I wrote “Liz” at the top of the paper, and my Communications professor told us to pass our papers to the person on our left. She instructed us to write our first impression of the person whose name appeared at the top of the page, then fold the paper over to conceal our comment, and pass it on. The pages moved around the circle. My sheet with “Liz” at the top was returned to me. I unfolded it and read.
Several of my classmates had written “caring,” to describe their first impressions of me. Maybe their description was only a generic compliment to describe a classmate they didn’t know well, but I decided to appreciate their comments, and for a while I tried to be the kind and caring person I thought people believed me to be.
But over the years I grew less and less sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. I became busy with my work and career. I focused on my progress toward status and success. I listened to the “take care of yourself first” propaganda our society broadcasts, and I forgot to be the caring, compassionate person I once believed I was. And as I grew older, the world began to seem like a harsh, cold, and uncaring place.
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” ~~ Mahatma Ghandi
This year I want to be the compassionate person God created me to be. I want to be the caring person my classmates recognized in that long-ago college classroom.
“As God’s chosen people, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).
In 2017, I’m planning a few actions steps to return me to the caring person I used to be.
Reach out to some old friends I haven’t seen in a while. Plan to meet someone to reconnect over lunch or coffee each month.
Serve without calculating how many hours I spend. Volunteer without asking, “What’s in this for me?”
Be present and pay attention to the people in my life every day. Ask them how their day was and really listen to their answers.
Say “Thank you,” I understand,” and “I’m grateful” to someone every day.
Perform regular random acts of kindness. Look for opportunities to give someone a surprise gift or compliment every month.
If I want the world to be a more warm, welcoming and compassionate place, I need to be a more interested, open and caring person. In 2017, I’m writing “caring” at the top of my list and passing it on.
How do you show your care and concern for others? What helps you show compassion and kindness to the world?
I can't sleep.
I've never been a steady sleeper. When I was a kid, I often crawled out of bed in the middle of the night, crept downstairs to the dark kitchen, then sat on the cold linoleum floor and ate slabs of Wonder Bread straight from the bag.
As I got older, I developed new strategies to deal with my sleeplessness. I watched hours of Letterman and Leno. I read volumes of The Vampire Chronicles. And most frequently, I wrote in my journal.
My journal became my confidant on the long nights when my mind refused to rest. In my journal, I could pour out my thoughts, worries, fears, and frustrations. I could tell my journal anything I needed, wanted, loved, or regretted. After pouring out my thoughts and feelings onto my journal pages, I could usually find some semblance of peace and return to bed for a few hours of sleep before work.
Journaling helps me clarify my thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. Writing puts my life into perspective, turning problems and turmoil into more easily managed black and white lines on a page. Journaling brings a sense of logic to life events that are often unpredictable and out of control.
Because I am a believer in the power of journaling, I have written Writing Down the Highway: Guideposts to Journaling for Self-Discovery to expain why, when and how journaling can help single mothers and all women write for self-expression.
On January 1 my ebook Writing Down the Highway will be available by download to new subscribers. Please complete the sign-up form in the sidebar or pop-up box.
Also watch for the new Journaling Prompts page for ideas to begin your own journaling journey.
Letterman and Leno are off the air now. I finished The Vampire Chronicles long ago. But I still journal, and I still sometimes eat bread in the middle of the night.
What are your experiences with journaling? Have you found journaling helps you express your thoughts and ideas?
"Don't jerk the leash," the instructor warned us. "Jerking the leash just makes the dog pull back harder."
Instead, she told us to lure the dog with the promise of treats. Reward the dog whenever she walks on the leash without pulling your arm out of socket.
So we walked the dogs in dizzying circles around the training room, praising them when they behaved, and waiting patiently when they pulled and whined.
I had never before considered the idea that I am leashed to God; but the truth is, he can pull me back into line whenever he wants with one good, hard yank. I have to learn to be content to walk by his side without racing ahead or dragging behind.
We get ahead of God by moving too fast and running beyond his command. Pulling the leash means making choices before we are ready or making decisions without carefully considering and consulting God first. When we break our bonds and race ahead, we risk dashing into dangerous territory and unhealthy situations that threaten our peace and safety.
We fall behind God by denying our potential and refusing to follow the paths he has planned for us. Dragging our feet means refusing to accept the opportunities God delivers or being afraid to face the challenges we need to help us learn and grow. When we have to be tugged reluctantly toward the changes and circumstances God offers, we stop growing and fail to become the people God means for us to be.
If we don't listen to God's cues, we keep trotting around the circle, wondering why we're never off the leash, wondering why our point of view never changes to encompass the broader range of experiences we know could be available to us.
But if we learn to be patient, trust God to lead, and walk calmly by his side; he gives us more freedom and the reward that is waiting at the end of the line.
How do you know when God is telling you to slow down? How do you pick up the pace when you need to catch up with him again?
The instructor told the dog to "Stay," then she opened the classroom door. As long as the dog remained sitting, the door stood open. As soon as the dog moved to stand, the door swung closed.
For a while the dog yo-yo'd up and down while the door flapped open and shut. When the dog finally surrendered and sat motionless, the instructor opened the door, said a quiet "Go," and allowed the dog to move.
This exercise is important to teach patient waiting, the instructor explained. Dogs that learn to "Stay" won't lunge forward and bolt through every open door temptation. They are protected from the dangers of speeding traffic and busy streets that threaten outside their shelters. Dogs that learn to "Stay" have to trust they will be allowed to move when it is safe for them to do so.
Lately I've been struggling to hear God's "Stay" or "Go" in my own life. I've debated leaving behind some projects and commitments that I suspect are no longer helping me grow. I see the doors swing open, but I cannot hear the "Go" command nor see what lies on the other side.
God's directions are usually not as clear as a firm "Stay here" or "Go now." God often speaks to us through quiet signs and signals. We have to stop, watch, and listen for the subtle clues and comments that may arrive from unexpected sources.
On the day I planned to quit one job and move on to something new and different, I received a surprise email from a person whose faith I admire and trust.
"I'm proud of the work you're doing," she told me. "I brag about you to all my friends."
Suddenly my work seemed noticed and valuable. Suddenly someone understood and appreciated my efforts.
I think that means I need to stay where I am and be patient a while longer, I decided. I need to keep working and finish all the lessons I need before I'm released to take what I've learned outside.
Someday I will hear the command to move forward. It may come through another unexpected email, a comment from a friend, or just a feeling of certainty that I can't stay where I am any longer. Meanwhile, I keep listening and learning, so that when the time is right, I will be ready to launch forward through a waiting open door.
How has God told you when it's time to move forward? How does God encourage you when it's time to stay and wait?
The wide, empty room amplified the rattle of leashes and the snap of plastic clickers. Our first lesson is to make eye contact; call the puppy's name, and when she looks at your face, click the clicker and feed her a treat.
The puppies glanced around, confused. Many names, clicks, and voices pulled their attention in every direction. When my puppy happened to look my way, I added my click and "good girl" to the chaos.
I often feel overwhelmed by the clamor of competing voices, all demanding my time and attention. I am frequently distracted by my worries and plans, pulled in opposing directions by the opinions and expectations of others. I often find it difficult to focus my attention and concentrate on following God's plan for my life.
When God's voice gets lost in the background noise, there are a few steps we can take to refocus our gaze and keep us looking in his direction.
Turn down the noise level.
Our days are busy, and crowded schedules make it difficult to be silent, pray, and listen for God's quiet whisper.
God tells us to be still and know that he is God.
I'm planning 15 minutes every morning to just sit, breathe, and be grateful as I approach a new day.
Reduce the input.
We are constantly bombarded by advertising and media telling us we need to be different to be good enough.
God tells us we are valued because we are created in his image.
I'm cancelling old magazine subscriptions and limiting my TV and Facebook time to reduce the volume of negative messages I receive.
Adjust the environment.
We are surrounded by people who try to tear us down, undermine our successes, and influence us in the wrong directions.
God tells us to choose our friends carefully.
I'm being careful to spend my time with people who build me up, bring positive energy to my life, and work with me to build supportive and nurturing relationships.
The rewards are not always easy to identify. I don't often get a "good girl" and a pat on the head. But I have faith that if I keep trying, keep looking and listening, it will become easier to hear and obey the one who holds the blessings in his hands.
How do you get quiet and listen for God's voice? How do you know you are looking in the right direction?
Someone new has come to live in my house. This resident hides under the beds and jumps out to bite my feet when I walk by. She has chewed holes in the living room carpet and shredded the kitchen rugs. She ripped a Hillary Clinton doll to pieces within minutes.
I think it is my job to teach her about good behavior -- how to sit quietly and remember that socks are not snacks; but the truth is, her only job is to teach me a few things.
So far I have learned:
Blessings often arrive disguised as messes. When I dumped a quart container of buttermilk on the kitchen counter and floor, she didn't complain about the milk dripping onto her head and running into her eyes. She enjoyed the unexpected windfall fate had delivered and quickly took advantage of the situation. I could be more aware and appreciate the unanticipated gifts that often fall into my path.
Opportunities often appear disguised as obstacles. The first time she tried to leap onto the sofa cushions, she bounced off and hit the coffee table. After repeated attempts to scale the couch summit, she scrambled to the top and was rewarded with a soft, comfortable resting spot and a better vantage point for viewing the room. I need to remember that success may be preceded by several falls; but if we keep returning and trying, eventually we jump high enough to reach our goals.
Learning usually looks like playing. Every morning walk is an exuberant chase after falling leaves and a noisy crashing through the crunching drifts. She enjoys exploring this colorful, loud, and aromatic world. I am realizing it is alright to slow down, notice the changing seasons, and enjoy the glow of the early rising sun. I am recognizing that I need to make more time to have fun, enjoy new experiences, and see wonder in the world; because life is short, and children (and puppies) grow up fast.
What are you learning from the residents in your home? What lessons have they shared with you?
Behind the library lies a serene, wide lake circled by a walking path and weeping willow trees. I like to walk the path, enjoy the breeze and the shady trees, and check out the metal sculptures like this blue flower and this bizarre bird.
My favorite sculpture is labeled "Sprout" and depicts the circular seed just beginning to unfurl. I love the spiraling expansion and swirling lines. Looking at Sprout makes me think about what it means to live and grow.
- Growth follows seasons. Our lives move through times and phases, planting and harvest, dark and light. We all experience times of great movement and change, but also times of great quiet and rest. Both phases are necessary and valuable. In times of quiet we learn and prepare to move forward. In times of action we leap ahead to new achievements and experiences.
- Growth produces fruit. The seed's only goal is to blossom and create. To produce the harvest, the seed first has to die, shatter its shell, and spread roots into the soil. The seed leaves its old state behind and presses forward toward its new and improved form.
- Growth requires struggle. Challenges and obstacles build strength and endurance. The green shoot forces its way upward, pushing through rocky soil, creeping around massive stones, and straining through narrow pavement cracks. The growing plant knows which way to turn, always reaching upward toward light and life.
God gives us all this instinct to grow, to look ahead, and move forward. We have to honor that drive, welcome the struggle, and give thanks for every opportunity to learn and change. To encourage growth in ourselves and others, we have to be willing to:
- Explore. To grow we have to seek new sights, pursue new experiences, and accept new challenges. We have to have open minds, expansive hearts, and willingness to walk an unfamiliar path around a deep, mysterious lake.
- Question. To grow we have to think about our place in life, our future, and our destination. We have to consider where we came from, ask ourselves where we are going, and wonder what we will find around the bend and beyond the trees.
- Believe. To grow we have to know that we all have a purpose, whether or not it is always apparent. We have to trust that we each have a reason to exist, and with persistence and faith we will grow into all that we were meant to be.
This season there are so many places I want to investigate and explore. I am looking forward to a quiet time of rest this fall and winter before an explosion of growth and change in the spring.
How do you encourage growth in yourself and others? How do you expect to change in the coming season?