ReFreshing Relationships

You know that one person who always makes you feel at ease? You can relax in their company like sitting in a big overstuffed chair. Conversation with them is like a warm cup of cocoa (or coffee, or tea, or whatever soothes your soul). You may not always agree on things, but they never make you feel stupid or inferior. They encourage you by pointing out your strengths and are gentle in discussing areas that need growth.

I want to be that person.

I don’t mean that I want to be that person for you in this blog, which would be fine, but I want to be that person all the time in all of my relationships. It’s a goal. I work at it. I don’t always succeed, but I am trying.

The world is too full of relationships that are tense and ways of relating that bring about conflict. People throw spears at each other in their conversations whether they are talking about parenting, politics, religion, and a myriad of topics that never were controversial but seem so vital to be right about now. Things like what to eat, how to shop, what to wear, and so much more. How did we loose the art of conversation and begin to practice non-stop verbal warfare?

Some blame the internet for faceless interactions. Some blame smart phones for too much screen time and no eye contact. Some blame the advent of television when kids stopped playing outside and started watching Looney Tunes…

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I am not sure we can pinpoint a source. I think it’s enough to want to change. We need to call a cease-fire. 

This is some of what I have learned in my journey toward being a refreshing person. It isn’t a complete guide, but it’s a start.

1. It isn’t enough to hear, we need to listen. Everyone knows this. It isn’t new. The problem is that we are often triggered by key words and phrases that plop people into pre-fabricated caricatures instead of allowing them to be their complex selves with complex and sometimes surprising thoughts. Pay attention to your trigger phrases and stop. Don’t respond to the imagined person in your head. Instead ask a question about what that person thinks about that trigger phrase. Let people define themselves.

2. Let there be silence. This can be a tough one, too. We are uncomfortable with silence. It makes us feel like something is missing or that someone is holding back. But silence can be comforting. No pressure to talk or be brilliant, just space to be.

3. Stop before you give advice and try to fix. This is so hard for me. I am a thinker, problem-solver, and often can think of three different possible solutions to the predicament the person in front of me has just described. Unfortunately, they may not want to hear my solutions. In fact, they may have already come to the same conclusions. Having the answers and actually solving the problem are two different things. Besides, unless the other person asks, it is better to let her find the answer on her own. 

4. Accept them where they are. I don’t know about you, but I have learned a few things over the years. We are all dynamic creatures, learning and growing and changing as we gain experience. Chances are the people in your life will also learn things given enough time. Sometimes letting those we care about find their own way will bring them around to our way of thinking in ways that arguing will not. 

5. Feed people. We are all hungry for something. Sometimes actual food helps, but sometimes what is more important is finding that hungry place in his soul. Find out what excites and energizes your friends. Find ways to encourage their passions. Be excited with them. Someone much more brilliant than I said, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn.”

6. Share your heart. Be willing to open up and be vulnerable. This is so HARD! It is much easier to hide behind impassioned rhetoric than it is to talk about why you feel, or think, or believe a certain way. The thing is that vulnerability on our part allows vulnerability on the part of the person we are talking with. I am convinced that if we were all willing to lay down our defenses, we would find that we stand on more common ground than we know.

I sincerely hope, friends, that you have a refreshing person in your life. And I hope that you will join me in seeking to be a refreshing person for those around you.

 

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Dirty Tricks and My Love of Baking Soda

Sometimes I think it would just take one little nudge to push me over the edge into full-on hippy.

I am not saying this is a bad thing, just something a little unexpected considering I came from a household where comet, windex, and pledge were used in abundance; essential oils were Wessen or Crisco; and admittedly there were times I ironed my t-shirts in high school.

These days, my family makes our own laundry soap, eat organic through a CSA share, and have not purchased cleaning chemicals in more than 7 years. I have a box with no fewer than 7 bottles of essential oils and don’t iron unless I am sewing something.

All of these might just be trendy if it weren’t for the following clenchers: I teach yoga, had my last baby with a midwife, am a Quaker minister, and my name is Charity. The cherry on top is my love affair with Baking Soda.

I know I don’t have to capitalize it, but it is such a dear friend that it feels like a proper noun…

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Baking Soda how do I use thee, let me count the ways:
1. Tooth Brushing- I tried making my own toothpaste with all kinds of different concoctions until one day I took the lowest common denominator and simplified to dipping my toothbrush into a little container of baking soda. I have never had a cavity and my dentist said as long as I use some flouride somewhere I should be fine. Since I take a travel tube of toothpaste with me on trips, I consider this done.

2. Cleaning the Bathroom- Sprinkle it here, sprinkle it there, you seriously can use it anywhere. It is a micro-abrasive and so won’t scratch surfaces but removes soap scum like a boss.

3. Scrubbing Pans- Ok, this is really where it all began. I have Pampered Chef cookware from many moons ago that is non-stick but builds up a little ickiness in the bottom. So, from time to time I would dump about a tablespoon of baking soda in and scrub the ick off. Works brilliantly and won’t scratch the non-stick surface.

4. In the Laundry- Say goodbye to the smellies, and hello to a little brightening.

5. To Wash My Hair- This was a gigantic step for me. I have curly hair. For all of you non-curlies, you don’t even know what a risk changing hair-care rituals can be. I didn’t know if I would look like a sheep or an oily mess of fusilli pasta. Turns out, neither. I heard horror stories of it taking up to a month for people’s scalps/oil production to adjust. I was totally fine after two washes. Now I wash my hair twice a week, no one who didn’t know that I switched even noticed a difference. My scalp is way happier and my curls bouncier.

6. Washing My Face- This was totally an accident. I have, at 34, continuously struggled with irritated, oily, break-out prone skin. One day I had left my face wash in the other shower and so used my Baking Soda to wash my face. It was very scrubby and removed all my make-up, but still left my skin happy without drying it out. Haven’t looked back. And last week while travelling saw in Real Simple Magazine a tip for using baking soda and water as a gentle scrub. Justified!

Anyway, I now buy Baking Soda by the 13.5 lb bag. It is a natural mineral, has an ok track record for mining practices, doesn’t involve carcinogens and works for so many things. And if you combine it with Vinegar…but that is for another post.

What’s not to love?

How Refreshing!

(Your) Experience Isn’t Everything

It is all too easy to walk around as though everything we experience is Truth. It may be a very real experience, and there may be some truth to our perspective, but it is imperative to recognize that our perspective may not encompass everything there is to learn in any situation.

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An afternoon encounter in a coffee shop:
Sandy the barista is cleaning up the crumbs from another patron who breezed in and out again without ever making eye contact. This has become part of life, being invisible, and for all that Sandy has mourned in her down-graded status from elementary art teacher to coffee server, the lack of human connection is the worst.

Jerry is a plumber and his life is full of other people’s crap. Literally. He, too, serves in an invisible profession and people often complain about the fees he charges. He’s just dealt with another client who called while he was in the middle of another job and chewed him out on the phone for not being immediately available to fix a problem that was all-too preventable.

Jerry enters the coffee shop and waits behind three other indecisive customers. Just as he reaches the counter, his phone buzzes and he checks the incoming text.

Text: “Hey, Jerry, since you are OBVIOUSLY not coming today, I thought I would let you know as a COURTESY that I don’t need you and Rapid-Rooter is on their way. Thankfully THEY weren’t too busy to fix my disposal. Have a nice life, Jerry.”

Internal Jerry: “I should text her back and tell her that the last four jobs I handled were after Rapid-Rooter destroyed the customer’s pipes. Nah, let ’em find out on their own. Serves them right. I hope they forget to turn the water back on when they leave. Oh, gee, now I forgot the name of the coffee Dan brought to the job last week.”

Glancing up, Jerry says: “Yeah, I’ll have a large umm, you know coffee with the foam and throw in some vanilla.”

Sandy: “Hi, I’m over here, and you are going to have to be more specific. Do you want a latte, cappuccino, macchiato? How much esspresso, how much milk? You need to give me something here.”

Jerry: “What? Hey, you are the coffee expert! I just want a coffee with steamed milk and vanilla! How hard is that?”

Sandy: “Steamed, or foamed? First you said foamed, then steamed. Which is it?”

Jerry: “You know what, forget it. Just give me a large black coffee to go.”

Sandy: “Ok, that will be $3.”

Jerry: “$3 for a lousy cup of black coffee? Keep it. I got better things to do!”

Let’s look at the situation here. Sandy feels invisible, and when Jerry comes up to the counter with his eyes glued to his phone she gets irked. Then she feels that he expects her to read his mind when he hasn’t even given her the courtesy of looking her in the face. She wants to help him figure out his order, but is having a hard time getting past her irritation. It shows through and the frustration builds. Let’s see Sandy’s internal dialogue.

The afternoon has been difficult and full of indecisive customers. Now this guy in coveralls can’t even wait until after he orders to check his phone.

Internal Sandy: “Seriously, man, you had all that time to check your messages, now you are holding up the line. I should just skip you and move on to the next customer.”

Jerry: “Yeah, I’ll have a large umm, you know coffee with the foam and throw in some vanilla.”

Internal Sandy: “Not another one! No eye contact. Doesn’t know what he wants. Look at me, look at me, look at me!”

Sandy: “Hi, I’m over here, and you are going to have to be more specific. Do you want a latte, cappuccino, macchiato? How much esspresso, how much milk? You need to give me something here.”

Jerry: “What? Hey, you are the coffee expert! I just want a coffee with steamed milk and vanilla! How hard is that?”

Internal Sandy: “OMG! What does he think I do here? The menu is 4 feet long for a reason! First he doesn’t know his drink, now he can’t even be clear about how he wants his milk! I’m an artist, dang-it!”

Sandy: “Steamed, or foamed? First you said foamed, then steamed. Which is it?”

Jerry: “You know what, forget it. Just give me a large black coffee to go.”

Sandy: “Ok, that will be $3.”

Jerry: “$3 for a lousy cup of black coffee? Keep it. I got better things to do!”

Internal Sandy: “What a plumber is questioning MY prices?”

Neither of these people wants a confrontation. Both are looking for a little courtesy and are frustrated by factors that have nothing to do with this interaction. And they have a lot in common, but are so focused on their own circumstances that they don’t recognize an ally when they meet one. Both of their perspectives are real, but neither one has the whole truth behind the encounter.

How could this have gone better? Maybe if they both expressed what was behind the frustration and shared their perspective instead of assuming the other person was aware of what they are experiencing.

Sandy: “Excuse me, I am sure that what you are doing is important, but I really feel invisible when people don’t look at me when they order.”

Jerry: “Oh, sorry, just have this annoying customer who texted to tell me she called my competition. Look, I don’t know much about coffee so you are going to have to help me out.”

The scene plays out completely differently when we offer a way for people to connect and join us in a world of shared experience.

Maybe we could all be a little more open to sharing our perspective and being willing to join in another’s perspective on our quest for the Refreshing Life.

For more perspective blogs, check out the weekly writing challenge below.
http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/01/27/writing-challenge-shoes/

***Personal Disclaimer: I neither control nor endorse the content on other blogs. If you read other writing challenge posts, you do so at your own risk. 

That First Step’s a Doozy

The definition of doozy: something that is usually good, bad, big, severe, etc. Usually one of a kind.

I always read the title idiom as a bad thing. A BIG, bad thing. Maybe that is why it is so hard to take the first step in any new project or commitment. Maybe that is why it is easier to read about the things that are wrong, or complain about what is making me miserable instead of taking action. Well, I have hereby declared this practice to be ridiculous!

It is silly to sit back and complain when I have the power to do something, even if that something is terribly small. Even if my effort or action will not completely solve the problem, I have decided that it is better to have a little good than abandoning everything to decay. I am applying this to my diet, my house-keeping, my wardrobe, my work habits, and my involvement in world justice efforts. I will choose to make whatever small difference I can in my life and in contributing to positive change in the world.

Here is where I would like to introduce a sappy story to prove my point; The Starfish Story, to be exact. 

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Ok, so seriously sappy and way overdone, but sometimes things get overdone because they say it way better than we ever could.

It matters to the child I sponsor through Compassion International even if I can’t feed and educate every child in the world. It matters that I buy organic cocoa to reduce the slave-labor that contributes to my indulgences, even if I can’t stop the global slave trade. It matters when I pick up a pair of socks from the floor because at least those socks will not contribute to the overall chaos of the house, even if the whole house is rarely all clean at the same time. Every time I choose an apple over a brownie it’s a victory! My new goal is not perfection, but action.

I have perfectionist and people-pleasing issues. There, judge me… just kidding. I know that I am not alone in this swirling mess of guilt for falling short and fear of other people finding out. But seriously, I have come to realize that this is beyond ridiculous. No one gets it all right all the time. We might be surrounded by perfect stories in magazines, online, tv, and movies. Ads may try to sell us that next thing that will finally bring perfection to our lives, but the reality is that life is messy. And those pictures are photoshopped.

Action beats inaction. Any effort beats giving up. Every healthy, positive choice you make contributes something positive and healthy to your life! So at the end of January, stop beating yourself up for failing at that diet or exercise resolution. Stop it! Rejoice in the small victories and determine to keep making positive steps. You may never get it all right, but you can be better than you were before.

That’s Refreshing!

Transitions

So my life is full of transitions right now. My maternal grandparents are moving in to the rest home. I am weaning my third (and final) baby. My husband who has been a stay-at-home dad for the past 7 years is going back to school and working half-time.

All of these transitions are bittersweet. We celebrate that my grandparents were able to live independently for 95 years, what a milestone and victory! But it is sad to pack away and divide the contents of their apartment, surrendering to the fact that this is one more step toward end of life. They will receive some much-needed support and care from excellent care-givers, but they will lose some of their independence as they give up their car and begin to live by someone else’s schedule. 

Weaning my baby is just hard. He is 18 months and is perfectly capable of eating and drinking big people food. But the nurturing that takes place with breast-feeding cannot be measured in caloric intake. I am so sad and so happy to be saying good bye to this stage of motherhood. I will gain independence and the ability to travel apart from my children, and hopefully begin to sleep through the night again. 

I have been super excited and so proud of my husband’s re-entry into the career world. He earned all A’s in his first semester of classes pursuing a master’s degree in information management and library science. This is a first for him in all of his years of education! But this is a difficult transition for me as well. I face many challenges as a woman in my field. My husband has always supported me, but because being a woman in ministry is not universally supported (to put it mildly) there have always been nagging doubts in the back of my head that someday he would change his mind and insist that our family life revolve around him and his career. These are fear gremlins that have no place in reality, but they produce a creeping insecurity that makes it difficult to fully embrace this new part of our lives, especially when his schedule conflicts with mine or we have to negotiate childcare and other factors of daily life. 

Fear, I have come to realize, is a natural part of facing transition. What we know now is safe and we have survived the challenges of our current circumstances. We know how to negotiate the pitfalls and find the joys in our present location. What lies on the other side of a transition is unknown. We don’t know what the future will bring. And that is SCARY! But there are rewards for moving forward and there are opportunities we will miss if we stubbornly refuse to let go of our comfort. 

Putting one foot in front of the other, then, I must step out into the new adventure that awaits! Join me in embracing the transitions of life, choosing to set aside fear and trust that whatever challenges may come we are strong enough to face them head-on.

This is the road to Refreshing Life!

‘Tis a Gift to be Simple

Some days it seems like my world is buried in layers of complexity so thick that I can’t breath!

Let me start by saying that I am so grateful for everything that has been made possible by scientific and technological advances in the past few decades. I mean, seriously, here I am writing a blog in my pajamas drinking coffee and eating cold cereal with almond milk. None of this would be possible without some pretty amazing ingenuity on the part of so many people.

That being said, there are so many things that are possible, but we have added all of these possible things to our lives while forgetting to ask “Is it necessary?” and “Does it bring me joy?” So much is possible, but do we need to do every possible thing?

No finger pointing, I am the worst at this!

Let me explain…no, there is too much, let me sum it up:
I am the mother of 3 children, the wife of 1 man (who is working half-time and pursuing a masters degree), the pastor of a church with 50 souls under my care, and sometimes I teach yoga to mommies and expectant mommies. Not bad, you say? But wait, there’s more.

Technology has invaded our house and found welcome victims. In our house are a laptop, a net book, a Kindle Fire, an iPod, an iPad, and several smaller devices. We have a tv, blue ray player, dvd player, and wii, all internet connected so that we can have constant Pandora, Netflix, and Amazon media in our eyes/ears. Forget peace and quiet, I’ll just have some peace please.

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All this, and I know that we have made strides to keep it simple in our lives and household. Here are the positives: we don’t have smart phones so there is actual time when we are not connected to the matrix; we only let our children pick one activity at a time (currently it’s community youth choir and junior choir); I take a whole day off every week; we have limited the technology devices by only having 1 tv (don’t judge just because we use all of the other devices with screens to watch internet content).

This all still falls into the doable category, but I haven’t even told you what I love to do.

I love to run. I love to read. I love to sew. I love to be creative. I love to write novels. I love to spend sunny afternoons in the shade sipping lemonade…

But I don’t get to do those things because of all the other stuff in my life.

This could be the end. I could lament and move on. BUT I know I still have some choices. I can shut off the noise and read a book instead of surfing facebook. I can take a walk or go for a run with my son in the jog stroller I have for just such an activity. I can push aside all of the possible for what is necessary and what brings me joy!

So today, I will set my intention to ask these questions and let the answers set my priorities!

What is necessary in your life? What brings you joy? What can you set aside to live a more Refreshing Life?

Honestly Speaking About the Past

Today our nation observes a holiday devoted to the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. King, like many other historical figures, has been boiled down to a soundbite, a facebook meme, a statue. His years of putting himself in harms way for the benefit of those on the bottom rungs of society are reduced to a single speech and an assassin’s bullet. Sometimes he gets a nod for his emphasis on non-violent resistance as a tool for social change, but we rarely talk about his views on international war. He is lauded as a leader in bringing about equality for African-American citizens, but his work on behalf of all the poor is forgotten.

I read this article on Red Letter Christians today about our mis-remembering of King and his broader work.

But we don’t just mis-remember King, we mis-remember (or buy into distortions of) many historical figures. 

As a culture, we define our popular historical figures and rarely question the mythology of their lives. We trust the urban legend and fail to use the readily available resources for fact-checking. Especially today with the misinformation widely passed on through email and social media, it takes dedication to seek out the source of the information and verify its truthfulness.

Today I also read a facebook meme, innocently passed on by a friend, of maxims falsely attributed to Abraham Lincoln. They sound like woodsy words of wisdom about people pulling their own weight, but they are not his words. 

So, I am issuing a challenge to myself and anyone who will listen: Dig Deeper & Double Check Everything.

Take time to learn about the popular American historical figures. I know it takes some effort, but here is an easy way to begin: If they have a holiday, take 15 minutes and look them up in a reputable reference resource like an encyclopedia (Not Wikipedia). Don’t be the messenger for misinformation. It doesn’t matter if a teacher, preacher, email, best friend, smart person, close relative or quack shares the information with you, don’t believe it and pass it on unless you double check.