Inspiration in Unlikely Places

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Lately I have been doing some longer distance driving. Much of my time seems to be spent on the NJ Turnpike. Like most travelers, pit stops for me are meant to be treated almost as quickly as a real pit crew: pull in, do what you need to do and get back on the road. As quickly as possible. No dawdling.

So, it always surprises me and gives me pause when I find something unexpected. Such was the case with the above quotation outside the restrooms at a newly renovated rest stop. How nice to think that the NJ turnpike authority is inspiring travelers. Who says NJ isn’t inspirational?!

What about you? Have you run into something that gives you pause? That has you thinking? Have you ever found something unexpected? Like a flower growing in a crack in the sidewalk? Or a nugget of truth in an outlandish scenario?

Nearby my one sister is a state park. On one side of the park there are steep rocky banks with little to no dirt or ground cover. What is always amazing to me is to see trees forcing their way through the cracks in the rocks, seemingly not rooted into any terrafirma. How can they grow? Where is the stability? How can they receive and distribute nutrients without a grounded root system?

Nature always has a way of inspiring me.

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On a recent dog walk I came across some trees that from the striations on the bark must have had a vine deeply imbedded on its trunk. Somehow the vine died and fell, leaving deep cuts into the tree. Usually vines are the kiss of death for trees. However this tree seems to have survived and continues to grow. It is even crooked, bending towards the light.

What tenacity and innate desire to live! Makes me wonder if I would be so tenacious under trying conditions?

What are some inspirational vignettes, quotes or stories that have resonated with you? Where do you draw your inspiration?

Recently I found this quote. It has been inspiring me to be who God has made me:

“You are born an original.

Don’t die a copy.”



Carefully Planned

I am reading Anne Morrow Lindbergh book, War Within and Without. It is the last of her “diary/journal/memoir” five part series of books starting with her flight adventures with aviator husband Charles continuing through the kidnap, death and publicity craziness and grief of their first born son, then their living in England and France in “exile” to escape the prying eyes and now settling back in the states at the beginning of WWII when Europe is engaging into war.

Found book at a "Free Little Library”.

Found book at a "Free Little Library”.

It is a fascinating look into the mindset of Americans during this period of history (the time before America entered the war), especially as Anne writes as the history is unfolding, almost in a “real time” viewpoint all the while we are reading it knowing the outcome of history. While Lindbergh has been vilified at times and definitely found with feet of clay (a decade or so ago it was disclosed of his three mistresses and their collective families). It is an honest look at a flawed hero and heroine of our time.

I am finding many parallels to our current political situation and while it is alarming (we as a society should take note), it is also comforting in knowing that if things should happen again we can prevail.

One light hearted anecdote occurs early on in the memoir. Anne is describing a delightful weekend that Charles and she experienced with a French diplomat. Anne, who was the interpreter for Charles and the guest thoroughly enjoyed the visit as this gentleman asked questions of her too, as a writer and about mutual books. The intellectual exercise in their discourse and discussions was enjoyed by all three of them.

At one point in the recounting, Anne says that all three of them were having a deep and lively discussion as they were driving from one location to another. The car suddenly stopped. The reason- out of gas. Charles had forgotten to fill up before they took off!

Anne doesn’t elaborate too much only that it was astonishing for Charles to be so unprepared and only underscored how intrigued he was in their discussions. After all, aviator Charles A. Lindbergh was the king supreme of the check-list. In fact, the preflight checks that are standard with airplanes were designed by Charles. He had checklists for everything. Even his discussions with his children and their goals and plans were kept in checklist form on index cards.

Just goes to show you that to ere is human.

I enjoy hearing about human foibles. Not for the purpose of gloating but more for the purpose of identity: we are all in the same boat and we are all in the position of needing humility. Any human who seems “perfect” is not. Just look at the news and the darling of yesterday is the scourge of tomorrow.

I also am encouraged when I hear that even planners forget to plan and that even the best laid plans can go awry. It is another way of remaining humble: we may carefully plan situations but most often they may take another turn. That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t plan what we can. It is just that we need to be open to whatever turns the plans may take.

The Bible has many verses talking about acknowledging plans and asking for guidance:

“I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper and not to harm you.” Jeremiah 29:11

“Ask and it will be given you” Matthew 5; 7

Although I think many people might view these verses as “ask the genie in the bottle”/fairy-godmother type verse. God is not like that. He is powerful and almighty and deserves and expects reverence. The thing is, His plans are the best. In our limited viewpoint, we sometimes think that we know the best for ourselves. After all, isn’t that what all the self-help books are about- the individual helping his/herself? Not that there isn’t good information in those type of books. It is just that while we are to “know thyself”, we need to rely on the One who created us and His knowing of ourselves.

I sometimes need to be reminded that it is in the spirit of humility when I ask, then I receive. When I trust, I do not worry about harm.

Proverbs 19:21 “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

Proverbs 16:19 “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”

Proverbs 16:3 “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.”

Proverbs 3: 5,6 “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

What about you? Are you a planner? Do you have trouble relinquishing control of your life? Have you ever had an incident where the very thing for which you are known, you negatively experienced? (Like planner Lindbergh running out of gas?) How did that play out? Was it embarrassing? Did you laugh it off as another humbling incident?

I have recently taken Proverbs 19:21 to heart. While I have many plans in my heart- for myself, family and friends- I recognize that God’s purpose will prevail. And I choose that.

Your Phone IS calling…

Last week I heard a brief segment on NPR about the distracting pull of our smart phones. The statement didn’t surprise me since it validates my own and other’s observed behaviors.

The bane of modern life…

The bane of modern life…

After all, it seems intuitive- the mere presence of our phones beckons us to keep checking it. Not only when we have a beep, ring or tone that alerts us to a new notification but even when it is silent. We check and double check thinking that we must “See if something is going on.” “Did we miss a text?” and even thinking, “It must be broken since I didn’t get anything.”

After hearing the story, I commented to my husband, “No one sits by their land line and keeps picking it up to see if there is someone on the other end.” Of course as I was speaking I was reminded of comedy skits where that is exactly what happens. The protagonist is waiting for an important call and sits by the phone. Every once in a while she will pick up the phone to see if someone is there. In the real old skits, the person on the other line is usually the telephone operator who will patiently explain that no one has called. (For those who aren’t familiar, back in the day- there were party lines. No such thing as direct calling. One had to speak to the operator. “Operator, get me ‘AMherst 355’ and the operator would connect you. Sometimes you had to wait to be connected and so the operator would ring you back with the connection.)

These social scientists realized that even though their phones were parked beside them and not making any noise, they still felt compelled to check them to ensure that they hadn’t missed a call.

I started thinking about my own practice with the cell phone. I, too am guilty of checking the phone for truly no reason. Although in fairness to me, I have missed calls. Either because I put my phone on silent and forgotten to return it to sound when I was expecting a call. Or it is deep in the bowels of my purse and I cannot hear it ringing or if I do, it takes me forever to unearth it. Just when I do the ring stops.

I find that having the phone next to me while working is distracting. I find myself checking to see messages and emails which is exactly what they discovered in their rudimentary experiment. The closer in proximity a smart phone was to a person, the more likely and the more frequent he would look at the phone.

Of course, time management suggests that one batches emails and phone calls at various times during the day. That is an admirable plan. One in which I try to adhere. Still, over the last fifteen years, because of caring for aging parents, I found that I needed to have the phone close. It would never fail that the times that I would forget my phone, have it charging in another room or have it on silence, would be the one time that I would receive an important phone call about their care.

There is something about out of sight, out of mind though that I find appealing. In some ways, by not having the phone in eye shot, it gives me permission to not be burdened by the information through the various forms of communication. For truly, if I analyze the information that I am reading, most of it is not that time sensitive.

It also gives me permission to really concentrate at the task on hand. I can control when I look and when I respond to various messages. It allows me to feel that I accomplished something rather than being harried and beholden to a text, email or message that doesn’t move me closer to completing the task.

I am also giving myself permission to analyze my time this week. I have started keeping track of my days: what I have done with each hour or so. I am looking for patterns of productivity and misuse. Is there something that seems to be taking larger chunks of my time? What is it? And why is it? Is there margin in my schedule? Times of down time? Time for self-care? For care of others? How many times am I checking my phone?

If you wonder where your time is going, you might want to try a time study. You can use your day planner, or just a sheet of paper. [ Of course, the irony of a time tracker app on one’s phone isn’t wasted on me! It is tempting to suggest it though. ] Or, you can download templates. Click here to download either an excel or word time sheet.

I am just using a piece of paper. For each day, I group my time into either hourly sections or into the amount of time it takes me to do an activity. (e.g. tennis= 2 1/2 hours with playing and traveling to and from time.) So far I haven’t found any patterns but I have realized that my days are packed. No wonder I fall asleep so quickly.

What about you? What is your relationship with your phone? Do you keep it in sight during your waking hours? What do you do about meal times? Meetings? I have heard that by putting the phone on the table for meetings or meals is the equivalent of setting other people at the table. Do you want them there or not?

No Place Like Home

This week marks the eightieth anniversary of “The Wizard of Oz” film. On August 11, 1939 there were three test market showings. Fun fact taken from the Cape Cinema website:

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“Special within our history is the premiere of the Wizard of Oz in 1939. It is difficult for many to believe but we proudly hold a poster from one of the anniversaries of that premier in our lobby, right above the Box Office. Part of the difficulty is the conflicting information you may find online. Our premiere of the show took place on August 11th, 1939 which was one day previous to the technical world premiere. As one of three test markets, we played the film before anyone else and feature a showing every year on its anniversary. For those wondering, Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch of the West) was engaged at the Cape Playhouse at the time and arranged for the showing on Cape Cod, far away from the other test markets in Wisconsin.”

The movie’s theme is what all lifestyle coaches and even to some extent licensed counselors advise- when we have questions about our lives, we generally already know or have the answers in our “toolbox”.

In the case of the three compadres with Dorothy- the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow- they are reminded by the Wizard that they already possess courage, a heart and a brain. They did not have to keep looking for it but rather recognize that which was in them. In Dorothy’s case, she learns that one cannot run away from consequences for there is no place like home. The things she desires in life have been with her all along.

Yet, I cannot help but think it was the journey down the yellow brick road and the collective purpose of the four friends going to see the wizard that helped mold and shaped them. I cannot help but think that while we may have the tools within us, those tools sometimes lie dormant or are not fully functional until we experience life. Either we must have a chance to rise to an occasion or a chance to allow the experience shape the tools into what is necessary for us to continue along the journey.

I have seen it time and time again with friends and relatives who find that they do have the courage, heart or mind to traverse through tough situations. They may feel ill equipped for the journey or that a wicked witch is after them yet they persevere. If they were to be asked about their capabilities before the events, they would probably say that they couldn’t do it yet they do.

While I believe that we have many of the tools needed to help us in situations, I believe those tools are placed within our grasp by God. He knows what we need for this life journey. We need to trust Him that we will have everything we need when we need it. Sometimes the tools are a gift in the hand of a friend or stranger. Sometimes the tools need to be reused, cleaned and dusted off. Sometimes the tools need to be taken out of the box. And sometimes the tools have to be used over and over again.

Regardless we do not have to look too hard to find our tools. We just need to open our eyes, pay attention to our surroundings and be present. To ask for assistance when needed. To join with others in the experience. To hold on tightly even if the wind blows stronger than we can handle.

What about you? What do you already possess but for some reason don’t realize it? Creativity? Organization? Kindness? Grace under pressure? Resilience? Courage? Intelligence? Love?

Are you trying to get away from home? Physically? Emotionally? Spiritually? Why is that? Is it due to some tragedy? To some experience completely out of your control? Or behavioral consequences? What is home for you? More than just where we were raised, home can mean many different things: sanctuary, peace, familiarity,

Who are your compadres for your experience? Are you traveling solo or with others? Do you know where you are headed? What tools or information or equipment do you think you need?

Of course, with all analogies the story can only be taken so far. And, we know that The Wizard of Oz is just a story. However, God’s story and His care for us is real. “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Tools that we can rely upon.

Inversion

Inversion: a reversal of position, order, form, or relationship (www.merriam-webster.com)

Recently I was listening a sermon by one of my nephews. Click here to hear it or any others of his. In it, he was describing “inversion philosophy”: If having difficulty in working out a solution to a problem, try reversing the outcome. Rather than decide that my outcome is such and such, figure out what could I do to have the totally different outcome. For instance, if I were a business person and wanted to have the best customer service, what would be the worst behavior I would need to exhibit in order to produce the worst service? I then could fashion my business practice to not do those behaviors but to do the opposite.

The opposite can tell us a a lot about what we don’t want and therefore can be beneficial.

In case there was any confusion-  this is NOT I nor any resemblance of me when I try a yoga pose.

In case there was any confusion- this is NOT I nor any resemblance of me when I try a yoga pose.

This practice can be done in the financial, mathematical, emotional or psychological world- that looking by a different aka inverted view may help find the solution. There are some reports that there are benefits in the physical world as well. In doing the various yoga poses, there seems to be many that are done with one’s head hanging down (or at least it seems to me.) Supposedly it is good for one’s immune system and the like to do so. I cannot say that I am there yet- I feel everything rushing to my head and sinuses and cannot say that I feel rejuvenated when I come back upright.

There are proponents for actually hanging upside down: benefits to one’s disc and spine, relieve of back pain and sciatica issues. It also seems to help with depression,mood, leg edema and with circulation. There are caveats- a person with uncontrolled blood pressure or glaucoma can experience problems with the inverted pressure since it raises blood and eye pressure.

We also see inversion thinking in the moral world through the lessons that are told through fables and stories. The bad behavior of the character is something to which we should not ascribe. Think of the boy who cried wolf or the story of Jonah and the whale. Those stories of what not to do have consequences that we would be wise to avoid and therefore we should heed the advice of the opposite, or inverted thinking.

On a practical note, the inversion- or looking at something from a different and opposite viewpoint can be very eye-opening. This summer I repainted the roof on our screened porch. In order to do so and not use a ladder (of which I am loathe to do) I accessed the roof through our bedroom window. Being on top of the roof allowed me to see our back yard and the other surrounding yards. It gave me a whole new perspective and an idea of what to do in the design of some of our gardens.

What about you? Are you struggling with a problem or situation or decision? Can you image the opposite of what you want to achieve? What does that look like? How can you reverse those goals to obtain what you really want?

Lessons From Dale

On a recent visit home, our son was telling us about life lessons he had recently heard on a podcast. On it, the producer reminded the listeners that to be a good conversationalist one has to be willing to learn. One needs to take the posture of listening and thinking to oneself- “What can I learn from this person who is talking?

First edition, 11th printing (February 1937), Courtesy of Wikipedia

First edition, 11th printing (February 1937), Courtesy of Wikipedia

I love this idea. Which of course is nothing new. We should always treat others as if their presence is a gift to us: a gift of time, experience, advice, of being. It is one of the tenants from the still published and still offered courses by Dale Carnegie. HIs signature book was “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” It was first published in 1937 and is still in print. I never read the book nor took any of the courses yet have always been intrigued by that title. In some ways it seems so contrived and calculating: to win friends and intentionally influence others. Yet that is what we do or try to do with one another whether we want to think it happens or not.


According to Wikipedia the book was broken down into different sections: things that the book will do for you (presumably if you pay the money for the course and/or books); fundamental techniques for handling people; ways to make people like you; ways to influence people to the way you think; how to be a leader without giving people offense or feeling of resentment; letters that produce miraculous results (removed in later editions of the book) and ways to make your home life happier (again, removed in subsequent re-printings of the book).

Part of his explanation of making people like you is to take a genuine interest in others and listen to what they say. That does seem cold and calculating and not at all organic. However, the rationale that by listening, we may learn something new is a great posture of humble listening: To recognize value in each interaction with one another and that in that interaction, someone may teach us something new.

The thing that I have noticed lately is the lack of one another really listening. (I include myself with this.) There is no longer the art of conversation but rather joint monologues. I think of the “play dates” for two-year-olds. At that age, there is not interactive play- just side by side individual play. Our conversations are like that. One person will speak and another will speak either over top of that person or interrupt or continue on a totally different wavelength and/or topic. Very rarely is there a conversation where the conversational ball gets tossed back and forth with the addition of new and interesting information being shared. It is almost as if everyone has a limited time to get his/her point across about any topic and so conversations become this quick exchange of “my” information.

I do think that the time factor is part of the problem. Our days are jam packed with transactions: running here and there, trying to accomplish whatever we deem important. We don’t get a chance to really speak to the people we know and love in our lives nor much less listen to the peripheral people that we bump shoulders with- the customers in the grocery store, at the gas pump, folks who are walking down the street, and in some cases the people living next door to us.

Just yesterday I was able to truly listen to a stranger and it was only due to the fact that I had some extra time. My friend and I had gone grocery shopping together and as my order was smaller, I was finished sooner than she. In one aisle I encountered a gentleman who was having a little trouble seeing the items on the shelves and so I made a brief comment to help him out. This led to a ten minute discussion where the man told me some of his life story.

The whole time I was with him because I was thinking of my son’s comment about his podcast, I consciously thought, “Be present with him. Really listen and recognize the gift that he has brought to your day.” It was a wonderful discussion. Now in all honesty, I didn’t learn any encyclopedic knowledge but I did get a taste of what I have been thinking and writing about. Plus the chore of going to the store didn’t seem so burdensome. After this encounter I began wondering, What next? Whom will I meet at the next place? I was prepared to keep my eyes and ears opened.

What about you? What are your interactions with people like? Are they strictly transactional? Do you listen? Could you repeat back what you have been told? Do you know the eye color of the person who just spoke to you? I realized that many times I see people with out truly seeing them.

In my encounter at the grocery store, I intentionally wanted to connect and so I saw him and his interesting pale almost amber/brown eyes. Of course, in this day and age we need to be smart. You don’t want to have the reputation of the creepy starer in the neighborhood or being accused of longingly looking at a person when all you are doing is trying to look them in the eye. But I know for myself I need to be more intentional in my listening skills and part of that requires me to zero in on the face of the speaker.

I do not know how much I win friends or influence people and that is really not my intent. I think the beauty of the lessons is to connect with others and build community. When we have an understanding community, we will win friends and influence others for the betterment of society.

1%

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We have seen both our grown sons in the last couple of weeks. Quite a feat as they are busy young men. It is interesting their respective personalities- some things are similar to each other and us and some are not.

Both boys are pretty organized with their lives, not just the logistical organization of home and scheduling, but the organization of learning, growing, self-improvement. While they both are very active, they seemed to have a good balance on work/life.

Our one son is probably a little more scheduled than his brother. He has set timers on his computer to remind him of the different tasks in the morning. “workout”; “breakfast”, “shower”. Mh first thought is “oh no. a schedule?” (For as organized as I am and as often as I write a schedule, I find that I am too much of a free spirit to actually stick to a schedule.)

But for him the schedule gives him freedom: he doesn’t feel rushed or overwhelmed. He has wiggle room in his schedule so he is prepared for interruptions. I liken it to Financial Peace University. One of the goals of having financial peace is that one doesn’t have the extra stress of unpaid bills and worry over money. There is a freedom in knowing that things are generally covered and their is a freedom to have wiggle room and be financially generous.

As we were talking through a current scheduling dilemma I am in, he suggested- “1% Mom. Just do 1% or one thing extra each day. The idea is to slowly build into change.”

Out of the mouths of babes.

I have been saying this for YEARS and while I have practiced it before, in my overwhelming state of a packed to-do list of responsibilities, I had forgotten. I liked having someone else give me “permission” to break out of my norm and try something new.

So, I give you permission to break out of your norm or rut or whatever place you feel stuck. Try 1 %. Just one thing extra or different each day. It might be a small change to a bigger goal or it might be just something new you want to try.

I am giving it a try. For this week so far (as I write this it is three days in- not a routine yet), I have been able to stick to a small change in my schedule: write my journal pages first thing in the morning. And I have noticed that some of the other routines I have wanted to do are falling into place as well: daily yoga stretch, three hours of concentrated writing. Once again, when we prime the pump for change, it starts a flow of other change.

What about you? Where are you stuck in your life? What can you do to unstick? What would be your 1%?