe and keep going.

What trials are you up against today?  Do you believe as Daniel?

Working Mom Devotional: Daniel

Daniel_refuse_kingsfoodI love stories.  Although I have to admit I was well into adulthood before I realized they could be anything more than just that, stories.  So although I learned lots of stories in Sunday School it has only been as an adult that I understood why those stories were important to my life.  That I could apply the principles and lessons from those stories to my life.

Today I am thinking of the story of Daniel.  No not that one.  Not the one with the Lion and the den.  The other one.  The one with where he becomes a vegetarian.

Daniel and his friends, who we might note were part of the royal family, are captured when Babylon takes over Judah.  The king of Babylon decides that these royal kids will make excellent servants in his courts.  I suppose he reasons that they are already more refined and educated and therefore easier to train for a royal position.  So he sends them to 3 years of school to learn the Babylonian way of serving a king, and I suppose trains them to realize they will be serving not being served as they likely had become accustom.

So Daniel and his friends are captured and while being a slave isn’t ideal they did end up with a pretty good gig considering the options.  And they were submitting to this new authority in their lives.  But they still wanted to honor and submit to God’s authority if possible.  So when they  were offered food off the king’s table, perfectly good and tasty food, they requested a slight modification.  Could they skip the unclean meat and drink and just take the clean veggies?

God caused the people who were responsible for their care to be open to the suggestion but they were worried about their jobs if Daniel and his friends weren’t as healthy as the others.  So Daniel proposed they just try it for 10 days and see what happens.  They wanted to be faithful to God by eating only clean food and God was faithful to them by providing care givers who were willing to give them only veggies.  God also saw to it that they remained healthy, healthier in fact than those who ate from the king’s table.

As a homemaker this story would have been all about the food for me.  A conviction to eat the foods God created for us.  And some days that is still my take away from this story.  But today, as a working mom, I see it more as a lesson in staying obedient to God while submitting to authority over us.

As an employee we are responsible to do what we are asked to do by our supervisors.  We need to be willing to follow instruction even when we don’t want to. We aren’t slaves but we still have to submit to authorities over us.  But does that mean doing something against God’s rules?  The answer is obviously no. What strikes me in this story isn’t that Daniel and his friends refused to eat the unclean food.  It is actually that they requested not to eat it, they proposed a test, they did not dismiss the concerns of those above them.  They worked together to find a solution that benefitted them all and as a result were able to both follow God’s rules for food and be an example of faith to those around them.

Request:  Daniel didn’t just go in there, announce he wasn’t going to eat the King’s food and demand a special kosher diet be prepared for them.  Once he had decided not to defile himself with the King’s food “he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.”  How we ask for something makes a difference.  Daniel asked permission.  Creating a situation where they can work together and the official can maintain their authority.  Don’t go rushing into a situation guns blazing, ask first.  You might be surprised by the answer.

Propose: The official admitted to Daniel that he was afraid of the king and didn’t want to get in trouble if they looked sickly while the others who ate the king’s food were healthy.  It would be easy to roll your eyes and act superior at your knowledge that God’s food is healthier than the king’s food.  But Daniel did not dismiss the concerns of the official, he worked with him. Daniel proposed a test, “Please test your servants for ten days:  Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” When we are proposing a new idea or asking for special treatment be sure to help your supervisor feel like they will not get in trouble or have additional work as a result of your special request.  Offer a trial, offer to take on the additional work yourself, be sure that what you are asking will reflect well on your boss not poorly.  Continue to allow them to have authority over the situation.  After the 10 day test Daniel and his friends actually looked better than the others which in turn made the official over them look better too.

When you are asked to do something that goes against your beliefs how do you respond?  Do you push, do you give up or do you respond with faith like Daniel?