Eat That Frog: Why Action Beats Organization

Oh dear. The perfectionist in me does not want to post this at all (I know from your comments you understand!), but I promised to post bi-weekly and this week it’s all about doing and finishing the work we have to do, so here I am, sacrificing a bit of my ego to make some small progress toward a dream . . .

In the video I talk about why all our organizing efforts are in vain if we fail to do the work before us.  I encourage you to face the ugly task you’ve been avoiding and make progress on it.

An ugly task can be anything but you’re the only one who knows that it is.  It could be as simple as laundry or cleaning the toilet, or it could be setting aside the to-do list and spending some quality time with your kids.  It could also be taking a nap so you have the energy to do the hard task you’ve been avoiding.

Whatever it is, go and do it!  This is as much for me as for you all.  This week I’ve been discouraged and tired and have NOT been getting up early like I say in the video. I don’t have it all figured out, I’m just better than I was and that gives me hope.

When you do your hard task, please comment below!  Yes, do it first – right now!  You’ll be so happy you did.

What’s the Simplest Version You Can Do Today?

My first YouTube video, my first vlog post.

I’m back from my December break and ready to try something new in 2017.  I’ll be posting a short video on the 1st and 3rd Fridays of the month while I do more work on the administrative part of my blog and learn new technologies (like YouTube).

I wish you all a wonderful start to 2017 and look forward to learning from you all through our discussions on Blue Ocean Families blog!

If you watched the video, please share which thing you have been delaying because you can’t do it “properly” and how you plan to get the first version going today!

Harness The Power Of Complaining

stocksnap_journal

Have you ever resolved to stop complaining only to find that a few hours into the experiment it seems hopelessly impossible? I’ve been there many times.

I can’t promise you a cure for complaining, but I do have an idea that solves two problems with one act.

Are you good at keeping a diary? I somehow realized even early on that keeping a diary was something worthwhile but I never managed to keep up the habit.

My childhood diaries are little more than dates followed by profound observations like “Hi” and “Bye.” It didn’t make for an exciting friendship.

So if you ever wonder what you should write in a diary, here’s my tip.

Complain to your diary.

There is no better listener than the blank page. It won’t judge you too quickly or look bored. It will listen until you’ve found the words to express your worries and will not throw pithy solutions at you.

Simply writing down concerns feels good, but more often than not before I’ve finished writing a solution comes to mind. Even more complex problems are easier to analyze when they sit objectively in front of you in pen and ink.

So the next time you want to complain to a friend or dump on a spouse, grab a sheet of paper or an old notebook and retreat to a quiet spot long enough to get all your feeling out. You can always throw it away if you don’t want any record of your emotions lying around.

I still find it hard to make the time to journal enough and even harder to take the time to reread what I’ve written, but it’s always rewarding when I do. After a month goes by I hardly remember I even had those struggles and take improvement for granted – a surefire way to stay unhappy and stoke the urge to complain.

Reading about past troubles that are no longer issues is a wonderful way to naturally produce feelings of gratitude and hope.

 

And now an administrative note:

I’ll be taking the month of December off of blogging to refocus and plan for the next year. I’ll give the Blue Ocean Families concept one more year of increased effort to see if it’s something I should continue with, or shut down. If you appreciate what I do here or see potential for growth, please email me personally or use the contact form to share your thoughts and suggestions. Thanks, and have a wonderful December!

When Not To Take Advice

unsure

How often do you receive parenting advice from well-meaning family, friends, and even strangers?

When my first was born it felt like I’d received a sticker on my forehead that said “New mom, criticize me.”

Strangers said I didn’t dress my baby warmly enough, friends gave me books saying I’d ruin my kid if I didn’t parent in a particular way, and comments from family that weren’t in the least meant critically would hurt.

I had received unsolicited advice before, but it ramped so quickly after having kids that I knew I’d have to come to terms with it somehow. I quickly learned I could never please everybody and I better find a way to make peace with critical comments.

Sometimes the advice made immediate sense in a kind of “Why didn’t I think of that?” moment. More often, the advice was at odds with something intentional I was doing. It was then that I would suddenly feel insecure.

I hit upon a simple and helpful question to ask every time a comment made me unsure of my path:

Has the person giving advice ever given me concrete, selfless, and timely help?

If the answer is “no,” then I’m free to listen to the comment graciously, say “thank you” and move on with my life without guilt.

If the answer is “yes,” then I need to take the time to consider the matter carefully.

In other words, listen to your mother.

But seriously, I’m not saying do whatever your told, my point is that only people who have sacrificed to invest in your life in a way that you personally find helpful and uplifting are the folks who are likely to have chosen their criticism carefully.

Advice is cheap and there is plenty of it spread around, but the folks who have invested in your life are to be treasured.

I’m not a puppet of those that help me, I just take what they have to say seriously and take the time to wrestle with their ideas.

Where this question is most helpful is when a comment is bothering me that really shouldn’t. The comments of haters on the internet is perfect example.

Somehow these comments hurt, but they are not based in reality – or only in a twisted way – and though we all know haters aren’t worth arguing with, their comments still hurt.

This question helps me see the matter more concretely and reminds me to turn to the faithful few in my life for perspective and advice and not to be blown by the winds of opinion.

If we set out to build a family culture according to our deepest values then we will bump up against established norms and ruffle feathers and get criticism. We need to stay calm, gracious, and confident in such exchanges and bounce right back again.

I hope this question helps you the next time you feel oppressed by negativity!

Making Peace With Your Path

dark-forest

Imagine life is like a vast forest that each of us explores as we make choices every day. Sometimes we’re on well-worn paths and sometimes we’re hacking through unmapped jungle.

Some of us know which direction we want to head, and others follow the next most-promising turn.

Most of us at some point climb a tree to get a view of the land we’ve covered and to get a glimpse of what the future could hold.

Often it’s hard to see that our own path lies far, far away from where we want to be.

Dreaming of the Future

It’s easy to stay seated in that tree and dream of flying machines that will carry us over the forest to our dream destination: financial freedom, security, physical beauty, children, world peace, having our own business, spiritual maturity . . .

When we are so far from where we want to be it seems that descending the tree into the dark forest and taking a step is futile.

So we stay up in the tree, dreaming of distant lands and hating our winding path of a past.

We need to learn to make peace with our path.

Where am I?

We need to be brave enough to accurately plot our position in the forest. For good or for ill we are where we are right now and we cannot wish it away.

If we want any hope of reaching better lands we must accept where we are and where we came from.

Only then can we determine the direction to follow, and only then can we drop the baggage of the past and find the strength to take the next step in the right direction.

And then the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and . . .

It is anything but easy. Dreaming in the tree is much more appealing (especially if we have our smart-phones with us).

The Struggler’s Advantage

But all is not lost or wasted. We might not see any advantage in our previous paths and our current situation, but they might hold some secret power that will brighten our future.

I didn’t grow up athletic, so when I first started running in college my whole body screamed in resistance. As I struggled through each step my encouraging runner-friend cheered me on. I realized then that no matter how hard my friend had trained all his life, he would never know the difficulty of making a sedentary body move for the first few times.

The people at the top of their fields often have never been at the bottom long enough to know what it feels like to be an outsider or an adult beginner.

Math teachers choose to teach math because they like and understand math and may never understand the struggle and feelings of inadequacy that many feel when presented with a math problem.

When it comes to helping others, our weaknesses might just become the source of our greatest strengths.

Unique Past, Unique Destiny

Our time exploring the part of the forest we didn’t want to be in gives us a unique perspective that equips us for the future in ways we cannot yet see.

So let’s make peace with our path, be honest about where we are, decide which direction we want to head, and get down that tree into that dark forest and take that hard first step, then the next, and the next, until the sun goes down.

Then do it all again tomorrow.

If it’s true for us personally, then it’s also true for our families, our towns, our countries, and the world.

Let’s make peace with our path and do the hard work of moving us all toward a better future.

What Is Being Organized?

room

I like to define being organized as when our stuff supports the lifestyle we desire.

How we arrange our stuff has a significant impact on how we live our lives.

If my stuff is always strewn all over, I’m much less likely to invite people over. If I want to a have a lifestyle that includes hosting, I need to change how I deal with my stuff.

Organization is Personal

For some, good china and cute curtains might be necessary for a lifestyle of hosting, and maybe for others having a picked-up house isn’t even needed.

This definition helps point out that organization is something quite personal.

We can be inspired by how others organize, but we shouldn’t assume that more organization is necessarily better.

Before we decide to reorganize, we should first think deeply about what kind of life we want to live.

From there, it should be easier to see in which ways our things (and therefore habits) are not supporting the lifestyle we want to have.

I hope you found my organization and planning ideas helpful, but I also hope you recognize what is already working well enough for you and stick with it.

Organization Changes Over Time

This definition of organization also acknowledges that life has different phases and stages.

Our desired lifestyle when we have little children will be different from that when we are retired. Our homes and organizational systems will look different, too.

The idea of “ finally being organized” is an illusion. Our stuff will always support our desired lifestyle to a greater or lesser degree.

There will always be room for improvement and need for change as our lives and the people in our lives change.

So we shouldn’t feel guilty when we feel an area in our life could use some better organization.

The question we should ask ourselves is,

“Is it worth my time and energy to organize this? Or does it work well enough for my life right now that my time is better spent elsewhere?”

Determine to decide, and be released of guilt. (link)

Culture Making Part XIII: The Powerful Alongside the Powerless

dump

Today I’ll wrap up the Culture Making series. There is so much more in the book, especially for Christians, but I think the series has gone on long enough and it’s high time we got back to practical applications.

As promised, I’ll share an inspiring example of the powerful working alongside – and not on behalf of – the poorest of the poor, and then share a few quotes to give you a taste of what treasures await you if you read Andy Crouch’s book.

Surprising Life in a Garbage Dump

“When I feel frustrated with the limits of my cultural power, as I do more often than I would like to admit, I like to think about the inhabitants of Smokey Mountain [a garbage dump in Manila]. . . There is no reason to think that they have any less innate capacity for cultivation and creativity than any other group of human beings made in God’s image, but they were born in a place where, instead of cultural goods being proposed and going on to reshape their world, the detritus of culture is brought to decompose and die.”

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has tried to increase my gratitude by thinking of those less fortunate than myself, but Crouch takes a surprising turn:

“I know just enough about this community to know that they neither need nor want my pity. In 1980 a Catholic priest named Father Ben relocated to Smokey Mountain from the seminary where he was a promising young scholar. He brought the residents there the good news about Jesus. And he began to instill in them the confidence that God had not forgotten them – indeed, that God was ready to breathe life into their efforts at making a better life for their families. The community of garbage-dump workers persuaded the city to provide them with water and electric services. They have built modest but dignified concrete homes at the edge of the dump, replacing shacks of cardboard and tin. They even built a community center where children play games and older people gather to pass the time.”

“The residents of the Manila garbage dump are not primarily a moral object lesson in my relative affluence. Rather, they are a reminder of the inexhaustible human capacity to cultivate and create.”

Good News To The Poor

“Perhaps that is the truest sense of the “good news to the poor” that Jesus came to proclaim: the poor are not as poor as they, and we, think they are. The creative God of history has made his resurrection power available to them. He has made his power available to us if we will become poor in spirit – no longer simply accumulating power but freely sharing it.”

“When we put our power [to other’s] service, we unlock their creative capacity without in any way diminishing our own – and in this way, spending power is very different from spending money. When we transfer money to another person, their net worth increases while our s decreases, but the power to create cultural goods rarely has this zero-sum quality.”

This goes for spending our power alongside our children, too. It in no way diminishes our own power and authority. If it does, we’re probably not giving them power to create, but power to destroy.

Where Do You Have Power?

As a foreigner, I lack a certain kind cultural power, and I know what a blessing it is to have someone come alongside me with their cultural power to allow me to unleash my creativity in a land that was not originally my own. Most people who serve me in this way probably aren’t even aware of it or what an impact it has on me (husband, are you listening? Thanks!)

In the same way, the power we take for granted could have a huge impact if we spend it alongside those who don’t have that particular kind of power.

Still don’t think you have any power? Think of it this way:

“Most of us have experienced being in a context where our jokes were funny, our ideas provoked interest and excitement, and we felt light and quick on our feet, able to realize our vision with little sense of friction – and then being in another context where the same jokes and ideas fell completely flat and we found ourselves tongue-tied and embarrassed. The difference was, in a word, power. Power, in this sense, is deeply and absolutely dependent on the nature of the particular public we find ourselves among . . . To leave the circle of one’s power is a deeply, existentially unsettling experience.

I’m tempted to say “See how hard life is for us expats!” but that would defeat the point that everyone, everywhere has some kind of power even if it’s not where we want it most.

“Honestly and gratefully assessing where we already have cultural power is also an essential antidote to the futile process of desperately trying to amass more.”

With whom am I sharing my power?

So let’s ask ourselves, “How can I become a steward, investing my cultural power in the dreams and plans of those with less cultural power than myself?”

Culture Always Starts Small

“No matter how many it goes on to affect, culture always starts small. And this means that no matter how complex and extensive the cultural system you may consider, the only way it will be changed is by an absolutely small group of people who innovate and create a new cultural good.”

“When I was twenty-nine I was just beginning the most important cultural calling of my life, shaping the culture of a family that today includes just four people, which, if we are blessed, will widen over the generations, just as my family of origin began with four but now cannot even fit around the large dining table in my parents’ home. Scaling down can be as important as scaling up – I never expect to have better partners in shaping culture than [my wife and children]. Small things can become greater over time – those who are faithful with little are sometimes, just as Jesus said, given the chance to be faithful with much – but small communities can always create things that are out of reach of wider, thinner network.”

 

Bonus quotes for Christians:

“To be Christian is to stake our lives on this belief: the only cultural goods that ultimately matter are the ones that love creates.”

“Grace is for the poor in spirit, and the disciplines bring us, no matter our ascribed power or actual wealth, to keen awareness of our fundamental poverty.”

“Any experienced farmer can inspect the ground, note where the path, rocks and weeds are, and direct his attention to the best soil. But there is no way to similarly inspect the human heart. . . . What we can do, however, is pay careful attention to the fruit of our cultural work. Do we see a divine multiplication at work after we have done our best? Does a riotous abundance of grain spring up from a tiny, compact seed? This is grace: unearned, unexpected abundance that can leave us dizzy with joy. It is a return on investment that exceeds anything we could explain by our own effectiveness or efforts.”

To me this describes work in the home perfectly. It isn’t efficient or glamorous, but it yields this kind of dizzying abundance that can’t be fully explained or quantified – and the joy, oh the moments of joy!

“So where are we called to create culture? At the intersection of grace and the cross. Where do we find our work and play bearing awe-inspiring fruit – and at the same time find ourselves able to identify with Christ on the cross? That intersection is where we are called to dig into the dirt, cultivate and create. . . For my friend Elizabeth the intersection of grace and cross is found in raising three children who sometimes tax her to the very limit, creating a family culture of forgiveness, play and prayer.”

What we create in the family cannot be accomplished by schools, social work, government programs, or any other organization or network the world can offer.

Soldier on, my friends! It’s a great secret that what we make in the home cannot be made anywhere else and is of utmost importance.

Good Enough Is Better Than Perfect: Why Baby Steps Are So Powerful

baby step

I can tell from the comments on last week’s post that you, my readers, have high expectations for yourselves.

You listed the many areas where you feel you are not enough – not nearly enough.

Having high expectations and desiring to improve are good things – very good things.

“I’m not good enough at feeding healthy meals to my family” is not such a dangerous thought, though it would be better to formulate it more positively such as, “I’m not yet where I want to be with feeding my family healthy meals.”

“I’m not enough” is only dangerous if the feelings of inadequacy keep you from taking action – or worse – accepting love.

You are enough. Right now. As you are.

You are loved – even adored by your family, even though you have room to grow as a wife, a mother, a daughter, a neighbor, a homemaker, and all your other roles.

Which one of you would not love your child because he is not yet good enough at picking up after himself, or at speaking kindly to his siblings, or at honoring his father?

We all find our kids wonderful in so many ways just as they are. We all see the many, many ways they still need to grow.

The same is true for us. Let’s live it!

As a recovering procrastinator, the gap between where I am now and where I want to be is often so huge I’m too discouraged to start.

If I can’t do it right, I won’t do it at all.

That is folly. The power of one faltering step in the right direction cannot be underestimated.

The Power of Baby Steps

The other day I went for a jog. I bounced along easily for 30 minutes, marveling at how good I felt when only a month ago running down the street was painful.

What intense workout program did I start to enjoy such a transformation in one short month?

Answer: I went for a walk to the playground with my daughter.

I’ve done that many times before – that doesn’t count as exercise! But it counted to S Health, the app on my new phone that I accidentally set to “Baby Steps to a 5K.”

The program said “workout paused” more times than I can count as I followed my daughter, but what we did that day “counted” as workout number one. I got awards for my longest workout, my fastest pace, and more.  That was fun.

Two days later my phone prompted me to “run” again. This time I went with all the kids. We stopped even more but I managed to push us just a little bit further and I started walking back and forth with the stroller when the kids stopped to play.

When S Health prompted me to run while we were on a family trip, I borrowed my friend’s stroller and took the baby for a walk during nap-time. I never would have made time for exercise like that before!

The great thing is, I’m still only supposed to be walking briskly during my workouts, so whenever I actually get a chance to run on my own or just with the stroller I’m going above and beyond. It feels great!

Who would have though that running at a snail’s pace for one mile would be going above and beyond?!

A month ago I would have said I’m not in a place yet where I can get exercise. The time I have is too insignificant to make any progress.

But I am my own counter example.

Those tiny, “not good enough” attempts at doing just a little bit more than before meant that I kept going, and going for 12 workouts in one month meant enjoying the fruit of a painless run!

You are enough. Small is enough – no, small is better! Good enough is better than perfect because it means you START.

What’s the simplest version you can start today?

 

(P.S. I wrote this post in an hour and have to work hard not to edit and fix it but just get it published. I don’t have time to write perfect posts so I either have to publish good enough or not at all. It’s a constant struggle!)