There are many terrible ways to measure self-worth. This is not one of them.

A story I heard years ago recently came to the forefront of my memory.  For weeks and months, day in and day out, a woman had been discouraged every time she stepped on the scale.  She tried to do everything right by exercising regularly and eating as well as she knew how, yet the number that flashed before her each morning always seemed too large.

And every day, her sense of attractiveness and self-worth suffered because of that number.

At one point, the woman traveled and noticed a scale in her guest bathroom.  Tentatively, she stepped on it, waiting for the same judgment to appear on its screen.  But this scale was different.  She weighed much less.  Thinking it was a fluke, she stepped on another scale at a store later that day.  The same good report came back: she was significantly lighter than she had thought.

Turns out, the scale she had used at home every day had been wrong all along.  A false number had caused her such pain and insecurity.

At first glance, it might be easy to be lulled by the story's tidy ending, projecting that the woman moved forward in her life with increased confidence.  But, if I may be entirely candid, let me share the reason I recently remembered the story at all.  The other night while my husband was trying to sleep, I whispered something that had been weighing on my heart. "I've been looking at my blog stats," I began.  "They seem low.  I think they're really low."

As my words spilled forth, I confessed to him in the darkness that at one point, after I had published a well written post that only garnered marginal pageviews, I even had wondered if the site's measurements were off.  Maybe it's not counting right?  Maybe there's supposed to be a zero added to the end?

Maybe it's broken.

And that's when I remembered the story about the woman and the scale.  Then I wondered something darker: what if the scale we're using -- whether for our literal weight, our blog stats, or some other measurement -- is accurate?  What if it's as bad as we fear? Where's the redemption in our stories if those numbers, cold and hard on a screen, don't equate with what we (or what the world) deems to be beautiful, successful, or good?

That's hard to swallow.  It was hard for me to swallow that night lying in bed, feeling as if I were failing somehow.

In the subsequent days, I kept mulling over the story.  The longer I thought about it, the more I realized something striking.  In many ways, it didn't matter whether the scale was accurate or not.  The woman's self-esteem hinged on its number, both when it was high and when it was low.  The scale held a lot of power.

And maybe, just maybe, that's what's broken.  After all, it's terribly easy to measure our worth by factors that truly don't capture our worth. 
It's terribly easy to measure our worth by factors that truly don't capture our worth.
I know this in my head.  Over the years I've written about it, I've spoken about it, and I've encouraged others about it.  But sometimes I need a refresher.  I need to drop the message ten inches from my head and tuck it into my own heart.

Today, my friend, maybe you need this reminder, too.  We're bombarded by quantitative data that supposedly indicates how well we're performing.  Numbers capture our salaries, our size, our followers, and our work performance.  Numbers comprise my college students' grades, and numbers reflect my teaching performance.  Numbers measure the speed, strength, tackles, completions, and every possible on-the-field nuance performed by the football players who my husband works with daily.

We can't escape it.  We live in a data-driven world, and it's accentuated by how easily this data is spread, shared, commented upon, and compared. 

Still, we don't have to let it define us.  Numbers measure something, but that something is not our worth.

I'm not so naive to believe that numbers never matter.  We enjoy feeling good about ourselves, after all, and losing a few pounds can be a mood-booster that makes us feel healthy, capable of reaching goals, and committed to our well-being.  If this blog post is read broadly by tons, not tens, of readers, I'll enjoy the uptick.  If someone gets a raise, or a student earns a good grade, or a running back breaks a record for yards rushed, it's healthy to rejoice over those numbers.  They're great accomplishments.

But accomplishments, whether noteworthy or not, never paint the whole picture.  They don't capture the heart.  They don't reflect our effort or discipline when we remain faithful.  Numbers don't account for moments of anonymity when we do something simply because it's right and we're called to do it, not because it will be measured or rewarded.  Numbers don't take into account when God says, "Well done, my child."

I won't lie, I wouldn't mind having more traffic -- like, rush hour on the Capitol Beltway traffic -- for my blog.  But, in my core, I know I won't be any more content or successful if my blog explodes.  I write with the goal to encourage my readers: to make you nod along in understanding, bolster your faith, and cause you to laugh.  I want you to leave here feeling better than when you came.  When this is my focus -- not blogging stats -- my time spent writing is healthy, helpful, and in alignment with God's will.

And that's successful.

There are plenty of terrible ways to measure our worth.  Let's throw out the broken scales.  And, perhaps, let's tread lightly even when, for better or for worse, our scales seem to be accurate.

After all, something as arbitrary as a number never can fully capture the essence of our worth.


Giving Thanks for the Large and the Small

Yes, oh yes, we've reached Thanksgiving day and the feasting and gathering it brings!  Happy Thanksgiving!

I, for one, have much to be grateful for this year.  Think about how long our lists would be if we counted everything we could give thanks for.  Family and friends!  Health and mobility!  Clean water and food security!  Shelter and warmth!  The ability to work!  Safety and religious freedom!  These are such big-ticket items.  Thank you, God, for meeting these needs.

It's good to pause and give thanks for major blessings.  They're easy to take for granted, which is tragic, because not everyone has them, which also is tragic.

But I like to acknowledge the little things I'm grateful for, too.  Small comforts, like cozy blankets and warm socks.  I'm grateful for the evenings this semester when Joel and I have watched The Office after the kids have gone to bed, and how my children have been so pleasant the past few days, and how I've recently had time to read a few good books.  I'm grateful for my neighbor who loaned me an egg, and for another who loaned me graham crackers, and yet another who shared homemade pierogies with my family.  (I have nice neighbors.)

Then, when I went shopping, I was grateful I remembered everything on my grocery list, including eggs and graham crackers, so I didn't need to return to the store.  Come to think of it, I'm grateful that I have a store.  I've read Little House on the Prairie, after all, and I have the lingering suspicion that I'm not as patient or industrious of a person as Ma.

I'm also grateful that my pie crust turned out well this year.  That's my handiwork right there, peeps.

Yes, there's so much to be thankful for.

Whether you're spending this year's Thanksgiving with a large crowd, a small gathering, or even by yourself, I hope you'll discover that your list is long, too.  Even if things go wrong -- if your turkey is dry, or your guests are challenging, or your travels are inconvenient, or your meal prep is hectic --  I hope you find brief windows today to still give thanks for all the things that are going right.

And if there are deep hurts or empty chairs this year, my prayer is that joy returns and comfort fills those painful nooks and crannies.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, my dear friends and readers! 

I give thanks for you today, too.

Transform Target Dollar Spot Placemats into DIY Artwork

While visiting Target the other day, I came across whimsical paper placemats in the dollar section.  The subtle design and colors were so pretty I immediately thought it would be a shame to use them for their intended purpose on a table during a meal where they'd be destined for crumbs, smears, water rings, and spills.

That's precisely why I chose to use the placemats for a different purpose: seasonal artwork.  This is as easy as it gets, friends.  Simply cut one mat to fit an 8x10 frame, and just like that, you have art that can span from Thanksgiving to Christmas. 

As an added bonus, the mats come in a set of four for just $1, so you can share or repurpose the remaining three.  Find a few friends or neighbors and become decorating quadruplets, which I hear is even better than decorating twins.

Winner winner turkey dinner, I tell you!  Enjoy!

Three Lessons I'm Learning from Limited Mobility

I have pressing news.  I fear that I'm going to have to put my dream of being a contestant on American Ninja Warrior on hold.  This is shocking, I know, because when you think of me it's highly probable that you also think, "Now there is a woman who would crush it on a salmon ladder," but alas, my right shoulder is not agreeing with me.

While I'm still awaiting a formal diagnosis from an orthopedist, my physical therapist believes I might have adhesive capsulities, otherwise known as frozen shoulder, which is a condition that according to John Hopkins, Mayo Clinic, and WebMD, sucks. (I paraphrase, of course.)  Basic movements, like putting on a jacket or writing on a chalkboard, are cumbersome and painful.  Daily tasks, like cooking, housekeeping, shampooing my hair, and even sleeping, are becoming increasingly challenging.

The experience helps me to realize how fortunate I am.  I've never had a lingering injury before, besides from a three-week stint on crutches while in high school.  I take my mobile and pain-free life for granted.

But the past three months -- especially these past three weeks when the condition has worsened -- have been teaching me several things.

Sometimes slowing down is necessary, not weak.  Maybe you're like me: always going and always pushing yourself.  Although it seems counter-intuitive, showing restraint and doing less takes more effort.  I still want to exercise hard, tackle housework, and live as actively as I always have.  Instead, I have to accept some limitations.  There's wisdom and strength in slowing down when you're in a season that calls for slowness, especially when it's your inclination to heedlessly forge ahead as normal.

It's okay to ask for help. In the past week, I've asked my kids to help more with chores, I've asked my husband to help me get dressed, and I've asked strangers to help me lift items at the grocery store.  I find it's like the "if you build it, they will come" adage from Field of Dreams, just with a twist: if you ask for help, they will help.  (If my kids groan at the request, which kids are sometimes known to do, I massage my bad shoulder in front of them like Bing Crosby in White Christmas as he tried to guilt Danny Kaye with his old army injury.  The reference is entirely lost on them, of course, but so far, it's worked.)

Receiving help can provide surprisingly sweet moments.  The other evening, my husband sat me down, plugged in my hairdryer, and dried my hair after I showered.  What a gift -- not only because I didn't have to lift my arm, but also because it provided a tender moment of giving and receiving care.  Then, yesterday after my morning class, one student lingered in the classroom to pack his belongings while I logged off the computer and shut down the projector.  He noticed me struggle to put on my jacket, asked what was wrong, and then said, "Well, let me help you, then."  He came to the front of the classroom, guided my arm into its sleeve, then gently put my backpack on for me.

Both of these moments, inexplicably, made me want to cry.  If you're never in a position where you need to receive, you forget how touching it is to be the recipient of another person's generous and willful giving.

So, in the meantime, as I wait for appointments and improvement, I soak up what I can learn from this slower time when I'm receiving more physical help than I can offer.  (And, of course, I still dream of hitting the red buzzer on American Ninja Warrior, or playing a competitive game of beach volleyball, or even being able to fasten my bra by myself.  Because #goals.)

What about you?  Have you ever been forced to slow down because of an injury or other reason?  Feel free to drop me a comment below with any wisdom you've gleaned from the experience!


Snowmageddon. Snowpocalypse. Snowzilla.

It's happening.  Right this moment as I type, it's snowing.  Let me get more specific: it is legitimately and aggressively snowing.  It's Snowmageddon, Snowpocalypse, and Snowzilla wrapped into one hearty storm that happens to be unassumingly tucked into the middle of November, a month when we don't expect snow because most everyone still needs to rake leaves.

The local school district cancelled school even before the snow started falling, which felt premature at 5:30 this morning but now makes sense.  Then, the university issued a text alert that cancelled classes after 11 and sent all university employees home by 11:30.  (The drive home, which normally takes 10 minutes, took an hour.)

I'm as giddy as a child right now.

I texted my neighbors, one who also works at the university and two who work at the school, to come over for hot chocolate.  They'll be here in minutes.

You can't fight a storm like this.  Nope, you just give in, accept it, and enjoy it -- from inside, of course, with good friends and hot drinks.  Bring it on, Snowmageddon.  We didn't expect you this soon, but we won't resist.

Some Thoughts on Voting

I voted today.  I even wore my "I voted" sticker until I changed clothes to go to the gym.  (When out in public afterwards, I wanted a second sticker to wear that said, "I voted and then I exercised" so people wouldn't judge me as a bad citizen.)

While I respect and honor the right to vote, I've never categorized myself as a highly political person.  I've faced elections where I've voted not out of ardent support for a particular candidate, but because I think a certain candidate would do the least harm.  It's not ideal.

But this article, which was written a local pastor in my area, resonated with me to the point that I would have plagiarized it in its entirety, except that I'd have to submit an academic integrity violation on myself, and that amount of paperwork would be quite tedious.
But I will share one specific quote:

Vote for life. All life. From the unborn to the almost dead, from the immigrant to the international student, from caravans to minivans, from the illegal to the legal, from students to retirees, every race, every gender, every label, every culture, every country, Jesus loves them all, died for them all, and has a place at his table for them all. I realize our government cannot love them all. But we should not vote without realizing that Jesus loves them all and came to bring them all life.

- Dan Nold, "Election Guide 2018"

Amen to this.  (And, if this thought resonated with you as well, I encourage you to visit Pastor Nold's blog post here.)

But This View Right Here is Beautiful

I walk across campus to the class where I'm scheduled to give a guest lecture, and my thoughts revolve around all the things I need to do.  Hands down, this has been the busiest week of the semester.  I haven't reached my daily quota of essays to grade for two straight days, I added another six presentations to evaluate from my morning classes, my husband is traveling for the weekend, and my kids have an ill-timed Friday off from school, which has prevented me from seizing even a spare moment that otherwise might have presented itself today.

I feel crunched.  It's like I'm in a tunnel, like I'm being pressed in from every direction.

But then I lift my head and actually look at my surroundings. 

It's beautiful.  Really, really beautiful.  Campuses were made for days like this, in fact.  And in the midst of all the busyness, I take one moment to appreciate the view.
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