on listening

The world is incredibly noisy. Social media can be the noisiest of all. No matter the subject, people are shouting their opinions and suggestions and solutions. They feel strongly about whatever their point of view is.

And there are things we should feel strongly about. It may not matter what my favorite movie is or which book you like best, but some things aren’t subjective or inconsequential. Standing up and speaking about these weighty matters is both brave and necessary.

But maybe, just maybe, people might be more willing to hear our thoughts on those important subjects if we did a bit of listening to them first.

Maybe we’d understand the opposing viewpoint a little better, even if we still don’t agree with it.

Maybe we’d have more empathy. Maybe we’d treat those who disagree with us with a little more kindness and compassion.

But all too often, precious little listening occurs amid all the noise.

Why is that? Are we afraid to listen to opposing viewpoints? Afraid they might actually succeed in changing our minds?

Or just too angry that they don’t see it like we do?

Maybe it’s a mixture of both.

A joke I’ve seen making the rounds on Facebook talks about a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim, and sometimes an atheist and/or pagan walking into a bar. They sit, chat, and have a lovely time. Because that can happen when you’re not a jerk.

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey says to first seek to understand then to be understood.

So listening first is more effective, and it makes you a nicer person. Sounds like a win, right?

I think we could all stand to display the courage to sit and listen a bit more often.

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Advent thoughts

I wrote this following Christmas of 2013. Some of you may have read it already. But I’m posting here at the beginning of the season, partly as a reminder to myself, partly in case anyone else needs it as we move into Advent 2015. I hope you have a joyful and blessed Advent and a very merry Christmas!

Each year, I go into the Christmas season thinking this will be the year.  This will be the year of the perfect holiday experience.  I’ll procure thoughtful yet inexpensive gifts for everyone on my list.  We’ll bake cookies and make ornaments and actually finish our Advent study.  Also, my children will not fight with each other, will not be selfish and greedy, will not be consumed with the stuff they’re getting rather than the joy of giving and serving.  It will be peace on earth and goodwill toward men–a holy season of worship and wonder.

Somehow it never happens.

I plan it every year.  I download the Advent studies.  I make the to-do lists and the shopping lists and the budget outline.  And it still falls apart.

We made a few ornaments this year but no cookies.  My Christmas shopping all took place the weekend before the day itself and was rather uninspired.  We spent all of Advent being behind on our study, and we never did finish the whole thing.  My daughters longed for nearly every item they saw advertised–and a few other things to boot.  I lost my temper a few times, and we never quite achieved holiness or peace or even a whole lot of goodwill.

I am a failure at the whole perfect Christmas thing.

However, I’m coming to see that failure as the most perfect Christmas celebration of all.

For Christians, this holiday is the remembrance of God himself taking on human flesh and coming to this world as a baby.  Did he come to perfect people or perfect circumstances?  No.  His native country was under foreign control.  His parents were in a strange town and had no place to stay.  A manger subbed as his baby bed.

And why did he come in the first place?  Was it because we were all such decent folk?  Such a joy to be around?  No.  He came to save us from our sins.  He came to keep the law we could not keep and to be the perfection we could never attain.

Each time I flop and fail and scramble, I am reminded I am not perfect.  I will never be perfect.  But there is One who is perfect on my behalf.  He bestows on me his righteousness (now there’s a perfect Christmas gift).  And he meets me in all of my shortcomings because this is the very reason he came.

So take heart if your own Christmas was less than perfect.  Let it remind you that it doesn’t have to  be–and even more importantly, you don’t have to be.  Even today, the Christ Child comes to dirty feeding troughs and cluttered homes and harried people.  When we don’t quite get it all right, we can rejoice because he did.

And in that, I find peace.  Maybe not peace on earth, but peace within my own weary heart.

And a heart filled with peace can give goodwill toward men in the year to come.

the fear of not being good enough

The assignment is to start the post with a quote. I knew immediately that I wanted to quote Brene Brown.

The problem was choosing which quote to use. There are so many good ones. I want to use them all. I want to sit you in front of her TED Talk videos and make you watch them. Then you can choose your own favorite quote.

I guess that’s cheating though.

I do love the videos though and have watched them more than once. I love her books (at least what I’ve read of them). I think what she shares is important and worthwhile.

It’s just hard to narrow it down to the most important or the most worthwhile.

But finally I decided to just suck it up and pick one. I’m already crazy late posting this.

To create is to make something that has never existed before. There’s nothing more vulnerable than that. –Brene Brown

The above quote is actually quite apt. I feel incredibly vulnerable as a writer. Every single time I click post–whether it’s here or whether it’s the stories I write and post elsewhere or sometimes even just a Facebook post–the nerves almost kill me. Oh, my gosh, is this even any good? What will people think? 

Once I started admitting to “being a writer” it got worse. It’s one thing to play around with a blog. But to admit that someday you’d actually like to do something with this writing stuff–well, that just raises expectations, doesn’t it? Suddenly you’re supposed to be good at this.

And I’m always terrified that maybe I’m really not. I’ve read good writers–really good writers who are deep and profound and awe me with their ability to use words. I frequently find myself thinking, I want to write like them when I grow up.

Of course, I keep learning and improving, but I only ever write like me.

Talk about feeling vulnerable.

Writing is my most dearly held dream, and in all fairness I’ve never had anyone not be supportive of that. I have truly great friends and family who get excited on my behalf when I talk about writing.

And then they want to read something I wrote.

Ugh. The fear comes again. I’ll never be able to live up to their expectations.

Or maybe it’s that I’ll never live up to my own.

And the last, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we’re enough. Because when we work from a place, I believe, that says, “I’m enough” … then we stop screaming and start listening, we’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.–Brene Brown

And the truth is, I don’t know if I’ll ever be wholly satisfied with where I am as a writer. I kind of hope not, actually. I want to always be learning, growing, improving.  We don’t ever really arrive.

But I’d like to reach a point where I at least feel comfortable–being proud of where I am now and how far I’ve come even as I strive to get better. A place of being “kind and gentle” with myself (that’s harder for me than being kind and gentle with others).

A place of not being terrified to click “post.”

P.S. I seriously do love Brene Brown’s TED Talks. If you have a few spare minutes I highly recommend them.

photo-1430747562296-5556d17a15a5

The assignment yesterday (yes, I’m a day behind–I’m going to try to catch up this weekend) was to use a photo to inspire a post. The above picture was one of the options given.

It immediately made me think of this song.

(I’m sorry–I know linking a random YouTube of the song isn’t the best. But I can’t get Spotify to work at the moment, and I got tired trying to figure out why.)

I really can’t think of anything more profound than what the song says–it sums it up pretty perfectly. So I hope you enjoy.

abundance of color

I have written and rewritten a response to today’s prompt (using the word hope), but I just can’t get it to work. I think my brain is too distracted, my thoughts too scattered. Nothing’s coming together the way I want.

I’ve saved it, because it might gel into something coherent someday. Just not today.

For now, I’ll change to the alternate word abundance. I have an abundance of beauty in my part of the world right now. This photo is actually from a few years ago (when I had a good camera instead of just an iPod camera), but the scenery looks similar now.

fall foliage tree

I love the abundance of color autumn brings–so much beauty to behold. My girls and I get excited pointing out all the gorgeous trees we see on drives. It doesn’t matter that we’ve seen ten already–we still exclaim over the eleventh. I love that they see and appreciate the beauty around us.

the one with the lists

Yeah, I’ve been watching too many episodes of Friends on Netflix. Sorry.

But when your assignment is to make a list, what else is there to title this post?

Besides, I like Friends. So you can put that on my list.

Actually, since the goal of this blog is to explore the various aspects of health, I’ll list things that help me stay sane, healthy, and whole. Three separate lists for your reading enjoyment (although some things obviously overlap and could fit on more than one list).

Things that make me feel healthy spiritually:

  1. a good, in-depth, inductive Bible study–lots of “meat”
  2. singing hymns
  3. reading and/or praying Psalms
  4. a good church service, with powerful worship and teaching and Communion
  5. a deep discussion of theology
  6. being able to help someone in some way
  7. reading a piece of rich Christian writing
  8. seeing beautiful stained glass windows
  9. seeing answered prayer
  10. seeing God’s handiwork in nature (especially fall leaves and spring blossoms)

Things that make me feel healthy physically:

  1. remembering to drink adequate water
  2. walking
  3. yoga (I’m not really good at it. It doesn’t really matter.)
  4. being well-rested (No, it doesn’t happen often.)
  5. green smoothies
  6. big green salads
  7. grilled fish
  8. being outside (fresh air and sunshine)
  9. not having a headache (I cherish those days!)
  10. herbal teas, supplements, essential oils

Things that make me feel mentally and/or emotionally healthy:

  1. coffee (Seriously, you don’t want to deal with me if I haven’t had coffee.)
  2. a long chat with a friend
  3. a good novel, where the characters seem real and I can get lost in the story
  4. a good nonfiction book, where I learn something or I’m challenged in some way
  5. writing (You knew it had to show up somewhere.)
  6. music
  7. remembering to be thankful for all that I have
  8. laughing–really, really hard
  9. the various fandoms I’m involved with–really. I need my fellow geeks and nerds and flailing fangirls.
  10. coloring! What did I ever do before adult coloring books were a thing? I’m sure I don’t know.

What keeps you sane, healthy, and whole?

I write because…

I love words. I love words that are interesting, impressive, or unusual. Learning new words excites me, and subtle differences between synonyms fascinate me. “Word porn” really is a thing for me.

I love grammar. I can make the stupidest typos known to man, but I love grammar and all its minutiae. A good friend of mine gave me a plaque that reads, “I am silently correcting your grammar.” I frequently am. But my mother’s training in manners and etiquette ensures that I don’t do it out loud.

I love stories. I’ve created stories for as long as I can remember. My playtime as a kid involved creating characters and settings and elaborate plots. My favorite toy for years was a tape recorder. I dictated more stories into that thing than I could ever count. Sometimes I wonder whatever happened to all those tapes. I should probably try to track them down and burn them. But oh, the hours I spent crafting crazy tales.

The first time I recall really putting a story down on paper was in fourth grade. We would get these worksheets each week with either vocabulary or spelling words (I don’t remember which). We were supposed to use each word in a sentence. I wrote a story instead. It was a short story, only a paragraph, but I created a story with the words. And I kept doing it, week after week.

It only took a few weeks to grow frustrated with the limitations of those school assignments. So I wrote my own story–pages and pages, divided into chapters. I can still see those pages in my memory–misspellings, bad handwriting, and all. The story itself was melodramatic and rather imitative (like most first stories, I guess), but I was hooked. I declared that someday I would be a writer.

It’s now many, many years later. I’ve been a bit slow in following that particular dream.

But I am pursuing it. I’m slowly getting more comfortable with calling myself a writer. Maybe not a great one, but a writer nonetheless.

What do I write these days? Stories, still. They will always be my first love. I’ve posted some on various corners of the interwebs, and the feedback I get makes me smile. I blog (obviously). I journal. I’ve written a few paid items and am working toward expanding my portfolio there.

The question as to why I write is a bit trickier. I’m not sure I know entirely how to answer it. Why do I breathe? I can’t not. Writing is much the same–I don’t know how not to. It’s always been there, a part of me, and I don’t know how not to do it. Even if I don’t get it all down on paper or on a computer screen, there are dozens of story snippets rattling around in my brain at all times. No offense, but even when I’m in conversation with you I’m probably talking to myself in my head. Sorry. I try to control it. Sometimes.

But I also write because it helps me wrangle some of those thoughts and ideas flying around in my head–helps me sift through them and figure out what they are. I write because my ideas come together so much more cohesively in this format than they ever could in conversation. I’m actually a rather wretched conversationalist–I never outgrew the socially awkward phase. But in writing, I have time to sort through what I want to say, and it comes out much clearer. This is why I prefer email to the phone.

I write because I believe in the power of words. I long to make a difference, to influence the world for good, and I think words are an incredible way to do that. Words can challenge the intellect and sway opinion. They can cut to the heart. They can soothe and comfort. The pen truly is mightier than the sword.

I hope to wield it well.

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