This will kill your relationships

If you think about the relationships in  your life that have gone south, slid sideways or even died, I bet this had a role: unmet expectations.  It can’t just be me.  In fact, I’ve not only experienced it  but I’ve seen it happen at churches, in classrooms and in dating.  Person A expects something (without telling person B usually), and Person B unwittingly doesn’t meet the expectation.  Person A withdraws, cuts off or detaches some way.  Sometimes harsh assumptions happen; other times healthy and helpful conversations occur.  Either way, it changes things.

Relationships can be a lot of work. Duh, I know.  But when we have expectations (and who doesn’t?), dynamics change.   I saw this most recently with a few couples and some small groups of people.  With the couple, she thought that sending a text meant that he would text back.  Silly girl.  He was hot and cold with his texting but she expected something a little more steady.  The relationship dwindled;  he was confused.  In a group, it was expected that everyone would be equally invested and put in the effort to keep the group healthy and strong.  To others, it was a supplemental side dish, not the main meal the others saw it to be.  Needless to say, feelings were hurt.  The group stumbled a bit.

We all have expectations and it seems we all expect the people we live with to know what those expectations are, but how unfair.  When in doubt, communicate.  If the relationship is highly valuable to you and you’d be loathe to lose it, maybe a conversation about expectations are in order.  If things have gone and are going smoothly, enjoy the ride… but in the meantime, brush up on those listening and communication skills.  You’re bound to need them soon.

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Why it’s better to read fiction

…if you want to understand people better, that is.  I get how reading non-fiction is great, too.  I spend plenty of time reading articles, biographies, cookbooks, memoirs…I read a lot!  More than a couple mothers have bemoaned to me that their child reads too much fiction and they’d love for me to encourage them to read books in sciences or history.  I can do that, but will not encourage them to read to the exclusion of reading quality fiction.  It educates us better than most of would ever guess.  I’ve always had that inkling but couldn’t articulate it until I saw the latest research saying reading fiction helps us understand each other better than any other method.

The good news is when you are reading a work of fiction, it’s not just an indulgence, it’s boosting your social skills.  Even a few minutes a day will boost your empathy and emotional intelligence.  Literary fiction focuses more on the interior life of a character which makes the reader infer their intentions, motivations and thoughts.   This is so important!  As we read, we are practicing real-world skills we all need to be better to each other, more kind, more understanding, more forgiving.

In a popular fiction book (what I call “fluff”), the characters do what we expect.  Not so in literary fiction and not so in life.  I hate it when someone makes an assumption on someone’s actions without thinking it through or just settling for their first guess.  I’m sorry, but we’re more complex than that.  When we read, we know the whole story and can see how circumstances and uncontrollable events effect a person.  I want my stereotypes and prejudices challenged and disrupted.  I want my kids’ ideas to be rocked when reading about people who are different from them.

But what I most want is to understand the other people God put on the earth with me.  I’m tired of walking away from or hearing stories of people who are hurt because someone in their world “just didn’t get it.”  I know…it’s often unavoidable, but if you’re a reader of fiction, you’re more often going to get it right.  Recently, my 7th graders and I read The Outsiders, a book I think everyone on the planet should read.  (You’re welcome, Susan)  It teaches so much about people, but early on, Cherry observes to Pony, “you read a lot, don’t you?”  I asked my students what would make her say that.  Their first guess: Because he has a big vocabulary.  Nope.  It was because he listened, asked good questions and didn’t judge her.  He was open to who she was and the rest of the book showed the fruit of those attributes.

So, if you’re looking for something to do this weekend, please find a book, fiction preferably 🙂  It just might bless the people around you as much as it does you.

The happiness of pursuit

We’ve heard it before that ‘life is a journey’, ‘it’s not the destination, it’s the journey’…it seems trite but actually it’s true.  I’ve been reading a book happiness and it’s scientifically proven!  Okay, so this thrill I get on working on a project is legit?  Yep! So here’s the deal.  When we’re in “goal pursuit” we’re actually happier than when we reach the goal.  Turns out people are more content when they have deadlines to meet, projects to work on, ideas to flesh out and anything else that will help you meet that goal.  This doesn’t mean every stressful time at work is going to bring happiness, but it does mean that when you’re working on whatever it is in your free time that brings you joy, don’t be in too big a hurry to get to the finish line.  Enjoy the ride a little more.  Studies show that once the goal is reached, the novelty wears off, the freshness inevitably goes stale….and we realize that getting there was way more fulfilling! So even though I’m not a goal-setter, I’m enjoying the activities I’m doing…writing, volunteering, working on a graduate class.  I can’t say I was ever in a rush to publish, get a job offer or an advanced degree but now that I know that more than half the fun is in getting there, I’m enjoying this a lot more!

An open letter to teachers

Dear teachers,

You know you have an amazing job, right?  You also know how difficult it is (well, if you’re doing it right, it is).  Much has been written about your incredible influence, your impact on kids, how kids are our future.  I won’t belabor that.  I’d like to tell you something different, if I may; a few things I’ve observed over the years of being in a variety of types of classroom settings.

1. Those kids that are true children now will someday be your friends and peers.  Or, they will be the parents of your children’s kids. Seeing them that way now prevents you from treating them in a way that might be condescending or unkind.  These kids are your future friends.

2. Therefore, remember that their spirit is more important than your content.  Yes, we all have educational goals for them, &  for ourselves as teachers, but don’t let that get in the way when a child really needs a little sensitivity.

3.  Please, I beg you, try something new.  Have you used this project a million times?  assigned the same book?  used that same worksheet?  Please, please try something new.  If you fail, who cares?  The earth will still rotate.  The kids won’t care…they’ll see someone who tried.  And parents will love that you innovate.

4. Hate the question “When are we ever going to use this”?  (I do, too!) But kids are really asking, how is this relevant?  So…tell them!  There have been times when I was teaching something that even I asked that question.  So, I tweaked it; or dropped it.  That question pushes us to answer it…and it can be answered.  All skills are transferable…it’s up to you to show your kids that.

5. This one keeps us sharp: most kids are incredible observers.  They might not always perceive correctly, but they know what’s important to us, they learn our attitudes, they intuit our values.  Teachers don’t have the luxury (is it?) of going in, doing the job, and leaving.  It’s so much more than that.  It’s about your person-hood, too.  Who you are is just as important as what you’re teaching.  And because of that, the job is weighty.

So tomorrow morning, when you go into your classroom, know that your day is filled with great opportunity.  Someone’s looking at you bright-eyed, another apathetically, perhaps, but you will influence them.  Years from now, they might not remember your content, but they’ll remember your compassion.  Maybe they’ll even pay for your coffee when they tell you that.

 

Our God box

fall 2013

This is our humble little God box.  We began it years ago after we realized how tangibly God was meeting our felt needs.  Desiring to keep a record of them, I spent time after Christmas each year, writing down all the ways in which God had shown His nearness to our family.  Thankfully, the year we began, one of our elementary school sons brought home the sweet, smaller box re-purposed from a used Christmas card. It sure was cute but I had no idea how to use the thing.  Until an idea came.  How proud my little boy was when his box held our first listing of God’s faithfulness to our family.

When they were small, it was so precious to see the kids’ illegible scribblings as they write down their requests or thanks to God, usually with a “prvet” on the front.  So adorable.  Sometimes they asked big questions about heaven or why someone died.  This past Christmas we each wrote a thanks and a request.  I peeked at one and saw that the Lord waited only 4 weeks to provide for the expressed need.

I must admit, we have sometime forgotten that the box exists, so accustomed to seeing it in its corner.  But tonight, over dinner, we’ll open it and distribute paper.  We do this because it’s so automatic to ask in our daily prayers.  What’s not automatic is noting His answer and acknowledging His follow-through.  It seems we need to write them down and hold them in a special place in order to have a place in which we can remind ourselves that He is indeed listening – and answering- all the time.

So, we will write down our needs because right now, collectively, the Likkel family has a big need.  At least, from our point of view we do.  So God, we need you.  We’ll wait on you to provide.  It might not be what we expect or hope for, but either way, we know You’re listening and Your storehouse of goodness overflows.  And someday, maybe years from now, we’ll open up our God box and marvel at how you came through for us once again.

Wisdom from friends

I have been blessed with some really wonderful friends and so many of them offer such compelling nuggets that I need to share!  Like most women in my demographic, I’m a busy lady.  I’m not complaining – I thrive on it; in fact, something in my DNA demands that I be busy.  Every once in awhile I embrace some down time, but that’s typically not my style.  Thankfully, I think I understand balance pretty well and do a pretty good job of meeting the needs of people around me while feeding my busy-center.  So I get a little sad when some people say they’re too busy to bless other people.

Now it’s true that maybe their plate is legitimately too full, but recently I learned of someone who was aware of a need of a group to which they belong and they were passing on it – a full two weeks in advance.  My  heart sank a little.  Really?  You’re aware of the need, we’re asking and you’re…..passing?  ‘Cuz you don’t feel like it?  Enter my friend’s wisdom: “When busy people give their time to love another, God blesses that and gives us more time.”

Enter another friend who picked up where the first one left off.  She is someone who sacrifices her time more than anyone else I know.  People laud her for it and she deserves it but as humble folks are wont to do, she deflects it.  “It’s hard!”  she tells me.  “It’s about sacrifice and prioritizing.  I decided that this is what God wanted me to do and He allows me to but I’m not saying it’s easy…. When we believe that people are important, we choose different things.”  In other words, being in relationship with people will sometimes be inconvenient or draining.  It can also be life-giving and nurturing to you because give as you will, you’ll also receive.

Both of these women insist: it doesn’t just happen.  We have to be intentional about this.  Sure we’re going to need some time to tend to ourselves, but we who have so much to give, let’s give! We waste so much time!   I’m not convinced that’s God-honoring.  I understand introverts need more recharging time than the extroverts out there but when our hearts are open, God will enable each of us with our personality bents, to make a difference.  After listening to these friends, I’m revitalized and encourage you: make some space for the Spirit moving in you, prompting you to use what you have to bless someone else.  Even if it’s just time.