Learning Non-Negotiables in Work / Life Balance

I’m learning from various folks how they protect their family time from the ever-encroaching demands of work and service.

Lately, the concept of “non-negotiables” comes into these conversations. Wise mentors, for example, refuse to travel more than once a month. It’s a non-negotiable. Others protect family dinner as a non-negotiable. Still others insist that Friday evening is always family night–it’s a non-negotiable.

Non-negotiable, if you remember, means not open for discussion or modification.

I’m learning more and more how different families use the non-negotiables to stay in balance in a world where work never ends.

If you have a moment, would you share your non-negotiables when it comes to work / life balance?


Maybe She Needs To

This morning I see a groundhog racing around a field as I’m driving to campus. I know this field; sometimes a dozen or so groundhogs will scurry across and then dive into their underground tunnels. I imagine this whole network of tunnels and an intricate Groundhog City. I wish I could see it and understand it.

There’s so much hidden underneath the surface, I think. I consider their secret lives all morning.

Later, I walk into my building only to see some student sitting right there in the middle of the staircase so no one can pass by without difficulty. She’s talking on the phone, ignoring everyone as she sits there like she’s the most important thing in the world.

I squeeze my way around her, astonished–angry really–at her impertinence. How rude! How selfish!

As I pass her, I think of the groundhog. It’s the strangest thing; I think about the intricate tunnels inside that girl’s heart. There’s a whole life I cannot see. Maybe she’s sitting down because she just received the worst news of her life. Maybe she’s sitting there because she can’t possibly find the energy to move even an inch.

Maybe something’s happened to her, and, for whatever reason, sitting there, blocking everyone’s path is an inconsequential thing by comparison.

Or, she’s just selfish.

I don’t know. But for once, I consider how rude and selfish it is to judge others when I cannot see their underground lives and the intricate network of joy and pain within.


If You Dominate Every Conversation

I’ve become aware that I control every single conversation.

I confess! I repent!

My friend kindly tells me that it’s my leadership style and perhaps my teacher’s heart (and I excuse it as my curiosity), but it’s really my bossy, nosey, impatient, and controlling personality.

It’s my power-hungry, obnoxious self.

I’m a conversation thief. I steal what you want to talk about, and I make it about what I want to talk about. I also direct the path of conversation. In the classroom, this serves me well, but outside of the classroom, my conversation style doesn’t love others. I didn’t even realize that I like the position of power in a conversation. Oh, who can save me from myself?

When I think about this today, I realize that I want to transform my interrupting, dominating, controlling conversational patterns into a more loving kind of exchange. But it’s too deep, people. When I share how I’m growing, for example, I’m embarrassed by how my very techniques reveal that I still believe I’m in charge and still concerned with my own power.

Case in point: I say things like, “I’ll let you ask the questions, or I’ll let you talk about what you want to talk about,” as if I’m allowing something that I ultimately control. I can’t escape myself! Or I imagine saying, “Who would like to direct this conversation?” to grant authority to someone else (as if I had it to begin with). I think I need to stop talking altogether.

What has happened to me?

I want to listen and let others direct conversation. With God, all things are possible, right?


Every Single Frame

I find a quote by photographer Annie Leibovitz that has me thinking.

She says, “I am impressed with what happens when someone stays in the same place and you took the same picture over and over and it would be different, every single frame.”

So much of my life in the past 8 years has been about staying in the same place every single day and seeing the incredible beauty, wonder, and mystery in the most ordinary day.

The smallest details of this day–like the human face captured frame by frame by a photographer– bring about endless things to notice and delight in.

It’s different, every single frame.


I Love Psalm 143:10

This morning I read this in Psalm 143:10: 

“Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.”

It’s such a simple cry for God to teach us what we need to know to do His will, and that we’d be led on level ground. I learn that the idea of “level ground” doesn’t just mean straight; the description also means pleasing, agreeable, and good (as in righteous). What a great, simple prayer for anyone today. 
It’s not as if we come before God knowing already what to do and how to live. It’s not as if we come before God knowing the path today or how to move forward. 
We pray this: Teach me to do this, God. Teach me whatever it is I need to know to accomplish Your plans for me. And, by the way, could the path please be a good, pleasing, level one? Something drama-free and peaceful? Thank you, Lord. 

Every 50 Minutes

My kinesiology students have been teaching me all about the dangers of a sedentary writer’s life. The research confirms that I must move more throughout my day, not just in my bursts of exercise in the early morning. The writing life that sits all day is not good for my body. It’s not good for my heart. 

They recently advised that I simply set a timer for 50 minutes. When it dings, I get up and move for 10 minutes. I jump around. I race downstairs for snacks or to fold laundry, and then I race around the room and up the stairs like a crazy woman. I dance. I take a brisk walk outside. Then, I sit down, reset the timer, and work for the next 50 minutes.

The 50 minute segments of the morning have brought a certain joyful order and rhythm to the work of sitting at a desk. When the timer dings, I think about the kind of fun I can have for 10 minutes.

My heart feels so much better.


5 Things I Learned That May or May Not Be True

Today I learned several things that may or may not be true from students who heard this information from somewhere. I am so curious that I just cannot wait to learn more. 

I learned that certain sounds can make one physically sick.
I learned that we connect more, and feel more rapport with, people who move their eyebrows as they speak.
I learned that most people cannot spend more than 30 minutes alone with their own thoughts. They become too distressed.
Some people can hear their heartbeat, breathing, and blood flow and sleep with fans or noisemakers in order to distract them from the noise of their own body. 
And finally, I learned that people with more symmetrical faces apparently have better immunity.
How interesting this day has become already!
I’m off to an afternoon of learning more.

What We Didn’t See Before

I asked my students another name game prompt: “What’s one thing you look forward to when you wake up in the morning?”

My favorite answer? A student says simply this: “I look forward to what I’m going to learn that day. I look forward to learning something new.”
Something new. Something I didn’t know before or see before. 
Can you imagine the possibilities? Can you imagine this sentence as a cure for boredom and despair? I think of the pleasure of making new connections and of learning something new. For me, it’s learning new verbs and their origins. It might be experiencing something new–a new food or drink or a new television show. It might be learning something new about my daughters or husband. It could include learning a new game, reading about another country, or investigating something in the natural world. 
I think about waking up with the energy and commitment to learn something new. I think about how, when evening comes, I would keep my commitment to learning something new by deliberate attention to some kind of phenomenon or research. 
I get excited just thinking about tomorrow and what I might learn. I’ll let you know. 

Why We Do What We Do

I love asking students to interrogate every day objects and routines in their lives to find out what they signify.

They consider what’s in plain sight to them all the time.

They ask questions like: What does this object represent to me? What meaning do I attach to it? What does this object or activity teach me about larger themes in the humanities like beauty, ethics, happiness, or longing? What am I overlooking? 

It’s seems absurd at first to take the most common of objects–lip balm, pencil, baseball glove–and ponder it, really ponder it. We’re suddenly hacking into the system where everything means more than itself.

Everything becomes worthy of our attention. Everything teaches us something about ourselves, our world, and how we’ve constructed our lives. We’re attentive; we’re choosing how we think about what’s happening around us. We can stop and ask why and how and what.

It’s a different way to live, one in which you feel fully engaged in your own life.


They Don’t Seem to Mind

Just yesterday, we were covered in snow. Today, it melts, and my daughter Kate and I circle the house just in case we find Signs of Spring. She and I decided to write this blog together.

We find the daffodils indeed. They rise up as usual. Nothing can stop them. The snow comes, and they don’t seem to mind.

We looked at those daffodils that have come once again, as they do every single spring. We realize that they do what they do, as they do it, no matter what’s happening around them. We’re encouraged to rise up in our own internal springtime of joy, thankfulness, and beauty, even when winter won’t let go.