Monday, April 20, 2015

The Benefit of Not Measuring

Several miles into a recent long training run, my cell phone battery died, not only leaving me without any music (my running playlist -- a mixture of 80's dance music, motivational movie soundtracks, and worship songs -- is fondly titled "Holy Epic Dance Party"), but also without any indication of how far or how fast I was running.  The reassuring voice that regularly speaks through my headphones with half-mile updates on my progress and speed fell silent, and I continued listening only to the steady tread of my feet on the pavement.

When I returned home and my husband asked how my run went, I didn't know how to answer.  I couldn't calculate the exact distance I had run.  I didn't know if I had sustained a good pace. 

How was my run?  Well, I had gone out and done it.

I've been thinking about how much of our lives are measured -- how much data we keep and track.  We can calculate our daily steps and count our calories.  We track our children's academic and developmental progress.  As a blogger, I'm encouraged to quantify my daily traffic, platform size, and social media followers.

I understand this.  I just don't always think it's healthy.

I'm not against working hard, setting goals, or tracking progress.  Not at all.  These measures help us to stretch, grow, and see results.  I'm simply against confusing these measurements with my worth.

In my own life, I'm pushing back against the systems that feed into this confusion, those systems that urge me to think that bigger and more is always better.  I want to be aware of the subtle trappings, refuse to run the endless races of self-measurement and promotion, and avoid becoming enslaved to one-dimensional or inaccurate ways of seeing myself.

Because my worth can't be measured in numbers.

Let me repeat this: measuring our significance by numbers -- our dress size, how much money we earn, how many loads of laundry we folded today, how many people "like" our status update, how many times we exercised (or didn't) this week, or whatever other arbitrary mechanisms we set up to gauge our performance -- is fickle and futile.

Last week I spoke at two women's events, one large conference and one small mom's group, with this simple message: we're worth more than these measurements.  So much more.  Success in fulfilling our life purpose can't be quantified and reduced to a mere number, as if significance could be captured through such narrow metrics.

I'm humbled by how God gently and frequently reminds me of this lesson through ordinary moments, like a dead cell phone battery on a long run that forces me to appreciate a run just because I ran, not because of how far or fast I traveled.

It never was about the speed or distance.  The value was that I did it, that I laced up my shoes and ran.

We're worth much more than numbers can measure.  Today, let's not fall into that trap of thinking otherwise.

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Monday, April 13, 2015

What Are You Looking Forward To?

I once read an article that explained how people who actively devote time looking forward to a vacation enjoy their trip more than those who don't complete this mental exercise.  Just a little positive premeditation, it seems, sets you up for success.  It's good for us to look forward with expectation.

Lately, I notice that I've been looking forward to many things, but in one particular way: I've been looking forward to things being over.  I'm ready to cross obligations off my list and wrap up the final four weeks of the semester, which is a natural desire when you feel stretched thin and confounded by an impossible ratio of how much work you need to accomplish versus how little uninterrupted time you actually have to accomplish it.

Essentially, I've hit a point when there's simply not enough of me to go around, a point when I feel like I'm drowning without being near water.  

I'd like to tell you that I've handled matters maturely during the past few weeks, with grace and faith and good humor and the wise perspective that this is a light and momentary trouble, but that would be a lie.  No, even though I'm in the final leg of this endurance race -- not only in terms of finishing this individual semester, but also because my afternoons will be open for the first time in ten years when my youngest starts kindergarten next fall -- I've struggled to believe that I can finish.  I've had a few ugly cries, and a short temper, and one incident in the kitchen where I dramatically threw a plastic measuring cup and the handle broke off, which felt liberating for a minute until it didn't, and then I felt worse than before.

It's time to look forward to something. (Besides from reaching the bottom of a stack of papers while grading late into the night, that is.)

I'll start small.

I'm looking forward to spending an hour wandering the aisles of T.J. Maxx or Target without any agenda on a solo shopping trip.  I'm looking forward to bringing home a full tote bag of great books from the library.  I'm looking forward to scouting out the garage sales that will crop up as the weather breaks.  I'm ready to immerse myself in home projects and closet organization, spend entire afternoons playing with the kids, and reconnect with friends.  I'm looking forward to being in a position when an unproductive hour doesn't come with the severe cost of falling behind.

I can almost taste it.  And I'm pretty sure that looking forward to these pleasures, along with God's grace, will be be exactly what I need to tide me over until they actually come.

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Monday, April 6, 2015

There's Irony Here, But I Stand Behind This Video

Ever just want to pull the plug on technology, not only for your kids but also for yourself?  I recognize the irony of using a screen to share an anti-screen message, but I stand behind the importance of getting outside to experience real life -- not just life an online, pixelated version of it. 

(Plus, for those of you who don't know, Zach Levy happens to be the voice of Flynn Rider in Tangled, which will forever earn him a fond place in my heart.)

Watch, then head outside.  After all, there are pigeons out there!

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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

When the Timing Doesn't Seem Right

Friends, this is a picture of my backyard taken just moments ago after a blustery snowsquall on this final day of March.  Seriously.

You know what they say about this month, right?  In like a lion, out like a lion.

I'll state the obvious: snow on the last day of March feels wrong.  I want to smell earth, walk throughout my yard, and discover emerging crocus, daffodils, and tulips.  The kids itch to break free from the confines of the house.  We're ready to fling open the windows, usher in a fresh breeze, and put an end to this weather that keeps us bundled indoors.

At best, the timing of this late-March flurry seems off.  At worst, it seems like a direct assault against all that is good and right and hopeful.

While folding laundry this afternoon, I thought about how it should be time to swap out the girls' winter clothes for their warm-weather wardrobes -- a process that normally takes an afternoon as I clean out closets, sort outgrown items into bins or donation piles, and wash the incoming clothes.

It should be time, but the current weather makes the task unnecessary. 

And in that singular realization, I pause and think that perhaps this timing might be helping me.  I'm swamped this week -- heavy grading, extra work meetings, parent-teacher conferences for my kids, and school cancelations for the upcoming Easter holiday.  Adding another task that I feel I should be doing -- like transitioning our closets from winter to spring -- might be the very thing that pushes me over the edge.

Perhaps this snow is a gift.  Perhaps it's a hurdle preventing me from taking on more than I'm currently capable of taking on.

When good things in life appear to be stalling -- an opportunity, a new venture, a promotion, or even the arrival of spring -- especially if there seems to be no good earthly reason for the delay, perhaps I'd be wise to pause before getting frustrated or discouraged.

Maybe there's meaning behind the delay.  Maybe those seemingly good turns of events, those goals and dreams I aspire to and long for, could end up being more than I could currently handle if I took them on now.  Maybe my goals and dreams are perfectly valid and right, but the timing isn't.  At least not yet.

Spring is coming.  I'm convinced of this, and I'd be foolish to let another minor setback like this late March snowfall shake that conviction.  In the same way, when life seems to be stalling or holding me back from good things, I can stand my ground and wait, growing and maturing in the process so I'll be ready when the right time comes. 

Even if we can't see it, spring is still coming.  Its temporary delay might be exactly what we need.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Pinch the Sleeve First

Earlier this week, on the third day of spring, my youngest daughter (a child who balked at wearing anything but short sleeves all frigid winter long) said, "I don't think long sleeves aren't that bad anymore."

The child finally yields.  It's never too late.

Just yesterday I watched as she tried to pull a winter jacket over her long sleeved dress.  The sleeves of the dress kept riding up.  No matter how she struggled underneath the jacket, she simply couldn't tug the ends of the dress' sleeves down to her wrists.  Frustration mounted in that desperate I-knew-long-sleeves-wouldn't-be-worth-it way, leaving her in tears.

I sat on the linoleum beside her as she sniffed.  "Let me show you something."

She wiped her nose and looked at me.  I showed her how to pinch her sleeve with her thumb and index finger, hold the pinch tightly while slipping her arm into the jacket, and then release the pinched fabric when her hand emerged. 

She practiced with her other arm, talking herself through the steps, until her jacket was on and -- most importantly -- her dress sleeves were perfectly un-bunched underneath.

A small victory, really, but last night I went to bed with the satisfaction that I had taught her something valuable.

If only it would always be this easy to help them with their problems.

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