Category Archives: Questions

Randomness and Coping Skills

Today was an odd day for a missionary; it was a standard day for a housewife. I have to admit, I am stumbling over how to understand who I am and what I am here for – pretty deep questions! I know, intellectually, that I am here to support Eric as he learns a language and as he becomes a full-time lecturer, and as he ministers through teaching theology at the Seminary and in workshops throughout Sabah and Malaysia (and perhaps beyond that as well). When I was a pastor, I emphasized that every profession is a way to minister to others. Every job can be a vocation – a holy calling. Since we used to live in a town with a lot of housewives, I was very clear that that role is a precious one. That even if it is a luxury afforded to few, it is a way to make a difference in the family, in the community, and by extension, in the world.

Now that I’m a housewife, and I spent my day leading the PTA Walkathon (a huge event), getting hot lunch for my kids (a special treat), and taking them to a playground and then a birthday party – I have to admit, I look at my day and think, “ministry?” But I don’t want to shoot myself down, so I do my best with today, and tonight I will pray for wisdom and perspective, and I will trust that God will direct and provide and give some hints to that deepest of questions, “Why am I here?”

And, because being a homemaker is an essential calling, I’ll share two tidbit images that might support others in their callings to care for families.

#1: a cleaning schedule, from Flylady.net. Do not do all of these in one assigned day. But some Wednesdays (for example), do schedule in 15 minutes to try one of these tasks, and as you do that 2-3 times a week, you will find your house becoming a more welcoming place (and your soul a little less stressed, if you value having a home that has at least a few flat surfaces not piled with “stuff”).

And #2: from the “is that really happening?” file… At the birthday party today, it was a pool party, but it turn out here that just a pool isn’t enough… you have to have some of these:

yes… it’s clown cars. Two cars pulled up, driven by clowns in full get-up (how do they drive in those shoes????). They made hundreds of balloon animals and then had a magic show which produced a live bunny. The Korean mum hosting the party was horrified, as she had to keep the bunny in a box for the rest of the little show, and she clearly did not want to be near this rodent. (My mom brought a live snake to my school as a kid, so my boundaries for animals are a little more wide open!)

I thought it ironic that they didn’t arrive together – I mean, Malaysia is famous for its small cars, so why not at least put two clowns together in one? Instead they arrived separately in the slightly larger Myvi’s (pronounced “my vee” as in my vehicle). In this picture the mum is insisting that they take the bunny in the green box back NOW.

And here is a picture of me with the clown …. They apparently aren’t considered scary here. But notice that the clown seems to have made a machine gun out of balloons? Maybe clowns are, indeed, creepy. Maybe Malaysia just needs a few more cheesy horror films in order to realize this.

At any rate, my day is done. I am going to sleep and pray heartily, and tomorrow I am going to learn to make porridge with a friend from the seminary. If I am to be a homemaker, I am going to do it with friends who can cook!

Day 20 of 20 *Questions*: Really truly: Is this what I want to be doing?

Wow, day 20.  My last day with this series, and I have alternated between internal whining (ugh, another day already?  Waaaah) and really REALLY enjoying the process of writing – and of writing *on a schedule*.   And to have gotten to communicate with people who are all engaging their powers of thinking-feeling-doing…  this has been a great adventure, and I am so glad to have taken it on.  Really truly, it turns out, this is what I’ve been both wanting and needing to do.

In the time of writing this, I have also begun an essay on mountains in Scripture – a research project, a creative writing venture, and probably my first time being published.  This writing gave me a foundation for writing that essay – the schedule, the time thinking before writing, the considering of the audience.  And essay-writing is preparation for what I’ve been wanting to do for almost two years – work on writing a book I outlined almost exactly two years ago.  It will involve a lot of research (in the field of NLP psychology – neuro-linguistic programming) as well as a great deal of creativity (which is both creative energy, and actual creative output, yes, on a schedule).  In these 20+ days, I’ve moved closer to becoming a writer – a whole new identity and set of practices for me.  Yes, this is what I want to be doing.

So, for you, scroll back through these 20 questions and see which ring truest in your life – which ones did you need to ask yourself the most?  Which ones will you keep asking yourself?  Which ones helped you articulate some of the things you assume about life?  Which ones could you write an essay on?

Because this has been an effort in integration and in communication, I would love it if you could post below which question gave you greatest pause, or which question you still think should be added to the list?  I’ll post the list below, or you can scroll back through the fb posts here.

May you be blessed by the questions, and may answers not come too easily.

Day 19 of 20 *Questions*: Are my thoughts hurting or healing?

Thoughts are important.  They can also feel as though they are beyond our control.  It’s hard, after all, to “make” yourself think something.  Thoughts also get bundled closely together with our feelings, so that the two become indistinguishable, especially in the heat of the moment (or as we re-live encounters when we can’t get to sleep….)

As I’ve learned to deal with the competing needs that happen in a relationships (family, household, or other), one of the things we’ve been practicing, in our goal of “slowing things down” (the Second Commandment for our family) is asking, “What was the thought before the feeling?”

With kids, when conflict arises, from whining to slugging, it does no good to ask what started the fight – that just starts a cycle of blame, and puts peace and solutions farther out of reach.  That probably describes how many adults approach a problem – by seeking blame/self-righteousness (win/lose), and by making peace less of an option.

Another option, in the midst of conflict, is to let people speak their feelings (without the words “he made me…”) AND then to ponder, what was the thought before that feeling?  Often the thought assumes blame so subtly that when the feeling is blame-centered, it feels like it came out of nowhere.  For instance, when I try to read with Dante, if he comes across a difficult word he immediately demands that I read it; if I suggest he try, then he shuts down and refuses to speak or read.  When I ask him for his feeling, it’s often anger at me, and sometimes that makes* me angry too. (remember how we’re not supposed to blame right away? Look what I just did… “that makes me mad”…)

But if I can hear his feelings and hold them carefully, we have time to ask, “What was the thought before the feeling?”  And then Dante can be honest, that he thinks I won’t help him when he really needs it.  A-ha.  He thought something that he didn’t have time to say, or that he was afraid of saying, and it got plowed into his feelings.  As Dante once explained, “The moment went by so quick!”

And that’s true for us as adults, too.  When we have a thought that we don’t know what to do with, we may think we’re burying it or hiding it, but in just a moment that thought wraps itself into a feeling, and we are left wondering why we reacted so strongly.

I think that we often do this with the people we love most, and we do it with God too.  Despite their past love and all of the reasons we have to trust them with our thoughts & feelings, yet when a moment arises, we think the worst of them – then hide that thought – then cry out because we feel unloved.

The question for today is “are my thoughts hurting or healing?”  When your feelings are hurting, especially when things feel out of control, see if you can ask yourself, “what was the thought before the feeling?”  Naming the thought lets you deal with the root of the feeling so that you can heal in body, mind, and spirit.  I saw the relief in Dante’s face when he could address the thought, and it helped he and I to heal our relationship from that point onward.  Today’s question gives us the opportunity to look at our thoughts courageously.

A = thinking
B = feeling
C = doing
Where are you most comfortable?
In general, the closer to the center of the diagram,
the healthier a person is (physically, mentally, & emotionally)

Day 18 of 20 *Questions*: So say I lived in that fabulous house in Tuscany, with untold wealth, a gorgeous, adoring mate, and a full staff of servants… then what?

So… now what?  The biggest discovery is: I’m still me.  The things that really challenged me over the past few years?  Still here.  Still a part of both my world and my core identity.  I still want to eat less sugar and get better abs; I still want to snap at my kids less; I still create arguments over little things; it still takes me 20 minutes to get out the door once I’ve got my keys in hand.

Now, living in paradise makes it easier to accept all of those things.  Living the dream life is great, and I really encourage you to write down your top 10 dreams, and see which ones call to you the loudest, and see what concrete things you can do for 10 minutes most days to reach out towards those dreams.  But don’t pretend that your dream life will make you any less yourself.  You have to love yourself, who you are, right now, because otherwise getting closer to your dreams won’t bring you joy or pleasure.  Start with loving the you that came up with big dreams, and then give that You what s/he needs to come alive.  That way, if the dreams don’t pan out, you will still have lived those days/months/years in love rather than in lusting after something that didn’t turn out to be yours.

I am definitely still me.  And I think, that is a blessing – that in meeting up with my dreams, I didn’t lose myself.

"Sand

Day 17 of 20 *Questions*: Where should I break the rules?

I live with a 7-year-old boy who loves rules.  It’s a portrait of both the age (7-year-olds tend to be perfectionists, and they’re processing their world by noticing patterns, which are a type of rule) … as well as him being first-born, who tend to be more likely to stick to the rules (many second-born kids are rebels – certainly our Caedmon is, and many friends have the same “adventures” with their second-borns).  I find myself daily creating some rules while explaining why I break others.  I also have to restrain Dante from creating rules about every little thing, because I can’t keep track and I don’t want to seem to promise to follow the rules he deems essential (like getting a serving of sweet drink every day!)

Sometimes, I love seeing how he follows rules.  Especially when it comes to holding hands in parking lots and taking a “thank-you bite” of each food on his plate.

too many rules
…paralyzing…

But sometimes the rules are exhausting.  He can come up with so many rules, about so many different facets of life.  It makes me wonder whether he is imitating Eric and I… a scary thought, but probably a fair portrayal of how adults seem to come up with rules when and where it suits them.  Even the rules of the English language are exhausting to a kid just learning how to say verbs right or spell anything at all.

And all those rules take a toll on one’s spirit.  We’re constantly checking how we measure up, against how others are doing, or against how we think we ought to be, and we are doing those comparisons with a limited amount of energy and love.  We can weary ourselves.

This is where life as a Christian is both my firm ground and my life-buoy.  I know that there is Someone who will love me despite my failings, fallings, and confusion.  And looking at that love, I see others around me who reflect that love.  That in turn re-energizes me to try, to listen, to grow, to ask hard questions, and to boldly step forward knowing that I’m not going to get it all right.  As a Lutheran Christian, we talk about “sinning boldly” – continuing to do things imperfectly rather than be paralyzed by heartless rules.

I think I said in one of the prior posts, “Don’t cry over anything that can’t cry over you.”  Rules won’t cry over us.  They won’t stand by us.  But our Creator does stand by us, and I believe that God sent Jesus as proof positive that God accepts humans as we are – broken and needing healing, lost and needing hope, and at times looking down on others for breaking rules that we ourselves aren’t following.  Not that God gives us free reign to become heartless – but that Jesus walked with people, coaching them on how to live vibrantly and boldly in a world of rules.

What are the core rules that you would stand for?  What rules have you broken so that love can increase?  What rules do you wish the world could courageously break?

Day 16 of 20 *Questions*: How can I keep myself absolutely safe?

I can’t (and of course, part of the answer there is “duh!”)  Let today’s question count, though, as a full category of Continuum Questions.  CQ’s, as we’ll call them, are questions that let us acknowledge that everything we do is far from absolute.  Everything falls on a continuum.

Take the safety question.  I was asking a mom here if we could carpool, and she asked if I had a carseat for each boy.  Well, we were told not to bother bringing carseats, and it’s true that they are used mostly by foreigners.  When I said, “nope, we don’t have carseats, we just use seatbelts.”  Her face fell.  It looked like, by her reaction, I was about as safe as the many parents here who let little kids ride in the front seat, unbuckled, with the window down and their head peering out.  Like there was no continuum – it was either extreme high-end safety, or nothing.  There was no step-down, no in-between.

I encountered the same thing while pregnant.  I wanted a doctor who wanted to avoid c-sections (in NJ the c-section rate was between 37-45% – the World Health Organization says anything over 15% is excessive and increases risks).  But to the OB I first saw, everything was a crisis, and she said to me, “If I see any sign of distress, or if labor slows too much, you *will* have a c-section.   Don’t you want the best for your baby?”  Again, an absolute – as though if I want to consider options, I don’t love my baby.  Honestly.

I talked before about target markets, and the developed world is a target market for FEAR!  Anything that seems dangerous is worth spending infinite amounts on.  There are no acceptable risks.  I think that to those in 2/3 nations, where really bad things happen all the time (how many families have lost someone to starvation or malaria, totally preventable deaths, just while I wrote this article?) – people face their fear in a different way.  Instead of being paralyzed, they try to get their kids to school, try to make a difference for their future – they try to inch over on their safety continuum.  They don’t pretend that life is all-or-nothing; they do their best with what they can.

This question is meant to free us from the paralysis that comes from demanding total safety.  And as a CQ, it invites us to look at other continuums in life – of health, of greatness, of learning, of hospitality, of so many things.  If you demand the tip-top of everything, you’ll exhaust yourself.  Accept that you’re on a continuum, and that what you do matters, but you’ll never get to the absolute.   That means that the world can still surprise you.  And that is the beginning of a whole other conversation… (the surprises of grace and mercy and hope and love.)

Day 15 of 20 *Questions*: Where could I work more and achieve less?

Shoot.  I actually mis-typed that.  But it’s all good.  We gotta roll with these things.

I read a suggestion that to learn better time-management, a first step is to have a day where you work at 60% of your potential.

Let that sink in for a moment.  60%.

I love it.

And why?  Because when we try to work at 110% every day, we lose track of what we’re doing right.  We’re too busy doing it all.  When we work at 110%, sure, everything might get done, but most likely priorities were not lived out, processes were not tended well for completing those tasks in the future, and the people most pleased are probably not the people in your life who most matter.  Working at 110% means we probably haven’t made the hard choices.  For me, when I have a reasoned list of top priorities and I’ve done them well enough, I give myself a 15-minute break.  It’s a reward, sure, but the effect is also that I catch my breath and can decide what direction I want/need to go in next.  Maybe it’s returning to the things done “well enough” to make them better; maybe it’s something new that came up during the day; maybe it’s going back to my to-do list to pick out one more thing that will really ice the cake for a productive day.

Working at 60% for a day would probably be hard for most of us.  We have jobs that matter, whether they matter because of their concrete impact or because they bring home a paycheck.  But the theory behind this is sound: one day at 60% will teach us that we won’t die if we do less than the 110% that’s killing us.  It’ll also teach us to choose priorities – we know that some % of what we do is fluff/padding/not essential/not urgent, but we usually don’t know how much.  So see what makes the cut in doing 60%.  Also, doing the 60% lets you look around, see what might really help your workplace but nobody has time to notice.  Maybe it’ll help you answer the original question for today:  “Where could I work less and achieve more?”

And under all of it, I bet if you have a day at 60%, you’ll have a hard time restraining yourself to do just that much, and you will give yourself credit for how much you are already doing and how hard you work.

The question is, do you tell your boss or co-workers that “today is 60% day for me”?  I’ll leave that answer up to you!!!

Day 14 of 20 *Questions*: What do I love to practice?

This question is another goodie.  If you answer it, you thereby admit to probably “should be doing more of it.”  For me, I’m teaching Dante guitar so we’re practicing together (he’s just building up his fingertip calluses), trying to run more than 15 minutes without wanting a walking break, and this blog series is practice daily writing.  And of course I try to practice my faith – mostly in prayer and listening to Christian music – which doubles as language practice when I listen to music in Bahasa Malaysia.

When Dante and I are feeling down, or just antsy, or frustrated, we each have a go-to list entitled “Things that I feel better after doing.”  We made the list when we were in a *good* mood.  And you know, the hardest thing when we’re down is mustering the strength to just look at the list.  Because we know if we look at it we will find things we want to do, and we won’t be down anymore, and we don’t think we have the energy for that.  It’s nonsensical, but very real.

Practicing is hard.  It means commitment, focus, energy, time management, and knowledge of self.  Practicing is really hard.  But this question reminds us that we are often doing what we love.  It takes the sting or the delay out of starting what we’re practicing.

It is said that in our world, where many people work at jobs that don’t create a finished project, we need to do something each day with a tangible outcome.  Woodworking, sketching, and cooking are options.  I also include things that are tangible if not lasting – giving a massage, playing an instrument, having a 30-second dance party.  Whatever lets you create something wonderful without demanding that that thing be perfect.  Find something that you love to practice, and know what you will feel better after doing.  Those are your “start” buttons.

Day 13 of 20 *Questions*: Am I the only one struggling not to [fart] during [yoga]?

Wow, this question is so perfectly worded, I can’t think of anything to put in the brackets.  Though the best part of the question, to my mind, is the first 5 words:  Am I the only one … ?

And the answer is, no, you’re not the only one.  In a world of nearly 7 billion people, you’re probably not as bizarre or – what’s the word here – well, you’re not the target market, and you notice that you’re different, and that doesn’t usually make life easy or pleasant.  Being lonely is really an awful feeling.  This question might free you from feeling so isolated when you don’t fit.

We used to say “you’re one in a million.”  A friend once replied, “wow, there are 8 of you in New York City!”  Being one in a million makes a person far less of a star – or a freak.  In our world, as connected as we are, people can generally find a place where they feel they “fit.”  Eric and I joke about how delighted we are when we find that we’re someone’s target audience – like we finally exist to someone who has power for setting trends, creating products, or building communities.

I know that being the target audience isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but sometimes it’s just nice to know you’re real and that you count.  Like the person who posed the question above – real people fart during yoga – as a mom I used yoga to *help* my baby pass gas! You’re supposed to release that particular pressure… but we put pressure to be people who are somehow “above” it all.  The more pressure we put on ourselves, the more alone we feel.

So – listen, you are an amazing person.  You can keep improving, you can always do “more” – but check in with questions like this one.  Are you trying to be something perfect, non-human, or just not you?  Let it go.  You are real.  You were created by love, for love.  If you’re wishing to be a target audience, congrats – you’re one in a million! There are 7,000 of you in the world.  You are not alone, but you probably are distinctive in ways that can change your community (however you define that).  Stop trying to not be real.  Real may be the best thing you can be.

Day 12 of 20 *Questions*: What potential memories am I bartering, and is the profit worth the price?

Ah, this is the question that, in part, led us to serving as missionaries in Malaysia.  We were just fine where we were – a beautiful congregation that we co-led as pastors, hopes of Eric finding adjunct teaching in the tri-state area, kids in a great school, financial stability, and a great Y and public library.  It was the American dream.  (Yes, our garden even had a picket fence.) 

But as happy as we were, it still wasn’t *our* dream.  Our dream has always been to serve abroad.  For Eric’s Ph.D program we tried to move to South Africa, because we felt this strong pull to moving outside of America.  Nothing against America – but I know that I’ve always wanted to see how others outside of America experience life, and to see their perspectives on the life I’ve assumed as “normal.”  But South Africa didn’t work out (in part because I was pregnant, and my mother put her foot down that “my grandbabies WILL be born in an American hospital” … and there are times when you don’t mess with a fierce Mama Bear.)  Our plans would have to wait, and we mostly thought they were gone, and that was okay.

Until this opportunity in Malaysia opened up.  This time we had Mom’s permission!  (Thanks mostly to Skype and Air Asia.)

In coming here, we had to ask ourselves about our potential memories.  We were giving up Little League and youth group pizza nights and a house that we had named.  (Blueberry Cottage, if you’re asking.)  We were giving up a place where dogs are vaccinated for rabies and vehicle emissions are controlled – those certainly help toward creating memories, though they’re often unnoticed.  We were bartering those memories in order to come here  – and we were certainly deciding a lot for our kids without their voice or consent.

Hospitality!

Hospitality!

But under it all, we decided that the biggest and defining memory for our kids would be them watching us follow our passion.  That hope goes for all who had to grieve at our leaving – our family, friends, congregation and colleagues, and even our kids’ friends.  We bartered their memories as well, and that is no small thing.  But I fervently hope that people who have lost track of those specific dreams might have a door or window opened by knowing that people can indeed follow their passion – whatever that passion may be for them.

This question asks us to balance our todays and our tomorrows, as well as the things that give us satisfaction now versus what we will look back on someday.  This question reminds us that we are always defining our future and that we have a say in what not only our future will be, but the future of those tied to us.  It reminds us that we are always negotiating, always finding our way.  This question reduces our complacency, and replaces it with verve.