tomatoes and timing

COVID made me a gardener. Well, not really, but since we were grounded from travel and spending more time at home, I have tried growing a few herbs and tomatoes on my back patio. In May, as part of my Mother’s Day gift, my family bought me some herbs for the planter box we are storing for my daughter.

All the herbs died. And the flowers.

So, we bought more.

And, those died too.

Bugs. Mold. Wilt. White fuzzy stuff under the leaves and on the stems.

Yuck and discouragement and frustration as I pulled out the dead plants over and over again. Even the between-the-herbs marigold plants died. I thought they grew anywhere.

I googled, and I sprayed natural remedies, and the herbs continued to die. The tomato plants survived, but they grew leaves and no fruit.

Social media posts showed me others celebrating huge baskets of fresh harvest.

I was ready to quit but decided to try one last time, asking the plant nursery expert for help. I took my dead plants back to the store. The kind lady looked at me sympathetically and my stack of plant ID tabs from all my dead plants and said, “Don’t buy any more plants right now. Wait a few weeks until it is cooler.”

So simple. Orlando’s sizzling summers are too hot for most herbs and tomatoes too. The Midwest growing season is not the same as in Florida. Waiting a few weeks changed EVERYTHING. My herbs are flourishing, and the tomato plants are bursting with soon-to-be-fruit yellow blossoms, and I have my first fledging sweet peppers growing on healthy plants!

TIMING made a huge difference.

I can’t help wondering how often timing affects other things I have attempted to do. When have I longed for something before its best season? How have I compared my efforts with others and anticipated the same results they had when they had them? How have I tried to “fix” something with a personal remedy that couldn’t overcome natural circumstances? When have I been impatient with a lack of growth and fruit in people’s lives? When have I been tempted to give up right before the situation was about to change and get better?

My little patio garden has been good for my soul during these past months – challenges, joys, lessons learned, even getting to enjoy fresh flavor additions to our meals. I’m glad I didn’t give up on those struggling plants.

In much the same way, I’m grateful God doesn’t give up on me. His guidance can prevent me from comparing my efforts with others, pushing too hard at the wrong time, or giving up too soon. I only need to ask.

Do you garden? What have you learned from your experience?

milestone birthday reflection

photo credit: Sofiya Levchenko on Unsplash

I celebrated my 60th a few weeks ago. I don’t feel a lot older, but I took full advantage and enjoyed the special festivities. My family all came together for a few days of getting away for island and everglades bike rides, beach relaxation, and dolphin-filled sunsets. Our time together has given me hundreds of photos and treasured memories.

I was also gifted a video collage summarizing encouraging, funny, and love-filled greetings sent by family and friends from all over the world and all my decades of life. I wept as I listened to the kind words and remembered the special moments when my life intersected with all those special people. I will re-watch that video many times.

The video prompted me to think about the years gone by and then to reflect on the last decade.

I’ve heard it said that we (way) overestimate what we can accomplish in a day
but (way) underestimate what we can accomplish in a year.

I think that phrase must be only more true when thinking about a decade. This year has been crazy, but it will likely not have the same intensity of impact when considered as part of the entire next decade.

I decided to take some time and reflect on the last decade. I looked through my calendar and photos, and wow, much has happened in my previous ten years. I made lists in my journal and drew out the more impact-filled events on a timeline to see a visual layout.

A sampling:

  • Completed MA in Global Leadership
  • Moved back to the US after almost 20 years living in Mexico
  • Grieved final goodbyes to all of our parents
  • Downsized and bought our “empty nester’s” townhome
  • Traveled to Canada, Chad, China, Israel, Kenya, Nigeria, Turkey, UK, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe
  • Ran 1/2 marathon
  • Gained and lost a son-in-law (divorce)
  • Wrote and spoke on Unhurried Living
  • Children graduated from college – moved closer and farther away
  • Began to live with less toxins and more sustainability
  • Purchased first smartphone, Vaio & Surface computers, Apple watch
  • Started a blog 🙂

There are lots of changes in that list – fun times, travel, accomplishments. Lots of pain, weariness, grieving. Somewhere in those ten years, I watched the movie “Inside Out” and learned the profound truth that joy and sadness sit at the same table. I am learning to be ok living in that reality.

Some of the experiences were mine; some were primarily others’ stories that affected mine. We don’t live in an isolated bubble. When we love and care deeply for others, their journeys weave interdependently into ours.

I have learned much in these years. I have new passions, new concerns, new ways of doing things. I am healthier and more involved in the well-being of the world around me.

I am not the same person I was ten years ago – not even close. My eyes are open to things I never wanted to know. My heart is tender to people I never considered before. I am broken in ways I never expected and also more resilient than I could have hoped or imagined. I am grateful for those changes, but I have paid a steep price for that growth.

I am more aware of my fragileness and the short time I have left on this earth. I am more intentional about how I spend my time and how I treat the people God brings across my path. I sense a genuine urgency to invest my energy and past experiences well – believing that tomorrow is not guaranteed – I only have today for sure – and I want to treasure that time.

Reflection has been good for my soul. It brings me gratitude and perspective and wisdom. I trust the scars and precious memories will guide my future choices and next steps. I know only too well that not everyone gets to celebrate this milestone, and I am very thankful for the years I’ve had.

What have you done to reflect and process a past year or decade?

doing battle with discouragement

Photo Credit: Michael Payne – Unsplash

Life has felt heavy. COVID. Politics. Racial divisions. Natural disasters.

I feel the weight of these many issues, and somedays I have to battle to find hope.

On a large scale, most of this is out of my control, hence the heaviness of it all. However, there are ways that I can engage and get involved in my small scope of the world. When these pressures add to the “blah” of my day or contribute to my “cloudy” brain, I try to focus less on what I cannot control and more on what I can.

I can control my attitude.

I can choose gratitude over grumpiness. I can practice curiosity over judgment. I can loosen demands to have things go my way and humbly accept what others might desire or need. I can listen to music that uplifts my soul. I can seek Jesus’ heart perspective for other people and circumstances and pray before responding. I can vulnerably ask others to pray for me. I can lean towards trust and hope instead of worry.

I can control my words.

I can talk less and listen intentionally. I can ask more questions and offer less advice. I can work less at convincing others of my viewpoint and willingly accept the complexity of differing opinions. I can take time to reflect and journal. I can speak with love and encouragement instead of argumentativeness. I can pause before I say or write something mean or sarcastic and refrain from adding negativity to a situation. I can complain and criticize less. I can ask for forgiveness when I am wrong and let go of grudges against those who have hurt me.

I can control my actions.

I can turn off social media and TV inputs that are combative, angry, and hate-filled. I can seek out education, new learning, and diverse perspectives instead. I can lift my head, make eye contact, and smile at the person near me. I can willingly go to places that are awkward and uncomfortable for me to understand life journeys that are not like mine. I can give generously to those causes I believe in and to those who have been hard hit. I can look for ways to volunteer and serve those who have needs.

As I was writing this post, I began to recognize how much I can do. I cannot change the whole world dynamic, but I can change my small corner. I cannot do all of this every day. It is a continual battle, and sometimes it feels like the dismay will win. But other days, I get to experience a bit of victory. The discouragement has less power in my life, and I sense that I am contributing a good, healthy, and positive influence where I can.

How do you fight off discouragement? How do you contribute in a healthy way?

loving our world

Blue Ridge Parkway

This morning I was writing out an “I am grateful for…” list, and God’s creation came first to my mind. This past weekend, I bought plants, re-potted others, rescued monarch caterpillars, and enjoyed walking our neighborhood. I credit my dad for gifting me with love for the outdoors and teaching me to respect our world, not litter, and pack out our trash. Spending time outside, especially away from the hustle-bustle of urban life, allows me to breathe deeply and feel at peace like no other place.

As I’ve gotten older and recognized how much I value this incredible world God provides for me, I have also become more committed to caring for this wonder. I have learned more about what destroys nature and, on the other hand, what it needs to thrive. My children have taught me a lot, and together, little by little, we have made numerous changes to our lifestyle.

A few of them:

  • Fewer chemicals/perfumes/additives in our cleaning supplies, food, and household items. Years ago, we began to substitute essential oils for perfumed candles, medicines, and cleaning supplies. We swap out for “cleaner” product options whenever we can. They’ve continually surprised us with how well they work for so many things, and we all now notice the difference in our health and sensitivity to toxic smells.
  • Recycling as much as possible. We try to avoid plastic as much as possible, but it is not easy to purchase quality items or food that doesn’t arrive in a ton of packaging. We recycle what we can through the city services, give away grocery bags to someone who creates sleeping mats for those who are homeless, and reuse other items whenever we can.
  • We like shopping thrift stores and second-hand and from companies that are careful with their ecology and people-care impact in their production. It takes some research to find alternatives, and responsible, sustainable practices often cost more, but over time we have accumulated a long list of favorite vendors that we like a lot.
  • Personal utensils and cups – We’ve been carrying reusable cups and bamboo silverware for a while now. It is sad for me to realize how many plastic forks/spoons or cups I regularly used and tossed before. We take refillable containers and cloth bags to the stores if we can (Sadly, COVID has made this more difficult for now).
  • Composting is a new thing for us. Recently we learned more about food waste and the damaging, gaseous impact food scraps have in our landfills. We joined a super-convenient, local service that picks up our food scraps and turns them into useful fertilizer for gardens instead.

I enjoy making my small contributions to caring for this world we share. It has been a step-by-step process, and I am always learning more. 

I’d love to hear from you. What kinds of things do you do to care for our world? 

grace. grace. and more grace.

Image credit: j-w-Ju-ITc1Cc0w-unsplash

This word keeps coming back to me. G R A C E.

If you look up the word in a dictionary, grace has a number of varied definitions. These are not the idea I have in mind.

  • Simple elegance or refinement of movement – “She moves with grace.”

  • The extended time given for a payment – “You have a one week grace period.”

  • A short prayer before or after a meal – “He said the grace.”

  • A formal title for a duke, duchess, or archbishop – “May I introduce Your Grace, the Archbishop.”

However, another definition of grace is “courteous goodwill” or “an attractively polite manner of behaving”. Followers of Jesus know grace as the free and undeserved favor we receive from God. We are encouraged to offer that favor to others also. 

This idea of goodwill and favor is what keeps showing up in my conversations.

I am continually aware of the desperate need
for grace, for myself and others.

FOR MYSELF

Despite my deep desire to forget that we are in the middle of a global pandemic, we are still there. It is still affecting many of our daily choices, opportunities, interactions, and thoughts, yet I often forget that I cannot hope to feel, act, and perform in the ways I did pre-COVID. I get upset with myself for any lack of energy, pervading discouragement, or items that I have not crossed off my to-do list.

That kind of negative self-view and even self-judgment or self-condemnation does nothing positive to help me. It only robs me of the little energy I have, increases my discouragement, and causes my to-do list to appear more unmanageable than before.

I want to treat myself with goodwill and favor.
Deserved or not, I need GRACE.

FOR OTHERS

Generally, we’ve become quite the certain-we-are-right, quick-to-judge-others, critical-of-anyone-different, angry, downright-cruel people these days. These negative attitudes and views of others are all too evident in every media platform available. I’ve experienced it in-person at stores and restaurants and from drivers on the streets.

I’ve also noticed it in my own heart. 

Before I take time to ask questions or get to know someone’s story, I judge their intentions and their actions. Before I know their background, their present or past struggles, their personality, values, or feelings, I offer my opinion, my excuses, my fury, and my criticism.

Those reactions are not helpful to others. They rarely need my ideas; they already know the right things to do. They do not want my excuses; they’d prefer my humble apology and willingness to listen. They certainly do not desire my anger or my critique. They need compassion and love.

I want to treat others with goodwill and favor.
Deserved or not, they need GRACE.

What will help me behave politely and kindly to myself? Grace.

What encourages me to treat others in a way that is attractive to them? Grace.

When do you most need to give yourself favor? What helps you offer goodwill to others?

raising monarchs, rising hope

Life hasn’t been easy these past days, months, year.

Much of my routine, lifestyle, and plans have turned upside down. Fears and discouragement invaded my emotional space uninvited. Working from home became the new normal.

Thankfully, after we made it through the awkward adjustments, working from home brought some positive changes to my life. The lack of commute provided more opportunities to exercise, enjoy the outdoors, and pick up a few new hobbies.

Growing and savoring herbs from my patio garden and raising monarch butterflies have brought needed refreshment to my soul.

I received life-nurturing energy from learning, experiencing something new with others, contributing to the health of our world, helping to bring about new life, and being overwhelmed by the awe of God’s creation that I could not begin to comprehend.

No matter the trials, pain, sadness, divisions, and challenges of our world today, there is also goodness, joy, and hope. There is much we can do and change, in ourselves first, and then in the world around us.

Although I cannot control all the bad and the ugly in our world,
neither do I control the good.

I am a participant in this crazy world. I do what I can, what I am called to do each day. I pray. But, it doesn’t all depend on me. Ultimately, I trust and I rest in the One is who greater than I am.

Hoping this incredible natural beauty brings you hope and peace today.

What has brought you energy and life during these crazy times?

afraid of failure?

These crazy days have required all of us to adapt in more ways than we ever imagined. We are changing the ways we work, study, shop, travel, play, and interact with each other. However, when we attempt something in a new way, we often feel incompetent, inadequate, and a fear of failure due to our lack of experience.

I don’t like to fail.

At work, we talk a lot about establishing a culture where people feel free to fail. We want people to feel free to innovate and create and attempt things they have never tried before. Disappointingly, despite the desire and communications, we struggle to develop that kind of culture. As I’ve thought about this, I’ve decided that I cannot blame the organization or the leaders for the lack of freedom to fail.  

Failure carries a lot of negative weight.

A quick google search connects the word failure to others like mistakes, quitter, and lack of persistence, conviction, or discipline. Failure is also associated with a lack of thorough planning, fully thinking-it-through, or enough hard work.

With those negative implications, failure will never look appealing or acceptable. No matter how much freedom someone offers me, I do not want to fail.

On the other hand, I can iterate. I can attempt something, evaluate how it went, make corrections or adjustments, and then try again. That is not the same as failure. 

To iterate is simply to repeat. Iterative design involves three steps: formulate, test, evaluate. An iterative process gets closer to the desired result by repeating the effort with necessary improvements. And typically, the more iterations, the better the eventual outcome.

Iteration is positive, progressive, and steps toward the goal. 

Now when I think about trying something new, I think of it as an iteration. There is no pressure or expectation for getting it perfect the first time; it’s a first pass, an experiment. I anticipate evaluating, getting feedback, making changes, and improving the process. That feels like freedom. 

Words are powerful. Maybe changing our message from “free to fail” to “free to iterate” will lighten the load for some people. It might take away the fear of stepping up, leaning in, speaking out, creating, trying something. It could foster new ideas and unheard-of-before ways of doing things that provide answers to our challenges.

If not, I’m willing to iterate and try something else. 

How do you encourage innovation? What frees you to try new things?

 

don’t waste the crisis

trash pawel-czerwinski-RkIsyD_AVvc-unsplash (2)

Photo credit: Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash

It is inevitable. No way to escape it. No place to get away from it all. We are living through a world and life-changing global pandemic, the likes of which we have never seen before.

So, what do we do now?

I’ve spent a lot of time – inside – considering and how to avoid the virus. I’ve practiced healthy habits to survive the shutdown changes and emotional cost of the pandemic.

Recently, I’ve wanted more. Instead of thinking about what has been so awful and limiting about living through these crazy times, on those rare days when I have a little bit of extra emotional energy, I want to focus on the positive.

What has been positive about this global crisis?

What new things have I learned about myself and my relationships that I don’t want to forget or I don’t want to lose?

  • Self-awareness is power. I know better how I react under fear and limitations. I know my triggers and what to do when discouragement or hopelessness shows up. This new knowledge is gold. Well, not as pretty as gold, but precious all the same.
  • Relationships that have endured through trials are more transparent, honest, and empathetic. I’ve had more profound and real conversations with people about our impact on each other and how to compromise to make unexpected circumstances work for us. I can ask for help (on a rare occasion). These interactions reflect growth for me and are worth celebrating.
  • My concern for others has increased. I have taken more initiative with neighbors to ask how they are and if they need anything. This is easier because we are all at home and outside more often. I’ve made more phone calls, sent more notes, prayed more. I do not want to lose this.

What have I learned about my work style?

  • Life-giving work gives me purpose. Younger generations get a bad rap for caring more about the meaning and contribution of a job than the earning power or status. I think I am more like that than I realized. Mostly, I have liked working from home. I enjoy the freedom of not dressing up and no commute. I can still get work done that matters, sometimes more. I am wondering how these truths can factor into my future work.
  • I like learning. Zoom. Innovative strategies. New options for in-person traditions. Pivots to thinking, doing, structures, procedures. We CAN change and sometimes much faster than we thought. When we return to normal(?), I don’t want to lose my openness to trying something new.

What new positive habits have I incorporated as part of my life patterns?

  • More exercise and sleep. My phone and watch trend data say I have slept more hours on average compared to last year. My walking miles are also up. No commute has given me a bit more margin. How can I keep this up as the days go on?
  • I’ve discovered some new hobbies. Not only has my reading increased, but we play more games as a family. I’m growing a few scraggly herbs on my back patio and inviting monarch butterflies to my flowering milkweed in a small grassy patch in the front. Somehow the weight and drain of the pandemic made refreshing activities essential rather than optional. I think they’ve always been essential. I just wasn’t aware like I am now.
  • We spend less on non-essentials. We eat better and healthier at home (except for the occasional junk-comfort foods). We buy online from a curated list of needed items rather than window shopping or impulse buying as we wander leisurely through a store. We have more money to invest in worthy causes, needs, issues, and people.

I didn’t think about this list before I started, and I now know I could continue writing for much longer than you would want to read. I’m encouraged by that. I’ll stop now and let you consider your “I don’t want to waste” list.

What have you found positive in this crisis that you don’t want to waste?

wading through weariness

turtle joshua-j-cotten-noUFOAxHOq4-unsplash

Image Credit: Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

I took a wonderful vacation week with my family. We spent most of the time outdoors in the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. The minimal phone and internet contact refreshed my soul.

When I came home, I was grumpy for days. At first, I couldn’t figure out why when the time away had been so restful. Then I recognized reality had hit me hard as soon as I walked back in the door.

Illness and lonely deaths. Financial struggles. Storms and disasters. Injustice and hatred. Uncertainties. Limitations.

Anger. Discouragement. Fear. Desperation. Depression. The emotions wear me down.

So, I went back to thinking about perseverance, resilience, how to survive thrive in these crazy times. I went back – again – to some of the basics and am attempting to live them out. Maybe they will help you too.

  • TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
    Eat healthy foods. Drink plenty of water. Exercise. Sleep enough. 
    I know. I know. We get tired of hearing this, but these elements are proven powerful for our well-being. It is a constant battle, but anything we can do to strengthen these habits will help us get through the hard times. It’s true.
  • ACCEPT THE NEGATIVE EMOTIONS
    We are living through a never-before, stress-filled event that impacts every area of our lives. There are no quick cures and no easy answers. Recognize the emotions stirred up are real and valid and unpredictable and continuous. They WILL accompany us. There is no reason to layer self-criticism, shame, or condemnation on top of what is already a heavy burden.

Whatever amount of acceptance for human messiness (impatience, blahs, lack of productivity, weight gain) you have given yourself – it is not enough! ~ Juliet Funt


  • SHARE HONESTLY 
    Safe and trusted friends and family can be an essential source of comfort, encouragement, and motivation when we can’t come up with those ourselves. It takes humility and courage to admit that we aren’t doing well and need help, but I have received enthusiastic, willing, even grateful-for-being-asked responses. Don’t isolate or hide your problems. We need each other.
  • PRAY AND JOURNAL
    I’ve learned to start each day with my hands open and a simple prayer asking God to show me what He wants me to do that day. I’m not great at it, but journaling (thoughts, day’s happenings, gratefulness) also has a way of giving me perspective and purpose in dreary days.
  • TAKE TIME FOR THINGS YOU LOVE
    For me, this means getting outdoors – getting glimpses of God’s unique animal and plant creations near our home. I’ve also taken up small-space gardening – herbs, tomatoes, and butterfly-attracting flowers. It does not have to cost a lot of money or take a lot of time. Small amounts of joy give energy to combat weariness.
  • LEAVE SOME SPACE
    As we go along, we learn how this new normal is affecting us. Back-to-back Zoom meetings are exhausting – we need less screen time, breaks between sessions, and Zoom-free days. Remember, we cannot do all things. Each “yes” to one thing is a “no” to something else. Say “yes” and “no” thoughtfully and intentionally.

I know the pandemic and its effects are dragging on longer than we anticipated. The weariness of the continual stressors drags us down. I write this for myself and with a hopeful prayer that it will give you lift for the days ahead.

If you feel comfortable, please let me know in the comments how you are doing. And if you have another helpful reminder for us, please share that too. 

the three-quarter principle

4 drinks

Images: Alice Pasqual, Carolyn V, Mazniha Mohd Ali, Jack Carter – Unsplash

I come from a family of five children. I’ve served in people-focused work for most of my life. It didn’t take me long to figure out that other people are very different from me.

I’m not proud to admit that for a lot of those years, the varied preferences, opinions, and ways of doing things often caused me frustration, irritation, impatience, and at times, a critical demand that others yielded to what I wanted.

In college, I was exposed to my first personality assessment and began to grow in my self-awareness. Later, as part of my job and my work in leadership development, I have used a lot of those tools. I have gained further insights into my personality, my learning and work styles, and some of my core motivations. And I’ve learned about others also.

Not everyone is just like me.

Some assessments are quite complex and differentiate a multitude of variations with subtle and scaled distinctions. The most simplistic assessments usually group people into four quadrants.

From those assessments, my eyes opened to the fact that, across that four-quadrant diagonal, some individuals would strongly desire or appreciate ways of doing things that were the complete opposite of my values and perspective. 

In a simple four-quadrant model,
my preferences only occupy one-fourth of the possibilities.

In other words, when I get to do things my way, three-fourths of the other people in the room are likely giving up their preferred option. 

This realization has helped me to consider life through a new filter. Instead of entering a situation and hoping that I enjoy everything about the experience, I am learning to be satisfied if I enjoy twenty-five percent. I now recognize that the other seventy-five percent of the experience – that would not have been my preference – has been quite enjoyable for the other people there.

This consideration has changed the way I think about almost everything. I do not want my selfishness to rob others of their opportunity for satisfaction. When I enter a life or work setting, I try to remember that it is not all about me. When I humbly desire that other participants feel comfortable and enjoy their experience also, then my twenty-five percent satisfaction rate becomes less a complaint and more a success.

Today, I say that if I like the majority of what is happening around me, then I am missing out – missing out on the richness of voices and ideas and options that complement and challenge mine. I am missing out on creative, relevant, and necessary thoughts, timings, and styles that I would not discover by myself. I miss out on the full beautify and uniqueness of God’s wisdom and design.

I am so much less without the other seventy-five percent. I am not willing to miss out on that richness, even if it means a bit of discomfort for me.

What helps you welcome diversity in your life?