I’m late getting this post out because I spent my writing time having a firm conversation with my soon-to-be 12 year-old son. It was a conversation that almost all parents have at some point. I’ll call it the “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” talk. Often how we say things makes a greater impression than the words and points themselves. By the time we reach adulthood, we tend to be well aware of this fact. We may actively try to monitor things like tone, body language and facial expressions in hopes that our communications will be received more favorably. This is critically important because it’s almost impossible to serve others if we aren’t able to connect and communicate well.
I was passionate about explaining this to my son. I pointed out the visual cues that revealed his mixed emotions. And I explained how those visual cues created more hostility in me than his words alone warranted. But I’ve been thinking about it more since then and in hindsight I think I missed an opportunity to teach him something additional. Correcting his tone or body language is important when showing respect, but it can also lead to suppressing the truth. Covering things up will make his conversations more palatable, but true emotions have a way of being felt and known even if not fully observed or expressed.
When I revisit this talk with him again, I’m going to do a better job of pointing out that he should also try to identify and deal with how he feels. Because directly dealing with his feelings will actually help him manage them better. It will also allow for a more open and honest exchange. I’m going to encourage him to examine his emotions and intentions even if it’s still appropriate to display them more calmly. I need him to know that tone and deliver definitely matter. But if the relationship matters – the truth about how he’s feeling matters too. So I want him to have some tools to identify his feelings because sometimes he won’t even be sure what they are.
Feelings that speak loudly
So these are the 10 questions I’m going to encourage him to ask himself. The truth behind any of these answers is often hard to hide. I’m sure he won’t remember them all but I hope he’ll try one or two. They should help him come to a conversation knowing what he’s feeling and if he’s being genuine or not.
- Am I angry with this person?
- Has this person hurt my feelings?
- Do I like this person?
- Do I trust this person?
- Have I tried to see their point of view?
- Do they remind me of anyone that may have hurt me in the past?
- Does this situation remind me of anything that’s happened before?
- Am I open to changing my mind?
- Am I willing to hurt this relationship to make my point?
- What is the outcome I’m hoping for?
What is missing from this list?
“Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.”
The word for this month is “graduating”. A graduation happens anytime you end something so you can make space for something even better. Endings are powerful because they allow us an opportunity to shape our lives in a new direction. Though rarely convenient and often difficult, they give us a chance to choose a different path. They can also limit distractions that are keeping us stuck in one place. So if you’re in the mood to shake things up a bit, consider these 10 people or places worth graduating from.
- Graduate from places that consistently drain your energy. You’ll need stamina to serve.
- Graduate from people that make you doubt yourself. You’ll need confidence to serve.
- Graduate from places that breed fear in you. You’ll need courage to serve.
- Graduate from people that are making you resentful. You’ll need forgiveness to serve.
- Graduate from places that aren’t challenging you to be better. You’ll need to keep growing as you serve.
- Graduate from people that are making you boastful. You’ll need humility to serve.
- Graduate from places that are isolating you from diverse experiences. You’ll need understanding to serve.
- Graduate from people that are making you callous or indifferent to others. You’ll need compassion to serve.
- Graduate from places that give you a negative outlook on life. You’ll need a hopeful spirit to serve.
- Graduate from people that make you doubt your faith. You’ll end up believing in miracles when you serve.
What are you graduating from? And why?
“The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.”
― Robert Frost
Every now and then, I take one of those “real age” online quizzes. If you’ve never taken one they usually consist of a number of lifestyle questions (how often do you drink, smoke, workout, etc.) to determine how old you actually are. By “how old” it means how much wear and tear you’ve put in on your body already.
What I wish these tests would also do is tell us “how young” we are. I’d like some context that highlights our relative youth that we won’t have in 5, 10, 20, or 30 years. No matter how old you are, you are still the younger version of who you will be next year. And I want that context to help us celebrate today’s bodies. These are the vessels that will allow us to make a difference in the lives of others.
The Young List
So here is an exercise that I decided to try. Below is my version of the things that remind me just how young I am today, but your things may be different. They say youth is wasted on the young because we can’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone. But does it have to be that way?
- Take a moment to notice your knees. Do you feel intense pain in your knees just from simply standing or walking? If not, appreciate your knees and celebrate your youth.
- Now take a moment to notice your next inhale and exhale. Was it labored? Did you fear it might not come easily? If not, appreciate your lungs and celebrate your youth.
- “Wow. Look at how easy my hips move. They walk across the room without any pain!” Is this true for you? If so, appreciate your hips and celebrate your youth.
- Imagine you’re 90 years old and looking at a picture of yourself that was taken today. Would you use the word “young” to describe yourself? If so, appreciate today’s face and celebrate your youth.
By now you have the basic idea. No matter what signs of aging you might be experiencing there are still things that make you blessed to be the incredibly young version of yourself that you are today.
What would your list include?
“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”
Once a month I add 10 more quick service ideas to the list below. We are now up to 40 in total. Several of these ideas came from your suggestions which I sincerely appreciate. Each new idea serves this site, but also has the potential to serve many more. That’s what’s so great about service – each act starts with you, but you never know where it will end.
40 ways to serve in 4 minutes or less
- Admit you’re biased. We all are. Facing that we have biases (racial, class, religion, etc) helps us to better address our issues and to serve more sincerely.
- Loan someone a book you love.
- Don’t let it sit in a drawer. Give your old cell phone and chargers away or donate them to a charity.
- Treat a pet with kindness and respect.
- Share public service information (traffic detours, power outages, flood warnings etc.) via social media.
- Turn off and unplug electronics you aren’t using.
- Pick up trash that wasn’t properly discarded.
- Give someone more credit than they deserve.
- Hear gossip and refuse to spread it.
- Believe someone’s dream is possible. And tell them. They need the support.
- Fight indifference. Let yourself feel sadness when you see a homeless person.
- Tell someone you forgive them. And mean it.
- Put a Band-Aid in your wallet to give away when needed.
- Contact an elected official via social media to quickly advocate for a cause you believe in.
- Call someone you usually text and tell them you just wanted to hear their voice.
- Pick up an extra item or two from the grocery store to donate to your local food bank.
- Make a small online donation to a charity you support.
- Practice empathy. Take a few minutes and imagine the struggles of someone you know.
- Listen carefully. Many people yearn to be heard.
- Thank a teacher for their service.
- Tell someone a joke.
- Save someone from a work conversation they aren’t enjoying. “I hate to interrupt, but can I borrow you for two minutes.”
- Actually take your reusable bags into the store with you.
- Actually take your reusable cup into Starbucks with you.
- Pray for someone.
- Teach someone something. Anything.
- Text someone a specific compliment. (e.g. “I admire how much patience you have with me.”)
- Give someone you love your undivided attention.
- Hold a door open and wait while multiple people pass through.
- Take time to write a supportive comment to someone on Facebook.
- Hug someone.
- Share any online article that raises awareness of a service need.
- Let that busy person behind you go ahead of you in line.
- Leave change in a vending machine.
- Pay the toll for the person behind you.
- Thank a solider for their service.
- Discuss with a younger relative a piece of your family history.
- Cheer loudly for someone else’s kid.
- Give away an extra umbrella on a rainy day.
- If you love them, tell them.
What ideas are missing from this list?
For Mother’s Day, I wrote a post about the six things I most wanted my sons to have in their adult lives. I printed the post and pasted it into two copies of The Giving Tree. I hope those words will find them later in life when the meaning will make a bit more sense.
Since Father’s Day is this Sunday, I started thinking of my late grandfather. I wondered what his wishes for me were. And I decided to try to write them down based on the actions and words he lived by. These are the five things I think he would have written to me.
- Never dim your light because it’s too bright for others. I was an opinionated and stubborn child. Unlike many adults, my grandfather found this side of my personality amusing. He wasn’t hesitant to put me in my place, but he also wanted to make sure that I learned to make peace with my natural temperament. He taught me to accept myself. And he would have wanted me to provide a safe place for others to be their true selves and to grow at their own pace.
- Never think more highly of yourself than you ought to. This is a part of his favorite biblical scripture and something he clearly communicated often. I think he said this more loudly than any other message. He was quick to point out the hypocrisy in judgment. He knew that by thinking we were better than others, we lost our connection to them. He encouraged me to grow compassion and humility and was quick to correct me when he heard hints of pride.
- You can’t “be good”; you can only “do good.” He didn’t see people as good or bad. He knew that everyone was a mix of both – including him. So instead he tried his best to do many good deeds. He tried to live a life where his positive actions would speak louder than his regrets. He didn’t hide that he was not a perfect man, but he was always trying to be better. And he encouraged me to do the same.
- Never settle for less than love. As a woman, I’ve been blessed to have the love of many wonderful men that shaped my life. My father probably had the largest impact, but my grandfather was close behind. He let me know that I was worthy of a man’s love, honor and protection. He was not at all quiet at times when he felt I was accepting less than the standard he wanted for me. He gave me the nerve to demand love from my relationships (romantic and otherwise) and I know he’d want to make sure I kept doing that.
- We’re here on earth to serve each other. He believed this deeply. He saw service as our calling in life. As a soldier, he served our country. As a husband he served his wife. As a father, he served our family. But most importantly, he served God. If he was able to write me this letter, I have no doubt that he would want to point me back in God’s direction. He would encourage me to grow my faith and to grow my service.
What do you think your loved ones want for your life?
This is an exaggeration, but I feel as if almost everyone I know is in the middle of a life transition. They’re evaluating the things that are no longer working in their lives – like their relationships or career choices. They’re blazing new trails and even trying unconventional ways of creating purpose and joy. One friend is considering a major relocation. Another is trying to defeat a chronic habit of self-critical thoughts. They’re allowing some things to die in their lives. And they’re trying to be more deliberate about what they plant and grow in its place.
During times of transition, I’m particularly sensitive to encouraging the people I love. I hope to serve them. I hope I make them feel supported and empowered. But sometimes I’m not really sure if I’m saying the right things?
So this post is one I will leave half done in hopes that you will help me finish it. Think of a time someone said “just the right thing” and left you feeling encouraged. What did they say? Below are five things that have meant a lot to me. But, what am I missing? What would you add?
Words that encourage
- “I want for you what you want for you. This is your life’s journey. And I don’t have to fully understand your path to love and support you. If this is where God is leading you I will be fully behind you. ”
- “I’m here to celebrate success and cry in defeat. Whatever you’re about to go through, you will not go through it alone.”
- “Life is short. I know on the surface change is scary and perhaps this is a bit crazy. But no matter how cliché it sounds, life really is short. You have to take risks to take control of your experience. Some people will judge you while sitting on the sidelines, but I’ll be cheering you on just for being in the game.”
- “Life is long. If you change your mind or if you make a mistake there’s a pretty good chance you will have time to rebound. Time is an amazing healer. Even if what you’re most afraid of happens, you will recover, learn and be stronger.”
- “The devil is in the details. Faith requires that you be willing to take the first step even if you can’t see the entire staircase in front of you. Don’t obsess and try to address every fear with detailed plans. If God is telling you to take this step you won’t have to figure it out alone.”
There are a lot of ways we talk here. You can reach me on Facebook, Twitter, email or the comments below.
Please share with me what someone said to you that was “just the right thing.”
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
The quote above was used in a graduation ceremony I attended this weekend. I’ve said it over and over in my mind since first reading it. It’s such a simple reminder that things are constantly changing around us. And that we’re continuously changing as well. We frequently say goodbye to one circumstance in life in order to usher in a new one. Likewise, we have to say goodbye to one version of ourselves so we can let a stronger, wiser version grow.
I like to think of these “goodbyes” as little graduations. And they happen all the time, but we can play a role in accelerating them. We can encourage a graduation by choosing to care more deeply (leaving apathy and indifference behind). We can encourage a graduation by choosing forgiveness more often (leaving bitterness and judgment behind). And we can encourage a graduation by choosing to serve others more (leaving isolation and emptiness behind).
June also marks the middle of our calendar year which makes it a perfect time for planning the rest of 2014. Spend June graduating to the next glorious version of your life. One place to start is by asking these three things:
- Is the world around you changing for the better?
- How will this year have changed who you are?
- What impact will you have on others this year?
What are you graduating from?