What? I can’t hear you!

I think my second son is absolutely hilarious.  On more than one occasion I’ve been in my kitchen chuckling at something I heard him say in another room.  This nugget not so long ago:  his little sister needed some clothes washed (that’s his job) and he’d been derelict thanks to his baseball schedule. So she shouted from her room, “Hey!  Do the laundry!  I’m dyin’ over here!”   Instead of getting mad, which is not his style, he throws out a “What?  I can’t hear you; it’s dark in here!”   How can you get mad at that?  It’s so funny!!!   Beside being great for his ego and my mood, it gives me food for thought.

 

I’ve written about listening before since it’s a favorite topic of my husband and me.  Recently we were at a meeting where, among other things, we were encouraged to do considerably more listening than talking.  Someone later said, “Did we really need that?  Shouldn’t we be doing that already?”  That amused me, too, because the very fact that we DON’T listen well warrants the need to have such presentations.

Because this hits my radar so frequently, I can tell you unequivocally that we humans are terrible listeners.     Not just poor or we-could-do- better, but terrible.  I’ll be at the whiteboard giving step by step instructions slowly when a student will look up and say, “What are we doing?”  When I tell them I JUST said what they needed to know, they’ll weakly say they were writing their name on their paper…and add somewhat defensively that they can’t do both at the same time.  To which I’ll counter, you can’t listen and write your name?  Nope.  Wow, so you won’t be having music on when you drive?  Of course they will.  But that’s two activities at once.

Think where we’d be if we couldn’t do two things at once.  I get the whole mulit-tasking isn’t really accomplishing two things, it’s one, but we CAN listen for cars when we’re jogging, CAN hear the baby crying in the back of church while we’re listening to the sermon, we CAN hear the timer go off when putting in laundry.

But beyond the annoyance of someone who isn’t listening to you when you’re literally standing 3 ft away from them, how about the sadness of those who don’t listen to the more important things in life?  At that presentation, we saw a demonstration of what it’s like to be a good listener.  The demonstrator drew out a story and asked very intuitive questions.  Not just the expected banalities that bore us all.  Glennon Melton recently said that “Questions are gifts.  It’s the thought behind them the receiver feels.”  And she’s exactly right.  When you’re blown off or you share something and a friend never asks about it again, it doesn’t feel good.  It’s more than being self-centered; it’s wanting others to care about you and to show it by listening.

Glennon also said, “If we really want to know people, we need to ask questions that convey ‘I’m not just checking the box here.  I really care what you have to say and how you feel.'”  I recently worked with someone who literally never asked me one question about myself.  Didn’t know I had kids, volunteer, went away for a week…never asked.  She’s motivated me, though.  Someone I’ll see soon just started a new job, I’m going to ask what her favorite part of it is so far.  Another woman is going to be a grandma again.  I’d like to see the ultrasounds and share her joy.

This is not hard work!  Make it your goal today to ask someone something deeper than ‘how was your day?’  Verbal grease works for many situations, but if you really want to show you care, don’t claim you can’t hear them just because it’s dark 🙂

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Moms know best

It was too quiet.  Usually her pencil flew across the page, eager to write with me.  Today, however, was different.  She sat morosely, sniffing, pencil frozen.  I tried my hand at light-heartedness -silence; I showed her my poem in progress – silence; I nudged her with an idea – silence.  15 minutes later, the situation hadn’t improved.  Time to text mom: “Please come now.”  We waited under a heavy blanket of awkwardness.  All smiles, mom came in and daughter burst into tears.  She didn’t want to do poetry and listed the reasons why it was too much to surmount.  Wise and patient, I was privileged to watch this mom calm her daughter, listen to her, empathize with her and then to tell her that she WAS going to do it.  I was surprised, but pleasantly so.  Willing to forgo a lesson that was pushing too many buttons, I set it aside as this mom insisted that her daughter push through her fears and uncomfortable perceptions and work harder.  I was impressed.

So often, I see how we parents are too quick to give our kids a pass on something that the child deems too hard.  In actuality, it is my firm belief that our kids are much stronger and more resilient than we give them credit for.  This mom knew that.  Happily, she’s not the only one.  A few years ago, Terri knew that her son needed one-on-one instruction.  She was right.  Schooled that way, he blossomed and covered two year’s content in one year (and the next and the next).  Pam knew that her son needed a boost, someone to encourage him and hold him accountable.  Laura knew that after a year of single instruction, her son needed a peer group.  Bethany knew that though her son felt he couldn’t work at a certain level, she put him where he’d be challenged and now he’s so proud of the work he is capable of doing.

These moms knew best!  What I value about them is that they know their children.  They know when to push and when to back off; when to wait and when to nudge.  Allowing your child to make some of their educational decisions is considerate; but making the tough ones for them based on what is seen in them is wise.

My own son is a little smarty-pants and a fantastic reader (I burst with pride) but he won’t sign up for a challenge.  So, I created one for him.  It was as simple as handing him a fat book with a “Here.  Read this.  I give you a month.”  His eyes gaped at Roots – the most obese book on our shelves.  Other adults, feeling sorry for this kid’s poor predicament, lamented that even they, great readers that they are, hadn’t read that book.  I toyed with the idea of letting him off the hook, especially since it was paired with his lack of verve.  But I remembered these moms I admire and kept the expectation that he would finish it.  Wouldn’t you know it?  He did.  And now I hear him referencing it proudly.  And as for my student who cried over writing poetry?  She dug deep and found that not only could she do it, but she did it so well that her peers admired her for her skill.

My kids aren’t old enough quite yet to realize how their mom has them figured out.  True, they surprise me sometimes, but I want to be the first one to say “You can do this.”  Sometimes we need to give them the mercy of bowing out of something, but more often then not, when all that seemed too hard is said and done, when they’ve listened to their moms, they’ll see that mom was right.

I give myself back

Last night I watched “The Passion of the Christ” again and just like the first time I saw it, had a visceral response.  Even though it’s a film, it’s hard to watch someone I know be beaten and flogged for my sin.  Each time I hear/read/watch the story, I’m reminded of what He did for me and how badly I’d like to do something, anything in return.  But what do I have?  Today, the day between Good Friday and Easter, seems like the ideal day to reflect on giving back to the Lord for all He’s done for me.

George Macdonald wrote, “The last act of our Lord in thus commending his spirit at the close of his life, was only a summing up of what he had been doing all his life.  He had been offering this sacrifice, the sacrifice of himself” during His entire time on earth.  And, I’m reminded, He didn’t do it because he had to, but because he wanted to, which is why He’s called a Servant King. How does one give back?  What could possibly be good enough?

I’ve recently been frustrated with all the things I can‘t do because of a condition that sidelines me – this year more than most.  But this year, I have begun two new volunteer opportunities.  Guess that’s God’s way of telling me that even with less time, I still have time to give.  And He knows I love it.  It’s probably because I grew up with a volunteering mom.  When I was in 6th grade we spent dozens of hours each Christmas holiday wrapping presents at the mall for our school.  It was so tiring but we loved it.  I remember Wednesdays was the day she volunteered at the hospital and later, a number of other organizations over the years.

I’m not sure how intentional she was in thinking that her time was the Lord’s but I believe that strongly now.  He gave me gifts and inclinations.  He’s shown me that when I use them with people who give me a joy-jolt, it’s super fun.  Recently I read about a man who told the Spirit, “All that I am I hand over to you for you to live in it the life you please…Help yourself to it.”  When I’m volunteering, that’s how I feel.  ‘You gave me the desire to be here, you opened the doors and on top of it all, it feels good.’

Now before anyone writes that I don’t have to perform for Him, I know.  No one can ever accomplish or do enough to earn His love.  But because He loves me, I give my time and talent back to him.  So Happy Easter, Lord.  I give myself back to you this year.

A Buddhist and a Christian walk into a room….

I met a new friend a few years ago who I liked instantly.  I hoped that we would be able to know each other for a long time.   Then she shared that she was a Buddhist.  Oh.  I have no problem with that; it’s just that I’ve never known a Buddhist before.  This was new and it was a good new. We talked openly about things and what was most appealing were these words: “I’m not going to judge you.”   How refreshing!

I know all about judging because I feel like an expert some days.  It’s so hard for us NOT to judge and we do it so sub-consciously that it becomes our default setting.  Granted, some are better at this than others, but I’ve also heard from some amazingly honest people lately about how opinionated they are, how they find it easier to gripe about people than listen to them and they seem to have more fun with friends with they’re criticizing others. Hhmmm….

After thinking about these comments, I prayed about trying a different approach with people:  to assume the best more often, and to not judge but ask about what else might be going on so I can have a more complete picture than the one I knee-jerk guess.  Or, just praying for them. As a Christian, I have prayed for forgiveness many times for my critical spirit and my lack of grace with others.  There’s no excuse when Jesus has been generous to the point of giving His life for me.  But I also know I’m a sinful woman who can look Him full in the face and His mercy covers me anew each day.

And to that end, this morning my Buddhist friend called and left me crying when I hung up.  Not tears of sadness but from a weight of compassion.  She asked the right questions, listened compassionately and understood my vulnerability generously and accepted my honesty graciously.   That kind of love brought me to tears.  I don’t claim to understand a thing about Buddhism; and I have a long way to understanding the complex mysteries of my God and Father, but I know for certain when He brings two women together to bless each other.

So here I am, a committed Christian, wanting to be a little more like my Buddhist friend in her acceptance and openness of people.  It makes me think of others who aren’t Christians but have something about their natures that I want to emulate.  Speaking only for myself and not for Christians at large, I know that I live in a bubble of my own making.  To my shame, I can’t rattle off a list of non-Christian friends.  It’s not because I’ve intentionally avoided them, but because my orbit is a little too small.  I’m working on that – and excited about it.

When we first met, my friend asked me if it would be a problem for me to befriend her and I said No immediately.  For one, I rarely think of her religion and, I also believe God can use anyone and He clearly is using her to bless me.  As we approach Easter, I’m reminded of the new life that He gives us and I’m thankful that sometimes a new turn of heart comes from unlikely places and people.

Can you sum up your life in 6 words?

i can’t help it, I’m always on the prowl.  Magazines, flyers, books, sites, the backs of cereal boxes, for pity’s sakes… you name it, if it has words on it, I want to read it.   I scour, wander, search and I find.  Besides my own edification, I want to find an interesting writing assignments for my students, and to that end,  I stumbled across a book on six-word memoirs.  I tore through it, wishing I could know some of these people who so succinctly summed up and shared their lives in this form.

 

How do you even begin to start when asked to state your life in a mere six words?  Were it me, I could go in a number of different directions.  My health? How about Need replacement body; this one’s broken.  My family? Married kind, gentle, guy; never fight.  Or, Won kid lottery, have three winners.  My career: Best job: teens plus writing, reading.  My hobbies: Chocolate: bake, frost, share, slice, savor.

Here are my favorites:

Optimistic:

Curly haired sad kid chose fun.

Tragic childhood can lead to wisdom.

I live the perfect imperfect life.

Working with what God gave me.

 

Sweet:

Sweet wife, good sons; I’m rich.

Polio gave me a happy life.

We were each other’s favorite person.
There’s an interesting story behind these:

Almost a victim of my family.

Thought I would have more impact.

I fell far from the tree.

It was embarrassing so don’t ask.

 

Funny:

Without me, it is just aweso.

It’s pretty high, you go first.

Overjoyed I’m not like my sister.

Well, I thought it was funny.

Now it’s your turn.  I know I have readers who don’t post a comment but I’d love to see your six-word memoir. If you can sum up your life in six words, please do!

 

 

Does this blind spot make my butt look big?

Watching “What not to wear” can be a cringe-inducing.  Some of these poor women look so terrible and most of the time, they just don’t see it.  My daughter and I watch and mutter, “Oh, honey….”  We feel for them.  They step into the 360 mirror and sometimes see what we see; other times, they think they’re rockin’ their look.  I always tell my daughter, “If I ever look that bad – tell me!!”   This show reveals the literal and figurative blind spots we can all have.  We wear something and think we look great, only to look at ourselves years later and delete the picture.  We say or do or think something and believe we’ve got it goin’ on, only to realize later, that we weren’t as sharp as we’d hoped.

Harper Lee noted the blind spots of some white folks in her community who were quick to assume that all blacks were guilty…even if they hadn’t done anything.  To Kill a Mockingbird also includes a teacher who railed on Hitler’s atrocities while turning a blind eye to those in her town who were treated just as judgmentally and unfairly.  Further underscoring her point, a group of powdered white ladies worked to raise money for “those poor African children who only have one white missionary” telling them the way to live rightly when they themselves live a few miles away from a Negro settlement that could greatly benefit from a group of caring white women who want to be generous with their resources.

It’s so easy to read and teach that book and say, “Look at these people!  Don’t they see?!?”  and not so easy to see my own blind spot I heft around day after day.  We all get in patterns of responding and behaving and as the years tick by,  the pattern continues.  So I wonder, where am I blind and how many others see it clearly?  Many times I’ve prayed, “Lord, let me see this rightly,”  because the frustrating aspect of a blind spot is not realizing when you have one, but wondering how often you operate from one and don’t realize it!

This idea has been percolating for a bit so it’s no coincidence that a recent conversation stirred the mental brew.  A friend shared with me that she’s giving up being judgmental for Lent. This is an area that perhaps she was blind to, maybe not, but she acknowledges (bravely) that it’s probably more obvious to others and she wants to work on it.  I admire that!   And then, while we were talking, I felt gentle nudging. ‘Yes, God I hear you talking to me.’   Maybe instead of giving up coffee or chocolate or soda for Lent, I should give up an intangible…something that God will reveal to me as a blind spot.

I KNOW I have stuff to work on.  The questions are: How obvious is it? And, are my friends and family too kind to point it out?  To the first – I hope not too much! and to the second, probably!  Simply put, it’s easier not to see some things about ourselves and I admire those who take a hard look and say, ‘that needs to change.’  So that’s my goal: seeking an improvement in something about which I am totally unaware.   Sounds almost impossible, but when we walk with God and He makes us more like Him every day, we can trust we’re in good hands.

Meet Chuck

Two weeks ago I sat across from a 17 year old guy who slouched in his desk, waiting for my writing lesson.  He listened politely enough but when asked to write a sentence, he said matter-of-factly, “I can’t.”  The others filled me in:  he always says that. They didn’t encourage or expect him to do anything.   Unoffended, he confirmed that, in his own words, he “can’t do much.”  With a shrug, he looked at me blandly as I stared at him, incredulously.  Can this kid be serious?  I perceived no attitude, no defiance… just a simple statement of fact – from his point of view, that is.  Apparently, from the reaction of his peers, everyone just took his inability as the way it is.  Ha! Challenge accepted, kid.

I wish I could have introduced him to Chuck.  In case you didn’t know, Chuck Close is a world famous artist and I stumbled upon his work this week.  I was drawn to his concept of only using faces as his subjects but as I read more, I was more and more impressed; not with his work as much as with him.  His book tells of his growing up as an artist which is quite predictable, I guess, but what grabbed me is that this man graduated from high school not being able to add, subtract or multiply.  To say he had learning challenges is an understatement.  Yet, he graduated from three colleges, the last being Yale.

After finding much success with his art, marrying and raising daughters, he suffered a medical emergency which left him a quadriplegic.  Many would find it reasonable that his art career would be over but not this guy.  His assistants Velcro the brushes to his hands and he’s fashioned special chairs and lifts so he can work on his super-large paintings.  Impressed yet?  I am!  So I think back to this kid who told me he can’t write a simple sentence.  He was perfectly healthy and academically capable but his attitude was awful.  Actually, I’ve seen lots and lots of negative attitude but this guy was indifferent, which some would say is worse.

I’m happy to report that at the end of our time together, this young man found some inspiration and wrote two pages for me.  I ribbed him before I left, “Couldn’t even write a sentence, huh?  Look at you now.”  He seemed pleased and not a little surprised.  I hope that’s all it took to shake him from his complacency and realize that he has so much more ability that he thought he did.  I hope even more that he finds himself meeting people who let him know just how capable he is.  Even if he were to lose the use of all his limbs, he is STILL able to do so much.  After all, look at Chuck!