How to Listen: Start with Shutting Up the Nagging Voice of Perfection in Your Head

Does anyone else have a constant running voice in the back of their minds? My little voice is always whispering “Keep everyone happy; keep everything perfect. Keep everyone happy; keep everything perfect.”

Over and over again, like a iPod stuck on repeat, this runs through my mind, just under my thoughts. On one hand, it motivates me to keep things together, pick up the house, and give a rip about the people next to me. It’s not all bad.

But sometimes, if I don’t realize it’s actually running the show from the background, it causes a lot of undue stress. Because I can’t keep everyone happy all the time, frankly. Sometimes the people around me just need to suck it up and suffer, and there’s nothing I can do about. For example, one of my children wants to spend 24/7 with her friends, and the other child wants to spend all waking moments with some sort of a screen in front of his face. They’re unhappy when I pull rank and close the house social calendar down and then take the iPod, put it under a wheel of the van, then gleefully back over it until it’s a pile of smithereens.

I haven’t actually done that to the iPod, yet. But a mother has to have some dreams and aspirations, I tell you. Something to get her through the day.

But back to the voice in my head. I’ve realized it’s the first dragon I must slay in my efforts to be a better listener. My husband comes home from work and (occasionally) has things to tell me. And while my body might be still, pretending to listen, my mind is running through all the things that aren’t perfect and the people who aren’t happy– The dishes are piled up; I must wash them. Look, there’s a dirty sock. The neighbor kids are here to play in the backyard; my kids have been watching TV all afternoon. If my grandma shows up she’s going to see I haven’t scrubbed the fridge, I’m thinking while he’s talking.

Have I heard one word my husband has said? Nope. I’ve caught “blahblahblah-Ken moved to first shift–blahblahblah a baby boy for the blahblahblah.”

I’m doing my best to shut up the voice and really pay attention– to Eric, to the kids, and anyone else who happens to wander through my life. Last night after a meeting a friend and I needed to have a conversation, a real one. Not a hey how are you doing, I’m fine, gotta run kind of chat. We found a quiet space and I really, really tried to tune out the voice and tune her in. I knew my family was probably ready to go. I knew my husband, due to a slumber party that was planned at our house, was handling four excited children and a minivan full of sleeping bags. Is there a man on earth who likes to be left alone in this situation? I think not.

I tuned out the desire to run out to the van and make it all perfect for everyone because there were bigger issues at hand. My friend had something to say.

Philip Kenneson, in his book Life on the Vine, has this to say:

Carefully listening to another is itself an act of kindness, and it may sometimes lead to further action on another’s behalf. But how will I know what you actually need, or you me, if we do not take the time and effort to really listen to each other? In many ways genuine listening is a little like death, for it requires us to set aside our agendas for the moment in order to be fully present to and for another human being. In so doing we offer ourselves to others as vehicles for God’s presence and grace. (p. 150)

I agree. Genuine listening is a little like death, because I must set myself aside. Am I good at this yet? No, not really. But this is my first step. What’s yours? What keeps you from really listening?

P. Kenneson, listening

Simple Living Begins with Tossing Out the Wedding Dress, Sometimes.

I finally did it.

I got rid of my wedding dress yesterday afternoon.

Eric and I have been married for almost sixteen years and I haven’t worn the wedding dress since, you know, my wedding. Since that day we’ve moved six times, and the dress sat in six different closets. I’ve been eyeing it and wondering what on earth to do with it– who wants a dress that’s sixteen years out of date? My daughter certainly won’t wear it at her wedding, my mother doesn’t want it back, and heaven knows my sister won’t fit into it.

If you'd like to pick up this dress for a steal, stop by the Salvation Army on Portage Road.

If you’d like to pick up this dress for a steal, stop by the Salvation Army on Portage Road. (P.S. All these people in this photo are now 100 years old. Including myself. Good grief, we look like infants!)

 

So.

I asked Mom one last time to make sure I wouldn’t be causing undue emotional trauma. My mother, ever the practical one, gave the box the same squinty-eyed glare I was giving it and said, “I think you should donate it.” While my courage was fresh and strong I loaded the van and made a stop at Salvation Army. For some reason I was nervous, like the kid running the donation door was going to refuse it: “I’m sorry, ma’am. We don’t accept terribly large and outdated dresses here.” But he just took it from me with a smile and I hopped back in my van, whooshing out a breath of relief.

Keeping unnecessary things weighs us down, I think. I texted my friend Jenny today and told her how good the empty spot in the closet feels. The whole house feels lighter. I feel lighter.

I tell you this long and rambling story because we’re kicking off a new leg of the blog. Aren’t you excited!? I hope you’re excited. Our family is reevaluating some things, like how we spend our money and where we live and what our priorities are. Eric and I find ourselves fairly desperate to slow down our calendar so we can focus on building stronger relationships within our family and community. We want to simplify our finances to give more generously and then to travel without guilt. (David, we’re headed your direction soon!) We want to be listening closely to what God is telling us and then be ready to move to the next place He has for us.

I read a lot of simple living books and sometimes I get frustrated, because they seem to be saying we need to sell everything and move into a one hundred square-foot house on wheels. And I tell you what, I am on board with that plan, my friends. Sign me up. Put a sign in the yard and let’s get to tiny house living.

But it turns out my children have less than zero interest in this plan. Even when I dangle trips to far-flung places like Paris in front of their faces, I get blank stares or, if they’re tired and cranky, full-blown tears. There has to be a middle ground we can all enjoy– purposeful, simple living within the community and neighborhood where we already live.

This blog is going to start examining that struggle. How do we live well, in this time, in this place? I’ll be interviewing real people who have made hard, important decisions with their careers, their finances, and their path with God. I’ll read books and then recommend them to you (if they aren’t terrible).

And we kick off all this fun with the donation of one wedding dress. The marriage is healthy and strong, but that doesn’t mean I have to keep a giant satin memento of the day we marched down the aisle and promised to take good care of each other.

What about you? What one thing is hanging around your closet, waiting for its final trip to the thrift store?

The Biltmore House: Wow. Mrs. Biltmore: Super-Wow!

2014-07-27 15.21.25

A few weeks ago we made a little side trip to the Biltmore Estate when we were in North Carolina. Because Eric is the one who 1) plans all details of our vacations and 2) has an actual understanding of geography, I announced blithely, “Hey, since we’re going to be so close, let’s go to the Biltmore while we’re in the South!”

And Eric, because he loves me and loves any excuse to go anywhere for any reason, said, “Sure. I’ll add it in to the plans.”

2014-07-27 14.17.08I spent two solid days in a freezing cold hotel for the conference while Eric and the kids cavorted around Charlotte. They were sweating while I was freezing, but Sunday was our day to enjoy North Carolina all at the same temperature. We jumped into the van, and an hour into the drive I started to get antsy. It turns out that Asheville isn’t actually that close to Charlotte. Good grief. So I whined a little like a child, but eventually we got there and it was totally worth it.

I’ve seen the Biltmore on TV more times than I can count. I’ve wanted to visit for ages. This was a long-held dream come to life, and I nearly whirled through the roped off hallways. I can’t remember all the details because I was too busy ogling the glory, but I think they have 35 bedrooms and 43 bathrooms. They had a rotisserie kitchen, a pastry kitchen, the regular kitchen, walk in coolers, and at least three pantries each the size of my entire kitchen. Serious money, folks.

After we left the main house and spent $65 for hot dogs and ice cream for 4 people (I kid you not), we drove a few miles (still on the estate) to the farm area and museum.

I quickly moved from awed to inspired. The Vanderbilts had more money than they knew what to do with, and George’s brothers ran the family empire while he just puttered around, traveling and engaging in professional level hobbies. He wanted to turn his estate into a working, self-sufficient farm so he built little houses and his farmhands lived near the farms and barns.

2014-07-27 16.10.21

And Edith Vanderbilt, the woman who entertained the highest levels of American society at her dining room table that could seat 35 guests, would often go to sit on the front stoops of these houses to hang out with the farmers’ wives.

Yes. Read that again.

She frequently left that huge, glorious house to go hang out with the farmers’ wives. She ate the cakes they baked for her. She brought them her daughter’s clothes when Cornelia outgrew them. She made sure they had a horse-drawn wagon to get the farm kids to school, she brought baskets of goodies to the mothers of newborns, and she started an after-work school program so the farmers could get good educations. She started a school for African-American servants so they could get certificates and higher placements in good houses.

But she did it at a level of one-to-one contact. She didn’t just send the wagon down to the poor area of the estate with the leftovers. She sat with them on their front porch steps. 

This story is reminding me of something…a person who left a truly amazing life to come to the commoners. Someone who made sure the commoners had what they needed, but did it while living among them. Can you think of anyone like that?

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8, NLT)

Welcome to My Home. Please Wait While I Finish Incinerating Dinner.

Let’s start with a picture, shall we? It’ll summarize the situation succinctly for us.

Seriously burned hot dogs. Not. One. Word. out of any of you.

Seriously burned hot dogs. Not. One. Word. out of any of you.

That, gentle reader, is supposed to be hot dogs on our grill last night. Every Wednesday night we host a small group at our house, which involves eating dinner together, shooting the breeze, and also studying the Bible.

The new churchly-correct term for this is joining in community.

Whatever. As long as someone shows up and feeds me chips and lets me hold a baby, I don’t care what we call it. And I did indeed get to eat chips and hold two babies, but before that I set fire to dinner.

Flames, people. Incineration.

You may remember last year when I melted the siding on our house. Same situation. I put the burgers on the grill, shut the cover, and went in the house for a plate. I came back out, smelled the charcoal that was supposed to be dinner, saw the flames leaping out the back and the smoke rolling out the front. I ran to the grill, possibly using an unChristlike word, and shut off the gas.

I was afeared to look.

But I had to look, because as this was occurring the small group members were pulling up to our house. Susannah and Nic made it in the door first, and when Susannah saw the carnage she said, very sweetly, “Nic and I could go get a pizza…”

In hindsight, we totally should have gone with the pizza. But I pulled the burned food off the grill and started with new burgers, because I’d had the foresight to buy two packages that afternoon. Dinner was late but it didn’t really matter because when you have three children under the age of 18 months in your small group, time is a relatively loose concept.

The food eventually made it to the table, we talked and ate and, truth be told, never actually got around to studying the Bible. We had to make plans for the next round of study, you see.

Here is my point: small groups are wonderful. Even if you burn the dinner, even if someone spends the evening chasing a toddler around the house and keeping the cat food out of her mouth, even if you have to buy paper plates because you can’t stand to wash all the dishes, small groups are wonderful. You should be in one. You should host one.

Church is well and good, but sharing in the lives of others happens in a different and beautiful way in a small group. Relaxed meals in t-shirts and flip flops open doors to conversations we might not have in high heels in the church building’s foyer. We really get a chance to talk. To share. To help. Just think of it– Jesus’ ministry was based on a small group format. Thirteen men, wandering around the countryside together. They shared life and weathered the storm together.

It doesn’t matter if you haven’t vacuumed your carpet or the shoe closet smells like a 9 year old’s feet. It doesn’t matter if you burn the dinner or spend an hour nursing a baby. Just give it a try. Invest in the lives of others with what paltry resources you have, and you might be shocked at the blessings you reap in return.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go see to the grill. I fear there may be a layer of grease that will cause another fire, and I don’t think we ought to tempt fate a second time this summer.

And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. May he, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people. (1 Thessalonians 3:12)

 

Where Do I Buy MuuMuus for Tweens? I Need One In Every Color.

I write to you from my daughter’s bedroom, where my eyeballs can personally see and count approximately 1,000 pieces of clothing.

auds closetThree of these items fit.

At first I was suspicious of this suddenly useless wardrobe, because “this doesn’t fit” used to be code for “Mom, I hate this article of clothing and this is my polite way of informing you that I shan’t wear it again.” 

I made the child prove it. She wasn’t kidding; she’s really grown out of all of it. The bathing suit, the sparkly skirt, the plaid Bermuda shorts– things I swear we just bought a few months ago.

So. Off to the store we went. Her little brother was on the floor ready to remove an eyeball with his bare fingers by the time we left the fourth store, with nothing. No. Thing. We did not purchase the thing or the things.

We had to go back and try again another day, this time without the little brother. The days of simple shopping are done, and here’s why:

  1. Nothing on her 11 yr. old body is a standard size anymore. She has grown up arms and feet, the elbows of a 52-year-old man (just kidding, sweetie. Your elbows are perfect), the shoulders of a little girl, and the legs of a kid who’s been swimming all summer long. She’s taller than her grandma but shorter than I am; she’s too big to be a little girl and too small to be a full teenager. No clothing fits all the parts.
  2. She has very particular fashion preferences.
  3. None of her fashion preferences match mine. She stares at me in the dressing room with a dead look in her eye, clearly wondering “Where are my aunts when I need them?”
  4. In general, clothing manufacturers have confused our daughters for hookers and many items of clothing are specifically designed for dual wear– the street corner by night and the classroom by day. I am not amused.

Obviously it’s time to convince the girls to buy muumuus. Who wouldn’t love a muumuu? Take a minute and Google them if you aren’t familiar. I’ll wait.

Loose, baggy, easy. Long arms? No problem. Thick waist? Can’t even see it. Long legs? We’ll just add more fabric to the bottom there. Full-chested? The gathers are forgiving.

Parents, this is only going to work if we band together. We need to buy them all at once, force the children into the muumuus and then pray to the heavens that they see the wisdom of our ways. Who’s with me?

And if you’re not with me, where do you buy your daughters’ clothing?

tween shopping

Well, It Is a Women’s Conference. We’ll Probably Need a Bird Cage or Fifty.

Hello, everyone! I’m back from She Speaks. We drove straight home from North Carolina yesterday, and by “straight home” I mean we stopped every 75 minutes to use the bathroom or buy candy or get coffee or find lunch or purchase gas. It only took us two extra hours, so not so bad.

Side note: Ohio is too long.

Side note 2: Truck stops terrify me even more than gas stations.

But this isn’t a post about the drive, this is a post about the decorations of She Speaks! Dear gentlemen, you can stop reading now. Go on to find something that doesn’t make your testosterone plummet. Ladies, get your Pinterest fingers ready. Here are some fabulous ideas for your next women’s event!

The decorators brought in fancy chairs for the lobby. Swoon.

Lobby decorations for She Speaks 2014

Lobby decorations for She Speaks 2014

Then they added a beat up old trunk and some fancies for our enjoyment.

Here, birdy birdy birdy.

Here, birdy birdy birdy.

These are the table decorations in the main conference area.

Something to talk about when you make polite conversation with 8 strangers at dinner.

Something to talk about when you make polite conversation with 8 strangers at dinner.

I don’t know where they found all those bird cages, nor what they’re planning to do with them now. Birds of Charlotte, beware. You might be caged up faster than you can tweet.

Now, this idea is pretty close to genius. I asked, and apparently this is made from old pallets and a reclaimed (junk) chandelier. Spray paint the chandelier purple and you’re in business. Assuming you can safely build something from pallets that won’t crash down on a passerby’s skull, of course. (Insert friend with carpentry skills here.)

I can afford this, and I can do this. So can you! (From the Fashion and Compassion booth).

I can afford this, and I can do this. So can you! (From the Fashion and Compassion booth).

And finally, my favorite. This is the prayer wall, which appears to be made of two 4X8 pieces of MDF. They split one down the middle longways, then hinged them together. Add chalkboard paint and hand the women a piece of chalk to add their own thoughts. Everyone helps decorate!

Plywood + chalkboard paint = perfect.

Plywood + chalkboard paint = perfect.

What other good ideas do you have for decorating for an event? What did we do before Pinterest? Perish the thought. I don’t ever want to live without that beautiful site again.

Ta-Da! Here’s the New Website for the Novel, If You’re Interested in Such a Thing

It’s been a blue moon since I’ve blogged.

But I have good reason! And now, if you’re willing, I could sort of use your help. I’ve been working on the manuscript for Dove and Lindy, a novel I’m taking to a writer’s conference next week. I’ll be pitching it to editors and agents and anyone who will sit still long enough to hear me yammer. 

Just kidding. Yammering at writer’s conferences is extremely bad form. You get three seconds and then the listener’s eyes glaze over and you’ve lost them.

Since you might have more than three seconds to spare on my behalf, could you do me a huge favor? Here’s the link to the book’s blog site, right below, in red. Can’t miss it.

Dove and Lindy: A Novel

Could you pop over there and give it a look? If you find writing errors or other glaring problems, please let me know. Just leave comments on the page where you find the problems. This link will take you to the sample chapters, but feel free to inspect the rest of it if you have the time. 

This will save me the keen embarrassment of an editor finding any mistakes next week, assuming he or she is interested and takes the time to visit the site. 

 dove and lindy: a novel

And if you’re a praying kind of a person, please keep the She Speaks conference in your prayers next week. Hundreds of emotionally overwrought women are headed to the same hotel in North Carolina. We’re going to make great connections and learn a lot, but we’re also going to be exhausted and overwhelmed about 10:37am on Friday. 

Don’t ask me how I know this.

Except maybe I skipped a few keynote speeches the last time I was there because I just. could. not. absorb. anymore. 

While I’m there I’ll also be networking for my real, actual, about-to-be-published book that comes out in the spring. Above all, I need to be focused on being a blessing to others, smiling, making them feel welcome, and getting over myself. Because there is no room for ego in this ministry, let me assure you. 

So pray my ego doesn’t get out of hand, I guess is what I’m asking. 

I’ll keep you updated with short blogs while I’m there. Heck, maybe even from the sessions if I get overwhelmed. Some of my funniest stuff comes from being stuck in uncomfortable meetings. You might be in for a treat!

After this conference is done, I fully expect to be back to blogging more than once every ten days/weeks/months. I hope you’re okay with that.

Readers, thanks so much for all you do. Thanks for reading and contributing, and now thank you for taking a crack at Dove and Lindy’s website. I couldn’t do any of this without you!

Jessie